The Story Behind Aroha's Way

As a child, I had explosive emotions that made me hard to handle. My emotions ruled me. Looking back I definitely was either on the spectrum and/or suffering from anxiety in a big way.  I was highly sensitive, which back when I was little didn't seem like a good thing.  From every adult, I was made to feel like I was wrong in feeling the things I did and I needed to change, suck up my emotions and try and be different.  

My poor mother didn't know what to do and didn't have the tools to manage me effectively. My rages were unlike anything she had ever seen from a child.  I had extreme behaviour.  I hated school and was often literally dragged in kicking and screaming, only to run away from school at any chance I got. I would also run away from home.  I would throw things, swear and say hurtful things. I would imagine dying from as young as I can remember because I thought the world would be better off without me. I definitely didn't feel like I belonged, and that there was something really wrong with me.

I was highly sensitive to everything: smells, sounds, taste and definitely touch. I hated certain fabrics like wool and now as an adult anything synthetic.  I needed to have things a certain way or it caused me huge distress. I could also feel other people's emotions and then confused them with my own.  I now know I had been experiencing anxiety and when my cup was full I would erupt.  

Anger was my go-to emotion when I was actually experiencing other emotions like embarrassment, shame, overwhelm, guilt ... the list goes on.  I remember when the rage took hold, I felt so scared and alone. I wanted someone to help me... to hold me. I vividly remember what it was like as a child and those feelings of helplessness.  Of not being able to control anything in my life. I haven't forgotten the powerlessness of being a child.

Now I know some of the things that would have helped me because of my spiral into crisis.  You see, as I got older, I had to learn to suppress my feelings, because no one talked about emotions when I was little. I had to hide my anxiety, although, it would make an appearance from time to time, it did become less and less the older I got.  However, by the time I was sixteen, depression had overcome me as I felt so lost in the world.  I no longer knew who I was.  I had tried to shape myself into what I thought the world wanted from me and lost me along the way.  I had started self-harming daily and then attempted suicide for the first time.  Luckily, my plans were foiled as I was interrupted (I don't want to go into details) and it was really scary afterwards to think what may have happened.  I was so scared I ended up making an appointment and saw a psychiatrist who promptly put me on Prozac without anyone else in my life knowing.

I have to say at this point in my life, I thought if anyone found out I would end up in Tokanui in a straight-jacket. No one talked about this stuff.

So, here I am, sixteen and more suicidal since starting Prozac and thankfully, my mother guessed something was up and immediately got me off it. You see, my sensitivity was also to medications and whilst they work for some people, they most definitely didn't for me.

I keep plodding along in life, trying to keep it together until in my early twenties, everything started falling apart, for what seemed to be no reason at all.  I had just met my husband (still together almost twenty years later and the love of my life), things should have been amazing but the blackness was creeping in quickly and was about to engulf me.  I wanted to end my life and was back self-harming worse than ever.  My husband, Chris, helped push me to get help and I ended up at The Taylor Centre in total crisis. 

Over the course of two years, I worked full time at getting myself better.  I had lost my job.  They knew I wasn't well and just said don't come back, which wasn't great for my self-esteem but meant I could attend lots of group sessions and meeting with my AMAZING psychologist. 

It was two steps forward, ten back, five forward ... you get the picture.  It felt like I wasn't progressing but then all of a sudden I could see light again.  I had been going through DBT and CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy) and was literally re-wiring my brain, step by slow step.  I had been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), clinical depression and throw in some body dysmorphia, anxiety and panic attacks into the mix too.  In retrospect, I actually think I was just on the spectrum, something that is very hard to pick up in girls and quite possibly because it was never addressed for my entire life, ended up in a diagnosis of BPD.  You see they were not quite sure for a long time what was wrong with me.  There were scary labels thrown around a lot.

At the end of the day though, it didn't matter about the label, it mattered what I did. I wanted a life worth living.  I wanted to feel again.  To be happy again.  To have laughter in my life again.  I didn't want to keep this secret and shame of being mentally unwell. 

All those years ago, fast approaching twenty years, I learned mindfulness and the importance of sleep and eating well.  I learned about belly breathing and exercising.  I had to learn to label emotions and discover what I was actually feeling underneath the anger.  They seemed ridiculous at the time, so simple ... but such important skills!  I said to my psychologist, 'why don't we learn this at school?' It seemed like such a simple solution to help prevent kids from ending up like me, to be teaching them these things when they were little.  Simple tools to help empower them to look after themselves.

I have to say at this time in my life Sir John Kirwan opened up about his depression publically, which was so brave. He is a bit of a hero to me and made me feel less alone in a very dark spot in my life. Thank you so much, JK!

I guess our books are about making children feel less alone too!  For them to be able to see Aroha feeling those uncomfortable emotions and knowing that she can do something about them, and therefore the kids can too.  To not be embarrassed or ashamed to feel anything.  I look back and want to wrap my arms around that little girl that was me and tell her that it is okay to FEEL ALL THE EMOTIONS.

So I guess our books are about bridging the gap between what you learn the hard way when you end up in crisis, what the professionals know and what parents are desperate to know to help with their kids. Parents and carers don't want their kids to end up like me as a teen and young woman, having to fight and work to gain back my life. 

I feel very grateful for my journey, the good, the bad and the ugly.  It has empowered me with real knowledge, compassion and a drive to help children.

Through stories, we can reach out to our children and share with them strategies to use when times are tough. 

Through stories, we can let them feel less alone with their emotions. 

Through stories, we can start conversations about how we feel. 

Through stories, we can discover what strength there is in being vulnerable.

I hope through the work we are doing at Wildling Books, children will learn through our stories to be able to express themselves fully, in healthy ways.  To learn to regulate themselves with the help of their parents/teachers. To know that emotions are messages that are there to guide us. That you aren't your emotions.  You are never bad or wrong to feel.

I also feel like our books are almost for the parents and teachers as much as they are for the children.  You see, we (adults) never learned this stuff.  We almost have to learn it together with our children.  To allow ourselves to feel again and not be ashamed of who we are. To talk about how we feel and show our vulnerabilities with our children.  So we can all give ourselves a hug as a little child, for all the times we weren't allowed to feel those big feelings.

Bex (Rebekah) Lipp x

You can view some of our books here and we are working very hard on some exciting new ones too!