“And then one day, my mum comes in the room and just said, ‘What’s wrong?’ So I told my mum and she said the one thing I needed to hear, she said, ‘That’s okay dear; I know what it's like’.”
Vesna talks about her hearing impairment and feeling like she was the only one going through depression. After talking to whānau who have been there, she no longer felt alone. She took up waka ama to support her wellbeing and went on to win a world championship.
I believe that you get chosen to go through things in life, and I never regret my mental illnesses. I never am ashamed of what I went through, because I get to live to tell.
I suppose mine came around from low self-esteem at a young age – anxiety and panic attacks and then not finding out till I'm almost 5 years old that I actually had a hearing disability. And that it wasn’t that I was a problem child, it was I just genuinely didn’t hear.
You’re always looking for ways to be accepted by people.
Went off overseas, and Sydney lifestyle, I got introduced to a lot of drugs and alcohol. I guess I liked it because of the way I felt, and my low self-esteem wasn’t there any more. And I felt like people accepted me and just took anything and everything. I didn’t really care if I was going to wake up or not.
And then my late nana visited me, and she just said to let go. “You’ll be okay dear, just let go.” And I stopped. I was introduced to a sport called waka ama, outriggers in Australia. I fell in love with it because I said to the coach that I have a hearing disability. I can’t hear very well on the water, and I can’t wear my hearing aids. And she said, “Oh, that’s fine, we’ll make you the caller.” She was one of the first people that actually accepted my disability as not a disadvantage. If anything, “How can we make it work?”
And then, I was given an opportunity to tour Europe and promote the sport. It was a fantastic opportunity to travel around Europe, but I hadn’t learnt how to cope with the coming off the drugs, and that was probably the first spiel of depression but I didn’t know it was depression at the time.
So I moved home, and it was good to be home. But then again, that emptiness starts again. I would write a poem about life and how it wasn’t that great and things weren’t really worth living for. And I went to the doctors, and he asked me all these questions. And he just said, “You’ve got depression.” I swore and I said, “No way, I don’t.”
And I went home, and I denied it. I went back to being the mopey self and negative stuff. And then one day, my mum comes in the room and just said, “What’s wrong?” So I told my mum and she said the one thing I needed to hear, she said, “That’s okay dear; I know what it's like.”
And just to know that you're not the only one, because when you’re going through depression, you do think you’re the only one and the only person.
And then, I wanted to get back into my sport that I enjoyed, and I met these paddlers from Gisborne who were well-known world champions. The world’s championships were held here, and I was in the adaptive category for people with disabilities, and I won the world title at elite level.
So to become successful in a sport, it gave me the confidence, like the drug that I didn’t need anyone or anything to tell me that I was a good enough person. And then, from that point on, I thrived on the sport.
I encourage also, like, with depression, is to be active. Physical activity will make you happy.
I do things around … I make sure I eat well. I learnt very quickly as an athlete that you need to eat well to be able to perform well, and that applies to everyday life.
And just actually talk to someone. Don’t think you’ve got to be a super hero and deal with it all yourself.
I look forward to getting up now. I can’t wait for the day. I can’t wait for my son to wake up so that I can have a cuddle with him. I can’t wait for my partner to get up so I can have some time with him. I can’t wait to go and exercise to know how good I will feel afterwards. I can’t wait to go to work to say good morning to everybody and “Hi, how are you?” I can’t wait to get on the water again and do the sport that makes me happy. I can’t wait to go to bed at night and have that lovely sleep but knowing that the next day I get to wake up and have all those good things there, ready and waiting for me.
That’s how good it feels when you come out. It just makes everything so good.