Television personality, actor and podcast host Kim Crossman has been a household name in New Zealand for almost half her life and splits her time between Los Angeles and New Zealand for work. In 2019, she was diagnosed with severe depression and burn-out. Here she talks candidly about her mental health journey and how it has lead to her podcast, Pretty Depressed.
Warning: this story contains discussion about suicide
How are you today?
I haven’t got work for the next two days, so I’m going to tidy my bedroom, which I’m looking forward to! I’ve been back in New Zealand seven weeks – two of those weeks in lockdown. I did quite a bit of lockdown with my boyfriend Josh back in LA in the early days, when we were like ‘Oh, Covid-19 will be a flash in the pan.’ I’m back here because they’ve brought filming forward for two TV shows I’m a part of – the TVNZ 2 show Creamerie, and Golden Boy for Three. So I’ve been shooting them simultaneously.
From a mental health perspective, how have the past few months been? Has what you’re dealing with changed during Covid-19?
I would say that there was an element of lockdown that was really healthy for me, and that I was able to implement routine, which was something that had been really lacking for many reasons – the amount of travel I was doing and the lack of certainty around work, sometimes you start work at 4am, the irregular meals. And I will have to say, proof in the pudding, there is definitely something to having a routine – I felt so much healthier, mentally, after those first few weeks of ‘oh my god, we’re all going to die.’
The big realisation I had was learning how much I compare myself to others. If you’d asked me a year ago, I would have just said ‘no, I’m just in competition with myself!’ But it was interesting, when no one else was working, how good I felt. Whereas usually, when I’m not working – and I didn’t notice this before – I’m really conscious of the people who are working around me. It was the great equalizer – no-one’s working, so I’ve got no one to be jealous of. And I then could give myself permission to relax a little bit, which was really healthy.
Last year you were diagnosed with severe depression and burn out. How did working on your podcast Pretty Depressed help you think about – and talk about – your mental health? I found the podcast really cathartic and a good process, because I definitely felt less alone. I was really impressed people were able to talk about things, almost in a way that I was taken aback by because I wasn’t ready to share my own stuff. That slowly unravelled something in me, to be a bit more comfortable with where I’m at or having more awareness that I am prone to spiralling thoughts and that diet and sleep play a huge factor in my mental health. And then trying to learn to be a bit kinder to myself. And going through that process, learning that there is still a lot other things that I thought hadn’t affected me in my life that clearly actually have.
Sometimes it’s only when other people verbalise a feeling or reaction that you realise ‘oh, that’s a thing that I also often do.’
Yes! While the podcast process was really good for making me realise ‘oh, you’re not alone,’ it was also really good for making me realise ‘yes, you’re not alone, but here are also a bunch of other things you have to work on.’ In the second season of the podcast, I’ve tried to step outside of just actors. I thought, ‘Okay, what other careers have big ups and downs that create those highs and lows.’ So I went to athletes like Alexander Rossi, a professional race car driver – they have to be so mentally disciplined. And then I did Strider Wasilewski, a famous surfer, who had a huge injury where his foot [gestures bending backwards] and he had to teach himself to surf again. That’s why I wanted to do someone in sports with an injury who, in a moment, everything can shift. Pivoting is one of the key themes for this season – unintentionally – probably because it’s in the air.
One of the things the conversations I’ve been having a lot this year is what does success look now – what constitutes as a successful, meaningful life? Because I know for me, that has shifted dramatically this year. How do you feel about that?
When I look back at my successes which, 10 years ago, if you’d have said to me ‘Kim, you’re going to achieve this,’ I would have said ‘you’re out of your mind, that’s so rad.’ But in actuality, achieving them has never made me feel like ‘I’ve arrived.’ There have been multiple moments in my life where I have assumed that, once I’ve got there, I would feel that overwhelming sense of relief and joy, and feel present, like I had finally arrived at what I’ve been working for. Yet, history tells me that I have yet to feel that feeling. But I know that’s the feeling that I’m chasing. And I had always assumed it would be in work, but what I’m trying to do is be more open that it might happen in a different arena.
It’s been really interesting shooting Golden Boy these last five weeks, because so much of my value is caught up in working on huge budget shows in the States. Yet when I have, it doesn’t feel like it feels on Golden Boy. Golden Boy feels like this real family – everyone’s working hard but also everyone is thriving because of the way that environment is set up, it’s not trying too hard, we’re well aware we’re making a quirky, silly comedy for new Zealanders. And there’s something really great about that parameter that actually makes everyone work so much harder and it’s a team sport. Whereas those experiences in LA are missing that heart. So that was a cool acknowledgement – I would rather work 9000 days on Golden Boy than 90 days on some of the shows I’ve worked on.
How do you feel when you look back to your low points of last year?
I look back and I get a metallic taste in my mouth of realising how bad I was last year. I should have helped myself sooner, I was just in such denial. I didn’t want to be diagnosed with depression. I didn’t want that to be part of me. it’s something I’m learning to work with – it was something I wanted to fix initially but I’m learning [laughs] it’s a lifer. It’s a relationship that I have to manage and try to, with time, understand what triggers it so that when I feel it slipping, I don’t get back to the place I was at last year. I genuinely didn’t want to be here anymore and I thought nobody else wanted me to be here either. And that wasn’t the truth but I allowed myself to believe it.
When you say ‘be here anymore’… do you mean existing, on this planet?
Yeah, I definitely had a lot of suicidal thoughts. I never planned to do anything but I definitely empathised with people who did. I saw the other side of suicide… when you get to a really dark place, you think that you would be doing everybody a favour. And on the outside of that, you might think ‘that’s so selfish, how could they do that?’ but when you’ve been that dark before, I think you have a different sense of it. you’re so dark that you think people would prefer you not to be here – and that’s not the case at all. But your perspective on what is happening is so warped. And you can create situations where you might reach out to someone and they’re busy and you create this self-fulfilling prophecy that no-one wants to see you or whatever. In hindsight, looking back – I only went as far as suicidal thoughts of ‘oh I don’t mean anything to anyone, I’m not worth anything, I’m a burden.’ And that wasn’t what was happening – that’s just how I felt.
And that’s when you went to the doctor?
Yes. I was really anxious about going to see someone, it was an ego thing – like I said, I didn’t want to be diagnosed with depression. But the sense of relief was huge when I was diagnosed and it was the same when I started seeing a therapist. I had built it up that it would be traumatic, or scary in some way, and it wasn’t – it was a really positive process that was comforting. I didn’t feel alone anymore. I was so grateful that my sister got me in touch with someone to talk to and my boyfriend was really supportive about it. It was a big turning point for me, seeing a professional, because it also made me realise that it wasn’t my fault and then they helped give me tools, if I ever felt myself getting back to that dark place. That’s part of the reason for doing the podcast, as well – getting to find out other people’s journeys but also the tools they use to keep themselves healthy.
The fact you’re in such a better situation to talk about it must be helpful as well. Brene Brown always says that shame fosters in the darkness but as soon as you start to shine some light on it, it’s really hard for it to keep burrowing into you. Have you found that it’s helped? Hugely. I think a lot of it is education – because we hadn’t experienced it in our family, I had immense shame and didn’t want to talk about it. I had to make this a project in the form of a podcast or I wouldn’t have dealt with it. When it’s me dealing with myself, it’s really easy to push aside that 30 minutes I was going to take a nap or whatever it is, because something else more ‘pressing’ comes in. So I think dealing with my depression in the form of a project has been really helpful because I can manage it like I would any other project – I’m giving it time every week, I’m having discussions, even though it’s under this guise that it’s for other people, it’s really not. First and foremost, it’s for my own form of therapy and education. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea for everyone to do it in such a public platform [laughs] but I think it’s good for me. It’s also taught me how to be a support to other people going through it – by continuously asking questions, rather than trying to provide answers for them. If you get people talking, by asking questions, it’s a great way to get them to open up about what they’re going through.
Pretty Depressed Season Two launches August 6th. For more information, visit here.
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