Kanoa Lloyd Chats About Mental Health & Finding A Therapist

In our story series ‘How Are You Today?’, we have a meandering, mental-health focused chat with some of our most well-known New Zealanders. Check out previous chats with people like Hayley HoltRoseanne Liang and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Today, we chat to Kanoa Lloyd.

It’s been an overwhelming year for all of us in so many ways and at times like this, it’s really important to check in with each other’s mental health. We talk to The Project host and all-round sweetheart Kanoa Lloyd about her experiences over lockdown(s)! and why therapy is such a good tool for her.

My first question is: how are you today?
I am…going to think about it before I just say good. But I am actually, I’m good. Obviously it’s been a wild, wild time; living through coronavirus and then all that’s going on around Black Lives Matter and the deeper conversations about race. It’s been a full-on time, but today I’m feeling fine.

Anytime I talk to people about the past few months, there’s a general attitude of ‘how the hell did we do any of that?’
I feel a bit lucky because I’ve been going to work the whole time throughout lockdown, so I feel like that process was a little bit on fast forward for me in terms of feeling okay. But when I was getting into the car during those first couple of weeks, particularly during level four, to go into the studio, I was thinking, ‘Am I going to die? Is one of my colleagues going to get sick? Are we doing a terrible thing by staying on air?’ all those questions, that come from a fear place, running through my head as I drive along a motorway that looks like it’s out of an apocalypse. But I’ve been to come to a place pretty quickly where it was like ‘We’re going to be okay. One foot in front of the other.’

It’s great that you were able to keep working throughout the various levels of lockdown but it has also meant that you are still a public face – as you are normally – during a time when, for so much of the year, we’ve really all been going day by day.
I actually did end up taking a week off in the middle of [the first lockdown], I think we were still in level four, but once I knew I wasn’t going to be able to have a big break in the middle of the year, I just needed a couple of days where I didn’t look at the news, and I just hung out with my family, who were at my house, and cooked some food and played some board games. I was so grateful to have work, and I was super proud of what we had put on air, but also I was like… I do need a little me time.

How do you handle the exposure to the news you have to have, when it’s so overwhelming and often really, really upsetting?
It’s about finding that balance and making sure I don’t feel panicked that I need to watch every single show or read every single article. It’s not easy to do. And I know a lot of people were like this during corona and I was also seeing a lot of that during the Black Lives Matter protests; people just saying ‘I need a little break from the doom and gloom,’ and I think that’s legitimate. In my case it’s not possible to do a good job – or in other people’s case, be a good citizen – if you’re exhausting yourself with all of the negativity. It’s a constant battle to go how much of this do I need to know to inform me and how much of it is, at some point, just a weird, gratuitous self-flagellation. And I, just as anybody else who is consuming the news, don’t really know the answer to that.

Speaking of mental health… you’ve been very open about seeing a therapist over the past few years. When did that process start for you?
I had tried therapy when I was in my teens and twenties and ended up, like a lot of people, becoming jaded… It was until much later, until I turned 30. There was regular life stuff going on but also a new, high-profile, stressful job and I thought ‘should I dip my toe back in it again?’ This time, I went about it in a really mindful, considered way. I treated it like I would treat a story; I did a lot of research, I approached a number of people and I set up appointments [with a couple of them] and said ‘I’m shopping around and I’m not sure if counselling is for me but I want to try and see.’

When I found my therapist, who I still see now three years later, she was really understanding about that. She wasn’t going to take it personally if I quit – and just starting a relationship on that basis, it really worked. It’s scary for people, there is so much stigma and you think ‘if I’m going to therapy, does that mean I’m crazy?’ so being brave enough to reach out to somebody in the first place is a bit like ‘this should work immediately!’ But you don’t do that with a gym or someone who cuts your hair, all of those things are a process to figure out what you like. Maybe you’re an F45 person and maybe you’re a Pilates person? It doesn’t matter.

I initially picked my therapist because she had a big smile, messy hair and a cosy-looking cardigan! Were you apprehensive about what your friends or family might think about you going into therapy?

My dad worked in Māori mental health when I was younger, right up until I was a teenager. So he was like ‘Yas, queen.’ And my mum works as a nurse and she’s done a lot of work with dementia patients in particular, so it’s part of my family’s world. So there was no stigma for me from my family but I definitely felt… my therapist’s office is very close to a place where I used to work and for the first year I was there, I was like ‘oh shit, is someone from there going to see me going in the door?’ but I don’t feel like that anymore. Now, if someone says ‘Hey Kanoa, are you available to do a story at such and such time,’ I’m now in the habit of saying ‘oh I can’t, I have therapy then,’ as opposed to saying [puts on mysterious voice] ‘oh no, I’m not available for no particular reason.’ Because being straight up about it is really healing for me as a person. And then I like to think it contributes to other people feeling like they can access that if they need it. I talk to my colleagues and friends about therapy all the time… once you start putting it out there openly and honestly, it’s like you’ve got entry to a club and you realise it’s really normal and lots of people are doing it.

You’re going there to build up muscles so that if we hit something, like COVID-19, it doesn’t cut you off at the knees. I think if I wasn’t in therapy, my response to this whole time would have been very, very different. And that’s not to say that it hasn’t been hard and I haven’t been emotional or down, but my processing of all of those feelings has totally changed from what it would have been three years ago.

I always describe going to therapy as having a second opinion on your brain or on your thoughts. During the past few months, when I’ve been struggling, my therapist said the majority of her patients were also having a hard time. Anxiety levels have been spiking for a lot of people.
Yeah, it is really nice to have that context and reassurance that you’re not alone. That said – I love therapy, but I don’t want anyone to think that I don’t struggle to go to therapy sometimes. Sometimes I’m like “I don’t want to talk about my feelings!” I really would prefer to just power on and be like “I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine.” But I keep showing up because I know that ultimately, that feeling will pass and sometimes those times when you don’t want to go is when you end up learning the most.

How have you found moving through the lockdown levels, from a mental health perspective?
I really loved the move from level four to level three [last time], because I was just dying to expand my bubble a little bit and see my family. But once we started to move into level two, I was like ‘I want to go back to level three where I know exactly what the rules are and someone is telling me what to do.’ It was definitely a difficult jump and my anxiety was probably at an all-time high, as it was a for a lot of people. I think New Zealand as a whole was very on edge, thinking ‘what does this mean for me?’. But I just think you’ve got to stay with those uncomfy feelings and let yourself feel a bit uncomfy. And not be hard on yourself for having a hard time with it.

Is that something you’ve learned through therapy, that idea of sitting with uncomfortable feelings?
100%, I mean, listen to me – who even talks like that apart from someone who goes to therapy?! But it’s true, instead of punishing myself for feeling angry, or emotional, now I’m just like ‘oh, I feel angry today. I feel a bit sad today.’ And it’s really liberating.

Kanoa is the co-host of The Project, weeknights, 7pm on THREE’

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