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 Holt, Roseanne Liang and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Today, we talk to Sharyn Casey.
One of the fixtures of New Zealand TV and Radio, broadcaster Sharyn Casey has managed to nail the balance of being an absolute professional her huge range of jobs while still managing to feel like everyone’s best friend. Ahead of her massive co-hosting gig for this weekend’s Aotearoa Music Awards, Sharyn talks about why she was so open about her miscarriages, how she looks after her mental health during frantic work times (e.g. this Christmas season) and the beautiful and bittersweet reason having bright nails is a big part of her happiness must-haves.
How are you today?
I am proud of myself and I’m also feeling a little bit overwhelmed at the same time, and a little bit guilty. I’m a cocktail of guilty, proud and overwhelmed.
What a combo! Talk me through each of those emotions.
At the moment I am so overwhelmingly busy, it’s coming out of lockdown and so now being able to travel around for work is just chaotic. I feel overwhelmed with all the things I need to get done in the next seven days but also that makes me feel guilty, I suffer from the serious mum guilt of being busy when I’ve got a 2 ½ year old. But today I’m also feeling really proud of myself because I have such a busy week, I’ve said to myself ‘Okay Sharyn, you’ve got to get your balance right.’ I have quite a strict mental health plan that I stick to and when I get really busy, I can easily veer off that and then it becomes really detrimental to my mental health. So today I’ve managed to pace my morning out, instead of rushing through.
So, when it comes to the mental health tools – and routine – that you have learned works for you, what does that look like?For me, a really big thing is communication. I don’t like to be ‘difficult’ or ‘a bother’ for people; my friends call me “Sharynoia” because I’ll be worried that I’m putting someone else out. So, I can do that to my detriment, where I’ll say yes to everything and not actually be looking after myself. I really got myself into quite a rut which I’m just coming out the other side of now, luckily. One of the things that I have to do is that I have to exercise, I have compulsory days that I exercise. I know I have to say ‘no’ and I know that I have to go to therapy every month, but if I’m feeling quite overwhelmed, like I am at the moment, then I’ll go every two weeks. I have to eat well, as well.
But the biggest tool I’ve learned is that I have to communicate it to my husband, so that he can help me figure it out, rather than me just meandering through it and he just thinks I’m being a bitch for no reason! It’s making sure that I balance myself. I don’t think I realised how important it was to do that – and that I didn’t have to say yes to everything – until after I had a kid.
I also have these really strange rituals; so, every second Thursday I go and get my nails done, so even when I’m really stressed out, or sad, or anxious, my nails are always happy – they’re bright or they’re sparkly.
I love that so much, that is a delightful ritual.
It started when I was in the hospital one time, it was one of the worst days of my life, and I looked down and I had the most beautiful nail polish on. I was at North Shore hospital and I’d just had a miscarriage, and I’d had to have a D&C and I was so, so sad. And I looked down at my nails and I thought ‘this is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.’ It was a lilac, holographic glitter. So ever since then, I’ve kept up that ritual.
You’ve been so honest about going through miscarriages and the struggles that happened on the way to having your son, I wondered at what point did you know that you were willing to be open and honest about a personal topic?
I wrote a piece after our second miscarriage and it was because after our first one, I felt so completely alone and so isolated. We’d just lost the most important thing that had ever happened to us and we had never even considered that a miscarriage could happen to us. I’ve always liked writing – even when I was young and I was bullied at school, Mum would always say to me ‘Write it all down and get the feelings out.’ So, I wrote it down and then sat on it for a couple of months and then the more I found out that people close to me had had miscarriages and they all said no-one talked about it. One night I was like ‘F—k it, I’m just going to post this.’ It gave a beautiful meaning as to why it had happened and if it helped someone else, then it felt like my babies had this big purpose with their existence, if that makes sense?
Absolutely and I think that’s a really beautiful way to frame that. We ran a series of stories on Baby Loss Awareness Week and were blown away by how many women reached out to us. Speaking about it really does give a voice to such a huge number of women who have been through this.
It’s a really weird, still taboo thing but the more people talk about it, the more you realise how many people go through it. Everyone’s experience is their own, some people don’t like talking about it and that’s totally fine as well! For me, I thought ‘Well, we have this platform and it’s a good opportunity to help people’ – as much as I hate that saying! I wanted to do something so that their tiny, short lives meant something.
You’ve talked openly about having anxiety and depression before, how has 2020 – and all of the myriad of things that have come with this difficult year – been for you?
This is going to sound weird but I really loved the first lockdown at times. During the week, it was really hard. Bryce and I work different hours, so I was working from 5.30am until Tyson got up, and then would look after Tyson until lunchtime, and then Bryce would come home and we’d swap. So, I was basically on the go from 5.30am till 8pm during the week, but when the weekend came, I loved it and it was really good for me. Early on, I did feel quite anxious and I would lie down and think I was having a heart attack, but then it got easier. But then the second lockdown spiked everything for me and I wasn’t really looking after myself. I had to take a couple of days of work to look after my mental health but I’m really lucky in that I have a really good relationship with the people I work with and they’re very open and understanding. I’m a lot better at communicating what I need now.
You’ve talked about the power of communication a couple of times now – when did you realise that being able to talk about what you need or what you’re going through was important for you?
Not until I started going to therapy, which would have been about a year and a half ago. One of my friends recommended it to me, she had been going after her dad had died. I’d gone to different therapists before and I’d never clicked with them, which is such an important thing. Talk therapy is a bit like dating, you might not connect with the first couple of people you go to but you will find the right person – and I have found that person now. She is the one who taught me that when I’m struggling, I need to communicate that because otherwise the people around me don’t know. Bryce is really good at understanding me and the things I need to do – like I have to make the bed and tidy the room, so if he comes home and the bed isn’t made, that’s the first alarm bell for him [laughs]. If you can start the day with a small task that you can absolutely complete, it makes you feel more in control.
Bryce has also been such a spokesperson for mental health, doing all of those challenges to raise money and awareness for suicide prevention. How has your journey together been, when it comes to discussing mental health as a couple?
He lost a family member to suicide, as well as multiple friends, so he’s really understood that feeling of loss, but he’s also learned a lot from other people’s stories, as well as watching what I’ve gone through with anxiety and depression. He signed on to do a charity rugby game in the South Island and he’s had a bit of anxiety around that for the first time in his life, and so he can now understand better what I’ve been through as well. Seeing him be so vulnerable has then made it easier for me to talk to him because now I know he gets it. It’s not easy for him to share all of these things but he has all these bubbling inside him and he’s really big on getting something positive out of these situations. Jono [Pryor, from Jono and Ben] is like family to us and when Jono and Bryce’s friend Tim died by suicide, Bryce saw how open Jono was in talking about it on the show and how positive that was for people and so he’s now really aware of how important it is to talk about it.
You both have a little boy, Tyson – how do you find teaching him about what mental health is and how to handle his emotions? Does it differ from what you guys were taught growing up?
We read a LOT of books and I also buy him a lot of books like Feminist Babies, consent books, equality books, emotions books. There’s a really good one called Aroha’s Way we love and then Let It Go [both books by Rebekah Lipp and Craig Phillips] which talks about feelings and teaching kids breathing exercises, like ‘if you’re angry, stop and take a breath.’ And Tyson has read it a few times now and so he’ll be like ‘Mama, I’m angry!’ and then take a big deep breath. His teachers at kindy are amazing at that as well – asking him how he’s feeling and why he’s feeling that way. There’s also an amazing book called Stand By Me by John Kirwan, it teaches you about how to talk to young people about mental health and it’s really, really good.
The music awards are this weekend – how exciting do you think it’s going to be for post-lockdown Auckland to be able to get together and celebrate Kiwi music after such a hard year?
It’s so amazing! The Music Awards have always been the most intimidating kind of job to have and I’ve always been too scared to do it, but I love the way they’ve changed it this year, where there’s a completely different format and there’s going to be multiple stages and so many more performances. I think it’s just going to be a massive celebration of the music industry – being able to celebrate a community that’s hard a really tough time since lockdown, not just the musicians but all the people behind the scenes, like lighting, staging, catering etc. I think it’s a really good thing that so many people need! I’m very excited.
Alongside Three’s Jesse Mulligan and her Edge Drive Show host Jayden King, Sharyn is hosting the Aotearoa Music Awards. Sunday 15 November from 7pm on The Edge TV and then continuing from 8.30pm on THREE.