Meet Steve and pledge to help him take his show about happiness and the true meaning of mental health – on the road
Steve Carter was once the Christchurch local good news reporter for Happyzine. Through his commitment to finding his own unique habits of happiness, he has created an album and a show that he needs our help to launch …
- What is A Question of Identity?
It’s the name I’ve given to a new concept I’m working on, one of the results of a sabbatical ‘year out’. It’s an album and a show, designed to be complementary. The show weaves together the songs into a narrative flow, taking the audience on a journey through my own experience, reflecting theirs, and with a view to inspire, educate and entertain. It’s not just music with a message…it’s music AND a message.
2. What inspired it?
As I say, I decided last year to take a sabbatical from my work in health promotion and community development, partly to set up my own business (Happiness Systems) but also, within that, to explore new ways of continuing and evolving my mahi (I choose that word to suggest ‘vocation’ more than ‘work’). I reached the point where I seemed to be treading water and I felt a little constrained by the environment…..and I am a person who is driven by passion for change. It’s a hackneyed idea to talk about being ‘on a mission’ but I never put less than my entire heart and soul into what I do. I need to totally believe in it. I felt it was time to break out of the routine of a ‘job’ and find new outlets and new approaches that captured that passion and drive and were unique to my own experience.
I’ve been writing songs and making art for a while and I wondered if there might be ways to combine the presentation/communication/messaging elements of my work with a more creative approach. This is one of the things I decided to try
3. Can you tell us about your work in Mental Health?
Up until July last year, I was (for nine years) a Mental Health Promoter for the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand. I was lucky enough to work on a range of projects, from Like Minds, Like Mine (the national project to reduce stigma and discrimination), to Movember-funded work on men’s mental health, and also promoting the awesome Five Ways to Wellbeing. All of this work came to a visceral, important culmination after the Christchurch earthquakes, where I was one of the team that set up and delivered the All Right? campaign, a dialogue with the people of Christchurch about the things that could support their wellbeing and mental health after all that devastation and loss. I am hugely proud of the work we did with that campaign, taking it from a little idea with a lot of heart into one of the cornerstones of the Christchurch recovery programme. We made sure the human recovery was seen as just as important as buildings, money and political empire-building.
But I’ve always worked with people: over the years, I’ve been involved in community development, volunteer management, health development, arts development and social justice. I am fascinated by people and the things that make them ‘tick’, as well as the systems and structures that support or mitigate against wellbeing. I was never much of a tub-thumping, flag-waving activist but this work has always been my activism, my way to make a difference. It’s just become more subtle and nuanced over the years.
It’s a complicated world….but there are ways to make it easier on yourself and others.
4. What are some challenges you’ve overcome to find well being?
Ah, I don’t want to give too much away! People should come and see the show or buy the CD to hear the answers to that question. But I have had my own problems and breakdowns and I have an over-active mind that sometimes ties me in anxious knots. I have obsessions and hang-ups and I can be an awkward, narcissistic bugger to know or live with. In some ways, the challenges of my own mental health and identity are part of a feedback loop that comes from looking at the woes of others. As Nietzsche said, “Battle not with monsters lest ye become a monster, and when you gaze long into an abyss, theabyss also gazes into you.”
Sometimes, the world looks and feels like a horrible place and it’s all-too easy to retreat into ultimately self-defeating defences….so I have spent my life exploring wellbeing, values and identity. These are positive solutions: my way out has always also been my way in.
5. What can we expect from your show?
Because I deal openly with these issues, you can certainly expect candour and black-humour but you can also expect ideas. I have spent years looking at this subject and I hope that I have learned a few things along the way that can be of use to other people. While I’m talking about my own experiences, sometimes brutally honestly, it is always used a stepping stone to offering solutions. I do talk about drugs, fear, monkey-mindedness, relationships, but I very much counterbalance those things by also talking about tolerance, diversity, peace, hope, compassion…because those are the things that can make one’s subjective experience (and the objective world) a better place to be. I will talk with some professional clarity about my work and the evidence-base that informs it but the show also gives me the chance to discuss my fifteen years of martial arts practice and meditation and the sometimes-challenging insights I have derived from that.
Most of all, you can expect questions, hence the title. Who am I? What is health? Why is identity so important? These are not only questions that I pose in order to provoke new ways of thinking, but I have specifically allowed an open session at the end of the scripted show, an odd kind of encore that will function as a Q&A, a dialogue with the audience who will, I hope, have been inspired to ask their own questions, to turn the mirror back on themselves. ‘Mental health’ is not something that happens to other people…we are all emotional, psychological and intellectual creatures and our minds are our greatest asset if we learn to address our challenges and maximise our potential.
6. What’s one piece of advice you would give to a man…..?
If I was to decoct it down into the most important thing it would be ‘talk about it’. Don’t be ashamed, don’t bottle it up, don’t think it’ll just get better if you pull your socks up. Life has ups and downs and there are times when the downs can be very challenging….but it is very common, absolutely normal, and recovery is not only possible but probable.
It was great to be associated, for a time, with the National Depression Initiative. John Kirwan said it perfectly in those TV ads: Reach out. Hang on to hope. Things do get better.
7. What’s your favourite meal…..?
Now that’s a tricky one. If I’m looking for a really healthy feed, I will usually go for some kind of multi-colourful, organic concoction, preferably fresh from the garden to the plate and definitely shared with others. But sometimes one needs to indulge the mental health too and to simply go for what feels good, which for me often means bacon and eggs. Or something involving white chocolate.
One of the points I’m at pains to make in the show is that we might perhaps ‘loosen up’ when it comes to health. It’s very easy to get so obsessed by the things that will do us good or do us bad, that we end up creating anxieties and hang-ups that are actually counter-productive. Thinking too much (or grasping, dukkha in the Buddhist canon) are at least as destructive to (overall, wholistic) health as eating the odd bag of chips or drinking the odd bottle of beer. Balance is the key….and that is really only achieved by connecting to one’s own natural flow or, as the Taoists put it, Way.
It can be a challenging notion. Come to the show. Let’s kick it around.
8. What do you hope this album and show will give you?
That’s easy: New direction and new momentum for the same ongoing journey. I actually think my notional ‘sabbatical’ is over. I have found my way to a simpler, more humble life that is filled with diversity, creativity and new excitements around every corner. This album is just another step on my path (my own, personal Way). Right now, it is perfectly enoughto be doing something I love and believe in.
9. What do you hope it will give us?
I want people to be engaged by the ideas I present in my show….not so that they merely import them wholesale, but so that they ask similar questions for themselves and seek their own solutions. What is my joy? What do I love? What gives me meaning and purpose? For what things can I be most grateful? How can I be the best person I can be and what can I do with this gift called Life?
If just one person takes away enough from the show or the album to help them reflect on some of those questions, then I will feel vindicated in offering it.
The work remains the same. I want to make a difference.
10. Who inspires you to get out of bed each morning?
If it doesn’t sound too self-aggrandising, I do. I am in love with my life.
But the truth of the matter is that I am also surrounded by amazing people doing all kinds of amazing things: artists, gardeners, musicians, social change agents, activists, teachers, entrepreneurs, builders, lovers, dreamers and makers. They, with their uniqueness and drive to be exactly themselves, are a massive part of my life and they are, collectively, a huge part of what makes up the identity called ‘Me’.
This show is dedicated to all of them with deepest gratitude.