27 October 2020


On the surface, Matt Chisholm had a great job and family. But relentless pressure and internal struggles pushed him to the brink
Mental Health
Where I grew up, as a man you had to be tough. It was all about playing rugby and drinking booze. You had to be strong.  I never wanted to go and see the doctor about anything. I was a man, so I could deal with things myself. My brother's accident - I dealt with it by myself.  Alcoholism - I dealt with that by myself.  Coming from my world, we just rolled up our sleeves and got on with it.
And in a lot of ways my life was looking pretty good. I had a beautiful family and a dream job. Deep down though, I was the unhappiest I’d ever been.
I was getting more and more tired and burnt out from work. I remember going into the start of 2018, and my wife asking me what my New Year's resolution was. I said to her: “I just want to survive the year.”
I’d just spent seven weeks filming Survivor New Zealand in Thailand working every day.  I was buggered. My one-year-old boy hardly knew me because I'd been away for so long and my wife was heavily pregnant. And it was at this point that I got offered a new job on Sunday, the last remaining current affairs show on national TV.
Suddenly, I had to put on more serious, grown-up pants. I felt like I didn't deserve that position. I felt like an imposter, like some country hick who’d had a lucky break. So I thought I had to work much harder than everyone else in order to truly belong.
By then we had our second baby, so I was juggling a young family, too, getting woken up all through the night. At the same time, there were all these big stories at work that I couldn't get out of my head. I found myself just constantly scrambling for stories and barely meeting all these deadlines. Pretty soon I was in a reasonably bad place. All I was doing was working and parenting - I couldn’t find any time for me.
I started talking to a good friend at work, Greg Boyed. He was in a bad place too. We talked about our problems at work and home and we discussed the possibility of getting professional help. I came away from our chat thinking Greg was probably in a better place than I was. I thought that I didn't need to worry about him too much.
One day, I was driving around with my father-in-law at the farm and I picked up my phone and saw a headline with the name Greg Boyd in it. I don't need to read anymore to know that Greg had taken his own life. I just started bawling in the truck. I cried and I cried.
I asked myself what I could have done differently to make sure that he was still here. I was also angry with Greg – he was such a good bastard with so much to give.  We told each other we weren't going to do anything silly. But I could also understand. I understand how people can get so low.
And I wondered what that meant for me. Greg and I were different people, but we seemed to be on the same path.
Yet despite all this, I still just carried on. Soon things got worse. I was struggling at home and struggling at work. I got some average ratings and started doubting my own ability. It got to the point where I wasn’t eating, I wasn’t sleeping. Eventually my wife said to me: “You need help.” 
The doctor told me I was dealing with grief, depression, and burnout. Trying to handle everything internally wasn’t working anymore. The doctor said, “Right we need to get you on some medication and you need to start doing some exercise.”
For years, I'd put so much effort into my work that I'd let everything else go. My physical health, my mental health, my relationships - I was last on the list. But I threw the kitchen sink at getting myself well again.
I started on medication. I started running. I did mindfulness. I started talking to someone. I did everything I could to get myself back on track. I started saying “no” to work. I started saying “yes” to socialising again. I became present instead of going home and looking at my phone for the next work email. I put my phone away.
When I put it out there that I wasn't doing very well, every second workmate got in touch and said, “Mate, I've been on the pills for fifteen years.”  “I've been seeing a counsellor for 12 years.” “I struggled when my first child was born. “I struggled when I lost my job…”
So all these people are having these internal struggles and suffering in silence. I was like, “Mate, we have a coffee every other day. Why weren’t we talking about this? Why weren’t we sharing?”
In the end, I resigned from my job. On Sunday, the job of a journalist is to look for the negative. I wanted to start looking for the positive. So I packed in the job and moved my family down south to Central Otago.
Now we’re connecting as a family, we're connecting with the community, we’re connecting with the land. And I don't know if I've ever been happier. I've got a beautiful family, I'm healthy physically and mentally. I've got so much to live for.
For years my work came first. I said no to mates and weekend activities because I had to prove I was good enough. But in trying to prove I belonged, I bloody near killed myself.