I’m Victoria and my seven-year-old daughter Emilie and I are about to walk 3,000 km across New Zealand, from Cape Reinga to Bluff, on New Zealand’s Te Araroa Trail.

This journey is part of my recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a mental health condition which developed in response to terrifying events in my teenage years.

I’m walking the trail as part of a project to heal these childhood hurts, restore my confidence in the world and myself, make wonderful memories with my daughter and spend time in the beautiful healing power of nature.

And along the way, I’m hoping to raise funds for the Mental Health Foundation and Federated Mountain Clubs of NZ, two organisations dear to my heart. I also want to connect with you and people all across New Zealand and show that while mental illness doesn’t discriminate, it is possible to heal, learn to love again and live your best life.

We’re asking you to partner with us as we spend six months on the Trail, starting in October of this year. If you or someone you know and love has been impacted by sexual abuse, or has lived experience of mental distress, please dig deep for our causes and support our journey.

Whether you’re able to contribute financially, follow and share our journey on social media, send us some love and moral support, connect with us and share your story, or feel inspired to make some healing changes in your own life, we want to connect with you.

Now for the gnarly stuff; I was recently diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, a mental health condition that develops in response to experiencing deeply distressing and traumatic events over a long period of time. These events are often at the hands of others, in a context where you feel threatened, trapped and cannot escape or protect yourself.

For me, this included being sexually abused as a young teenage girl during almost two years in state care.

For a large part of my life, I often felt I was tiptoeing around a black hole of sadness, which could suck me in at any time.

I suffered from debilitating symptoms, including the feeling of being on constant high alert, as though your body is filled with adrenalin, compelling you to fight, flight or freeze, even if you’re just doing something mundane like grocery shopping or are on your way to work.

You grit your teeth and fight through it, engross yourself in work, study, parenting, but finish the day feeling so exhausted and worn out, too afraid to sleep in case you have recurring nightmares. And when you’re awake, you may experience flashbacks and severe anxiety, and end up feeling overwhelmed, depressed and tearful for no apparent reason.

For this reason, I’ve often struggled with intense loneliness and deep sadness, wanting to connect with people but finding it too scary, avoiding friendships, intimate relationships and social events.

My negative self-image left me feeling permanently damaged, broken and worthless, even after completing university, working overseas, giving birth to my beautiful daughter and developing professionally as a journalist and communications advisor.

I’ve tried to forget those traumatic events, but past hurts left unaddressed have a way of welling up from deep inside of you, like water from deep underground. You get to a stage in your life where you realize that to go forward, you need to address your past.

As you might imagine, being formally diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder has been both a curse and a blessing – I’m still struggling to accept that part of my brain has been permanently damaged by terrifying events beyond my control, but am relieved to now understand why I sometimes feel the way I do and develop strategies to manage and live a better life.

This is my story, but by connecting with more people, I realize I’m not alone.

Statistics show that mental distress affects many New Zealanders with 1 in 5 people diagnosed with a mood/and or anxiety disorder at some stage in their life. Likewise, sexual abuse is also prevalent in our society, including the abuse of our tamariki.

Reconnecting with our natural world has been a massive part of my recovery. That’s why I’m going to walk the Te Araroa Trail with my daughter Emilie, spend time in the beautiful healing power of nature.

We’ll be sharing stories on our Instagram page, Adventures with Emilie, and our friends at Federated Mountain Clubs are helping us publish a blog of our journey along the way.

By walking the Te Araroa Trail, we also hope to show kiwis the important links between nature and wellbeing, including the need to protect and restore our precious natural environment.

We’re raising money for the Mental Health Foundation and Federated Mountain Clubs – connecting advocacy for mental health and wellbeing with the protection of our access to Aotearoa’s wild places.

Whether you have lived experience of mental distress, or you’ve been through some trauma, or whether you just want to explore an alternative to the fast-paced life we all seem to live, we’d love to connect with you as we walk across New Zealand.

Whether you can donate a few dollars or a bit more, we’d be so grateful for your support on our big adventure. Your donation will be split evenly between the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand and FMC Mountain & Forest Trust. 10 percent will go towards gear, food and essentials for our journey along the Trail.

Learn more:

Give-a-little page for donations.

Instagram: @adventures_with_emilie

Mental Health Foundation:

Our story on Stuff.co.nz