We recently caught up with Anna Birchall – the founder and master mind behind Moon Turtle – a guided daily journal designed to support mental wellness through discovering how your mind works.
“It’s all based around the idea that there’s no one single thing that will create mental wellness/relieve mental illness, but instead, it’s a puzzle made up of tiny little pieces that all add up to create a bigger picture.
Moon Turtle helps to figure out which pieces are making a positive contribution, and which ones… not so much.”
She shares with us her personal journey on how Moon Turtle came to be and why daily reflection is essential to improving our mental wellbeing…
“I grew up in the bustling metropolis of Palmerston North. I have a beautiful family feat. Mom, Dad, two brothers and a sister, and despite living in the same house until I left for university, I went to eight schools…
After high school, I picked studying Communication Design and moved up to Auckland. I didn’t really stay much longer than a semester, but stayed in Auckland regardless, and I’ve been here ever since.
That time was riddled with the frustrations and lessons on mental health issues, and having now largely managed to get my health under control. I’m eager to pass whatever I can onto whoever could do with a little love and support – Moon Turtle is my little passion project I do in my spare time.
Essentially my life force is a want to make beautiful, meaningful, ‘helpful’ things that support people in living a happier life in some capacity.”
What is Moon Turtle and how did it start?
“Aside from ~a semester and a half at AUT, I also studied for a little bit at University of Auckland, the Naturopathic College, and finally Yoobee School of Design (the only one of those places I’m not a drop-out statistic)…
For one of the assignments, we had two weeks to make a book – whatever we liked. At the time, I was seeing a psychologist and had started over-documenting my life between my fortnightly appointments with her because it was hard to remember everything that had happened, or easy to disregard meltdowns from which I’d had several days to recover.
Writing down a bunch of information while it was ‘live’ made it easier for her to help me, as she had a more accurate idea of what was going on in my brain, my body and my life.
After three months of doing that, I had made so much progress, just from understanding the recurring patterns in my thoughts feelings and behaviour that went on without me even realising.
Rather than document this information on a wad of folded A4 pages I had jankily saddle stitched together, I decided to revamp it for my book project at Yoobee. I printed and bound a couple of copies and gave one to a friend, who later wanted one to give to another friend. A couple of months down the track she suggested we have a bunch professionally printed and sell them.
That was around August 2016, and it’s been slowly growing ever since! Moon Turtle is up to Version 3 (I’m constantly looking to improve them based on feedback of people who have used them in order to make them as helpful as possible), launched a kids version called Moon Turtle Junior (the last ones of which were recently sold), 3 little postcards (as a lot of the journals were being bought as gifts, and sometimes you just don’t really know what to say to someone who’s having a shit time, but you want to support them), and lastly a journal called ‘What Did I Even Do This Year?’ which is a little space to gather all the little things that happen throughout the year that actually make up your experience of life.”
Why is reflection and journaling important for our mental well-being?
“For me, documenting things ~in real time~ while they feel real, makes reflection all the more valuable because you’re essentially dealing with ‘factual data’. Which sounds a little clinical, is really handy when putting the pieces together.
You’re not having to think back ten days ago. You can go ‘ahh I had this really shitty meltdown, but I had been eating trash and sleeping twelve hours a night for a week, and not going outside.’
A lot of the time, thoughts, feels and behaviour can catch up with you a little further down the track, you can refer back to your journal and begin to join the dots.
Journaling is also a nice gentle step into some healthy introspection. It was important to me that Moon Turtle provided the space to gather valuable information really quickly, so that you didn’t have to write for hours – or at all – if you didn’t want to, but it’s still an insightful practice.
Reflection is hugely valuable in bringing an awareness to, and learning who we are and how we operate. There is no one single thing that causes mental illness, and there’s no one things that’ll just make it go away. Medication won’t fix everything, seeing a therapist won’t fix everything, eating eggs and vegetables and taking fish oil won’t fix everything, meditation or a yoga class won’t fix everything… But when you fit lots of nourishing, wellness-creating little pieces together consistently, that’s when the magic starts to happen.”
What are your goals with Moon Turtle and what do you want to achieve?
“My goal with Moon Turtle is to empower people to play an active role in thier mental health recovery and growth by learning what it means to look after their entire being.
I’m a big fan of holistic wellness – the connection between the mind and the body – if you don’t have a healthy body, it’s hard to have a health mind. Your health is the most valuable thing you have – it plays such an enormous role in the quality and experience of your life, and when you have the knowledge of how to nourish your being – your mind and your body, life genuinely feels like the biggest gift.
I have a bunch of things I would love to do with it – in the near future, I am currently developing a new journal.
I guess my big, big lofty dream would actually to have a Moon Turtle cafe (Moon Turtle was created in various cafes throughout Auckland where I’ve hidden away and paid my ‘studio rent’ in a bunch of coffees) and the cafe provides a space for people to connect and create. It’ll host workshops that support to nourishment of the soul and learning about nurturing a healthy mind and body. There’ll be little cosy side rooms which wellness practitioners and can work from to provide accessible, effective and affordable holistic wellness therapy. The food is all fresh and full of nourishing goodness to fuel the brain and the body. There’s free wifi and nooks to hide in while working away on things. Dreamy huh?”
What are your final words of advice?
“Just be so kind to yourself. On my journey, everything got infinitely easier when I cut myself some slack. There was this fear that if I wasn’t hard on myself, wasn’t ‘punished’ for fucking up, then I would just fall apart, like ‘discipline’ was the only thing keeping this shell of myself together. Ahh but it wasn’t!
When I started offering myself unconditional compassion and patience, speaking kindly to myself, everything improved tenfold. I started treating myself like I was my own best friend.
If she had done what I was beating myself up for, how would I respond? It’d be hugs, assurance and love all round! You’re not going to bully yourself in to version of yourself that you love. After ten years of being my own bully, and it clearly not making me happy, I had to give it up.
You’re worth being offered unconditional kindness. Growth and repair is incredibly difficult without kindness.”
For more information on Anna and Moon Turtle visit:
Photography Supplied By Moon Turtle NZ