An Invisible Battle

From Only Human , 7:00 am on 27 August 2020

Warning: this story contains discussion around depression, anxiety and self-harm and may not be suitable for all listeners. 


In a series of photographs, Suzie Harris’ bare arms are painted gold; the undersides revealing raised thatched lines. And on closer inspection, it is hard to distinguish where one line ends, and another one begins. 

Art work by Suzie Harris

Art work by Suzie Harris Photo: Suzie Harris


These images are brave and confronting. Harris invites the viewer to take a deep dive into her emotional world. One that she tried for so long to suppress.


On this week's episode of RNZ podcast Only Human, Suzie Harris shares the challenges of going through the mental health system, coping with mental distress and self harm and what it means to come out the other side.



In her early thirties, Harris lights up a room. She has an openness and vulnerability that is easy to warm to and when you meet her, you know you’ve met a very special person.


But for the budding artist, coming to grips with who she is has come with a great deal of pain, and a process of both acceptance and letting go, when her feelings and thoughts overwhelm her. 


“This is how self-harm would look if I met it on the street,” says Harris who points out a mangled and twisted form on the wall of a small Wellington art gallery.


Harris held her first ever art exhibition in 2019. The work traced her journey of self-discovery, exploring what it means to live through depression and recover from complex post-traumatic stress disorder, a diagnosis she was given in her twenties after a series of attempts to take her life.


Harris grew up in the UK and moved to New Zealand as a teenager. She has always been sensitive to her surroundings and during her childhood her parents moved from one place to another with their daughter and Harris’ other siblings in tow. But Harris struggled to adapt.


Medicine dispenser cups kept by Suzie and crafted into art for her exhibition Monuments of Hope, 2019.

Medicine dispenser cups kept by Suzie and crafted into art for her exhibition Monuments of Hope, 2019. Photo: Sonia Yee

Changing schools on a regular basis didn’t help. She struggling with the constant cycle of making friends and leaving them behind. This was later compounded by bullying so traumatic that any child would be inclined to withdraw. In one instance she had acid poured onto her, and another, where her hair was set alight.


In attempts to suppress the feelings of humiliation, fear and pain, Harris became trapped in a vicious cycle of self-harm that she kept hidden, with her family unaware of what she was experiencing. 


But today, things are looking brighter for Harris who is on a mission to help others.


Listen to this online exclusive of RNZ podcast, Only Human to hear how Suzie Harris made her way through recovery; the battle and obstacles she has faced in going through the mental health system, and how finally being 'seen' opened up her entire world, igniting her path to freedom.  

If you or anyone you know is struggling with issues or thoughts around self-harm, depression, anxiety and bullying please see the numbers below:

  1. Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor.
  2. Lifeline – 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP).
  3. Youthline – 0800 376 633, free text 234, email or online chat.
  4. Samaritans – 0800 726 666.

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