Juliet Arnott: Finding my feet

30.05.2022

Runtime - 10:47

Juliet Arnott was a respected and well-recognised figure in years after the Christchurch earthquakes. But then she disappeared from public life. What happened to Juliet? Frank Film went looking.

Juliet Arnott was a recognised and respected figure in Canterbury following the earthquakes. She was at the centre of projects focussing on recycling and resourcefulness. She stood in the spotlight at TedX and PechaKucha infusing audiences with her warmth and ideas.

But all the while, Juliet was dealing with hidden struggles. She felt disconnected and was easy prey to addictions. Her nervous system was in shreds. She didn’t realise unresolved childhood trauma was to blame.

Apparently out of nowhere, Juliet simply disappeared from view. The capable craftsperson and occupational therapist who brought the timber recycling business Rekindle to Christchurch, and was at the forefront of the extraordinary Whole House Reuse exhibition at Canterbury Museum, was herself broken.

Only now has she steeled herself to share her story with Frank Film in the hope it helps others.

“Nervous breakdown is definitely an old term and I probably wouldn’t use it these days,” she says.

“But actually there’s a strange relevance in the sense that what I now understand about what I struggle with is definitely related to my nervous system.”

At first, Juliet hunkered down turning to booze and food binges to cope with what she thought was another bought of depression.

“I was in that addictive spiral of waking up hungover, drinking in the day. It was in September 2019 that I realised it was so serious that I just had to stop.”

She recalls the life-changing moment she read about the neurobiology of trauma in Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score.

“Reading that book and being sober I was able to see that the out of control feelings that I was having were directly consequential to the trauma I experienced in my early life.

“I was so relieved to know that’s why I’m like this.” Juliet says, overcome with emotion.

Juliet was abused by someone outside of her loving family and close community as a little girl. She only told her parents of the abuse two years ago and says the news was devastating for them.

It’s thought that In New Zealand around 30 percent of people have experienced childhood sexual abuse.

Clinical Psychologist Sarah Lilley, says the impacts manifest in many different ways.

“Anger, emotion regulation problems, drinking , depression or eating difficulties can sometimes be symptoms of underlying unresolved trauma,” she says.

A simple set of wooden dolls and work with Bulgarian therapist Galina Denzel helped Juliet see through the layers of addictive behaviours which had shrouded the deep hurt she suffered so young.

“What I have experienced in my life have been survival adaptations to what happened to me,” Juliet says.

“I couldn’t stay with those feelings and, ever since, my system has done everything it could to avoid re-rexperiencing those things. Part of that is addiction. Part of that is not being present with the feelings in my body.”

Sarah Lilley says traumatic memories are stored or encoded differently in people’s brains. When reminded of the event, for some, the feeling in the body or brain is as if the trauma is in the present - not the past.

“Body-based therapies help people inhabit their bodies and get familiar with sensations and start to feel safer with those sensations,“ Sarah says. “Often talking therapies aren’t enough.

“What I need to do are things that lift my energy levels that bring my nervous system into activation,” Juliet says.

“Anyone that knows me well knows I have spent my life avoiding dancing. But it became the thing that really shifted things for me. It helped me really understand that I can change the state of my nervous system just by moving my body. So now I’m a convert.”

Juliet says understanding herself has given her hope. Sharing her story and letting go of shame has also been powerful.

In her own quiet way she’s bravely breaking new ground again.


Producer/Director: Gerard Smyth
Editor: Tracey Jury
Story Producer: Ana Olykan
Production Manager: Jo Ffitch
Sound Mix: Chris Sinclair
Production Asst: Romah Chorley

Soundtrack: "Talking With Strangers" by Miya Folick