A chat with Good For You’s Claire Chitham

Actress Claire Chitham (Shortland Street, Outrageous Fortune, Fresh Eggs) has teamed up with health journalist Kylie Bailey to share their combined knowledge on gut and cellular health in their new book “Good For You”, out nationwide this month.

We chat to Claire about all things Good For You, writing a book, and 2020 learnings.

Congratulations on Good For You. How are you feeling?

Thank you! I’m feeling pretty excited at the moment and a little nervous. We’ve put a lot of time and effort into creating this book and I hope people find it interesting enough and useful enough to want to buy it. I’m also nervous because I realise, like you, I’m an actor putting myself out there in a different way in the world and I’m not sure how people are going to feel about that. But I’m passionate about my message so I’m  feeling ready to tackle whatever curveballs I get thrown. 

Tell us more about the book…

I wanted it to feel like a recipe book for health. So it’s got a little bit of everything. I share my personal journey; being diagnosed with Crohn’s when I was 13, being hospitalized when I was in the thick of my days on Shortland Street playing Waverley and learning about my body through the process of healing it over the next few years. My co-author Kylie shares her story of suffering from crippling anxiety from a young age and what she’s learned about managing it. We have some science-y stuff in there about how your guts work, systems of the body and a run down of different healing practices you might have heard of. Then the second half of the book is a collection of tips, info, ideas on how to take care of your own health – physically, mentally and emotionally. It’s the kind of book I hope you would dip in and out of and use for years. 

I can imagine 20 years of this journey would have been a lot to unpack and try to work through. What was the process like for you?

It was pretty cathartic I guess. In a lot of ways this story is something I’ve been telling people I”ve met for years. Especially others who’ve had Crohn’s or other bowel issues or auto-immune diseases. And I’m a philosophical person so it was an interesting process to have to put perspective on some of the ideas I”ve lived with for years. Now with 20 years of looking back at what I’ve learned, I felt I could package the story into something that might be of use to others, that people could hopefully learn from or be inspired by. It feels like I have some legitimacy in this space with all I’ve done and it was time to share it. 

What has been the best part about writing this book?

I think the process itself. Sitting next to Kylie and us bashing out this thing together that we’d plotted for a few months. We work really well together and it was a very 50/50 process. We each had the same amount of work to complete and would spur each other on or inspire each other when we got stuck. I think that balance was really good for us.  I love the process of writing. Doing it for 4-8 hours a day is the first time I’ve done it that intensely, and my shoulders got pretty damn tight! But I love the feeling of crafting a story and applying creativity to the communication of ideas. 

Any advice for people who are in similar situations?

The most common problem I find with people going through a chronic illness, or mental health struggles, is that they become so exhausted and frustrated by the impact of the illness, or by not knowing what’s wrong with them and feeling helpless, that they tend to give up all together. It’s very easy to feel like you are staring at a mountain that is impossible to climb, or that there is no end in sight. I want people, especially younger people, to understand that their health is a part of them and something that needs to be understood, not hated and ignored. We need to learn to listen to our bodies and minds, and accept its flaws and challenges as a part of us, not something to be ashamed or embarrassed about. Denial of our pain, and not knowing what to do about it is the biggest problem we face on a personal level I think. 

What was your biggest learning from 2020?

How much we need each other. How much we need contact with other humans and how much we need to rely on each other to survive, literally. The gratitude i felt when i could go and hug my Dad again, or hug friends again was overwhelming. 

What’s next for you?

I’m currently developing a TV series I’ve had in the works for a couple of years, so my writing is now focused on that. I am shooting a pilot this month and can be seen in the upcoming series of The Brokenwood Mysteries later this year when it comes out on tvnz. I’ll also hopefully be directing my first short later this year, so life is fairly busy! 

Where can we get the book and where can we keep in touch with you on social media?

You can pre-order the book from our website www.goodforyoutv.co.nz and it will be on all good bookstore shelves around the country from Feb 2. If you sign up with us at our website we will keep you tanked up on all sorts of good health info, be it interesting stories with people like yourself ! or healthy info, products or practitioners that we think might be useful. Find us @goodforyoutv on IG and FB or follow me at @clairechitham to stay tuned!