I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. I had an epic inspiration bubble to share a friend’s journey through a heavy period of anxiety and depression. I would outline how the ocean and OneWave played a role in him coping at that time and his ultimate road to recovery to an improved mental space. The tale was real, human, and perfectly outlined what OneWave epitomises. I was ready!
At the time, I lay witness to the tortuous journey of his gradually deteriorating mental state. His agonising mental voyage traversed the loneliness of isolation, the abyss of hopelessness, the eternal nights and the vastness of despair. Eventually he came to surrender into acceptance, with introspection and random acts of kindness acting like stepping-stones leading him back to funsies in life and waves with time. Eventually.
Because I viewed his journey as a positive, seeing that he had literally freed the funk of his mental depths and emerged graciously to the other side to what he acknowledges as a “better place”, I thought he would jump at the idea of sharing his story. Inspire others who are going through the same. I sent a message detailing my intention to see what he thought. Time passed and he replied to call him for more information. OK I thought this is great, already envisioning how the chat would go and running full steam ahead of myself.
However, the conversation that followed is one that has been pedalled many times before. “I am not sure I am ready to share my story with the rest of the world”. I blurted out “You will remain anonymous” but that was beside the point. To him, my message had opened up the raw emotions he had experienced at that time and how painful even the thought of reliving that period of his life really was. He continued to detail that since the majority of his friends remained unaware that he was in such a hopeless, dark place he was concerned they may be able to trace the article back to him. And this thought made him feel uncomfortable. Despite two years passing he still was not ready to have those conversations and expose old wounds. Thud……heart sink.
I thanked him for his honesty even though I was selfishly a little disappointed as in my blind enthusiasm I had already prepared his story. All I could do was respect his stance and move on. Unfortunately, I left him in a quandary, as he would have loved to be the pin up boy for mental health recovery and support OneWave. However, when it came to taking the actual leap he remained stuck.
This got me thinking how foolish I had been to dive head first into the deep. Unfortunately, what I just experienced reflects exactly where mental health journeys are up to in our society. Solitary individuals moving around with intrusive emotions entangled in loneliness, yet fearful they may be exposed. How exhausting! So who or what is to blame? Is it the individual or society? To be honest as with all things human not one entity is to blame. Or is it? If I could simplify the stigma that surrounds mental health I would summarise it in one word. EGO. I will keep this three-letter word in uppercase, as I believe for such a little word it is in fact a big thing!
Now, just to clarify when it comes to EGO I am not referring to the type of superficial EGO that props you up and turns you into a strutmaster 2000 when you stroll along the foreshore of a crowded beach. No, No, I am talking about that inner voice that seems to form an opinion, and usually not a very nice one on almost anything you do!
You see this EGO is a divisive phenomenon that feeds on vulnerability, thrives on fear and perfects negative judgement. You may recall it from such thoughts as “I should be able to deal with this”, “I am not good enough”, “they can why can’t I”, “what will people think” and in it’s simplest form just plain old “I CAN’T”. The EGO in fact is so present in our lives that often it is mistaken for our actual being. Kind of like an invisible mental conjoint twin that we cannot separate from our own thoughts. It often arrives with a giant “should’ve shovel” that digs you into a rut and keeps you stuck. To be fair, the EGO doesn’t discriminate amongst individuals, as it is present in us all. This multiplied by the entire population equals the EGO of society, and when it comes to issues concerning mental health EGO = STIGMA.
So here is a thought for today…….listen to your EGO. Acknowledge its views. Thank it for its opinion, and then politely tell it to bugger off. You are NOT your EGO. You are not labelled or defined by your EGO (although you may allow it to do this often). You in fact are an entirely separate entity. If each individual reconnected with their own identity and separated their thoughts from that of their EGO we may just step away from our own fears and become a little less stuck.
So on Friday, maybe heading down to the beach early in crazy fluoro, catching a few waves or simply hanging with new faces doing some yoga may start a battle with your EGO. So be it! In doing so you may just win a part of yourself back. Sure, your EGO would love to come for a free ride to the beach. However, you have the CHOICE to listen to your own non-judgemental dialogue and leave your beloved EGO in the boot. By learning to mute the running commentary of your EGO in time, you will become less afraid of what others may think and more aware and accepting of the difficulties experienced by those around you.
This concept, multiplied in everyday life, in every individual, is the secret to freeing the stigma of mental illness. First, a ripple at an individual level then flows a positive vibration into our society. I like to picture it as a giant EGOless tsunami about to crash down on stigma. So lets get amongst it, head to the beach and get those ripples going, one wave and one thought at a time!
I bumped into Grant on Bondi Beach one morning not long after losing my younger sister, who had struggled with depression. I remember there were dolphins in the bay; Grant had a huge yellow RUOK on his surfboard. I wondered if I was okay, losing a loved one to suicide is tough; it shatters your world. We started a conversation about mental health and loss; Grant shared his vision for One Wave and Flouro Friday’s. I sent a follow up email sharing my story and how swimming at Icebergs ocean pool had helped me. The next Friday like a flash mob full of heart and colour, the OneWave crew brought their Flouro vibrancy to swim squad. I don’t know what the guys in the fast lane thought when Sam joined them in his squirrel onsie and snorkel…and kept pace! We’ve been bringing Flouro Friday colour to Icebergs, in support of One Wave’s vision ever since. Our squad crew, like most of us in life, have journeyed good times and some tough times…Flouro Friday brings an openness and connectedness to how we approach each day and each other. Their really is something magical about swimming in saltwater with your mates as the sun comes up. As one of my swim squad buddies says: he always swims in Flouro now.
Each year we create a sand heart to honour my sister, who we lost on September 11 four years ago. Last year as I stood on Bondi Beach and shared my story with the OneWave gathering for RUOK Day and as we created a huge heart in the sand together, the kindness and strength of the One Wave community filled my heart with hope. As a community we can create better ways of dealing with mental health, facilitating more hopeful and compassionate conversations and just being by each other’s sides.
As a nurse, my sister didn’t feel she could speak about mental health. Some studies have shown health professionals are four times more at risk of depression and suicide. We need to shine a light on more inclusive and compassionate approaches to mental health in all workplaces and communities. In her suicide note she pledged some of her savings to a depression related charity. Working with OneWave and RUOK, if we can help one health professional or one person to not feel so alone in their struggle with mental health…that will be Karina’s legacy.
I am so grateful to have connected with the One Wave community, thanks for being by my side and always having my back.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. Margaret Mead
Sienna was five when she lost her Auntie. They were very close and every time Sienna sees a pink sunset or a rainbow, she calls it an ‘auntie sky’. We come down to Bondi to join the OneWave crew for RUOKDay before school. Last year we made a sand heart. This year Sienna was keen to join the paddle out making RUOK? in the ocean. We joined the top of the question mark on the beach. As we began to paddle out the low tide dumpers out back seemed to keep coming, we didn’t think we could get out and were about to return to shore. Then a break in the sets seemed to open up for us. We could see the stream of boards heading out and paddled out to join our friends on the top of the question mark. Afterwards, Sienna paddled with us half way across the bay so we could get back in safely at North Bondi. Sienna was very quiet and focused the whole time. Later that day she said “She did it for Auntie” and as she went to sleep that night she said, “it was the best day of her life”. Sienna’s strength and compassion inspires me that the next generation will be better at understanding and dealing with mental health.
Banjo has been a Flouro Friday fan since the beginning, always happy to join the One Wave crew for a paddle out. After losing his Auntie in Year 3, Banjo did a ‘Seasons Program’ for kids coping with loss. In his journal he wrote that his safe, happy place in on his surfboard. I think he feels a sense of calm, connection when he is in the ocean.
At a OneWave event at Malabar, Banjo and Sienna teamed up with Grant and Sam in the Splash for Locky. I don’t know how but Grant swum the 400 meters in his colorful velvet suit! The kids felt so welcome with the One Wave crew. They made a new best mate, Archie One Wave’s always-friendly Black Dog!
Grant, Sam, Aprilla, Joel and all of the One Wave crew are always so encouraging of Banjo. Banjo has also been welcomed into the RUOK family at Waverley College; Katrina (Gavin’s sister in law) invited him to help with RUOK Day events. Banjo received the Social Justice Award in Year 6; it was very special for him to be recognized in this way and gives me hope for the future.
We are lucky to have you in the OneWave community Ingrid. Thanks for sharing such a personal and inspirational story.
If you would like to share your story about the ocean and freeing the funk we would love to hear from you. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The wave rising in front of you has travelled across the ocean, building momentum over thousands of kilometres and gathering energy, to find you, waiting. For this wave to appear, many factors have aligned: the daybreak, the swell, the tide, the wind. In a moment it could pass you by, the energy dissipating into sound and friction against the sand – unless you paddle into position and jump to your feet, harnessing the flow that runs beneath you.
Last year my fiancé Dean and I set off on a year-long surfing trip. We called a time-out on our long distance relationship and cashed in our frequent flyer points to get back to our seaside roots, having grown up on the NSW South Coast together. On our travels we surfed in some incredible places, from well-known hot spots in Indonesia to remote stretches of the Pacific coast of Mexico. We had plenty of grovel sessions in sloppy waves too. Every day we felt better for it.
But in the last few years I’ve also experienced hiccups in my mental health, little hurdles where I don’t feel as spirited as my younger self. Mostly, it’s a feeling of being unable to tame racing thoughts, whether that be the press of anxiety or because of a disruption to my sleep patterns. It might last just a day or spill over into weeks.
As for my brother, he lives with bipolar. His experience has been a chief influence on my understanding of mental health; I like to think that our brains just function on different wavelengths. I admire the resilience he has shown to navigate the high and lows of what can be a destabilising condition – and have since taken note of the behaviour of my own brain.
When I’m feeling scattered, restless or uneasy, I fall into the ocean for solace. The constant presence of the sea is dependable and in the ocean I find a natural rhythm that calms my mind.
Science has shown that our brain waves can – and will – align with external rhythms: the tempo of a song, the beat of worn joggers on pavement, the sound of waves crashing on the shore. When our brains are stimulated by these patterns, our neurons begin to fire in sync with what they hear, which can have a calming effect.
The ocean certainly resets my mood; it also gives me my bearings. Born from a salty childhood, the beach to the east, the ocean has always been a steady guide: a reminder to lead a healthy lifestyle and to take care of myself; a place to catch up with close friends or talk through difficult problems.
When you need a breather, the ocean offers a physical separation from the land too. Go, leave your troubles on the sand and dive in the sea. To echo the Australian author Tim Winton, the ocean allows you to truant for a while from terrestrial problems. It’s a retreat, an escape, where you can filter through messy thoughts in an open space – or not think about anything at all.
Surfing, for me, is a moving meditation that helps clear my head. Like yoga and long-distance running, surfing brings my concentration to the immediate task at hand, no further than the wave in front of me – particularly when on guard in big swell. You can’t help but focus on pressing sensations like the adrenaline flooding your veins, the (lack of) air in your lungs or the spray from an offshore wind raining chills down your back.
And yet, while the sea will quiet my mind, it can also be provocative beast. The ocean has its own moods: murky grey when a storm is brewing and glass-bottle green when it’s calm. Sometimes the ocean matches your state of mind; other days you’re fighting against it. I find that getting thumped wave after wave can draw out disproportionate frustrations, perhaps a shadow of other yet-to-be-acknowledged feelings, but there are times too when I enjoy getting knocked around in the white water. I’m smiling amongst the bubbles, knowing that I’ll surface on the other side.
Dean and I are back in Australia now, home long enough to lose our tans and sun-bleached hair. Maybe we’ll pick up our Endless Summer dream again soon, but regardless I know we won’t stray from the ocean. We’re lucky to live beside the sea, in sync with its tides, where a dose of salt water therapy is never too far away.
Mahalo Clare Watson for sharing such an inspirational story! If you are passionate about mental health and the ocean and would like to share your story we would love to hear from you. Send an email to email@example.com.