In the past week, three of my friends have reached out to me to say that they needed help with their mental health. While this is already an impressive showing from a pretty small sample size, what makes it truly extraordinary is that all of them are dudes.
Thanks to excellent efforts by Movember and their ilk, it should surprise nobody that young men are over-represented when it comes to depression, bipolar disorder and suicide in Australia. We’re also famous for not knowing how (or perhaps more accurately, not wanting) to talk about it, which is perhaps why these combined events hit home so hard.
With a family history of severe depression and a younger brother currently completing his PhD in psychology, I’d like to think that I’m pretty good at flagging warning signs when it comes to this sort of thing. But on the contrary, I could not have picked it from any of these guys, all confident, gainfully employed and frankly hilarious people who have no problems socialising or making friends. Most likely, it’s because I was looking in the wrong place.
Of the three guys I talked to, one I’ve known since primary school. That’s about twenty years. Though we’re not as close as we once were, it’s a sort of unspoken agreement that we’ll drop everything when necessary and be at each others’ side. Both our fathers died within a year, and even though we barely mix in the same circles anymore, we were beside each other all the way.
The others found themselves staring down solitude after the breakdown of very serious, potentially lifelong relationships. Again, we exchanged phone calls, mainly so I could check how they were doing. It seemed like everything was back on track, they were playing music and making things and nothing about their behaviour indicated anything was amiss.
As it turns out, they were all good at dealing with the immediate situation. What was harder is what happened next. When the family and friends stopped visiting. When the concerned mates seemed convinced things were OK. Men, it seems, find it much tougher to deal with the aftershocks of a crisis, episode or loss than the event itself. Believe it or not, break-ups or even funerals can be businesslike. You go through the motions like a zombie. It’s when this structure disappears that things can go bad. You can get yourself into a funk very quickly.
We talked about seeing someone. About the prospect of going on medication, if necessary, and how scary it was. About feeling down, feeling blank, feeling like life wasn’t worth it. Frankly, if not for the beer, I doubt I would have been able to manage it. These conversations can be as hard to have for the receiver as they are for the giver, especially when you two are close.
What was palpable, however, was how incredibly cathartic it was for them to get it out there. To admit to someone outside of their GP, psychologist or parents that they weren’t having a great time, and they hadn’t been for a while, and it was starting to really get to them. It’s incredible how heavy stuff will seem to float away the second you hear it come out of your mouth. They say a conversation can change a life, which is true. Failing that, it can also just make life more bearable. Which, if you’re stuck in a funk, can make one hell of a difference.
Regardless of whether you celebrate Christmas or not, the holidays are an exceptionally difficult time for your mates who have lost someone, or perhaps lost a bit of themselves. There’s a lot of time with not much happening. The big life event might have been a while ago, but that doesn’t mean everything is peachy up there. Think about your friends you haven’t been in touch with for a while. Chances are, they’re great. But just in case, the great thing about conversations is that they’re the cheapest present going around.
Screw the gift-wrapping. Pick up the phone.
– Jonno Seidler.
“65% of people with mental issues don’t get help.” – ONEWAVE non-profit
THE LOVE EFFECT is a 29-minute, cinematic short starring Tyler Atkins, Australian actor, surfer, yogi and Ari Blinder, actor and filmmaker from the East Coast. In the story, two men from different sides of the tracks who never even learn each other’s names, share emotional experiences with depression and suicide. Through miraculous circumstances, these men discover each other at their worst. Yet in sharing and teaching each other simple experiences such as fishing, surfing, and camping, they are reminded of life’s greatest gift and find their own pathway through.
Tyler conceived the story after he faced a major traumatic experience. His dear friend and mentor Charlotte Dawson- someone who guided him in his career and upbringing in the entertainment industry, someone who he loved and respected, took her own life. Tyler himself had already endured many life and death experiences, from fighting kidney disease for a year and a half in a hospital, to witnessing someone jumping off a bridge right in front of him. A series of heart wrenching life events tipped him to depression and frustration. Tyler knew he wanted to speak about it. His effort was filmmaking. Tyler wanted to answer in THE LOVE EFFECT film: “How could I get someone to see through their pain for a moment, and give them a reason and a way to open up?” His answer was surfing, yet the film and its story opened up so much more.
Growing up on a surfboard on the beaches of AUS, this was Tyler’s home. The ocean was his temple and surfing was his prayer. It was all he had amidst a tough childhood of loss and abandonment. The ocean was a positive place for him and a place of wonderful growth. He was able to connect with people in and out on the water. He was able to challenge himself to get better and submit himself to the mercy of the Ocean’s power. With THE LOVE EFFECT he wanted to create a film where he could have shown a single pathway and glimmer of hope for someone else. He wanted to show his friend Charlotte just one more way and reason to get through, by sharing himself and something he loved.
When Tyler, Ari and I got together to begin preparing for the film’s production, we knew we had to train thoroughly in surfing. Even though I had grown uparound water and all over California, I never once tried surfing. Ari, an east coast boy himself, never did either. We were more than excited (terrified) to begin training.
Ari and I were afraid of everything: Water. Sharks. Looking like two athletic grown men who didn’t know the first thing about surfing, nonetheless just staying on a board. We knew it was going to put us out there and be rough. We all got up at 5am to go surf in beautiful Malibu. After a hearty breakfast burrito and a cup of coffee, we pulled up to the wonderful sands and asked Tyler, “What’s the first step?” He looked at us and said – “get in.”
What? Get in where? There? The OCEAN? A million questions raced: What do we do – how do we do it – how do we move – what if we drown? I mean look, this thing is the most powerful life-force in the world. It CONTROLS the world. We can’t just get in there and DO IT.
Tyler simply explained, “don’t try to fight it – just surrender to it.” Ari and I looked at each other. This was madness and our guru here, was basically going to watch us die.
Tyler stared with complete admiration at the rolling swells. We saw them too. The water was beautiful, riveting. It was a gorgeous Sunday and everyone from locals to people from around the world came out just to sit on the beach and watch. Children, families, photographers, fans, surf experts and all, just hanging out – enjoying the water and everyone in it. Tyler only brought training boards for us, and after 5 minutes of not saying anything, he finally said that the water looked so good he needed to go home and get his board. He jumped in the car and left.
Ari and I sat there. We twiddled our thumbs. When Ari said, “maybe we should just get in.” I was the one who said, “No way, dude. Let’s wait for him to come back and teach us. We could die.”
A little melodramatic, I know, but this is the Ocean we’re talking about. How many times have you heard of shark attacks or someone drowning? People whisking off to sea? A lot, right? I guess?
30 minutes went by. No Tyler. Ari and I could hear and feel everyone having fun. As the Director, I felt like I was already failing. There was no way we were going to make a film with surfing in it without first training and learning anything on how to surf! We couldn’t depend on photographing Ari’s character catching his very first wave with a huge film crew and an expensive camera sloshing in the waves, if it wasn’t even possible for him to do it. So, we had to.
In this together, Ari and I suited up. Two kooks (see “Kook of the day.”) were going to conquer this ocean. We grabbed our big soft surfboards, took our last breaths and ran into the pristine Malibu water…. screaming our asses off. Cold at first, a rush and then – something incredible happened. Every single fear and insecurity we had, started evaporating like water in hot sand. We felt our boards lift us and carry us, like we were flying in the air. We splashed and struggled to stay afloat at first, but then we got it. And we were smiling, the entire time. Ari and I started paddling out.
The further we got, the scarier it felt again – but Ari and I were in it together. The more we sat out there, played in the water and saw people happy, the more we wanted to try.
Within three waves and three tries – I stood up to my knees and crashed. It was like I was already halfway there. I was already learning and I hadn’t even learned anything yet. It was something I had never done before, and I did it so fast – it was an accomplishment! Within a half hour out into the blue, Ari and I couldn’t stop saying – this is why this is one of the most beloved cultures in the world. Surfing is beautiful. It’s therapeutic, challenging, fun, social and once you give in to accepting that board – hugging it, trusting it and letting go of your fear – you begin to love it.
The water thrashed us. It tossed us up, down, around, spit us out, and pulled us back in. And we loved it. We didn’t see Tyler for 2 hours, until Ari and I were so out of breathe we had to get out. That’s when we found us. He had been riding his own waves.
Tyler left us there so we could figure it out together. He taught us how to surf by teaching us the hardest part: to overcome fear, insecurities and any sense of embarrassment by having us just GO into the water. We were afraid of the water, sharks and things that really didn’t matter. What we were really afraid of, was the unknown. Was failure.
Ari and I discovered something together. We shared it. Experienced it. We learned more about each other and ourselves. We made a connection.
When Tyler said, “don’t try to fight it – just surrender,” we thought he meant surrender to the ocean. Like being seaweed (see video below). What we realized is that we needed to surrender to being afraid. That’s It’s OK to feel that way. That it’s OK to feel how you really feel. And we got through it by sharing it, understanding it and conquering it together.
The One Wave philosophy and approach to serving mental health is not just a program; it’s a demonstrated truth about the human spirit and unlocking the ability to grow within. It starts with reaching out. Reaching in. And it’s as simple as sharing an experience.
Neither Ari or I caught waves that first day of surf training. We tried our asses off. We got our asses kicked and we laughed and smiled the entire way through.
What we learned through making THE LOVE EFFECT film and in our small adventures out on the water, is that when you muster the courage to TRY – to face fear, be vulnerable, and put yourself out into the open — you will discover that it’s possible. That anything’s possible. More than that – that you can DO IT. That interview, that assignment, that alarm clock, that breakup, makeup or any of life’s many universal tests — whatever challenge, whatever funk, whatever obstacle you’re afraid to face – you’ll find that just by trying, you see your ability to also be able to succeed. You’ll realize that you can do and feel things you never have before. Or things you’ve long forgotten, just by starting to try.
Mental Health is not a discussion just for those who are suffering; it’s a universal connection that affects it all. It’s something we must all improve together. One Wave’s exquisite program is exemplary of what it takes, to make a change.
For Tyler, Ari and I, we made THE LOVE EFFECT film to show two characters from different tracks, come together and share life experiences. They talk, fight, joke, surf, fish, camp and what they found, was that they were slowly able to discuss together and understand their feelings. ONE WAVE’s program and mission, is the same.
Ari never did catch a wave in our surf training. He stopped trying after that day. He wanted his character and soul to experience the feeling of doing it for the very first time. He knew he would. The moment in our film where he was
supposed to catch his first wave, spit out of the water feeling rebirthed and scream for joy – well, that actually happened. It was real. And you can see it in our film.
— Drue Metz Director, writer
THE LOVE EFFECT is still taking pledges and donations to help finish and launch their film and organization – click the link then PLEDGE!
THE LOVE EFFECT – Official Trailer and Final Fundraiser: http://kck.st/1WWw0oI
SPECIAL EVENT NEWS:
THE ONE WAVE Organization and THE LOVE EFFECT Organization are planning an international exclusive event for the public taking place in VENICE BEACH, CALIFORNIA, early 2016.
This exclusive community event will combine the spirit and efforts from both organizations worldwide and their combined mission to improve mental health and to create a meaningful one-of-a-kind experience for the public to come talk about feelings and mental health, learn to surf and spend time together, make new friends and discuss resources and ideas for change.
Stay up to date with this event by following ONE WAVE’s website, and THE
LOVE EFFECT’s facebook and soon organization website. More photo and surf videos @theloveeffectfilm and a special video to come soon!
Sponsors, donors and volunteers can reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to connect with the Los Angeles team or contact ONEWAVE if interested in helping promote from AUSTRALIA.
BEFORE THE RUN…
On September 20th 2015 my best friend, Dani Ford, and I, Lucy Kelly, will be running the Maui Marathon in Hawaii in support of One Wave. We’ll be wearing their logo with pride on our shirts, and here’s why:
If we’re speaking technically, in terms of diagnoses and doctor’s certificates, I am mentally ill, and Dani is not. But both of us have been to some pretty dark places and made some pretty scary choices. We have both crawled our way out of those places. Both of us have lost close friends and family to suicide. Both of us have experienced the gut wrenching feeling of feeling like we couldn’t do enough, be enough, say enough to help somebody we loved. And both of us surf, and both of us run. When it comes to talking about our deep dark and twisty thoughts and the monsters sleeping in the fibre of our bones, we aren’t that great at it. We’re good at going on adventures. We’re good at setting goals and following through with them. Our goal last summer was to learn to tandem surf, and we’re pretty good at it now. (By pretty good I mean occasionally we both stand up for a solid 5 seconds). Our other goal last summer was to do well at Surf Lifesaving Nationals. We won two gold medals for surf boat rowing. In terms of setting goals and achieving them, we should have been stoked. We were. That night my anxiety and depression (which had been simmering underneath my skin all summer) ripped through me like an electrical storm and I almost lost myself in an endless wave of fear and despair. In an unfamiliar city, on a dark rainy night, in the midst of a real electrical storm, I began running to try and get it away from it all. It was this sobering end to what should have been a wonderful summer, that made me realise that sometimes adventures aren’t enough. The surf can wash away my panic, but my anxiety disorder is still there. Winning a gold medal at nationals can silence my anorexia’s constant self criticism for a moment, but at the next meal I’ll still be terrified. A run can make us forget about the people we’ve lost to mental illness, but it can’t bring them back or heal our guilt and grief.
We have to talk about it. We have to be brave and find the words to admit that its okay to not be okay. One Wave is the culmination of what I believe to be the two most important things to fighting mental illness: Using your body in a physical manner to reconnect with the world and build skill and value, and making mental illness an a-ok thing to talk about. So on September 20th I will run a marathon with my best friend. I will use my body in a physical manner to reconnect with the world and build skill and value. And I will wear the One Wave logo on my shirt, to get people talking, to raise awareness, to let people know that its okay to not be okay, and its okay to talk about not being okay. And then I’ll relax afterwards by chucking myself, my anxiety, anorexia, depression, and my beauty of a bestie into the surf and chucking a shaka to the shores of Hawaii and letting them know: One wave is all it takes.
THOUGHTS FROM THE FINISH LINE…
I ran a marathon today and every inch of my body hurts so much. I ran in support of OneWave, to raise awareness, reduce stigma, and get people talking about mental illness.
I have lived, loved, and lost so much in these past few months. I have been humbled by the people I have met, particularly in New Mexico. I have felt my heart break as I have been forced to deal with the grief and tragedy that coats the jagged edges of such a beautiful landscape.
It makes me angry, scared, and sad when I think that if mental illness wasn’t such a built up and misconstrued issue, then maybe the people I love would not be hurting the way they are.
I thought my post marathon blog would be about the honour and the joy and the pride of getting to run in such a cool place for such a cool organisation. I am so proud, so honoured, and so beyond stoked that I got to do one of the things I have been dreaming of since a little girl. However my world is not that simple.
Mental illness is just that – an illness. It is not something to be demonised nor romanticised. You are not special or unique or weird or wrong for being mentally ill. Having an eating disorder isn’t pathetic, self harming isn’t stupid, committing suicide isn’t cowardly. And within that, being anorexic is not dedicated, self harming is not beautiful, and committing suicide is not brave.
While the science and neuropathology of mental illness is complex, the consequences and stigma around it are simple. We are afraid of the unknown. And yet humanity as a collective has had the courage to fly into the stratosphere, to dive to unknown depths of the ocean, to land on the moon and to seek out life on Mars. Why then are we afraid of our own minds?
You are but a speck of dust in this endless universe. And within you is an infinity of constellations and strength. You owe it to yourself to not be afraid of these two truths.
Just because you feel more deeply, and hurt more profoundly, and do not cope as well with everyday life as the people around you, does not make you special or broken. It is not your fault you got sick, and it is not your fault you are in pain, however it is your responsibility to engage in behaviour that can facilitate getting better. Whether that is talk therapy, behavioural therapy or drug therapy, it doesn’t matter. You do what works and you do it until it works. Getting sick is not a choice. But committing suicide is, and it’s the worst possible choice. Getting better can also involve a level of choice, have the courage to make that choice.
I have come to understand through this crazy journey across the globe and toward this finish line that the most powerful force in this world is love. Love will drive us crazy, and love will set us free. It does not matter how scared you are, or how much you have lost. You must be open to love. Even when it feels unbearable. Be open to love with all you have.
Love your life and the people in it, every breath and every moment. If you get sick, get help. Be brave. Fight. One Wave is about this, they are fighting mental illness with energy, openness and a love for feeling alive. Thanks for reading my ramblings fam. I leave you with a quote from a beautiful piece Margaret Oconnor read at Cooper’s memorial last year: “Two things among an infinite number of other wisdoms, that Cooper leaves me with, is the courage to turn the mirror around and find forgiveness, and the strength to take the risk to love fully, again and again.”