Dear diary/internet world,
I am Isaac London, and this is my first blog post for Awareness On Wheels.
You may be asking "Isaac, what is Awareness On Wheels?"
If you are not asking that, you have probably clicked on the wrong link. Either way, I will tell you.
'Awareness On Wheels' is what I am calling my motorcycle mission from Tofino, Canada to Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of Argentina/the world. Along the way, I will be trying to raise awareness for mental health and suicide, as well as some much deserved and needed funding for the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand.
The Mental Health Foundation is a charity that works towards creating a society free from discrimination, where all people enjoy positive mental health and wellbeing. Fundraising is critical in enabling them to support the 1 in 5 kiwis who experience a mental health problem every year, like me, when I was diagnosed with depression in July 2015. I couldn't tell you when I first started to feel the dull haze of depression dampening what would have appeared to be an exciting, happy life from the outside, nor can I pin-point the first time I considered suicide. The day I was diagnosed with depression however, was the day I began my journey of awareness.
In a weird way, it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I became aware of what depression is, and how it works. I learned how it manifests, and learned to recognise it. I became aware of how our thoughts and emotions are all linked through brain chemistry, and how specific foods and medications can alter the way we think and feel. I became aware that, like a garden weed, depression is something that must be dealt with as a whole. You can not simply chop away the most obvious part of the problem, with hedge trimmers or a drink, you must attack it at the root.
Luckily, this "attack" is not a full on assault, but rather opening ourselves up to be vulnerable and emotional. That means we all need to start respecting and accepting all emotions as legitimate - both within ourselves and from others. Guys especially - we are not stronger than our emotions. They are not something to out-wit or out-think. They are real chemical and physical responses to the thoughts we are having. I do not have any formal qualifications outside of the adventure tourism industry, and I do not claim to be any kind of psychologist, but I can reflect on my experiences. And I have noticed that the more I repress my emotions - those nasty,sad, angry, anxious emotions - the more the weight ultimately bears on me. Those thoughts, and chemicals, are building up regardless of how silly or "unjustified" you might think they are.
The good news is that emotions are ultimately temporary. Imagine if we all learnt to feel them honestly, and then let them pass?
This is not a cure or fix for depression, but a way for us as a society to express ourselves more clearly and honestly, and maybe cut to the root of what is causing New Zealand to have the highest teen suicide rate in the developed world (see Unicef's report on Children and Sustainable development goals in rich countries). Youthline's Director, Stephen Bell, said that "in a normal week, two teenagers or two children kill themselves". It truly breaks my heart to hear "normal week" and "two children kill themselves" used in the same sentence, but it is the sad reality of growing up in New Zealand.
Before I was 20 years old, 3 boys I went to school with had committed suicide, as well as other parents, brothers, sisters, cousins and friends throughout the community. Close friends, and myself, could easily have been added to that list too. I can't help but feel like so many lives would not have been lost if we weren't afraid to say "I'm scared", "I'm sad", or "I don't know what I'm feeling but I can't stop it" because it is ok. It does get better. It is not about erasing the bad thoughts and feelings, but developing the strength and patience to feel them fully, and then let it flow.
As I push my mind, body and motorcycle the length of nearly 2 continents, I will be keeping a public online journal, both written and video, and aim to be as vulnerable as possible in sharing the experience with the world. This will allow me to be aware of my own thought patterns and feelings, as well as give you the chance to laugh or cry along with all my tears of joy and tears of why-the-hell-am-I-here-doing-this.
I might be sad and lonely and afraid at times, but that's ok, because I will also meet some of the most amazing people and have some of the most beautiful experiences along the way, which I will share too. I may even attempt to make you laugh.
You can make a donation to the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand at https://givealittle.co.nz/fundraiser/awarenessonwheels
I hope you follow along with me, and have courage on your own path to awareness.