On February 16, Joey Rush will begin the long trek on foot from Melbourne to Canberra, with his faithful canine companion Jonty by his side. Setting off from the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Parliament House will symbolise the finish line for a project that has been months in the making. The twenty-nine year old has lived under the dark cloud and heavy weight of depression and anxiety to varying degrees for the majority of his life. Imagine, if you will, an unwelcome house guest with a negative aura, at times taking up the whole room stretching out on the couch and preventing you from living the life you want, and at other times sitting in the corner regularly voicing snide and hateful comments, yet always there, a constant and unwelcome intruder.
Through setting himself such a physical challenge Joey is battling through the debilitating effects of depression. As well as the well-publicised physiological benefits of exercise, the walk gives him a focus and a tangible `goal, assisting in overcoming the past, to live fully in the present and feel excited for the future. Each step is a symbol of progress, building his resilience and quietening his self-described “devil on the shoulder”.
“I’ve always enjoyed going for long walks with headphones on, and I wanted to do something to benefit me as well as others.”
From the age of twenty-one when Joey first logged onto the beyondblue website to gauge whether his feelings constituted depression and anxiety, the organisation has been a regular point of contact:
“A beyondblue team member is available 24/7 on the phone or internet. It is often difficult for people to admit to friends and friends they are struggling, so sometimes speaking to a stranger in this way puts you at ease because they can talk you through anything with no judgement.”
Within a few weeks of devising the plan for Walking It Off, Joey had touched base with beyondblue, made a logo and planned a basic route outline. He is committed to raising money for mental health awareness:
” I needed to be open and honest about my personal struggles to help me move forward. I’ve certainly experienced embarrassment and a stage where I did not feel comfortable to speak openly. Now I feel like I’ve lived through the hardest stuff that will ever happen so admitting to the label doesn’t feel nearly as daunting as other thoughts I’ve had regarding how I wanted to treat myself.”
As is common in people struggling with psychological conditions, Joey had to reach his own version of rock bottom before he was ready to reach out for help. He had days of not wanting to get out of bed, not wanting to see what tomorrow brought, skipping social commitments, not communicating with friends and family and engaging in dangerous behavioural choices. These lifestyle patterns culminated in him having a week long stay in the Alfred Hospital Psych Ward, effectively under suicide watch.
One of the biggest obstacles to seeking help is the invisible nature of mental illness:
” I was sitting in a hospital waiting room needing help for my safety. I sat there with a coffee in my hand surrounded by people with broken legs and broken jaws, people who were quite obviously sick and I could tell they looked at me like,’What is he doing here?’
Education is the key:
“Discussions about the importance of mental health should begin with the senior levels at high school. That seems to be when people start shaping their sense of self. I know it’s a delicate balance because you don’t want to paint a picture of life as all doom and gloom, but it is also important to be realistic – life isn’t all flowers, and it’s OK to admit you are struggling. It seems like mental health is currently only being addressed once the horse has bolted. We need to be more pre-emptive when teaching coping mechanisms.”
In a genuine case of dog as man’s best friend, Joey will be accompanied (for as long as is physically reasonable) by Jonty. who came into his life as a puppy and has seen him through many of life’s roughest patches:
“I was very isolated living in Gippsland, I was fresh out of a relationship, had just been released from hospital and generally in a very poor state of mind. I was able to convince my mum and sister that me getting a puppy would create a sense of mateship for me.”
The responsibility of caring for another being gave Joey the kickstart he needed to start living more and to pull himself out of his destructive thought spirals:
“He’s a symbol of my improved well-being; he looked after me by getting me up to clean up after him and take him for walks. I’m proud that I’ve never let him down. In terms of the walk, he is a symbol of someone going on the journey with me, somebody being by your side in the ‘Progression against Depression'”.
In describing the toxicity of Depression, Joey speaks of a feeling of isolation in your thoughts and which spills over into every aspect of your life:
“You become critical of people because you feel like they don’t contact you or don’t care, when in reality you’ve built that in your mind and pushed people away. You can have this mantra that people don’t care even when everyone is holding an olive branch out to you”.
Although there is no one treatment for people struggling with mental health, a message every now and then from his mates proved helpful for Joey and gave him motivation to keep on track with his self care regime.
Sponsorship and support have arisen from the friendships and professional connections he has fostered throughout his life. Corporate backing has come from companies as big as New Balance, 2XU, Anytime Fitness and Soda Stream, to name just a few. Indeed Joey has recently reached his fundraising goal of $20,000. The sky’s the limit now, as he continues to source out a support vehicle, funds for food and more accommodation at each of the stops along the way.
First reaching Warrandyte, then hitting Yarra Glen, Joey is keen to have some friendly faces join him along the way and is looking forward to meeting the local community members. While the approximate 750 km journey promises to have its fair share of challenges – bad weather, difficult terrain and a lack of towns, especially up towards Canberra – Joey is excited by the mystery of what lies ahead.
With an admirable display of determination and a refreshing show of self-belief, Joey is eager to begin his venture:
“I know nothing will stand in my way… if it does, good luck.”
If you are in a position to support Joey and Jonty in their Progression again Depression, you can donate here. Alternatively if you are able to offer supplies or accommodation, please contact Joey here or via the Walking It Off: Walk to Talk Facebook page.
If you suspect you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please reach out. beyondblue is just one of the useful resources.
You can visit your local doctor or, for immediate assistance Lifeline can be reached on 13 11 14.