My Journey with Mental Health


Hi, I’m Colby Ellis, a 29 year old Canadian-Kiwi Engineer with a passion for travel and motorcycling. In 2018 and onwards I am going to circumnavigate the world.

Like many others, depression unknowingly robbed me of many pleasures in life and contributed towards the deterioration of relationships with those closest to me. During one of my lowest points I found motorcycling. It entered my life for all the wrong reasons, as it was the inherent risk and danger I found attractive, but by a stroke of good fortune the pursuit has turned into one of my greatest supports on the road back. 

As I make my way across the many regions of this planet I will interview and feature the people I meet and ask them the simple, yet universal question - what makes you happy? In a way it is a quest to discover the answer for myself, an answer that I can learn and grow from. 

I hope you can follow along my journey @VanColby_  and @The.Happiness.Diaries on Instagram and help support my fundraiser for HeadsUpGuys and hopefully  together we can not only raise awareness for their fantastic resource, but also raise $5,000 to keep the resource going.

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I've always had a supportive family, a nice place to live, and was able to find a good job right after finishing school. Depression was the last thing on my mind. 

But looking back to the beginning of 2015 or even earlier there where many signs; lack of interests, enjoyment and energy, incessant irritability, inability to sleep and concentrate, and endless thoughts of worthlessness. Sure, there were periods, even a couple months at a time, where I would bounce back to almost being me... but they were fleeting blips on a continual downward slope.  

Instead of being able to recognize what was happening, I didn't know, or more likely didn't even believe, that depression existed. I did however believe every single myth in the book about mental health.

"Depression is a sign of personal weakness"
"Real men are in control of their emotions"
"Real men don't need to ask for help; they should be able to cope on their own"

Believing even one of these, how could I bring myself to ask for help? 

I would get back to home and see my girlfriend after being away at work for a couple weeks and ignore her for days. I would snap at anyone for no reason. People had no idea who they would get each time we met.

Then in May 2015, I found out my dad had an incurable form of cancer and could have as short as a year or two to live. As he lost weight in treatment, images of my mum wasting away were brought back to mind... but I didn't talk to a soul about it. (As an aside, while my dad will never be cancer free, he is thankfully in remission and back to his fit and strong self). Eventually, I couldn't hold in all the thoughts about my dad, and talked about them with some select friends. But the stress had been carried for too long to be freed so quickly. 

I spent hours sitting on my balcony drinking, staring out over the city while fantasizing about the 23 story plunge to the asphalt below. I only fell asleep most nights with the help of either a joint or a chug from a bottle of cough syrup. Throughout this time the only thing that held me back from an attempt at my own life was the guilt of what it would do to my dad and sister. 

Life went on like this for a while until April 2016 when I hit rock bottom as my amazing dog Bailey was taken away due to neglect.

Shortly after I went back home to face my dad and explain what happened. In a wash of tears it all started pouring out. All the feelings of inadequacy. All the loneliness. All the negative thoughts. And he did something that may have saved my life: he got me an immediate appointment with a caring family doctor. Though it was a struggle, this was my first step on the trek back.

It was a series of small changes, motivated through advice from my doctor and what felt like an endless stream of online searches (which included finding HeadsUpGuys). I cut out caffeine, alcohol, and drugs. Got exercise. Got sun. Ate healthy. Slept. Talked. Was more social. Kept busy. And put more time into my hobbies, included motorcycling. 

Initially, I got into motorcycling due to my lack of care for my well-being. It was an attractively dangerous pastime that I thought may be a way to cause self-harm without it being viewed as self-induced, lessening the effects on my loved ones. From the first time I threw my leg over the seat and the twisted the throttle I knew I had found something I could be passionate about. Something I could put my time and effort and energies into instead of pursuing more self-destructive habits. 

Through the last year and a half motorcycling has become one of, if not the, greatest outlets I have to bring myself back to a position of strength in my battle with mental health. When I get on my bike I'm able to break free of some of the thoughts and feelings that plague me in day to day life. From the time I turn the key to the time I park, I'm able to concentrate on everything to do with safely getting myself to my destination. I'm able to live in the joy of the wind on my face, the camaraderie of a two finger wave from a stranger, the thrill of weightlessness as I go from leaning one way to the other.

While it has been important, it is just one of the tools in my chest. I'm lucky that I have an incredible support group centered around my father and my best friend that I can talk to whenever I need. I have a family doctor that I trust and can be open with that will do everything in his power to support me... including the occasional appointment that runs an hour past closing. I'm aware of the things that trip me, and can now avoid them or manage them better. 

Most importantly, I now understand that depression isn't a weakness that needs to be hidden. I hope my ride and support of HeadsUpGuys can help show people this truth.

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