Keep Calm, Paddle On

You don’t need a disability, injury, or illness to know that asking for help can be incredibly difficult. That difficulty magnifies tenfold when you live your life with what I call a ‘mental monster’.

So how do we make asking for help easier, especially for those with mental monsters?

It’s all about building a community of like-minded people. Together we can start the tough conversations, show people that they’re not fighting alone, and maybe even most importantly, help facilitate personal growth and change. But creating change can be difficult when the subject is so hard to talk about, especially for the majority of the people who struggle with mental health challenges. Damn you, stigma.

Our next focus should be trying to normalize the topic of our mental health.

If someone is diagnosed with cancer, we band together and run marathons, wear pink, shave heads, donate money, and grow moustaches. This support is both necessary and heartwarming, but the truth is it’s easier because we’re not as afraid to talk about cancer.

We’ve all said the word ‘cancer’, this I’m fairly certain of. We use it openly in conversations and people are receptive. When we talk about mental illness, however, it’s a different story: the conversation shifts, quite literally, and people’s eyes dart around the room. Voices lower and we wonder if anyone is eavesdropping. Is this gonna be gossiped about later?

The real shift needs to be in promoting the importance of mental health and the destruction of the stigma associated with it.

This should be an easy fix, right? Just create more open, honest conversations about mental health. Though it seems easy, it’s something we have yet to achieve as a society. How do you start a conversation with someone who doesn’t feel worthy of your time? How do you help someone who is so depressed that their only words are dark, sad, haunting, or angry? These are the questions we have to ask, because for some they just can’t muster any words, and when they do, they spew just enough to get through the day. Maybe medications numb them to the point where fully expressing how they feel isn’t an option. What then?

Hidden all around us are thousands of untold stories, some of which even I can’t comprehend. There are years of police calls, hospital trips, and attempts at suicide. Families unable to comprehend what’s going on with someone they love resort to trying electroconvulsive therapy, psych wards, and even exorcism – but nothing works. Why? Because when you are at your darkest it is hard to find anything of quality to build a new foundation with. There are words you can’t take back, and years of your life forever lost, but unless we work together, we will not break the cycle and stigma of mental illness.

If we continue to avoid talking about our mental health it is not going to be 1 in 5 that suffer anymore, it will be 5 out of 5

KC/PO (Keep Calm, Paddle On) came about because I kept telling myself that there had to be a better way. Something just feels right when you’re out on the water, amidst all the paddlers, having completed a big day and many kilometres. The paddlers push themselves outside of their comfort zones, because out there are opportunities to grow and heal. The water is a humble teacher, and believe me it will teach and heal – you just have to trust it.

When there’s a group of people on the water with me, standing up for something they believe in, it’s more than powerful—it’s moving. It brings people to tears and it opens up the conversations we really need to have. I know it’s powerful enough to help people, to create change in the paddlers’ lives because it manifests a different way of thinking and acting.

I know all of this because it changed me, too. In 2008, I was diagnosed with depression. And by “diagnosed” I mean I spent 2-3 minutes answering a questionnaire and boom, I had a label. Chad is depressed. Prior to 2008, I was heavily involved in the whitewater community, guiding and kayaking. That was the place I felt the most alive, the most like me, and I needed to get back to that. Being on the water always makes me forget about what ever else is going on. You have to be switched on when you’re running a river or paddling a section of ocean…especially when leading others.

Being on the water is what literally gave me purpose, freedom and ultimately healed me.

Sharing the water with someone and seeing them battle the elements during our flagship trip down the South Saskatchewan River, and then see them touch land at the end with a sigh of relief and a realization that they can accomplish way more than they ever thought they could is why we do this. Give people the opportunity to believe in themselves, surrounded by a like-minded, supportive community and you can accomplish big, big things. Like asking for help.

One of our goals has always been to be the voice for those who are afraid to speak up. There are many who don’t want to be labelled as someone with a mental illness, and believe me we understand why. Society has not made it easy because there is such a negative stigma attached to mental health issues. It’s there and it makes it hard to be open and speak up. At KC/PO, we try to create positivity around mental health and truly fuse physical and mental health together. We start the tough conversations after creating safe spaces. Spaces where you can be your best self, speak from your heart, and learn that you’re not fighting alone.

Keep Calm / Paddle On operates based on three principles:

  1. In order to help others, we need a gut check. We must be as open and honest as we ask others to be.
  2. We do our best to provide a safe place in which people can push their limits.
  3. We understand that no one person’s journey is the same. Be accepting. Show love. Listen well.

Here at KC/PO we host paddle events. We mainly focus on stand up paddle boarding, organizing various races, expeditions, and paddling clinics. Getting people on the water is our goal; it seems to be a place we can forget about our troubles, even for an instant. Primarily we work with the aboriginal youth, foster kids, and special needs kids in our communities. We get them out on a board and help them experience the amazing feeling of the sun on their faces and the water beneath them. We make the connection between the physical and the mental.

We also raise money. The kind of money that helps children and families in need, whatever their situation. When you’re struggling things like mortgages, groceries, prescriptions, even just the smallest of daily responsibilities can take their toll. We want to help so you don’t have to feel stressed paying for therapy or guilty for having a night out. Life still happens while you’re working to get better, and we don’t want money or a missed opportunity to get in the way of what’s important to you.

We understand what you’re going through; it’s a sickness not a weakness. This battle won’t be easy, but we’re here to show you that you’re not alone.

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Media:

https://www.facebook.com/keepcalmandpaddleon

http://metronews.ca/news/saskatoon/346211/300-km-paddle-to-raise-awareness-around-mental-illness/

http://www.newstalk650.com/story/sask-paddling-journey-raise-awareness-about-mental-illness/71549

http://saskatoon.ctvnews.ca/man-trains-for-endurance-paddle-on-south-sask-river-1.925968

http://go.epublish4me.com/ebook/ebook?id=10028272#/46 Page 46

http://dontchangemuch.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/NR-CMHF-SUP4MH-Launch-FINAL.pdf

http://give.camh.ca/site/PageServer?pagename=chad_guenter

https://www.rmoutlook.com/article/keep-calm-and-paddle-on-20170223