There’s a big difference between those who talk the talk and those who actually walk the walk… or in Jacob Morris’ case, those who run the walk.
I first heard about Jacob from an acquaintance who reads my blog and told me she had a great renegade for me to profile: a young video producer who had quit his job to launch a charity initiative supporting mental health. So when I actually sat down to talk to Jacob about Run to Wellness – the CAMH-supported campaign he’s spearheading that will have him running 10 half-marathons in 10 Canadian cities in the span of a month – two things struck a chord. One, that he was going to be running a total of 211 km (my brain can’t even fathom that distance), and two, that this vibrant, funny and chatty guy is someone who has recently dealt with severe anxiety and depression.
“I know there are a lot of people who walk into work and have a huge smile on their face in order to appear okay to the outside world, but actually feel like killing themselves on the inside – those are real feelings that exist. This whole campaign looks to break down that facade and initiate conversation,” Jacob explains.
Starting today, Jacob will be kicking off Run to Wellness with a half marathon in Toronto, joined by a small team who will be capturing the journey on video and creating a documentary about the month-long initiative. Funded by an Indiegogo campaign and supported by some awesome partners, Run to Wellness aims to address the misconceptions we place around mental health, at the same time supporting others in their own road to wellness.
Keep reading to find out how Jacob is living life as a total renegade, taking something that can be immobilizing and turning it into something inspirational, encouraging the world to openly talk about mental health and raising awareness for an issue that affects us all.
So you’re kicking off your Run to Wellness initiative this week – 10 half marathons in ten cities across Canada in the span of a month to raise awareness for mental health. How does running fit in to mental health?
Well, I’m someone who lives with anxiety and depression, and when I was in the worst of it last year, everything in the world felt like a massive weight. I was focusing all of my energy on work, removing myself from friends and family, and felt like I was completely aimless in the world. I remember waking up in the middle of the night in a panic attack, genuinely thinking I was having a heart attack, and my only thought was to unlock my apartment door so the paramedics wouldn’t have to break down the door to get my dead body. And that really scared me.
So I eventually did a few Google searches about depression and, while I really didn’t want to admit to myself what was going on, I read up on some ways to combat depression and anxiety. Physical activity was one of the more appealing prospects. Exercising, breathing fresh air, and releasing endorphins seemed like something I could implement into my life without having to change very much (read: I wouldn’t have to go to the doctor). What started out as walks around my neighbourhood turned into short jogs, which eventually turned into 5km runs.
And did those runs help to lessen the anxiety? It seems like society immediately turns to medication as a means to deal.
Running has basically been my meditation. It’s a time for me to make sense of my thoughts. With anxiety specifically, it can be super difficult to grasp onto anything. You feel like you’re in a storm and all of your thoughts are blowing around rapidly. Running gives me an escape where I can start to work though how I’m feeling. And each step forward is exactly that – a movement forward. When you’re depressed or feeling crippling anxiety, everything in the world can seem like a huge challenge. But when I’m running, every time I move my feet it’s a little accomplishment. A little bit of positivity that I can build upon.
Mental health is something that affects everyone, whether directly or indirectly, so we need to be comfortable talking about it.
So when did your running develop into something more than just a means of meditation?
Before running, I was in a place where I was simultaneously terrified I was about to die (thanks to the anxiety) and not thinking that was such a bad idea (thanks, depression!). After I started running throughout the spring and summer of last year, suddenly my mental health didn’t seem like such a burden.
I wrote a short blog post about what I had been going through and shared it with my family and friends, talking about how running has helped me. I got a bunch of personal messages from people that really related to my little post, so I decided I needed to do something bigger. Run to Wellness is about sharing my personal story of dealing with depression and anxiety – it’s about connecting with people all across Canada who have their own stories to tell. It’s about taking on a huge physical challenge and it’s about encouraging more empathy towards mental health. It’s something that affects everyone, whether directly or indirectly, so we need to be comfortable talking about it.
This is obviously something that’s very important to you and a bit of a passion project – did you have to give anything up to focus on this?
Last spring I left my job as a full-time videographer/editor to solely works on projects that I love. Then, in the middle of planning Run to Wellness this year, I was offered a full-time, well-paying position as a producer in Vancouver. My mom taught me to always follow my heart, and even though having a steady salary would be nice, but I would rather be tearing up my feet running across the country and fueling a conversation about mental health.
Mental health is still a bit taboo, with not everyone understanding that it’s an illness and not just ‘being sad for a day’…
Totally. I was wandering around a furniture store a couple of months ago and passed these two middle-aged women who were talking about their daughters and I overheard one of them say, “Oh she’s fine, I think she’s just depressed.” It was so frustrating and sad to hear that. One in five Canadians will suffer from a mental illness in their lives. In a family of five, if it’s the one daughter who’s depressed – what does that say if the four other family members just shrug it off? Mental health is something that affects everyone.
What role does the wider public play in fueling the stigmas surrounding mental health?
People don’t take mental health seriously enough and in turn, there’s a lot of “othering” that goes on. Many tend to separate themselves from others who live with mental illness and aren’t always there to offer support. One of the biggest misconceptions about mental health is that it’s an isolated problem that only affects those who suffer. I find that people are so uncomfortable accepting that it exists – the moment they see depression they not only sweep it under the rug, but they’ll shut the door of the room that rug is in and never go in there again. We need to all try to help each other out a little more, even if that means taking mental health more seriously and offering concern and empathy.
What are you hoping to come out of this?
I mean, at the end of the campaign, if I’ve convinced one person who’s suffering that it won’t always feel that way, that’s good enough for me. I want to take something that has been a huge weight in my life, turn it around, and use it to conquer this challenge so many of us face. If my story can be the fuel for someone else’s fire, this whole thing will be a success in my eyes.
Do you have a go-to run jam that’s gonna help you get through this next month?
On a typical long run, the first half is spent listening to a podcast (Rich Roll Podcast, The Tim Ferriss Show, or Comedy Bang! Bang!) and the last half I switch over to electronic music to keep me pumped up. Anything by Gryffin.
This is awesome, dude, and I wish you nothing but the best of luck. Where do you hope to take Run to Wellness next?
I’d love to do a few speaking engagements to talk about my experience and about mental health in general. Sharing a story openly online is great, but there’s nothing like making a connection in person. We’d love to screen the documentary we’re making about the journey somewhere as well.
Apart from that, we’ll see where this takes us! We’re doing ten half marathons across Canada this time… but there’s a whole lot of world left.