1440 minutes a day to positively impact the world.”
You received a 2018 Australia Day Medallion – can you tell us more about that?
Very humbled & grateful to receive recognition for several years of dedication to mental health and suicide prevention advocacy, however it isn’t why I began the mission and most certainly wont bring back my reasons as to why I am so passionate about this topic. It won’t remove the trauma that I have either but I do hope that by being an appreciative recipient of this award that I can reach a larger audience and a greater demographic of people out there who are waking up each and every day, exhausted and debilitated by their thoughts, feelings and emotions.
What age were you when you first felt mental health challenges? What did you experience and how did you push through day to day?
The pinpoint moments for me were when I took my initial steps into the “real world”, working my first full time job as an apprentice plumber and coming home day in, day out not necessarily upset, but numb and I think that lack of emotion is the most exhausting and debilitating feeling there is. I was on the receiving end of some horrible bosses, who both physically and emotionally abused me tirelessly. I was a confident kid growing up and someone that struggled to resonate with anyone who felt down, upset or a shade of the person they once were and I guess that ignorance towards my own wellbeing and health was my downfall.
I had all my emotions stripped bare from me through the trauma of the workplace, abuse and combined with a string of losses in my community. I suppressed these emotions for as long as possible through the fear of coming off as weak, being mocked, judged and shamed in a small regional community where everyone knew everything, people spoke. I don’t think it’s a matter of pushing through, I believe in stopping and addressing each individual problem or challenge we face. Not sleeping on it and hoping it disappears or doesn’t repeat itself, but working through it to build the resilience, self worth, value, purpose and belonging associated with every emotion and situation that is put infront of us and I do that every single day to become the best version of myself.
In your recent documentary you mentioned living with suicidal ideation. Can you explain what that means and how you prevent yourself from taking action on those thoughts?
Suicidal ideation for me is what I believe will always most likely be a part of my makeup and that’s perfectly fine. Suicidal ideation is a chronic feeling I think about, that frequents my mind on a daily occurrence maybe anywhere between 2-10 times and more on a difficult day where I actively think about suicide and it appears like a feasible option or alternative. It’s the voice that reminds me of all my insecurities, the worthlessness, failure, burden etc. As I mentioned throughout that short film, suicidal ideation I have learnt to accept, I don’t carry it like a burden. Its the acceptance I have for what I experience that makes things easier.
The recognition that my thoughts no longer have to become my actions and that by working tirelessly through my wellbeing plan every single day, even when I dont feel up to it will enable me to brush those thoughts quite easily. However like a garden, our mind needs constant attention to stay healthy and glowing. When I fail to do that “gardening” I can almost guarantee the severity and length of those thoughts that enter my mind. I am posed with a choice every day, the same one of everyone else out there struggling or not. Evolve or Remain.
Who or what services did you first reach out to for support?
I was so ignorant like I mentioned before, I had no idea of the options available. Mental health and suicide was a foreign language to me because I couldn’t fathom how life could get to that point and I guess thats why I stress that with people now, not to have the same stupid thought process that I did, because it doesn’t discriminate and can happen to anyone.
I sought help from a local GP and talked through everything I was experiencing who then put me forward to a psychologist, some medication and out I bounced, diagnosed with Depression & Anxiety, sleep insomnia and frequent suicidal ideations. Still just as uneducated, but with the impression of “take the tablet, problems go away” and I see that same situation every single day in my work.
Nearly 10 years since my diagnosis, I no longer take medication, I no longer seek help and support from therapy. I have actively set up and structured my own blueprint to wellness and support team that I know care, which enables me to put wellness back in my own hands and not someone else’s. I appreciate the work, support and efforts of every single person in the field of professional services that work tiressly on the hardest edges of love and life, however I did not get the support, response or education I would of liked and I’m one of the fortunate ones who made it through that.
That way of healing will work for some and not for others and that’s the purpose of my voice and advocacy is to make people aware of all pathways to wellbeing and not just the constant reliance on professionals. My rediscovery of hope was found visible in the kindness of others, people who enabled me to see the good in the world again, advocates and services with lived experience that empowered me to see that if they could get through their tough times with bipolar, then so could I. That’s where I found my strength in people who walked before me and proved that life was in fact achievable, worthwhile and so was I.
What inspired you to launch Mindfull Aus?
January of 2016 I launched a social media page to purely give people or empower others to share their education and understanding for mental health, to unite the community with a greater understanding for this taboo topic. Due to the demand, over 100 thousand engagements within 9 months, we sat down and discussed ways in which we could make this platform more meaningful and what that could look like. “I just want to teach people what I wish I would have known growing up. I know if I would have been this knowledgeable not only about mental health & suicide prevention, but about equipping myself with strategies and disciplines for well-being, I could have potentially still been able to share laughs and memories with those mates I’ve lost.
I know personally that my life would have been a lot different, and now I have the opportunity to ensure that the next generation doesn’t walk in the unknown like I did.” I wanted to make people aware of the alternate ways to look after our own wellbeing with a strength based recovery, equipping ourselves with easily achievable solutions and practices that would help people find their true value, self worth, purpose and belonging because I truly believe life is miserable without those four things.
A lot of people are putting countless hours into everything in life that serves them no value, no growth so for me it was utilising my lived experience to educate their heart, connect with them so they could resonate, find their strength and courage and start using some of those 1440 minutes we have in a day to better themselves or look after others. Mindfull Aus now in 2019, has delivered workshops, speaking engagements and trained people in accreditations in 3 countries, Australia, America and Canada in 32 various states and reached upwards of 50,000 people through those initiatives.
What do Mindfull Aus offer?
Mindfull Aus offers live expertise speaking engagements, the reason I say expertise and not experience is because I truly believe that it takes a mental health advocate or speaker far more than a life of pain, hurt or experiences to articulate and be as beneficial as they need to be. We train all our speakers and guide them to a place where sharing what their journey is not harmful or draining to them or anyone else, but empowering and loaded full of education and takeaways. We facilitate two intervention workshops- Blueprint to wellness – which works on three focus points – 1.Understanding the mind through a relatable and realistic view, 2. Putting your wellness back in your hands with a self disciplined holistic approach 3.Research to support the way we get back to living a healthy, fulfilling life.
We help people understand the correlations between small achievable daily practices for the mind and body, how and when to utilise them and structure these approaches into a daily schedule to create your own “blueprint to wellness”. Through this workshop we are now working to expand it into several sessions, to delve deeper into some of the topics included and provide people with a better understanding for their mind and behavioural health.
Inside & Out – Building healthier hearts and brighter minds – This workshop is for primary education years prep to six. This workshop is tailored to give the kids the basic understanding of our 5 core emotions: Sadness, Joy, Fear, Disgust and Angerand how we can learn to control these emotions. Wr put a huge emphasis on kindness, mindfulness, gratitude and exercise. The kids love it, find it relatable and enjoy the energy and enthusiasm our young facilitators bring to this subject. I love that we’re able to start conversations early, so we can create new waves of little champions throughout the country who have a greater understanding for their wellbeing and the impact of their words and actions towards others.
Are there ever days that you find showing up to work challenging? How do you persuade yourself to take action?
Yes, absolutely. I work every single day dealing with and supporting people through their most difficult times, I also press play on my trauma every single day I take to the stage and public speak, facilitate or feature on media. It can be extremely draining but only if I am not looking after my own wellbeing and i’d like to think im very authentic in my messaging. I know what my triggers are, I know what I need to stay well and when I need a break so I have to stay disciplined in ensuring I follow that.
I have a structured blueprint I follow every single day that includes ; Gratitude, Cold Head flushes, meditation, mindfulness, positive affirmations, sauna’s, exercise, nutrition, compassion, value alignment, self reflection, goals and objectives and priming. Now that may sound like a heap of things to incorporate into a day and it can be, but I find the more disciplined I am in the management of my diagnosis that the more effective my life satisfaction is. Life isn’t easy, never has been and never will be, we are not entitled to anything, we have a choice and I simply choose to evolve and not remain. On the days that are harder than others, it’s doing the little things and celebrating that. Finding as many positives as I can and rewiring myself with that. Left foot, right foot and not worrying about the steps ahead, but the one just infront of me.
How would you encourage someone to pursue their dreams and not feel limited by a label of a mental health diagnosis?
I think that’s the best part, making people recognise that what they are experiencing is real, it shouldn’t be suppressed, we dont need to terminate it or remove it but learn to accept it, love it, embrace it, find the beauty in the cards your being dealt and rock them.
What if I was told that successful people like Frankie Sinatra, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Mel Gibson, Carrie Fischer, Jimi Hendrix, Mariah Carey, Ernest Hemingway or Winston Churchill had bipolar and showed that vulnerable, scared individual sitting in that chair that there is hope, that there is creativity, that there is unlimited amounts of potential to be utilised?
And that’s exactly what I want to do, create a different story for society to grasp, a new level of appreciation for what people go through and for those people who do live with it to be proud of who they are and loud about the struggles they may face. Don’t let the ignorance of others, the label a doc gave you or the uneducated opinions of any source feed you anything but drive and energy to prove the world wrong. You are not defined by any words associated with mental health challenges. You are loved, worthwhile, unique and at the very least I love that. You truly are unstoppable, use your pain and experiences to live the life you were destined to live.
One of my high school teachers told me I wouldn’t amount to anything, that my parents would be ashamed of me. Several years later when Mindfull Aus was founded, that teacher was one of the first people who came to me for help and support. Let that be a lesson, every single person in the world is different for a reason, we need every single one of them. Find your uniqueness, bring light to your darkness and water your brilliance, you are here for a reason.
What would you say to someone struggling with Suicidal thoughts?
Please understand that your pain is valid, its a signal that something needs to change. There is help, there is meaning in your life and you are so worthwhile. Let that pain your experiencing carve you into the person you are meant to be. You don’t have to go this journey alone, you were never meant to. Please seek the appropriate help and treatment you need, something amazing is waiting for you, be here tomorrow.
In your documentary, you talk about the importance of your mum’s love and support. What advice would you give to someone supporting someone through mental health challenges?
Connection. Reflex head nods that show you are listening, eyes that show you care, ears willing to listen with no intent to reply, no judgement, no advice or answers, just simply engaging in a conversation and allowing them to remove all those feelings and emotions that they have been surprising and weighing them down and discipline.
The same discipline it takes of someone like me, living with and managing bipolar disorder is the same discipline it takes of a caregiver, not checking in on them one day and not the next, not sugar coating and tip toeing around the tough questions and not doing it again for weeks a time, its every day, even when their smiling and seem upbeat and if you feel like your not getting through to them, change your approach, go to their comfort. Speak to their love language, re assure them, but most importantly… There is no harm in education, but their is in ignorance.
There are so many supports, education, courses, books, guides, organisations that can help you with a greater understanding to recognise and deal with these situations. As I said, I wish I had of known what I know now, maybe life for my friends would’ve been different and although that guilt doesn’t belong to me, it haunts me. Please don’t make the same mistakes I did, be kind to others but also please be kind to yourself in the process. You are loved, worthwhile and noble in your quest for better mind and behavioural health.
Matt thank you so much for sharing your story and for all of the mental health advocacy work you are providing to people. You are an absolute inspiration and a clear and beautiful example of the type of success a person can achieve even in the face of adversity. I hope that this interview gives anyone out there struggling with their own mental health, the motivation to use their challenges to positively impact the world too.
Emily-Rose Braithwaite ~ Life Coach