There is very little understanding of how alone you are and how strong you have to be, when looking after family members with depression. We the supporters often get over looked as the focus is on the sufferer.” – Lynn Paterson
On my recent trip to Mount Taranaki, I woke to a horrid day in the mountains so headed to the coast in New Plymouth to shower and wait for the rain to lift. Pulling into the carpark I could not help but notice a striking van kitted out with a ladder, solar panel and large kayak on the roof. On the beach I saw two runners, and after striking up a conversation heard about how Lynn who owned the van was on a personal adventure to highlight mental health and depression kayaking around New Zealand coast.
Put simply, Lynn left the routine and burn out of Auckland city life to chase her own dreams after supporting family with depression. Some two hours later we parted ways and the world somehow felt like a better place for me after hearing her story. The simple act of talking about mental health, and chasing our dreams resonated with me and the GPR mission. We get so caught up in what society and our family expects from us day in day out that it is hard to ‘grab hold of your own bliss’ and chase what makes us truly happy.
The more I talk to people about their mental health and ‘life’ it’s often quite clear that being active and spending time outdoors with people and nature really does make us happier than anything else. Infact, even on a simpler level being present with each other and making time to listen really makes a difference too.
Good on you Lynn and thanks for your time and honesty about your inspiring journey. I’ll be sure to make time to come visit you at the end of your adventure or down South soon. Let’s go run and have a natter :)
So, Lynn, we met early one morning on the coast at New Plymouth (Back Beach, New Plymouth) and as I was strolling with coffee in hand, you were doing what seemed to be sprints with another person, up and down the sand. What were you actually up to?
I always find when I have time off the water from paddling, that some kind of exercise is great – especially sprinting or running. So, normally, we are on a fairly deserted beach and it’s both a simple and great way to keep my fitness levels up. Most of the time, my support crew like to join in as well and, the other day, I was joined by my current support crew member, Anna Caudle. Sprints and abs are a quick, fun workout. It clears the head for the day, gets the lungs working and helps keep my legs fit for when I have a crazy beach landing and have to get out of my kayak in a hurry and run from some big foaming waves.
The one thing that everyone needs to remember is they themselves are the most important person – that is the toughest lesson we need to learn to accept and to truly understand.
Kayaking around the whole coast of New Zealand (5000 KM +) is a really amazing adventure for sure! What’s the story behind it and why are you doing it?
When I’m asked this question, I still don’t have a great answer. I just had the urge and asked myself “Why not?” It’s always been a dream and maybe best to describe it as my one and only bucket list dream. There are too many hills to want to cycle round the country, so I decided to paddle.
We spoke about some of the data from this trip so far. Can you tell me from where you set off and how long you have been on the road? How far you have come to date and when and where d’you expect to finish?
I left from Takapuna Beach, Auckland on 27th Oct 2015. So far, I’ve paddled 4453 kms, and still have approximately 1100 kms to complete this journey. I’ve kayaked most of the East Coast of the North Island and circumnavigated the entire South Island, including Stewart Island. Yes, I‘ve paddled across the Cook Strait and the Fouveaux Strait. Now, I’m slowly working my way up the West Coast of the North Island, round Cape Reinga and then back to Takapuna. As of 26th September, I’ve been on the road for 336 days.
Crazy fact: I‘ve used well over two million paddle strokes. But the campervan, Cuzzie, is still winning the distance race because she has been driven 26,000 kms!
What’s your average day looked like for nearly a year on this epic journey?
Yikes, my average day starts early as I’m obsessed with rolling the weather forecast at 5am and, then, if I’m paddling, I get ready and am launched out on the water by the support crew as daylight arrives. If I’m unable to paddle, then I run, hike, swim or locate a gym to exercise or I find a calm section of water and paddle for a few hours. The support crew and I do some sort of physical activity each day – usually a hike or some type of walk. This keeps us mentally and physically fit and also allows us to meet wonderful Kiwi folk and enjoy this amazing country that I keep discovering more of every day. Having a campervan has proved a real success because it’s enabled me to discover not just the coastline but the hills and valleys, the mountains and the native bush. It also helps to take my mind off the ocean and the many “what ifs’ and “maybe I could” moments that I tend to have on bad weather days.
As the carer, the emotional roller-coaster you are on never stops; as you help, it seems you worry every single minute of the day.
If I’m going to be paddling, then we usually know the night before and the crew and I get into remote control. Once I’m safely over the back of the waves, then we VHF each other on hand-held walkie talkies to confirm the next checkpoint. Then I head out to paddle the ocean and the support crew drive to the next location to await my arrival. I have a GPS tracker on board which relays my location every ten minutes, so they and anybody with internet access can follow; it’s a brilliant device called “IN Reach” generously loaned to me by Maprogress. It also has the ability to send and receive text messages, along with way more capabilities. It’s the greatest tool, and much more reliable than a mobile phone so, after this expedition is complete, I’ll continue to use it while running, hiking and boating. So far as I’m concerned, it’s a “must have” on any adventure race or trip.
During this adventure, you’re raising awareness and funds for the Mental Health Foundation and we had a really honest talk about how depression has affected and continues to affect the lives of people we know. Your son still battles with the black cloud and, to date, this has been very difficult for you to manage. Do you mind sharing your story of how depression has affected your life resulting in the inspiration to do something about it?
Mental Health. This is a huge issue – far bigger than anyone wants to admit. My story is from a mother’s point of view but it’s also like so very many others. As I have journeyed, nearly every day I hear stories that are similar or even more intense than mine. Caring for someone with a mental illness is a solo journey. Often it’s a time when you feel totally helpless and judged by others. As the carer, the emotional roller-coaster you are on never stops; as you help, it seems you worry every single minute of the day. You sit helplessly, watching as the depression grenade explodes in your lap. Everyone is affected by the shrapnel when the grenade explodes but, the closer you are to the person, the more it damages you.
Yes, like many other people, I have a story. I have a son who suffers from depression that was fuelled by legal and illegal use of drugs and alcohol. But I’m by no means a special case, as so many others tell a similar story. In the end, supporting the sufferer is not enough. They, themselves, must want to make lifelong changes. He, however, did not. Don’t get me wrong – when someone is suffering from depression it’s certainly tough for them. When he was exercising, eating healthy food, had a goal and a dream, my son and I experienced hugely positive days. But my son is still discovering the road he needs to follow to achieve his dreams. We all must make the changes ourselves. Supporters are always there and always care but they also need to look after themselves. So that is what I have done and, now, my life is about ME.
Nowadays, I always say “thank you” to my son because, from the dark days we shared, he’s the main reason that I’m living my dream, caring about me and my life. The one thing that everyone needs to remember is they themselves are the most important person – that is the toughest lesson we need to learn to accept and to truly understand.
Running looks to be a great way to get out between the breaks in the weather and hitting the water. How long have you been a runner? And how do you feel it fits with your overall active lifestyle and this epic journey?
I was always a terrible runner at school! It was mainly on the streets in and around London and the forest tracks in Chingford where I was brave enough to start running as an adult. It took me time to build up both my fitness levels and my confidence to run but it’s certainly a great way to clear one’s head! After running a rather long time (in half and full marathons, on a few off-road tracks, and many hours spent on pavements), I discovered that it’s the off-road running that I find most fun; this is where I’ll head on a windy, wet day – off trail, getting wet and muddy. Finding a downhill run is my absolute favourite. I have spent many hours on the Karekare tracks in West Auckland and Goldies Track is also a favourite.
Your campervan ‘Cuzzie’ is amazing! What’s the story behind it and how is it setup for you to live in and travel in during this adventure?
Cuzzie. Now, I didn’t actually name her that, but the previous owner loved this campervan and had already nicknamed her, so the tradition has continued. She was fairly well set up when we bought her. We fitted roof racks and a ladder for access to get the kayaks on and off the roof. We have removed the carpet inside, so that seawater and sand can be easily removed and the coloured plastic boxes we store gear in under the seats can slide in and out with no problems. We had waterproof padded seats made and added in more power points for ease of recharging all the electronic items I need on the water. But, generally, Cuzzie was a well kitted out campervan when we bought her. When we’re in some remote locations, the shower and toilet are a blessing. Being a self-contained camper unit is a “must” in order to freedom camp but, whenever possible, we head to a campsite to hook up to power and spread just out a little. It gives us a chance to get washing done and dried, to fill up with fresh, clean water and recharge everything fully. I was a tent nutter until I discovered Cuzzie and campervan life and, now, I’m a true convert! In fact, the bigger family canvas tent may well be up for sale as soon as I get home.
You mentioned you hardly ever see the van, though, being on the water so much, and that your support crew are your lifeline. Who and how many people have helped you achieve your dream? And how important are people and supporters to you achieving your goals?
My support crew? They are an amazing bunch of people who are my lifeline – particularly when I’m on the water. They track me and always know my exact location. We try to check out the upcoming beach landings, discuss checkpoints and A B C plans for paddling days. If we don’t have time to look at beaches further up the coast, I rely on them to select the best beach-landing spots. Also, they keep Cuzzie filled with diesel and food and all the day to day essentials of life on the road. They select the next campsite, keep me informed about the upcoming weather and nag me when I need nagging. Supporters along the way have been incredible and seem to pop up just when and where you most need them, giving me a moral boost. I have a close group of six key people with whom I tend to be in contact with each day – to discuss, to download, to cry, to yell, to be sad and happy with – I adore them all!
When we spoke, you seemed passionate about running and all types of physical activity being key for everyone and how it can make the world a better place. Can you tell us more about your thoughts on this?
I believe that exercise is the best medicine of all. And, yes, I believe that the working world needs to be far more positive and active – not just have a sentence in their HR manual promoting all workers to go and do something active each day. A better option could be to praise them for having a work/life balance, to encourage them to step away from their desks whenever possible and to go home at a reasonable hour. To have a happy and healthy working environment is a “must”, rather than a stressed, “must stay late and finish this email, must take my work home with me, must work 24 hours a day to prove I’m dedicated” lifestyle. But, in saying all this, everybody needs to be responsible for themselves, to make a dedicated plan to be healthy and active rather than just sitting being a couch potato. We all need to feel fresh air in our lungs and to make our heart and body have a workout each day. Most city people spend longer in a traffic jam each day than the time it would take to go and exercise – and sometimes even longer talking about going and doing something than it would actually take to do it!
It took me time to build up both my fitness levels and my confidence to run but it’s certainly a great way to clear one’s head!
You have met so many people on this adventure! Can you share a story or an experience that has really stood out during the past ten months?
The marine life and the dolphins that have taken the time to come and play with me and my kayak along the coastline stick out as an amazing experience. These memories will stay with me for ever. The fishermen and the ocean-going community I have met while paddling my tiny kayak in the open ocean have been terrific. Most of the places and people who have stolen my heart are from my 45 days of solo kayaking round Stewart Island and in Fiordland. Te Waipounamu is majestic and soul refreshing. I seem to have a story and a personal experience for every day I spent there. To mention one person or one experience is just too hard.. fresh fish, nights on charter boats, super yacht experiences, wind so strong I thought my tent would be flattened, rain so intense I had a river under my tent floor, waves way too big and powerful, kayak damage, ego damage, crayfish, paua and blue cod, venison, kina, fresh bread and butter, hot fried potatoes, a catamaran named Honey, all of us waiting on weather, my emotional highs & lows, heart-in-mouth waves and beach landings going wrong. Every day has its own story.. and to mention only one would be an injustice to every other day. My blogs each day tell a far better story.
We spoke of how so many people are disconnected from ‘life’ today, consumed by work and poor physical and mental health. What are your thoughts on this and how do you feel – as a society – that we could reconnect to each other once again?
Stop, dream and be honest – with each other and with ourselves. Exercise daily, for yourself, no one else. Do things you truly love. I was a true workaholic, getting a big thrill out of doing the longest hours. Now I look back and wonder why and what for? We all need to become part of the community again. We need to remove ourselves from the toxic city lives in which we live and take another look at the smaller communities where people actually care about you, not about how you look or what connections you have that may benefit them. “Networking” is a word I dislike. To actually stop and ask someone if they need help, to smile from the inside out, makes us all really beautiful people. To truly care, not just saying it but not meaning it. Our country is not about cities, it’s about everything outside of the cities that matter. And I’m glad to have been able to experience a time with the real NZ people. I’m humbled on a daily basis.
Your story is really inspiring and thanks so much for a great chat in ‘Cuzzie’. I think what you are doing is great and such a positive way to engage with people of all types, to connect and talk about mental health. What advice do you have for people who want to head off on a similar adventure?
Don’t ever give up on that dream. It took me nearly twenty years to get going. I don’t regret having started but I have to admit it’s tougher some days than others. Don’t listen to others’ fears – some people are all too ready to tell you about the bad things that might happen. Take a deep breath and believe in yourself. No one else matters. I didn’t want to arrive in a retirement home and still be saying “I wish I’d…”
Your top three tips to achieving happiness or balance in life?
1: Find at least one thing to smile about each day.
2: Make someone else smile each day.
3: Dreaming is one thing but, if you really want something, ask yourself: “How much are you truly willing to sacrifice to achieve your dream?” That was probably the biggest, life changing question I asked myself.
Where do you see yourself in five years from now ?
I now believe that life is a day by day thing.
“Everything happens for a reason”and I’m open to what life presents to me on a daily basis – no five year plans!
I just enjoy, smile and am thankful for what each day has just given me. And not have any regrets.
Where can we find out more about your adventures?
Website/ Blog: http://www.redznzjourney.com/
(Thanks, Paul, for finding my journey interesting. I could go on for many pages in answer to the foregoing questions but my journey is not yet complete so, until, then keep in touch. See you in the South Island one day sometime in the next few years.
Ma Te Wa from Lynn aka Red.)