I stumbled across Josh and the challenge he has undertaken when scrolling through LinkedIn one evening. I was immediately struck by his strength to take positives from such a dark period of his life to not only help shape the challenges of his future, but to inspire others who face similar anxieties and worries to speak more openly about how they feel. Having written about the alarmingly high number of attempted suicides by men last November I wanted to speak to him more about his experiences, the reason he took on this mammoth challenge and his quest to raise awareness about such a life changing issue.
O: This is an incredible challenge to take on, one that will inspire thousands to not only take to the road but also to seek help. What inspired you to take on this mammoth challenge?
J: After surviving my suicide attempt I knew I had been kept alive for a reason, but I never knew what that reason was. I later had an epiphany that I was to tell my story and do something big to raise awareness of mental health and inspire others who've also suffered with depression or felt suicidal. I then came up with the idea of trying to cycle around the world. And that was my way of using my second chance to attempt something big, whilst sharing the journey to help others and show how life does go on.
O: Your LinkedIn suggests you experienced a lot of success before you attempted suicide, can tell us how you felt during this extremely difficult time?
J: At the time of my attempt, I had my own business in Edinburgh, we had two staff, just moved into our own office and I had just won an award for young entrepreneur of the year. So on paper it looked like I had it all, but behind the scenes I was struggling badly with my depression. It felt as if all of the colour had been sucked out of my life. I had no energy or motivation to do things I previously loved, and I had no hope that things would or could get ever better. I just wanted it to all be over and I felt that suicide was my only option.
O: When you woke up after your attempt what were your thoughts and how did you feel?
J: When I first woke up I felt terrible. I was disappointed to still be alive given how depressed I was. I was also really embarrassed knowing people were now going to do what happened and that I had been suffering with depression. At this time I didn't know much about mental health and bought into all the stigma surrounding it. It was only later that night when I found I had walked away with no physical injuries at all that I realised how lucky I was. I went along to the chapel in the hospital and wrote a message in the book saying I knew I'd been kept alive for a reason and it was time to now turn my life around and do something big with my second chance at life.
O: What then motivated you to make a change and to take up a new opportunity?
J: It wasn't until September that year where I had the epiphany, the crash was in May. I had come up with this crazy idea to go around the world in a Scottish morphsuit promoting Scotland as the tartan explorer. I was out running one night thinking about why I was doing it and how I explained it to everyone I knew. The story was that I was in a car crash and wanted to do something big with my second chance. I realised this was a lie and that it wasn't just a car crash, it was a suicide attempt. This was the epiphany, in that moment I realised that was why I was kept alive. I was to tell my story and do something big to help others, so the tartan explorer became about raising awareness of mental health rather than promoting Scotland. I then a few weeks later had the idea of cycling around the world.
O: What do you aim to take from this experience?
J: My main aim was to find happiness, this was my journey to happiness after a few years suffering with depression. Although there is such a bigger outer journey trying to cycle the whole world this is really more about my inner journey and how I overcame the demons in my head. By sharing that journey as openly and honestly as possible online I want to be able to encourage others to speak about their mental health and also share the things that helped me so others can to go on their own journeys to happiness.
O: What inspires you day to day to keep going and drives your motivation?
J: I just focus on the goal. I have a goal of cycling around the world and that's what keeps me motivated. I always keep myself aligned with my purpose and that this isn't just about me it's about the thousands of others who are following and looking up to me for hope and inspiration.
One of the greatest ways to overcome depression is to find a cause greater than you. If there are days I feel low and can't do it for myself then I just try to do it for others. That always keeps me focused. Breaking the big goal down into mini goals is key also. Reaching the Nordkapp was my mini goal recently and now that's done the next goal is Helsinki which is 1,750km from where I am now.
O: What does a normal day on this exciting challenge hold?
J: No two days are ever the same, it's such an adventure. Most days I am on the bike cycling but so much can happen out on the road. I'm usually on the bike cycling 6-8 hours a day doing between 120-150km. I usually cycle for 7-10 days and then stop for a couple days or when in a big city. Each day can be so different though. One day I could be cycling in the rain all day then camping in the cold. The next I could be cycling in the sun and then staying in a nice fancy hotel. One day I could be stuck in a bike shop fixing the bike or be stranded in the middle of nowhere looking for someone to take me to a bike shop.
O: Have you enjoyed much sightseeing along the way?
J: Yes I've seen some amazing sights along the way. So far I've been in some amazing cities like London, Bruges, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Copenhagen, Gothenburg, Oslo and Bergen. I've also been very remote and in the middle of nowhere cycling across Norway and Sweden. I've recently just finished my cycling in Norway which was amazing. I cycled the whole length of the country and went through the Norwegian Fjords which was amazing. I just arrived at the Nordkapp which is the highest point of Europe and the last piece of dry land before the North Pole.
O: This is a difficult topic and extremely personal. What would you say was key to helping you feel comfortable speaking out about your experiences?
J: It was very difficult to speak about at first, before I launched the campaign I'd only ever spoken about my depression and attempt with a handful of people. So to then tell the whole world via Facebook was a big step. That first week I done lots of media and tv interviews and was so nervous speaking about it. Now I speak about it like I would any other topic as it's my job to and that only came through experience. The more I spoke about it the easier it got. You need to just speak about it as much as possible and it gets easier and easier with time.
O: If the was one thing you could reiterate to others going through something similar to what you experienced what would you want to say?
J: The most important thing is accepting you have a problem and then taking 100% responsibility for changing your life. Depression is horrible and it can happen to anyone, but how you respond to it is far more important than how you got it. You need to forget about what's happened to you and decide that your future starts now and you're going to do everything in your power to overcome it.
Anyone can overcome depression, but it takes hard work. You need to be prepared to change. You may have to change your lifestyle, the way you think and how you spend your time.
I think too many people in mental health are scared to say that we may have to change. Everyone wants to be political correct and is scared of offending anyone. But the truth is there's only one thing in this world that we can control and that is us. We can't change others, we can't change the world and we can't change the weather. But we can change us. Once you realise this it's really empowering and liberating. You go from thinking you have an illness for life that you'll have to manage day to day, to being in control of your life again and being able to shape your future.
O: Have you thought much about life after the challenge and what it might hold for you?
J: Yes I never stop thinking about the next stage of the tartan explorer and I have lots of huge plans. I believe it is my life's purpose to help others beat depression and I want to spend the rest of my life helping others do that. I'm working on a book that I believe will be able to help so many people and so myself teaching others through my writing online and books, seminars and events and through my content and videos online.
I've also massively fallen in love with cycling and can see me spending my time also taking on other challenges and adventures. I've got my eye on a world record attempt after the world cycle which is exciting. This cycle isn't really about setting any records, it's more about me trying to get around the whole world and sharing my story as much as possible.
O: What has been people's response to your challenge? And how can people show their support for you along the way?
J: The support I've had on this challenge has been nothing short of exceptional. This whole journey has really restored my faith in humanity and how many good people there are out there. I've been hosted over 75 times with families and people in nine countries. I've been given food and a place to stay, been given lifts to bike shops, been bought trainers. It's just been incredible. People really are amazing. It's so easy to fall into the trap of thinking the world is such a bad place if you watch the news all the time. But if you get out there and start meeting real people you'll quickly find people are amazing and willing to help.
If you have been affected by anything in this article please call the Samaritans now on: 116 123. This number is free to call and is open 24 hours a day.
Useful websites and helplines:
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Rethink Mental Illness advice and information service is open 9:30 - 4pm Monday - Friday - 0300 5000 927. They have over 100 factsheets with easy to understand information on a variety of issues related to mental health
- CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) is a registered charity, which exists to prevent male suicide in the UK. Call 0800 58 58 58 or visit thecalmzone.net
- The Mix is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- HopeLine runs a confidential advice helpline if you are a young person at risk of suicide or are worried about a young person at risk of suicide. Mon-Fri 10-5pm and 7pm-10pm. Weekends 2pm-5pm on 0800 068 41 41