Speak Your Mind. Part 2 of 4 - Ryan Hardy

Photo:  @joshuatabone

Speak Your Mind. Part 2 of 4. A Story From Issue 44.

Mental health has been a subject that was often prisoned in the shadows by its keeper, hidden there like a murderer of masculinity. But, after the recent deaths of two of our beloved brothers - Tyson Williams and Jarryd Wingfield - we feel that it is a subject that needs to come out of the shadows and is discussed; after all, one in five Australians aged 16-85 experience a mental illness in any year so chances are someone in your close circle of friends is struggling with mental health right now.

This story is a continuation from Part 1 which features Phil Gallaghers heart felt story about his experience and struggles with Bipolar. The story was published here and in Issue 44 of Movement Magazine. Written by Ricardo Miguel Vieira

Part 2 Ryan Hardy

‘When I became ill with bipolar in 2007, I had just been through a period where I was at my peak form. The year before, I’d come second on an intensely fought World Title race that, after years of competitive and personal effort to reach the top spot, meant everything to me. I was so driven and obsessed with this goal that I’d devise every possible factor that could make me the best bodyboarder in the world. My personal expectations were extremely high and that self-inflicted pressure led to anxiety and mental stress. For a long time, everything I did in life was steered toward becoming a world champion, but in that year, things just got a bit too serious.

The onset of my illness was gradual. With the soaring stress of the contests, I started having trouble sleeping, whereas my mental activity grew intensely stronger. Even though I was crazy active during the day, particularly with intense physical activity, I’d go to bed super early only to wake up a few hours later feeling both physically and mentally charged up. At that point, I really had no idea what was wrong.

Over a period of four months, the situation became worse and resulted in my first manic episode. During a trip to Western Australia, I reached boiling point and something exploded in my mind. All the negativity was suddenly gone and everything seemed perfect; even delusional. I convinced myself that I was telepathic, that I could heal people and connect with God. I was having supernatural, off-the-planet thoughts and although I was slipping away from my personality, I went on believing that everything was fine and that I was an evolved person with superpowers.

The manic stage of the illness has an extremely damaging potential because you stop thinking straight and dive into any idea or plan that springs into your mind, from spending money to giving your car to someone believing that it’s for a good reason. Once you’re out of the manic stage, though, you’re faced with regrets and you can easily ruin your life if you don’t get help.

My family knew all too well of the risks surrounding the illness. My twin brother was diagnosed with bipolar in his twenties and my father, although never professionally assessed, showed signs of the illness in many moments throughout life. Drawing from experiences, I came to terms with the fact that I had to listen to my family when they told me that I was going through those same symptoms – even if I thought everything was great with me.

Seeing how I was in a deep manic state, my family checked me into a psychiatric ward, where I laid low and took it easy for a while. At the hospital, I was still in quite a happy mood and enjoying myself as I met other people. I was into everything we were doing at the hospital – activities, group talks, walking in a field. I was the amped-up guy around zombies that weren’t able to look at anyone. My mood and energy levels were so high that they’d give me constant doses of medication to slow me down and be able to sleep at night. For me, this was an educational experience. If anything, it was a revelation about how bad some people with depression suffer. But the hospital isn’t a place where you want to stay for too long. You’re confined to your locked room of the centre’s premises, so it feels like prison. Not only will it end up affecting you, but also your family and friends. And while I was sleeping better and recognised that I was sick and in need of recovery, I was also getting too involved in trying to help the other patients getting better. So after a week, my family decided to take me home.

"I was having supernatural, off-the-planet thoughts and although i was slipping away from my personality, i went on believing that everything was fine." - Ryan Hardy

In retrospect, the hospital was actually the easy part of the recovery. You’re cared for and fed and, while still quite high, things feel good and seem fine. But then you come out and with the chemical imbalance from the medication doses, you just naturally fall into a depressive state. When I returned to the Gold Coast to be with my wife, I came crashing down following months of highs. I was feeling like shit, waking up with the worst feelings everyday, unwilling to go outside and even taking a break from bodyboarding. All these negative thoughts started to pile on as well: realising that I had an illness; the public pressure of people knowing that I was born sick; and the possibility of never returning to bodyboarding, the thing I loved doing the most. During that period, my family and friends offered huge amounts of support, trying to keep me busy and pushing me through each day.

By the end of 2007, I was back into bodyboarding. I remember surfing a lot with young kids from the Gold Coast at that stage and their energy and spirit really picked me up. The teenagers were surfing for pure reasons everyday and hanging out with these guys helped me rediscover the love of riding the boogie.

Earlier in the next year, with the support of my family and sponsors, I flew to Hawaii for the Pipeline contest and ended up winning it. It was such an amazing feeling, especially because it broke the chain of eighteen months battling through my lowest period. It meant a lot to me on so many levels: it represented a competitive victory, overcoming bipolar, and having fun with all my mates in the water. It was definitely a big moment in my timeline. The competitive side of the sport can offset a rush of adrenaline as much as of stress. There’s such huge highs, like riding big waves, winning comps and partying with friends and yet such big lows with your personal expectations, losing competitions, the pressure of facing off against peers and trying to get sponsorships. Everyone wants to be the man and win the prizes and that mix makes it an emotionally volatile place that can make us vulnerable to mental illness. There’s no doubt that my experience changed the way I view competition. I came to learn that I just have to let things happen naturally. In that moment, I was totally enjoying myself more and I stopped obsessing about contests, stopped training as much and came to accept where I already was and to enjoy the competitions as they came through. My riding and attitude definitely matured throughout that journey.

I still take my regular medication because I’ve accepted that it helps keep me chemically balanced. Sleeping well, getting in the ocean, being physically active, having a challenging and passionate professional life, playing with my kids and spending time with my wife support the medication. Each one does its bit in taking the edge away from any anxiety or pressure that might multiply into something bigger. I’m just in a place now where I live one day at a time. For me, it’s quite important as a role model to showcase that a normal life is possible and that you can battle through a mental illness. It’s about accepting that this is part of our lives and that we can carry on doing what we love without being held by this condition.’

We dedicate this feature to Tyson Williams and Jarryd Wingfield.Need someone to talk to? Reach out to Beyond Blue (1300 22 4636; beyondblue.org.au), Lifeline (13 11 14; lifeline.org.au) or your national support service.

This story will be continued as Part 3 of 4 with Lewy Finnegan, to be published at 6:pM 30/12/2018 AEST