It was 4.45am when the alarm woke me from a deep sleep and I hit snooze. 9 minutes to mentally wake myself up. 4.54am. Time to crawl out of bed, brush my teeth and get dressed. Time to walk out into the city in its peaceful darkness and head to Bondi Beach to take part in World Mental Health Day with Onewave.
Onewave, a charity started by Grant Trebilco to help start the conversation with each other about mental health because ‘one wave is all it takes’. Catching Onewave with a friend to make you feel a little lighter. To get the conversation started. The reason his campaign is so different? He dresses in fluro (neon) clothes.
I didn’t have any and I couldn’t surf. He told me to come anyway. And so I did.
As the bus rounded the famous corner down the hill and Bondi presented itself, you could see the sun and sky stretch their arms and wake for another day. Ready for its faithful crowd to return.
As I walked to South Bondi to meet up with, what would be, another 200+ people, the air felt electric. Walking along the parade the silhouettes of surfers peppered the oceanic horizon. Bondi was waking for another day. The dog walkers. The friends meeting up for their morning jog. The yoga class exercising on the green. This was Bondi. Not the tourists. Not the gimmicks. This was its true definition. The time of day that the locals owned their sand and enjoyed it with vigour to start their day.
From the moment my feet touched the golden grains, I was welcomed by the ‘fluro’ crowd. I could do yoga. I could surf. I could swim. Or I could just ‘hang out on the beach’. The choice was mine and what a freedom that choice was. As the crowd gathered you wished ‘good morning’ to the next group who joined in and before you looked up, you realised you were surrounded by hundreds of people.
Friends greeted each other with warm smiles and hugs. Dogs with fluro collars pounced around excited to meet other dogs. Children, and adults alike, decorated their faces with colourful zinc to join in. There were tutus. Suits. Even mermaid onesies. Nobody cared. You were there for the mind and with every outfit seen, another smile was produced – the epitome of Grant’s mission. To make us smile, to remove embarrassment and get us talking.
We gathered in a large semi-circle to hear Grant’s story. To hear his descent into the bipolar illness and how his brother and family attempted to help him before he was ready to accept it. And as I listened, quiet tears poured down my cheeks; the memories of struggling alone so fresh even after so many years had passed.
When it was time we all gathered at the shoreline, holding hands spreading two thirds along the beach, ready for our minute of silence to remember all those lost to the silent epidemic and those stood there this morning suffering. And after a Mexican wave and a round of applause we separated. Some talked to each other. Some went surfing. Some practised yoga. But the message was clear.
It’s not just about whether you need medication to help you, it is the community and support you surround yourself with and as someone who has spent the last 15 years struggling, 2 of which due to a breakdown, I cannot agree more. When I was so sick and my mum would come home expecting to find a body instead of a daughter, I had been Skyping friends in New Zealand listening to their lives because I couldn’t hold a ‘proper’ conversation. When I couldn’t leave the house because of my depression and anxieties, my friends cuddled me in bed and made me smile. When I couldn’t say the words I needed to out loud, friends allowed me to write them. They pulled me through and I’m not sure the words ‘thank you’ could ever express my true gratitude however many times I may have spoken them.
When the ‘wave’ had stopped, I sought Grant out. I felt I wanted, no, needed to say something to him but I had no idea what. Before I even said ‘hello” he greeted me with a hug, an act of compassion we so truly underestimate in its power, and as I opened my mouth to speak, the first words I spoke to him were “thank you; I needed this today”. And as I told him a little of my story, tears began to well up. They hugged me. Thanked me for coming as though I was someone special.
But I realised we were all special this morning. Whether we were there for a loved one, a friend or suffering ourselves, we were all there because mental health was a commonality we shared; that we wanted to share. It wasn’t about getting on TV or having a photo taken. It was about being part of something special and much bigger than ourselves.
When the alarm began to sound this morning, I realised just how exhausted I was. How little sleep I’ve had and how much my body and mind ached due to my depressing thoughts, worries and the huge change in life moving back to Sydney, constantly fighting the bad memories of last year. But, just for this morning, my heart spoke louder than my mind and I got out of bed to be told that ‘it’s okay not to be okay’.
Onewave is all it takes.
It’s a mission.
A way of life.