Jacob Morris to run 211 kilometres in 30 days to raise mental health awareness
Less than two years ago, Jacob Morris startled from sleep from what felt like a heart attack. With his heartbeat racing, profuse sweating and shortness of breath, Jacob believed he was going to die.
“I unlocked my front door so if I died, the paramedics wouldn’t have to break it down when they came in,” Jacob, 26, recounted. “And I wrote down my bank passwords too, so my family could just clear it out without any issue.”
Jacob would eventually discover that the physical symptoms that so convinced him that he was undergoing cardiac arrest actually stemmed from mental illness – namely, severe depression and long-standing anxiety – that he first denied then downplayed.
Such an alarming encounter propelled Jacob into urgent evaluation of his life. At face value, Jacob at his best was a picture of exemplary young professionalism; after graduating from Ryerson’s Radio and Television Arts program, he worked as a well-paid, salaried full-time producer and videographer for an entertainment news website. He flourished in the competitive creative industry, not only working six or seven days a week for about 18 hours per day, but also doing freelance work outside his day job. Professionally, Jacob thrived.
But it was this dubious “badge of honour” of burnout – extreme busyness in an industry wherein recent grads like Jacob would be lucky to find any work – that triggered and exacerbated Jacob’s depression and anxiety to the point of experiencing constant panic attacks, withdrawing from close family and friends and going through episodes of depersonalization.
“I just didn’t even feel like I was even myself, that I was just witnessing someone else living through this physical body,” Jacob explained.
Additionally, it was a struggle to deal with the fear and stigma of recognizing that he had mental illness and actively resolving to deal with it head-on.
Like many young people, Jacob took to Google to aid his research on depression and anxiety. Having read about the positive impact of physical activity on one’s mental state, Jacob started going for walks around his neighbourhood, finding calm comfort and respite from his negative, anxious thoughts in movement.
“When I was in the deepest of my depression and dealing with the worst of my anxiety, sitting still was like a deathtrap for me where I just collapsed in on myself,” Jacob explained. “Walking or running is somewhat of a meditation in itself. You have the cadence of the steps: right foot, left foot, over and over and over.”
Short walks turned to short jogs, and short jogs of two to three kilometres turned to longer runs. “I slowly increased my pace; I was able to do 10K. And then most of the summer of last year, I got to a place where I could go out and run a half-marathon, 21.1 kilometres.” As his physical fitness and endurance improved, he observed that his mental health followed suit. Jacob found that his “depression subsided and the anxiety got easier to manage. My sleep was getting much, much better.”
In recent times, Jacob would describe himself as “someone who has a fairly well-balanced, great mental health right now,” but specifies, “I’m not by any means cured of either depression or anxiety.” He also recognizes the lack of resources, as well as stigma surrounding the limited discussions on mental health among general public that leads to “othering” and victimization of those who struggle with mental health challenges.
And it was this observation that drove him to start the Run to Wellness campaign – Jacob has very recently begun his journey of running 10 half-marathons (21.1 kilometres each) in 10 cities across Canada in 30 days, 211 kilometres in one month, to raise awareness and, with hope, engage audiences to start open and honest conversations about mental health. Subsequently, there will be a documentary of his journey, in which Jacob and his three-person team of young twenty-something’s intend to tell three main stories: the first, Jacob’s story of living with depression and anxiety and how he manages his mental health on a daily basis; the second, an audio-visual documentation of the story and challenges of Jacob’s 10 half-marathons and the third, Jacob connecting with and telling stories of various people in each city. To accompany the journey and the documentary, there will also be social media content to galvanize conversation. All content aims to uplift, inspire, connect and entertain – a decision consciously made by Jacob and his team as a way of countering some representations of mental health that inadvertently victimize and alienate rather than engage or educate.
While Run to Wellness is impressive in its ambitiousness, Jacob is ultimately all about encouraging first steps. For Jacob, strolls turned to marathons, the scope moving from neighbourhood-wide to nationwide. But one does not have to follow Jacob’s journey step by step – Jacob advises strategies that may be considered trivial by many but were immensely helpful to him.
One simple strategy is focusing on positive thoughts. While Jacob recognizes that such a task might be extremely difficult for someone extremely depressed, he says, “Even if one in 1,000 thoughts that you have during the day is positive, you can try to grasp onto that one and just put your mind in a place where you’re just thinking about that.”
Another strategy is creating lists. “If I was in a middle of a panic attack, or I just feel really down, I open up my phone and I would write a list of things that I love, of various categories. So, there’d be a list of my 30 favourite candies. I would spend about 20 minutes just thinking about these things that brought me joy. A Mars bar,” Jacob grinned. “Why should a Mars bar be able to change your mental health? But it can.”
Run to Wellness, at its core, is arguably about tiny increments that gradually lead to massive improvements in one’s way of life, little things and small steps that allow the gradual transformation of what may be immobilizing to something inspiring and how, with hope, an issue considered too personal and intimate – therefore encouraging isolation in some ways – could engender connection and community.
For more information on the Run to Wellness campaign, please visit: www.runtowellness.com. To make a donation to support Run to Wellness and its partner, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), please visit: https://www.supportcamh.ca/getinvolved/event/runtowellness.
About the writer:
Two recent developments in Eileen Valenzuela’s life are: 1) earning a postgraduate certificate from Centennial College’s corporate communications and public relations program; 2) completing her two-month field placement as The Sandbox Project’s Communications and Events Intern. While her professional interests lie in doing work for not-for-profits, agencies specializing in arts and culture and government sectors, Eileen’s personal interests include pop culture, cheese and her beloved FC Barcelona.