Brent’s Style: Climbing over Mental Health Obstacles

BRENT

Within the past year alone, Brent has organized and co-hosted the Balancing Our Minds Youth Summit at Rogers Arena, launched a social enterprise, and adventurously climbed several +10,000 ft. mountains.

While Brent’s accomplishments are certainly impressive, he shared that he is most proud of “not giving up” on himself when “that was the easier answer for a long period of time.”  During his early twenties, Brent experienced a series of mental health challenges.

“I went through two episodes of psychosis, the second being a relapse in 2007. The second episode involved a suicide attempt, a hospitalization, and a diagnosis of schizophrenia.”

Brent explained that his symptoms involved paranoia, which led him to believe that people were going to hurt him and that the world was going to end.

Equally as bad as the paranoia, he expressed, was feeling incredibly isolated during this time.

“I remember lying in bed at night, thinking that if I ever recovered, I wanted to start an organization to support other young people going through similar challenges. I knew what it was like to struggle, and I knew that I would not be the last person to struggle. I thought I might be able to do something in 5 to 10 years, but one year later, I felt well enough to go for it. I was really motivated and driven to recover. I wanted to get fit and healthy so I could get started on this.”

Brent returned to his university studies and opened up about his story. He started a school club called ‘Students for Mental Wellness’ and volunteered with organizations that raised awareness about mental health. In 2010, Brent graduated from university with a business degree. He was the valedictorian of his class.

“Fast forward a few years, and I started working in the mental health field. Then, in 2014 I started a social enterprise called Mavrixx which offers a variety of programs and training around mental health and wellness.”

Mavrixx is made of two parts:

  • The EDGE: a high school training program that empowers students to have the language and skills to handle mental health challenges and perform at a high level.
  • Speaking, Consulting, & Coaching: Brent shares his mental health journey with a variety of audiences and offers his expertise in the mental health field to develop impactful programs. Check out his talk from TEDxSFU!

Mavrixx has some exciting programs in the works, including a speaking training program for youth who seek to share their mental health challenges and a mountaineering adventure program.

“Getting everything up and running has been a massive rollercoaster ride, but it has also been a ton of fun and very rewarding to see the response.”

As a busy entrepreneur with many projects on the go, Brent explained that it’s important that he feels comfortable and confident in what he is wearing. He appreciates pieces that can easily transition from casual to professional engagements.

“At big events, I used to dress up in a suit. Although I felt important doing that for a while and it was fun, I realized that it’s not really me. I’m more into comfortable materials, especially in earth tones.”

Brent describes his style as “laid back” and relaxed.

“If what I’m wearing makes me feel like I’m at the beach or in the mountains, it’s a great piece.” Most of the time, you can find him wearing flip flops, jeans, a t-shirt, sun glasses, and a hat.

On his wrists, Brent wore a set of bracelets that he got on a trip to Venice Beach in California.

“These remind me of the palm trees, the ocean, and the sun.”

He also wore a shell necklace from a trip to Cartagena, Columbia.

“My girlfriend and I sailed from Panama to Columbia, and I picked up this necklace while we were there. I have never taken it off since.  This necklace reminds me of my travels. It inspires me to think that everything in life is an adventure: whether it’s a personal struggle, climbing a mountain, or in a relationship.”

Brent is also a proud Community Champion at Wear Your Label, “a conscious clothing line with the goal of creating conversations around mental health and ultimately ending the stigma” associated with mental illness (in style).

Brent speaking at TEDxSFU 2014

Quick Questions with Brent

Along your journey, when have you surprised yourself with something you accomplished?

It caught me off guard to be selected as the valedictorian of my graduating class. It was an incredible honour to represent that class and program at SFU which I’m a proud graduate of.

What inspired your pursuit of adventure, and how do those activities impact your mental health now?

When I fell in love with hiking, I wanted to keep progressing. That turned into backpacking, snowshoeing, rock climbing, and finally mountaineering. After climbing for days, I feel incredibly alive, and I feel in the present moment. I recently climbed Mount Rainier again. It involved a 15 hour day of climbing, but it was like a 15 hour meditation. You don’t have any time to worry about the future or the past. It’s just so refreshing and energizing. The only other time I feel as alive as that is when I’m public speaking. I crave that feeling of being alive, rejuvenated, and inspired. I tell myself that if I ever want to inspire anyone else, I need to be inspired myself. Hearing about big mountains, pursuing them, and climbing them is one way I do that.

I enjoy it so much. It’s similar to a mental health struggle: you’re witnessing yourself push through your mental and physical barriers. When you witness yourself pushing through those barriers, it boosts your confidence in a natural, authentic way, and that can be transferred to other aspects of life.

A big thing with my recovery was learning to trust again after the intense paranoia.  When you’re climbing with someone, you’re forced to trust each other or you have to turn back. Or, you don’t go at all. It allows me to build strong connections with people. It improves my own ability to trust others, trust myself, and trust the universe.

Do your mental health challenges still impact you?

I have to be aware of symptoms being triggered, but I’ve been able to stay healthy and well and relapse free since 2007. I carry around what I call my wellness tool-box: a number of techniques and strategies I can apply immediately if I feel the symptoms coming on. That doesn’t mean I’m cured or symptom free, but I have been able to life a full and fulfilling life that I enjoy.

Where do people stumble with their understanding of mental health challenges, and what changes would you like to see?

When someone is diagnosed with a mental illness, they may think it is going to be a life long struggle. However, that’s not always the case. It takes a lot of work, research, learning, and support…but for the most part, there is a lot of hope for recovery. With the Early Psychosis Intervention (EPI) program I entered, for instance, they had the motto: “recovery is expected.” To me, that meant it was possible. Once I knew it was possible, I became determined to make that my reality, sustain it, and help others do the same.

How does language play a role in creating a wider understanding of mental illnesses?

Language is a big part of it. I like to say mental health “challenges” because that means it’s something that I can overcome. Saying things like “committing suicide” relates to committing a crime, so it’s important to say “die by suicide.” Mental health is still an emerging topic in society. When we don’t understand something, we can often stigmatize it and discriminate against it. That’s why Mavrixx and other mental health communities are seeking to raise awareness and educate people to build that understanding.

The media also has a role to play in not just covering mental health in negative, tragic stories, but to also highlight success stories of people who are doing really well with these illnesses. That is what is going to change the conversation.

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Brent’s story is powerful. He has transformed a very challenging time in his life into countless opportunities to connect with others and support others who are experiencing a similar journey. He attributes his recovery and success to a large network of supporters, including family members and close friends that saw him through the true depths of his struggle, university mentors, and mental health professionals. Each person played a unique a role in keeping him inspired, hopeful, and focused on pursuing overall wellness.

“Without that support,” he said, “I would not be where I am right now: living a fulfilling life. A lot of people have contributed to my journey, and that’s why I’m driven to give back to this community that gave me so much.”