Former WRAD improved services coordinator Maya Raschel is on a mission to raise awareness of the importance of exercise for long term recovery – You can follow the 3,018 Klms journey across Australia at https://www.facebook.com/Mayasmission2015

Here is here blog explaining the mission.

 

Exercise has always been something I’ve enjoyed doing. It helps settle me down, gives me that adrenaline rush and puts me in a better mood. 

Then later, I did a lot of research and study in graduate school regarding the benefits of exercise therapy for people with mental illness. 

After that, working in a clinical setting, I witnessed many individuals who would start anti-depressants, anti-psychotics and even some mood stabilisers, and I could see the positive effects those medications could have. But I also  saw the disempowering side effects, such as lowered motivation, dulled emotions, and unwanted weight gain. 

Those effects lead to feelings of helplessness, and to additional health problems such as Type II diabetes as well as hypertension, breathing and joint problems. The individual then has more problems to manage with less motivation, ability and hope that things can improve, not to mention the self-esteem and confidence issues. Bunched together, these are contributing factors to further isolation and loss of connection to community. 

Evidence also suggests that loss of connections with others is one of the strongest factors in relapse of mental illness and addictions.

I observed a lot of energy being poured into symptoms and problems rather then solutions and prevention. I also saw many people buying gym memberships to address their weight problems, but not using them. I felt like there had to be an alternative solution.

I knew of a multitude of studies that point to the beneficial effects of exercise on every form of mental illness. From depression to schizophrenia, exercise has a positive effect on brain chemistry. It also holds benefits for the physical symptoms like hypertension and diabetes. 

There were exercise programs out there for some people, but often eligibility requirements were exclusionary;  You had to be a ‘client’ of this or that particular service in order to attend the group. Just another barrier to getting out and moving.

So, providing a low cost, low impact, social exercise group for a broad range of people seemed like the perfect project.

Last year, I started a pilot physical exercise group in Warrnambool. It was a weekly exercise program for any person in the community experiencing mental health issues. It was cheap. People of all ages could participate in whatever way they were able. 

The exercise group not only improved people’s mental and physical health but connected them to others in their community, reduced their social isolation. 

It gave people an opportunity to pro-actively address their own health issues, which can be transformative and empowering alone, but they were doing it along with others and having fun at the same time. 

In our group, we broke down the stigma of mental illness by focusing on mental well-being.

I saw many people who first attended the group hesitantly walk in with their head down, not talking to anyone. 

By the end of the session, they were chatting to the others and encouraging others to participate. The next week they were the ones welcoming the newcomers, and catching up with their ‘new mates’ – friendships they never thought they would have. 

One particular girl stands out in my mind. 

When she first arrived, she was really shy and scared. But after a few sessions, she volunteered to show the others some Tai Chi movements, that is a huge confidence boost and step on the path to wellness.

So many of the people that participated in the groups got something out of it. The joy on peoples faces and their clear increase in motivation to improve their own health was all the inspiration I needed. 

I want to continue the program in Warrnambool, but more than that, I want to expand it to the other regional towns in the South West region, and I need to raise funds. The ride is my way of doing that. 

That is how I came to be riding across the Nullarbor. Very soon, I will ride from WA to Warrnambool. 

I’m raising funds in order to get these groups up and running and to be able to purchase simple mobile equipment that could be used anywhere, so I’ve started an online crowd-funding campaign called Maya’s Mission – Riding for Recovery. I am hoping that my ride will inspire people to chip in along the way.

You see, in the mental health sector, there are always budget restrictions, changes in services and other limitations including a general lack of resources. I want to ensure that this group will be self-sustaining and not need to rely on services to keep it going. 

I want it to keep going.

I am both excited and nervous about the trip. I keep having things pop in my head at night and find it hard to get back to sleep at times because my mind is very busy. Once we start the trip I will calm down, I just hope my legs keep peddling!

I believe in the power of everyday people, I know how important connecting to others and having a sense of purpose in the world is. 

I like experiencing life differently than most and looking for opportunities to be humbled by nature is one way I do that.

The mental and physical challenge makes me appreciate just how precious life is for all of us.