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A personal trainers hardest move was putting his hand up
It started on a Monday morning. Jonny Lobo, 23 years-old, loved his girlfriend, his job and his lifestyle. He was strong, healthy and confident. A proud Chilean man. But, for no reason, he started experiencing feelings of anxiety. For Jonny, this looked like fixation on his breathing, and a general feeling of unease. Soon this included a burning sensation up his neck.
These feelings didn’t go away. He spent 9 months trying to supress them, but knew they were only getting worse. Within time, he began to obsess about things and over think problems, regardless of logical answers. He couldn’t fall asleep on his own and everything felt bleak.
Jonny can look back at photos of the time and see when he was pretending to be happy, but was just existing. He didn’t know that his tiredness, his lack of care at work, his tendency to be late, and then early to leave, were signs of depression. Having always been driven and competitive, he knew that something wasn’t right.
He started to question, ‘Why me?’ and became desperate for the bad thoughts to stop. When he hit breaking point, and couldn’t stop crying, Jonny knew it was time he told his girlfriend. He wanted a future with her, but could see his anxiety was impacting their relationship.
Jonny says that talking about it was a relief, but simply telling someone wasn’t the answer. However, when his girlfriend and mother suggested he get professional help, he became angry, thinking that would officially deem him as crazy. Jonny kept waiting for another option, but eventually realised that he was holding himself back. He wasn’t getting better, and he had to do something, because the supportive people around him could only help so much.
He went to a doctor who suggested a simple breathing practice. For some, this can help manage stress, but the practice didn’t work for Jonny and so he returned to the doctor. This was a key turning point in his recovery as the doctor referred him to a counsellor. Jonny researched Beyond Blue’s information and was reassured that people who visit a counsellor usually show improvement after 8-12 sessions. He told himself, ‘I’m going to be ok.’ His girlfriend also assured him that it may take time, but he would get better.
With his counsellor, Jonny talked openly about what he was experiencing. Jonny learnt that he had been living with a generalised anxiety disorder, with symptoms of depression. He was supported by his doctor and counsellor with a Mental Health Plan. This gives people access to mental health treatment services in the community. After each visit on this plan, Jonny noticed improvements to his mental health and wellbeing.
His counsellor, which he credits hugely to his recovery, taught him that how we think can impact how we feel. ‘Thoughts can be like a bully,’ he explains. ‘If we react to them, we give them power. Don’t react and it doesn’t have the same impact.’ The counsellor used Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). This helped Jonny identify and challenge unhelpful thoughts and to learn practical self-help strategies, all of which changed the intensity of his thoughts.
The road to recovery wasn’t easy. Having always been a proud and confident person, Jonny became embarrassed to talk about his anxiety and saw it as a weakness. It took him time to embrace his experience and speak openly, but the more he did, the better he became. He also learnt to accept that his health affected others, and taking responsibility for that was confronting.
Jonny admits that staying consistent with CBT, replacing negative thoughts with positive, confronting problems and practicing mediation were challenging. But he knew that to get better he had to do the steps and treat his mental health like his physical health. He says, ‘If your leg is broken you get it fixed, the same goes for mental health.’ Jonny celebrates every win and accepts that not all thoughts, or days, are going to be good. He strives to see the silver lining in challenging moments and as to really notice the good moments.
Today, Jonny is grateful for the experience. He values the understanding he has of the mind and feels he tackles problems better. He feels it shaped him to be a coach, husband, father and friend. It doesn’t mean he’s always positive, but he is able to self-adjust and bring himself back to a better frame of mind.
As a personal trainer, Jonny focuses on rebuilding confidence and self-awareness in others. He says he wouldn’t have approached his role like this without having had his experience.
He now has a regular GP, which he praises. He is thankful for the people around him and that mental health support is available in Australia.
Jonny’s commitment to maintaining his mental health is lifelong, but he’s determined not to make it the theme of his life. To others going through a mental health challenge, Jonny‘s advice is to find the help you need. ‘There are things a professional can do that a friend can’t do,’ explains Jonny. Like so many other men, he waited until he hit rock bottom before he sought help. Jonny recommends taking control before that. ‘You’re going to go through some horrible things, life isn’t fair … but if you need help, than you need to put your hand up.’
If you need support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the NSW 24/7 Mental Health Line on 1800 011 511.
Jonny’s story is a part of the Tackling the Challenge Project, a collection of local men’s stories, highlighting their strengths, resilience and recovery. If you have a story to share or would like to know more, email Brendan.Bennett@health.nsw.gov.au or call 8738 5983.
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