Role Models: Because Mental Illness & Success Collide
By Andriana Vinnitchok, Project Team Member with the CAMH National Youth Advisory Committee
Would it surprise you that some would say a mental illness is “the best thing that can happen to you”?
“But it’s killing me;
I feel like the world is caving in on me;
How can this possibly be the best thing that has ever happened to me?”
This is the response of a prospering entrepreneur in the midst of a mental health crisis.
So how can such a contradiction exist? I mean, as the word mental illness implies – it’s an ‘illness’ so we should stay in bed, right. However consider this – one in five Canadians, which is one in five people you know or saw today, may develop a mental illness on a spectrum of severity in any given year. This means that there are approximately 7 billion Canadians persevering through challenges associated with a mental illness. It can be affecting anyone – from the waitress at your local restaurant, to your doctor, or the neighbourhood electrician or even the CEO of your favorite video game company. And you wouldn’t even know; because mental illness does not discriminate.
Now on a more individual level, I had the pleasure of speaking to Mike Brcic about this relationship between success and mental illness. A few years back, he was the prospering entrepreneur in the midst of the mental health crisis and now he agrees that it was the best thing that could happen to him. He told me – “in hindsight, it really opened my eyes to a different way at looking at the world; a different way of interacting and being in the world. It gave clarity to what I really want from life. ”
Mike Brcic is the President and Owner of Sacred Rides Mountain Bike Holidays, which was founded in 1996 and became North America’s largest and most successful mountain bike adventure company. Beyond his own ambitions, he values sharing his experience as a mentor and Entrepreneur in Residence at the Toronto Public Library, in order to help others launch their passion projects. And usually after a bio like this we wouldn’t be surprised to hear a list of other projects, awards and incredible stories (which there are). However, some people may be surprised that this successful entrepreneur has dealt with severe clinical depression and suicidal ideation.
People assume that happiness and success are mutually exclusive polar opposites of depression and failure. However, they do coexist and quite often. Mr. Brcic views mental health and success in his business as indistinguishable. The initial slippery slope with mental illness started with years of not exactly knowing what he was doing in the world, which negatively affected his business. However, personal recovery and business prosperity was also directly correlated with being able to address those issues. It allowed him to become “much fiercer with the business and that’s when the company really started taking off”.
It sounds like it happened overnight, while in reality this is the result of over a year and a half of perseverance. At the first signs of the mental illness, the reality of Mr.Brcic’s mid-30 year old self started looking like this: his business was going into the toilet while he was more or less bankrupt and living in his mom’s basement. However, in a relatively short period of time, there have been a lot of accomplishments and a big part of the solution was focusing getting his mind healthy and implementing successful habits.
So my curiosity led me to further inquire about what supported the recovery and future mental health maintenance. Interestingly, after several phases of trial and error, Mr. Brcic found group therapy to be quite transformative – “it is really powerful not being so isolated. It’s a bit of a spiral as you cut yourself off from the world more and more”. After all, it is about having a network of people who you can relate to – whether it’s a peer support group, group therapy or a meetup group based on virtually any interest. Some habits that still play a critical role in maintaining an optimal level of mental health are yoga, meditation and a structured morning routine, which includes time to reflect on his goals.
And for those of us who just found out that they are the one in five, Mr. Brcic shared one piece of advice that really resonated with me as a young adult – “as a man in his mid-40s from my group therapy session told me – ‘I wish I went through it when I was as young as you’”.
Do not hesitate in front of a mental health challenge nor your career because success and mental illness can and do collide.
You can also join the national discussion and creation of a film on #thebrighterside of mental illness.