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Walking off the war within, one year on
Anzac Day 2016: it's one year exactly since career firefighter Nathan Shanahan completed his almost-400-kilometre walk from Mildura to Adelaide to help lift the stigma surrounding mental health issues.
Calling it ‘Walking off the war within’, Nathan achieved this major goal while actively combatting his own diagnosed depressive disorder and anxiety and raising funds for Soldier On, a charity that supports injured soldiers and those suffering post-traumatic stress (PTSD) and other mental disorders.
One year on, how is Nathan faring?
“The physical recovery took up to four weeks. I could really feel it through the knees and hips,” he said. “I didn’t notice it so much on the road because I was so focused on achieving my goal and was really buoyed by all the support I got along the way.
“To be honest, I think a lot of healing happened during training. Walking more than three hours to work gave me a lot of time most days to be on my own and think over the past. I don’t think I ever used an iPod. A lot of things were worked through by the time I left and I think I’m more likely to see any major issues coming next time.”
Once on the road, Nathan discovered that his journey through depression and anxiety had really struck a chord. Mildura members in particular joined him for parts of the walk and he received many private Facebook messages from people who’d fought the same demons.
“I saw that people were looking and listening and it was perhaps helping them,” said Nathan. “One of the biggest hurdles for me was telling people for the first time that something was wrong and fearing their judgement, but I think the negative stigma is starting to lift and I’m just happy to be a voice and an advocate. It got me some respect in a way, and lots of questions about what I’d gone through and how did I first recognise it.
“We need to work together to support each other. Don’t be afraid to say, ‘I’m struggling. I need help.’
“I’m in a much better place now but I still have to manage it. I’m much more aware of my moods, and tiredness can bring on a flat feeling when negative thoughts can creep in. That can be a factor for any shift worker, but now I’ll just have a sleep during the day to recharge the batteries.
“I’m in control of it; it’s not in control of me.”