Walking for Men’s Mental Health
NSW health has invested $64 million to community mental health, isolation, alcoholism and addiction in 2019, to be used over the next three years. So, it’s truly heartening to see our wonderful locals taking action at a grassroots level, which is what The Man Walk, Bowral is all about.
It was started by 38 year old Bowral man, Ash Druery, who is arguably one of the Southern Highlands most passionate locals, when it comes men’s mental health and connection.
In his own words, Ash, a groundsman and gardener at Harbison Nursing Homes in Burradoo and Bowral says, “the antidote to isolation is connection.” Ash knows this from first-hand experience, as he turned his life around after struggles with alcohol and mental health.
As a result, he wanted to help others. So, in July of 2019, he started The Man Walk Bowral, in the depths of a Bowral winter!
A Safe Place to Share Concerns
The Man Walk is an initiative that provides an opportunity for men to get together to walk, talk and support each other in a regular, healthy way. The environment is positive, supportive and inclusive, where there is no pressure and no barriers to entry. You just have to be male. The whole idea is to make it ok to talk, and ok for men to ask for help if they need it.
It didn’t take long to take off! What began that frosty morning as a solo walk with just Ash, has flourished into something exceptionally fabulous. There are over 150 members of the Facebook group and the number of men that take part in the twice-weekly walk grows each time. Aside from being a safe space for men to talk, it’s also a great way of boosting your fitness!
Ash also recently was a guest speaker at one of Petrea King’s Quest for Life “Heal Your Life” workshops, where he touched on his own struggles and recovery and the great work he is doing in our community.
I recently chatted to Ash about The Man Walk Bowral and how well it is going. I’m so proud of our community, and how well we support each other, in particular, that we have people like Ash, who make it their goal in life to help others.
Here, he shares his powerful story.
Q: Why did you start the Bowral Man Walk?
A: In February 2019, I put myself into one of Australia’s best rehab facilities, South Pacific Private in Curl Curl, due to issues with alcohol.
Before I went there, I was the only one left that was there to experience my own dramas. Everyone else was fed up with me. My rock bottom was suicidal thoughts.
But then, there was a shift in my mindset. I realised that the only way I was going to get better was if I really wanted to. I had already been to rehab twice, but it hadn’t worked as I wasn’t willing. My life was spiralling, so I checked into South Pacific Private.
I spent five weeks in there, and when I left, I was sure to sign up to the local Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. I now go to a meeting every night, somewhere around the Highlands. There is one every night of the week, in a different suburb, from Bowral to Bundanoon, Moss Vale to Mittagong and beyond.
The meetings are still a huge part of my continual recovery and caused me to realise the power of connection and sharing thoughts with like-minded people.
Then one day, The Man Walk page popped up on my Facebook account. At that stage there were only four walks across the country. I immediately connected with their message and their energy. I really felt that I had something to offer with my story and drive for men’s health.
Q: When was your first walk and how many men joined you?
A: The first walk was in mid-July. I thought if I start in winter and it doesn’t take off, that’s why. But, if I start in winter and it doesn’t take off until it gets to summer, then that’s a great outcome!
The Man Walk Bowral is probably now the most popular Man Walks in the country. I have done every walk in shorts, even in the depths of winter, just to prove that it is all about your mindset. Once you get up and get into it, nothing can stop you!
That first walk was a solo one, but I didn’t let that get to me. Simply being up early and out in that space, exercising and processing my own thoughts, put me in a great head space for the rest of the day.
Q: Exactly how hard is it to get up early in the depths of a Southern Highlands Winter and do the walk?
A: When I started, it was fresh! My theory was if I started it then that by the time the warmer weather came around, I may have half a dozen guys. Eighteen guys has been the highest attendance, which makes me very proud!
Q: That’s amazing! How else has The Man Walk grown since that very first walk?
A: We have almost completed 40 walks and the numbers have grown as has support from the community. We average 14 men per walk now with, all walks of life attending.
It’s great watching a carpenter, musician and a doctor walk together and have the opportunity to connect on a level that wouldn’t normally happen.
Q: How frequently do you hold The Man Walk?
A: Twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5:45a.m.. We meet at the car park at Bowral Pool. The only requirement is you need to be male.
There is no membership or sign up, you can come and go as you please. You just have to be ready to walk at 5:45a.m. and have an open mind! We walk along Cherry Tree Walk and do the same walk each time. It is around 4.5kms, which takes roughly 45mins. It is sealed footpath the whole way.
Q: Do you find it’s a great way for men to open up and share their stress, worries and concerns in life?
A: There is definitely that opportunity, but it’s not only about that. It is much bigger. It’s an opportunity to build friendships, community and connections. This isn’t just a mental health walk. It is also local men building a tribe that is a safe space for conversation
Q: Why do you think initiatives like this are so important in our community?
A: This has had a massive impact on my life and my recovery. It has the ability to break down the stigma around men and the way we share feelings and communicate. The guys on the walk are slowly becoming mates and connecting with each other, which is great. They love turning up for each other and I would love to see the numbers continue to grow!
Q: What kinds of men attend? Do you attract blokes from “all walks of life” (pardon the pun!)?
A: All walks of Life is the best way to describe the walk! We have had father and son combinations, and I have had my nine-year-old son Xavier join me. We have builders, musicians, doctors, businessmen , emergency services, retirees, gardeners and teachers. I have had my uncle come with us who is in a wheelchair from polio.
We have had guys with PTSD, addiction, anxiety and depression attend the walk and join in conversations. It allows them not to be defined by their life situations. They are all men looking for a little more in life, even if it’s simply a short time to clear their head and lose some stress. At the same time, its 45 mins of continuous exercise, and there are endless benefits for that.
Q: Can attendees bring their dogs?
A: Yes, we have quite a few resident dogs that come along, which adds some fun to each walk!
Q: Do you have any examples where men have shared the ways that the walks have helped them either personally or professionally?
A: We joke on the walk it is like Fight Club, because what is said on the walk stays on the walk, which is why it is a safe space.
Q: How has launching The Man Walk Bowral helped you grow as a person? You must feel such a tremendous sense of satisfaction and pride?
A: It has allowed me to use my life experience to help other people. It has given me purpose and direction in the community, because I am helping change the stigma around men’s health in general. I would love to continue to pursue this area in the future. It has presented me with an opportunity to raise awareness in the community, with radio interviews , blogs and newspaper interviews.
It has put some amazing people in my life and offered opportunities I would not have dreamed of. I was invited to attend a week at The Quest for Life foundation at Bundanoon. This was life changing again and will be forever grateful to Petrea and all her staff. There are some great things happening out there next year in the space for 14 – 20-year old people and with PTSD treatments.
Q: Would you like to add anything else at all?
A: I just want to thank the local community for its ongoing support around The Man Walk. There are now over 80 walks around the country, so if you know a guy that may enjoy what we have to offer. Look for a walk in your local area and jump on the man walk website!
If you or anyone you know is seeking support with isolation, depression, suicidal thoughts or addiction, please visit any of the below websites, and/or seek medical attention from your GP or mental health practitioner.
I hope you found this particular blog to be as valuable and important to our community as I have. I think the work Ash is doing is phenomenal and it’s inspiring to see our community supporting each other in this way.
If you’d like to know more about life in the NSW Southern Highlands, feel free to contact me!
Love Di! XX