CityLife FEATURE STORY
Meet Bailey Seamer – Bailey’s story is one of inspiration and hope as she treks more than 5000 kilometres from Wilsons Promontory in Victoria to the most northern tip of Cape York Peninsula in Queensland. Bailey’s aim is to raise $100,000 for the Black Dog Institute – she has currently raised more than half that amount. She is also raising awareness about mental health issues and positively impacting others through mental health advocacy and education. The Newcastle woman began her journey in May last year and is expecting to complete her trek around the end of July. Bailey reached Cairns at the end of May. CityLife journalist Stacey Carrick caught up with her to discuss her physical, mental, emotional and spiritual journey.
How did you feel to reach Cairns, the last major city on your walk, 12 months, three states, 4200km and more than 7.5 million steps into your journey? What kind of reception and support did you receive when you reached Cairns?
It was a really bittersweet moment when I reached Cairns, as it was the last major city pretty much on this east coast trek. So, there were a lot of overwhelming feelings of excitement, success and achievement, but also a little bit of sadness that it was coming towards the closing end of this walk and ambition in general. Definitely a mixed feeling.
I had a really beautiful, warm welcome from locals and local media sources as well, including newspapers, TV interviews, local schools and individual catchups with meet and greets. So yeah, it was a really beautiful reception once I got into Cairns.
What does your journey represent – a life worth living, and hope for the future?
Basically, for me, and for other people experiencing mental illness, I hope that this walk represents our ability to achieve and pursue our passions in life and having an overall life worth living, even despite those challenges that we face as individuals living with mental illness.
How did the idea for the walk come to fruition?
So, this walk actually came to light when I was in a mental health hospital three years ago, getting treatment for my bipolar disorder. I actually woke up one day really frustrated with my treatment and how I felt I was never getting anywhere with my condition, in the sense of recovery. I woke up, put on my Connies and a backpack, signed myself out at the nurse’s station and just started walking.
It was about 8am when I left. I reached my family home, 30 kilometres from the hospital, that same afternoon at about 3pm and my family were like, “How did you get here?” and I said, “I walked”. They said, “what do you mean you walked?” I said, “I walked. I felt like I was running away from myself, and I was just so frustrated that I just started walking and I didn’t stop, and I just got here”.
It was actually in this moment that I made this decision out of nowhere to just do this really long-distance walking effort that started the whole process and whole passion of walking for me and in the most unlikely of places, a mental health hospital. It was in a later admission, in that same year, that I felt as an individual that a lot of doors were being closed on me, for example, with work, relationships and tertiary level study. I came to this conclusion that I wasn’t certain of any future I could possibly have.
But I was excellent at walking. So, I was going to do something so grandish, I was gonna show myself, that there was a life worth living, and do this big walk as a way to connect communities along the eastern seaboard and show other people with mental illness that there is a life worth living. Yeah. I guess it was a divine intervention, so to speak, in a Forrest Gump sort of sense.
Yeah, I Forrest Gumped it outta hospital and walked home.
It was the first real time I felt like I’d actually achieved something in a really, long time. Which was, I think, the spark that really brought me back to life.
Tell me about your personal struggle with mental health and bipolar disorder.
I have managed mental illness now for over a decade. I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder at the age of 14 and was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 19. It has been, without a doubt, the hardest challenge I’ve ever had to manage – my mental illness – and that is taking in consideration the last 12 months of walking. On the east coast, I’ve never had a single day of hiking that has been even half as severe as my worst day with mental illness.
It has disrupted every element of my life; my relationship with friends and family, my work, my study, and I guess just for life in general.
I’ve spent a predominant amount of my life depressed and bedbound, unfortunately, so, this has been a really, excruciating and very severe part of my life over the last decade and a very, very hard challenge to manage.
How does walking help you, physically and mentally?
It helps me in a way that is just as important as other elements of my healthcare plan, like my medication and healthcare interventions with hospitals, nurses, and psychiatrists. Walking for me is a touchstone. It is something that helps me practise mindfulness. It’s grounding. It’s also really challenging and requires a lot of problem solving. So, there’s a lot of elements to it that help me be present and have a sense of achievement and accomplishment as well as, releasing a lot of endorphins and getting me out in the sunshine and connected to nature. It really is a very important part of my wellness and wellbeing.
How does exercise benefit people with mental health issues?
It’s so important as far as not just socialising, but also, being in blue and green spaces. There is so much research and study behind the positive benefits that being in nature and physical activity can have, not just on our physical health, but our mental health. It does release endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, all of those positive, happy chemicals.
There are a lot of different, physiological effects as well, that can help with things like anxiety and depression, including breath work, heart rate and sweating. There’s also that stress release of high intensity exercise as well. It is crucial for us as humans to exercise for our mental health.
How does being in nature help you?
I find being in nature is a really humbling experience for me. I’d like to say, that a lot of the time it’s really zen and really calming, but there are so many experiences I’ve had over the last 12 months, where I will be out in national parks or crossing rivers or climbing mountains, I recognise how small I am in those moments and how tough I am.
How tough it is to overcome these physical, natural challenges and it’s a really humbling thing to be a part of something, but also still be
at the mercy of something.
I think with humans, we’re constantly in a place of instant gratification a lot of the time, so, being in nature where we don’t always have control, we have to learn flexibility and patience and recognise that we almost have to change our own behaviours to fit in with the environment around us. Which is quite a humbling experience, especially for me. I think there is a type of serenity you can get by being surrounded by animals, sounds and smells of natural environments.
They’re really, really, centering for me personally.
Why is it important for people to talk about mental health?
I think the discussions around mental health are just as crucial for people accessing mental health services and accessing support. I like to liken it a little bit to being a participant in your own rescue. An analogy I use for that is if an individual is out swimming, say for example, you’re on a sand bank and the sand bank gets swept away and all of a sudden you’re in a current, people might argue that the most important part of that rescue is the surf lifesavers, but I would debate that it is actually the person that puts up their hand in the surf and recognises they need help. That starts that almost triage effect.
It’s kind of similar with mental health. I feel if people aren’t comfortable enough to talk about the fact that they may be struggling, it’s really unlikely that that same individual is actually going to reach out for support from healthcare professionals and people that need to assist them in their journey. So, I think the conversation is a lot of the time where it starts.
Also with mental illness, unfortunately, it’s really common for that illness to make you feel ostracised and isolated, which really does negatively impact that person’s mental health. It can almost act like a spiralling effect when you feel like you’re alone, you feel like you’re isolated, you feel like no one cares or there’s no one there to support you. Maybe you feel like you’re a burden. These can all really, really negatively impact somebody and put people in very dangerous situations as well.
I think that those conversations are normalising the emotional literacy required to talk about our mental wellness with ourselves, with our friends, with our family, and with healthcare professionals is essential in mental wellbeing and wellness.
What is your advice to people who are reluctant to discuss their struggles?
This is a really common thing. I think there is a lot of stigma and stereotypes around mental health and mental illness and has been for a very long time. Especially here in Australia. The advice I would have for expressing and verbalising your potential mental health concerns, is the fact that it comes down to practice. Sometimes we have to just practise and practise and practise talking, maybe sometimes getting it wrong and making errors. But the more that you talk about it, the more comfortable you will get, and the more autonomy you will have around your own words and conditions when you’re talking to people about it.
I would start with people that you trust and that you know. For example, a family member or a friend. Sometimes people have found it very beneficial to ring anonymous healthcare lines, like Lifeline, 13 11 14, where there is a healthcare trained professional on the other end with no judgment, no knowledge of your condition, who can help you navigate those conversations until you get confident enough to reach out to those people around you.
So, my advice would be, don’t let an initial bit of discomfort stop you from having a lifetime of more comfort, so to speak. It might be very tricky at the beginning, but the more you do it, the easier it will eventually become.
What is the most challenging part of your walk, both mentally and physically?
I would say it is the connection with people and communities. Now, don’t get me wrong, it is what this whole walk is all about, but I do find it, at times, exceptionally heavy when I go into communities and I’m having really in-depth conversations about mental health and trying to help people, who may be suffering themselves, access resources around them.
I do find navigating those conversations, sometimes when I walk into towns, I can have 10 engagements planned in a day, a really psychologically draining task to do. Especially discussing something as important as mental health, where you have to be on your game, you have to concentrate and make sure the information you’re passing on to people is accurate and delivered well.
Because somebody may have not spoken about mental health before and you may be the first access or the first step they’re taking in the direction of support or talking about their own condition and if that goes negatively, that might make them regress in their process of recovery or reaching out for help.
So, trying to make sure that you’re saying the right things, especially, when you are delivering talks to school groups, yeah, it’s definitely a draining and essential part. A part that I love about the walk, but definitely, probably the most difficult part at times.
What do you eat, where do you sleep and how do you occupy your time?
I’m pretty much on a seafood diet, I see food and then I eat it. I’ve been very lucky with people donating food along the way. I try to eat as much protein as I can, cans of tuna, carbs, bread, biscuits, like crackers sort of thing. Heaps and heaps of fruit and vegies where I can, trying to get as much fresh produce as I can when I can. It is difficult when you are isolated or remote.
I’m currently sleeping in the back of my support vehicle, a high-top Troupie, which is beautiful and much better than the tent I was sleeping in for the first eight months of the walk.
I listen to a lot of music. I get back to messages, emails, and different phone calls that I have. I get back to a lot of the digital media platforms that I have. I also am a little bit naughty, and I watch quite a bit of TikTok, and I sometimes even watch episodes of Law and Order SVU when I’m on relatively quiet roads and things, which I probably shouldn’t do, but that’s a little confession in there.
How has the support of your partner and your family and friends helped you?
I did the first eight months by myself, then my partner Sean joined me in Queensland driving a support vehicle.
Sean has been a godsend, honestly. There’s been a couple of hit and miss moments I’ve had in Queensland, especially with the remoteness and lack of resources, such as water. I very much question whether I would be in Port Douglas in one piece without him. I think I definitely, with my stubbornness would’ve tried, but he has been such an emotional support and sounding board for me, and also has just literally kept me alive for the last six months in Queensland, especially in the remoteness of Central Queensland in summer. I shuddered to think what it would’ve been like without him.
I also have my friends and family who, you know, rally back home even though they can’t be with me. They also do, you know, such beautiful things like, they’ll send me little gifts in the mail and if I’m having a hard day, they’re always just a phone call away to talk to and help me debrief.
How is the walk a metaphor for your life? How do you liken dealing with mental health to completing your walk?
I spend most of my walk with very little planning, and I know that sounds ridiculous, but the reality is things are always shifting and evolving on this walk, from injuries, to poor mental health days, to severe weather, you name it – it’s happened to me. So, I have this mentality every day where I just go north however far I can in the day. I just go north as much or as little as I can. I recognise that my best is going to look different every single day. Some days my best is walking 40 kilometres. Some days my best is getting out of my little support vehicle, putting on new clothes and crawling back into bed while I have a depressive day, because that’s just the reality of my condition.
It has shown me that there is a difference between “I can’t” and “I don’t” want to on this walk, which I hadn’t quite grasped prior to it, and I had been guilty of using them interchangeably. I’m well aware now of just how capable I am to tackle any challenges that I’ve faced, but sometimes I have to be really flexible and patient with those challenges, which is a really interesting mindset.
I think this walk is representative for a lot of people, in the sense that you just have to keep going. No matter how far or how hard you go each day, you just have to keep literally moving forward sometimes. One step at a time, just concentrating on that next step. If I looked too far into my future, I would get overwhelmed every single day. I had to wake up with a mindset and just go. What challenge do I have to immediately face, do that, and then move to the next one.
That’s been really helpful with my mental health as well as demonstrating to people with mental illness that just finding something you’re passionate about and using that as your motivation for life. You don’t necessarily have to have a picket fence like everyone else, or that might not even be achievable, but you are more than capable of finding a passion and pursuing it no matter what that looks like. I think that is a powerful thing, surviving and grinding, but also for a purpose, especially helping others. That’s a really important message, I think.
How do you push yourself when you feel like giving up?
Hmm. It’s a good one. Sometimes I put myself in positions where giving up isn’t an option, so I might be on the side of a mountain and sit down and go, “I give up!”. Ten minutes later I’m still on that mountain, so, I have to keep going if I want food and water.
Sometimes giving up isn’t an option, which has been an important lesson to learn. What gets me up every day is, during this year I’ve been walking, I have met so many beautiful people, but so many people suffering as well from mental illness and so many people that have lost loved ones from suicide due to mental illness as well and guess I walk every day for those people, those people that may not be in a position to advocate for themselves, voice their needs and concerns or access the support. I walk for them most days, especially the days where I feel like I can’t myself.
What are your future goals, what is next for you?
A big sleep, a really big sleep. No, I’d love to continue the mental health movement and Wandering Minds community that I’ve created over the last year, in some capacity, whether that’s mental health hiking adventures, opening it up to the larger community that may want to be involved, or potentially working as a spokesperson for the Black Dog Institute.
There’s a lot of things that I think I potentially could or would like to get into, but, at the moment, I’m just trying to focus on getting up to the top of the Cape in one piece and then going from there, but I would love to continually contribute to the mental health movement here in Australia.
What are you most looking forward to when you finish your walk, how will you celebrate?
Well, we’ll probably have a bit of a welcome home event with my community in Caves Beach (Newcastle), with friends and family. To be completely honest with you, it is my support dog Olive. I have an assistance dog named Olive, she’s a Cavoodle, she is honestly the light of my life and probably one of the harder challenges this year was leaving her with Mum and Dad while I did this walk. I’m so excited to get back to doing the life that we had before I left, which is us being inseparable and going everywhere together and she can go everywhere because she’s an assistance dog, so we go to movies together, shopping together and to the beach together – yeah, she’s my best mate. Very excited to see her.
What is the biggest lesson you have learnt in life?
That’s a good one. I think it’s, there’s a couple I would say. To try and live your life for yourself and not for other people. I know that sounds a little counterintuitive with this walk, but I think we are all kind of raised with the expectation of just getting a job and fitting in, or trying to fit in and doing what everyone else expects of us. But honestly, if I did what everyone expected of me, I would never have done this walk. A lot of people didn’t think it was possible, but I believed in myself, and I did it anyway. So, I would say one of them is believing in yourself and doing what you want to do in life.
Recognising that you only have a good 80 years here if you’re lucky. So, you may as well do things that matter, that help people and help you. The thing that fills your cup. I would say friends and family are what it’s all about and that your home is wherever those people are.
Yeah. It’s a really, really good question. Lesson learnt in life. Hmm.
The biggest lesson in life is love. Your friends and family are the people that love and cherish you back and value you. And also value yourself as well and take care of your own wellness.
Something that I’ve found very effective in my own journey is, if you don’t make time for your wellness, you’ll be forced to make time for your illness. So, I think that a proactive approach to mental health is really important, rather than waiting for things to get to a crisis point before we do things, which is the reactive side. Which is very common for people, we wait until it’s bad and then we’ll react to it. But by getting to a proactive space where we invest into our wellness and mental health, on a daily basis we can avoid getting to the stage where we are debilitatingly unwell or things of that nature.
So yes, self-care is really important. Love the people around you that love you back and pursue your dreams.
How can people support your cause and donate to the Black Dog Institute?
I have a website, it’s called wandering-minds.org, or you can just type in Wandering Minds Walk. There should be pretty much within a first scroll a little link that says, ‘Donate now’. If people in a position to donate can, that would be so fantastic and I really, really appreciate anyone’s generosity that’s in the position at the moment. That would be awesome.
What is the best place to follow your journey?
The website or if you just type in Wandering Minds Walk, it’s the same for Facebook, Instagram as well as TikTok where I do regular sort of blogs, videos, photos and updates and everything of that nature. So, if anybody’s interested, please follow along on those, that would be great. Thank you.
“It was the first real time I felt like I’d actually achieved something in a really, long time.”
“I hope that this walk represents our ability to achieve and pursue our passions in life and having an overall life worth living.”
“Don’t let an initial bit of discomfort stop you from having
a lifetime of more comfort.”
“It has shown me that there is a difference between “I can’t” and “I don’t” want to on this walk.”