Bailey Seamer was more than three-quarters of the way through a 5,000km walk up Australia’s east coast when she checked herself into a mental health hospital.
He walked for 10 months to reach North Queensland before passing out in a remote river and nearly crashing a car on the side of the Bruce Highway.
But as she spent the morning crying and having the familiar, yet terrifying, thoughts of wanting to die, she knew she had to stop and get help.
“It was a very difficult decision… I flew to Sydney and ended up in a mental health hospital for a month,” the 24-year-old said.
“I felt like a failure because I had to go back… [but] I developed this mindset, “Okay, I’m losing the battle to win the war.”
“I will heal to finish what I started.”
“There must be more to life”
After years of battling depressive episodes that left her catatonic, Ms. Simer was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 19.
“It was very painful,” he said.
“Whether I could own my own home, whether I could have a career, even going to college at the time seemed out of the question. I felt like a lot of doors and opportunities were closed to me.”
During one of his first admissions to a mental health hospital, he had an epiphany that led him to walk from one end of the country to the other.
“I said, ‘There’s got to be more to life, there’s got to be more to life than just doctor’s appointments and hospitals and sickness,'” she said.
“So I’m doing something ‘big’ to show myself and other people with mental illness that there is a life worth living and that we can achieve great things.
“I think it all started at the lowest point in my life. And I didn’t let it destroy me and my future, and I used that challenge as fuel to get here.”
The first of a million steps
In May last year, Ms Seamer’s father drove her 13 hours from her home in Newcastle to Australia’s southernmost point, Wilsons Promontory in Victoria.
Nicknamed “The Monster”, armed with a 20kg rucksack and with little hiking experience, he set off with the goal of reaching the tip of Queensland’s Cape York Peninsula.
He named the tour the Wandering Minds Walk to reflect the extremes of bipolar life.
Along the way, he raised more than $50,000 for the Black Dog Institute, a research organization, and spoke to schools and community groups about mental health.
“It’s been an absolute adventure. There’s been a lot of ups and downs,” he said.
“Honestly, there were a lot of times where I thought, ‘Oh my God, I can’t do this.'”
Hairy moments and “light moods”
A few weeks before his trip, he was rescued by emergency services after falling into a shallow river on the far south coast of New South Wales and passing out.
Waking up with wet and black eyes, he activated the emergency light.
“It took two police officers and an inspector about six hours to go through the place where I was staying,” he said.
“And then three days later I actually went out there and put myself out there — I didn’t miss an inch of the East Coast.”
About 2,000km later, he was driving along the Bruce Highway between Rockhampton and Mackay when he was nearly hit by a car before speeding.
“They just went out of their way and ran over where I was walking – I had to jump into the bushes,” he said.
“I’d like to say I took it like a champ, but I was a mess, I cried.
“I filed a police report, but the next day I started riding again because I felt that getting back on the horse was the best way to deal with anything.”
For all the physical challenges of walking, his biggest struggle was psychological.
Walking up to 40 km on some days was therapeutic in many ways, but it didn’t always stop the “difficulties” that stopped his life for so long and caused him to have suicidal thoughts.
“I think I’ve been a bit delusional, maybe because I’ve done something for charity this year, my bipolar may have left me alone,” she said.
“You can get really deflated because sometimes you feel like you’re doing everything you can to get better, but still being sick is a really frustrating feeling.”
Ms. Simer made it a point to open up about her struggles on social media to show people the realities of living with mental illness.
Along with photos from amazing locations and flashy parts of the camera, there are occasional videos of him in a depressive episode.
Twice it got so bad that he stopped walking to get psychiatric treatment, and most recently in March he flew from Townsville to receive a course of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) at the hospital.
A month later, he picked up where he left off.
“I think that was the whole point — it was to show that there is a life you can live with mental illness and that it doesn’t have to stop you from pursuing your dreams and passions,” she said.
“Over time, I realized that I don’t stop getting help on this journey.
“If anything, you made up your mind not to drop it.”
Near the finish line
After more than a year on the road, Ms. Seamer has passed Cairns and is about to begin the final leg of her journey – crossing the vast and remote Cape York Peninsula.
He swore he had to crawl to get to the top.
“You just have to keep moving forward – one step at a time – and don’t be afraid to reach out for support if you need it,” she said.
Ms Simer hopes her journey will remind people with mental illness to be kind to themselves.
“It’s okay to get sick sometimes, it’s okay if you feel like that, it doesn’t make you less of a person,” he said.
“You deserve to live a happy and healthy life. Never stop fighting for it. You deserve it. We all deserve it.”
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