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Pro athlete reflects on mental health, grief, recovery and moving to Squamish

Adam Campbell’s raw and heartfelt post about his “rock bottom” has resonated, going viral online.
Brian Goldstone:Arcteryx
Adam Campbell says if you see him in Squamish, just say, "Hi."

Editor's note: This story discusses suicide. Please proceed with caution. If you or someone you know needs help, there are resources available around the clock: Call 1-800-784-2433 any time or connect with Squamish Mental Health at 778-894-3200.

Professional alpine athlete Adam Campbell says he is looking forward to experiencing outdoor adventures as a Squamish resident rather than a visitor after he moves here next month.

It is a fresh start for Campbell, who recently went viral with a raw and heartfelt blog post about swallowing a “cocktail” of pills to end his life on Oct. 13.

In his post, “I fucked up. I am sorry. I love you,” on his blog, Muddy Socks he tells of quickly realizing he made a mistake and running for help.

Thankfully, after a stint in hospital and accessing support, he is in recovery and feeling positive.

The “rock bottom” moment at his home in Canmore, Alta. came after a journey of grief over his wife’s death at the start of 2020.

Laura Kosakoski, a family doctor, died after being caught in an avalanche while skiing with her husband and a friend in Banff National Park in January of 2020.

What he has learned

On paper, Campbell acknowledges he didn’t seem like a guy who would attempt suicide, but that is the nature of mental illness — there is no type.

“I have obviously gone through my traumas, but I have gone through therapy, I am a relatively fit and active person, and I do have a strong support network. And despite all that, I was able to hit rock bottom in a matter of a couple of days. It came on really quickly and really strongly the moment I stopped doing my self-care routine. It is something everybody can struggle from — all walks of life.”

And mental health recovery isn’t linear.

“Some days are going to be easier than others,” he said, “But that is also just a fact of life.”

He is working with a therapist and has a good treatment plan in place where he is and when he gets to Squamish.

He said he is also keeping in touch with friends and getting outside to exercise to stay on track.

“For me, being outside is very therapeutic, so just making sure I am carving out time to get outside every day is going to be a huge help,” he said.

Fighting stigma

When he was in the mental health unit, Campbell didn’t tell a lot of people where he was, something he reflects on now as part of the stigma of mental illness.

“I was at the hospital, in the psych ward. Had I been there with a broken leg or some other ailment, I would have told everybody I was there for a specific reason, ‘I am here in the oncology ward or orthopedics ward,’ but because I was in the psych ward, I wasn’t telling anybody I was there. There’s like a shame to it. But, ultimately, I happen to have a broken head and a broken heart. If I have a broken leg, I would be telling people.”

The mindset of being “independent and self-sufficient” as a mountaineer and high-performance athlete can create the fear that reaching out is weak, but no one is really self-sufficient, Campbell said.

“We often pride ourselves on our self-sufficiency, but almost everywhere, it is a facade. You are never truly self-sufficient or independent... We rely on people for every aspect of our lives. It is incredible to have that support network. It is because of it that we can go out and be independent, ultimately.”

Reaching out

To someone else who may be struggling as he was, Campbell says there’s more empathy and understanding around mental health issues than some may believe.

And there are resources for folks to access.

“There are mental health hotlines you can call. Talk to a friend,” he said. “One of my problems is I didn’t want to burden people around me with what I was going through... It is actually an honour to open up and share with them, so find that person that you trust and open up to them and talk to them about what you are dealing with. That is a huge one,” he said.

There is comfort and kindness to be found in others, he added.

“If you open up and make yourself vulnerable, and share the struggles you are going through, people are there for you,” he said. “And they, in turn, end up sharing their struggles because everybody is going through something to some degree. The power of that connection with people really, really strengthens the bond. People really appreciate it if you trust them with your truths, basically. It is incredible how profound your connections can be through that.”

He said it is also important to have a clear self-care plan ahead of time.

“These are the people I am going to call if things start to go poorly. These are the things I need to do,” he said.

“Go for a walk if you are starting to feel anxious indoors. That can also shift your perspective.”

If you have the means, seek counselling, he said.

Though it is well-meaning, he said people reaching out and asking those battling with their mental health, “How are you doing?” puts emotional weight on the person struggling to relive their trauma or to explain everything they are going through.

“I really, really appreciate the sentiment, but it also puts all the onus on me to have to answer. Instead of ‘How you are doing,’ say, ‘I am just thinking about you. If you ever need anything, I am here.’ That sentiment takes the pressure off, but also at the same time, you are reaching out, and you are letting the person know that you care about them.”

It is important to understand that those who are grieving or who have had a mental health issue are multi-faceted, Campbell added.

“There are moments when I am a griever, sure. But you are never just entirely a griever. It is the same thing with a champion athlete. We are not always an achiever. There are times when they are a father or a friend, or they are someone who is hurting. They can be all those things,” he said. “So [be] careful not to label people, based on the worst experiences they are feeling or the best feelings they felt as well. Acknowledging people are part of a whole is really important.”

Why Squamish

A long-distance trail runner, climber and SkiMo racer, Campbell is familiar with Squamish and has friends here, he said.

“I already have a really strong community of friends in Squamish. Going somewhere with a ready-made support network was pretty critical to me. I didn’t want to go somewhere and be alone right away, so getting to spend time with really good people is an important part of — life really — of my recovery,” he said. “I have also just really enjoyed the area: I love the skiing there. I love the climbing, I love the environment. I grew up on the ocean so being closer to the ocean... I have really missed it.”

He is confident he is moving toward new adventures in life, not running away from the life he has, he noted.

The move requires him to empty out the home that he and Kosakoski shared. It is a bittersweet task, he said.

“It is obviously a very, very emotional process and it is hard. But it is also cathartic in a lot of ways. There’s a lot of reminiscing going on,” he said. “It is also an interesting ritual, like a letting go, to some degree and of moving forward. Being able to pick a few key items of Laura’s or memories to bring with me is important — so informed by the past, but not holding on to it completely. There’s an interesting ritual in moving.”

He said he is looking forward to “having good experiences with good people in beautiful places. If I can keep living my life that way, it will be a pretty damn good life.”