My journey in WiTHiN goes far beyond the physical journey across the Atlantic. To me, it is also a journey into my mind to discover what I carry from my time as a person with schizophrenia.
Between the ages of 16 and 22, I was not the master of my fate. I was trapped in the dark corners of my mind. At 16, I was struck by schizophrenia. At that vulnerable stage of life, on my way from childhood into adulthood, my life got turned upside down.
What it means to have schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is an illness of the brain, which causes changes in thoughts and behaviour. At times, during my illness, I didn’t know the difference between reality and my own imaginings. Slowly I isolated myself more and more from my family and friends. I was incapable of having close relationships with other people, because they couldn’t reach in to me, and I couldn’t reach out to them. My life was paused.
I had lost the power of speech, and I couldn’t handle the simplest everyday tasks. I “was” inside my body, but completely unable to contact the world that you, everyone else, lived in around me.
I found my own way out of my illness. My way out was sport. Slowly, I came back and could begin to feel the world again.
My youth was a different and a turbulent one. There is so much I never got to do during those years I was ill. Therefore, I need to find out which marks it has left on my personality that my life and development in those formative years were limited by schizophrenia. I myself believe that I carry a special vulnerability with me onwards in life. This is not an obstacle - quite the contrary.
The stigmatisation of people who have had a psychiatric diagnosis...
I have been pronounced cured. I have no symptoms, and schizophrenia no longer has any importance in my life or takes any of my energy. I have a good life.
What has importance in my life is that society around me refuses to understand that I am cured, and continues to limit me. Even though I live a completely normal life, there are many things I am not allowed to do because I was once ill. I will never be completely free - the past continues to cast its shadow over my life.
I have a pilot’s certificate, but I am not allowed to fly. Every fifth year I need a check-up if I want to keep my driver’s license. I can’t take out a pension scheme. I can’t get life insurance, nor private health insurance. I can’t become a police officer, work in shipping or be an au pair, and I can’t adopt, should I ever desire to. All completely normal things which other people can do, but which I’m not allowed because of my former schizophrenia.
I want to make my final stand against the darkness of the past. And I’ll do so on two fronts:
I want to study the development that brought me out of the dark - and now that I can see things from the outside, I have the opportunity to do just that. And I work to destigmatise people with mental illnesses.
Doing sports got my recovery going
I’m still working to find out what took over and set me free of schizophrenia.
I know which active choices I made when I started running, but I don’t fully understand why exactly this became my way back to a normal life.
I’ve always loved doing sports and being physically active. Since I was a child, doing sports has been important in my life and has been good for me. That was yet another part of my life which was put on hold while I had schizophrenia.
Run, Mads, run....
At the beginning, it simply wasn’t an option for me to activate myself by doing sports. I don’t know why it took years before it became an option. During my illness, I met a person who told me several times that he thought I should try doing sports. He had to tell me many times until, in complete helplessness, I thought that my life couldn’t get any worse. I went for my first run one night when nobody could see me. Immediately, I felt a change. It wasn’t great, but it was there, and it gave me strength to try again. I started running regularly, and slowly I realised that I could keep my thoughts at bay when I was physically active. I went for longer and longer runs, mostly at night. And, strangely, I got more and more control of myself as I worked out. As a wonderful gift, I found out that I was good at sports, and that I could handle the battle with the long distances and tough challenges.
In the world of sports, the hardest challenges are known as extreme sports - and here, I found my place as an athlete.
I threw myself into every challenge I could to find out if I was up for it - not just physically, but also mentally. And it turned out that I was. I have completed Ultraman Canada as the youngest contestant ever, I have cycled the length and breadth of Denmark, and I hold the record for fastest crossing south-north and east-west.
Doing sports became my way back to a free mind. Here, I was released from the chains I had been bound by, and here, I could finally get into my stride as the Mads I was and had been all along, but who had been buried and shackled, unable to live and develop.
I know that my goal is to be the best me I can be in everything I do - as a public speaker, athlete, sailor on the Atlantic, and definitely also as a friend, son, and boyfriend. It takes time as well as quiet contemplation and awareness to reach this goal.
I know that I’ve gotten myself to safety with good and stable development, but I’m not completely sure how to continue this development and remain active in it.
It is in this connection that I have chosen Biking The Atlantic to test the pressure. From that time in my life when schizophrenia was in control, I very distinctly remember loneliness as my sanctuary from a dangerous and domineering outside world. I just wanted to be left alone in my own world. The problem was, however, that the isolation kept me trapped in sick thoughts.
I wish to recreate this solitude by spending 60-100 days on the Atlantic Ocean in my own company. The difference between loneliness and solitude is that solitude is wilfully chosen.
I want to return to this condition as I can now see things from the outside and therefore will be able to focus on the thought processes that will occur. I hope to discover some connections that I haven’t seen before, and that those connections will be a key to processes that may benefit others.
On the page About the Project, you can read more about the project itself as well as what I wish to take with me from the journey across the Atlantic.