• Jo Rust

Two words my therapist shocked me with that became the mantra I now live by.

Updated: Jul 6, 2021

I grew up in that kind of environment where talking about mental illness or anything relating to the subject is completely taboo. The kind of environment in which you’re not allowed to have an opinion as a tiny human. The kind of environment where I’d pick my mother up off the floor at night and put her to bed, instead of the other way around.

Since I can remember I have always loved academia. I have always been a brainy, sensitive empath, dreaming of becoming a scientist and winning a Nobel Prize — misunderstood by my parents who never finished high school and were more interested in avoiding facing their inner demons and rather drowning their sorrows in copious amounts of whiskey.

I, on the other hand, had an analytical and enquiring mind in need of understanding from a very young age. Why do I struggle with such severe social anxiety? Why do I suffer from claustrophobia? Why do I suffer from depression and suicidal ideation? And how do I fix it?

I started conducting human behavioral experiments on myself from a very young age. (I was just unknowingly exposing myself to, what we now know as: ‘Exposure Therapy’) Like my current therapist said to me once: there was no other option so you became your own therapist. That little revelation made me feel kinda proud of my tiny human self.

I’ve suffered from severe social anxiety since age 7, depression, and suicidality since age 10; and as life progressed, panic attacks, Complex PTSD with dissociative disorder subtype all piled on. Still — I wanted to know why, and how do I ‘fix’ it?

To learn more about how to cope with my claustrophobia, I’d lock myself in a closet. Sounds weird I know. But I was able to teach myself how to calm myself down through breathing and reminding myself to think about what I’m experiencing in a more rational manner. Sitting in a dark, confined space would not kill me. It was just my thoughts I needed to gain control of.

To start learning to overcome my severe social phobia, I took up a job in the one place I feared most. The supermarket. I took up a job as a cashier over weekends at age 14. This forced me to have to deal with people, all-day-long. And there was no escaping from it. Again, it helped teach me how to control my thoughts and my breathing to calm myself down.

These experiments just grew bigger and bigger — until I undertook my ultimate challenge and set a world record in the process.

It was a way of fighting back against suicidality. I wanted to go out and take on the biggest, scariest thing I could think of doing. And the first thing that popped into my mind was: “How about if I cycled around the African continent, on my own”? That would be a big challenge?

So I did. It started out on a bicycle. But then changed over to a motorcycle after I was attacked in Northern Angola and the Angolan government stepped in to become my main sponsor in a Hollywood movie-like turn of events. (You’ll have to read the book)

A few years later I set the world record as the first woman in history to have circumnavigated the African continent on a motorcycle, on my own. No support. No backup vehicles. Just me and my noble steed on an epic journey of self-discovery. A journey that saw me cover 28 000 miles, through 28 countries, over a period of a year. With zero punctures! (Just saying)

Jo Rust — Woman Alone Around Africa

Did it miraculously fix all my problems? Of course not. Because I was still missing one very important ingredient. — I had never sought out professional help. Because I was so “brainwashed” to believe that, that option wasn’t available to me, I forgot I could actually go there.

So I did. No, not all coaches, therapists, and/or mental health professionals are created equally. As a lot of you may know. It took me years, a number of misdiagnoses, wrong medication, and a few failed suicide attempts to find the “right fit”. I got to learn that some professionals are just there because it’s “a job” or for “the money”, and then there are those rare and special individuals who do what they do because it is truly what they are most passionate about. I consider myself very lucky to have found two such remarkable individuals I now call “my dream team”.

It was whilst working with my previous psychiatrist in a psychiatric facility that I realized that my purpose is to work within the mental health industry. I just one day casually remarked in session: “Maybe I should become a psychiatrist”, to which he casually answered: “You’d make a great psychiatrist”. His remark took me by surprise. I didn’t say anything for a few seconds. Then I just laughed and said: “Yeah right, I’m in my mid-thirties with no degree. What would people say if I suddenly announced I’m planning on becoming a psychiatrist”?

He stopped making notes, looked up at me with his icy blue eyes and a very stern expression on his face, and said in a way that only a Scotsman can: “FUCK ‘EM”.

There they were. The two little words that have become my mantra. Fuck ’em.

Trolls on social media trying to bring me down? Fuck ’em. Naysayers trying to project their insecurities onto me. Fuck ’em. Negative Nancys (no offense to anyone named Nancy) trying to suck me dry of my belief of possibility. Fuck ’em. Half-ass people only being half-ass there offering half-ass efforts. Fuck ’em.

I walked out of that psychiatric facility, straight into becoming a volunteer suicide prevention counselor for a large NGO. Although I didn’t have the financial means, I started studying fervently, joining any and all online courses I could — through Universities like Yale, University of Chicago, Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Oxford.

And now? Now I’m applying to complete an official degree in Psychology, after which I plan on applying to medical school and ultimately specializing as a psychiatrist. I’ve written and published a book on my journey around the African continent and now selling it as an ebook to raise the funds I need to pay for med school. You can download the book HERE if you’d like.

So if anyone ever dares to tell you that your dreams are not viable or tries to shoot down your ideas as crazy or impossible, all you say is: Fuck ’em. Then turn around, walk away and go be your awesome self!

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