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It's lunchtime on Friday. Osher Günsberg has just come off air hosting the morning show on Brisbane's Hit 105, and has gone straight into media commitments for The Bachelor Australia, which climaxed the night before and which he also hosts. It's a day when he could be forgiven for rescheduling our catchup, but he doesn't hesitate to speak to us.

 

Three years ago, I raised the possibility of The Man Ride with Osher, and he was the very first person to throw his weight behind it. Through his own personal struggles with anxiety and social phobia, Osher knows all to well the battles people face in their personal and professional lives.

 

This interview is raw and compelling. It is a personal account of how bad it can get, and how we can all do something to create change.

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"I just remember the enormous feeling of relief when I heard another person sharing their struggles."

John Polson: Osher, thanks for sitting down with me, mate. I realise that this is a pretty busy week for you.

 

Osher Günsberg: I'm grateful to be a part of any conversation, or starting any conversation, and what you are doing with The Man Ride is a really important step in that direction.

 

JP: Creating a conversation is something you have definitely done with your podcast, The Osher Gunsberg Podcast. Talk to me about its purpose, and more specifically, about your weekly 'Check-Ins;, which at times can be pretty confronting.

 

OG: For sure. My experience with mental illness and my experience with alcohol, is that I got the feeling that I must be the only person who was dealing with it. Then, when I started hearing other people talk about it, I started to hear other people telling their stories, basically my stories, but using their words and their voice. It was like, 'Hang on a second, were you copying me?' I then realised that maybe I wasn't such a special little flower and that they might actually have some wise words that I could listen to.

 

With the Podcast, I'd say nearly a third of my audience only listen to the first 20 minutes of the show, where I'm talking about myself and the issues I am dealing with. I know it's in a podcast, so it's fairly a one-way conversation, but I just remember the enormous feeling of relief when I heard another person sharing their struggles through the week. It made me feel instantly less alone, less afraid, and often, if I heard that they had found a path out of it that worked for them, maybe I could try what they tried, because what I was trying wasn't working.

"There are some fairly fucking remote areas of Australia. There are some people who don't have the opportunity to get the kind of mental health support that people in metropolitan areas do."

When I check in at the start of each episode it does make me feel a lot better, because I then have accountability. I think that's also important. And remember, as you would know John with The Man Ride last year going through the Outback, there are some fairly fucking remote areas of Australia. There are some people who don't have the opportunity to get the kind of mental health support that people in metropolitan areas do, and just listening to another person sharing what they did to try to make it better can mean a world of difference.

"Reality was, I got very sick. I’d been diagnosed with generalised anxiety and social phobia, which means I am afraid of everyone and everything. "

JP: So since you started the podcast, almost four years ago now, you gone through what seems like a bit of a rollercoaster of your health where you speak very candidly about coming on and off medication. What role does medication play in managing your illness now.

 

OG: I think, first and foremost, there are things that every human needs. And they are eating right, sleeping right, living right and having something to do, something to live for.

 

Every time I've gotten ill, my doctor has asked me: 'Are you sleeping enough? Are you eating enough? Are you getting enough exercise? Are you having contact with other people?' And often, I'd say: 'No, I'm getting four hours a night. Does toast count? I've been sitting in my house all day watching reruns of Tarantino films, and no, I haven't seen another person except you for two weeks.' That doesn't give me a great shot at having a healthy life, or the ability to live calmly and well within my own skin. We're carrying this universe, our brain, that we live in all day. We've got to look after it.

 

JP: Ultimately, these are things well within our power and capabilities to fix, aren’t they?

 

OG: These things are really simple things to fix. By the end of this week, you can have put another hour of sleep on. You can have added maybe a smoothie in, or maybe another salad where you normally would have had a sandwich, into your diet. You can put something back into your life, a hobby, a person, that immediately make your life better.

 

JP: Then the decision of starting medication. Is it a case where the lifestyle factors get out of control, or is it that our own biology can’t be controlled by lifestyle?

 

OG: I refused medication for a long time because there had been people in my life that had abuse issues, and I was very afraid that I would go down the same path. Reality was, I got very sick. I’d been diagnosed with generalised anxiety and social phobia, which means I am afraid of everyone and everything.

 

JP: And how bad did it get?

 

OG: I was experiencing paranoid delusions, and it was very, very frightening. I was actually so sick that I called my doctor back in Sydney and I told him what was going on, he said: 'Look, whatever you do, don't show up to an emergency room. Because if you show up to an emergency room, they'll commit you and you won't be getting out in a hurry. So try as hard as you can to breathe and relax, and hold tight and stay close.' So they were some pretty difficult times.

 

When I finally went on medication, I couldn't believe that it had taken 10 years. I could have had 10 years of my life back. And that's not to say that medication is great for everyone. The biggest difficulty with it is dosage and time. They take up to six weeks to kick in. And as you tweak them, you have to wait that six weeks to see how things are going. So you've got to be patient, you can’t just expect that you will go on them and everything will be fine. But for me, life on meds has been far superior to life off meds.

"I started to lose my sleep hours, and so I started to become a cantankerous bastard. And nobody wants to live with, work with, sleep with, eat with that kind of person. So I had to sort it out. "

JP: So you're in a career and an industry that involves long hours, high pressure, lots of travelling, and it's surely difficult to maintain a stable lifestyle. How do you keep these things in balance?

 

OG: I have great support from my wife. At the moment, I'm doing breakfast radio in Brisbane, while at the same time shooting a show called The Bachelor. When we're shooting I'm based in Sydney and do the radio show down a line (remotely). But for the other part of the year when we're not shooting, I'm actually up in Brisbane.

 

JP: So what does one of your days look like?

 

OG: I have a 4:30am alarm. But I also have a wife, I have a 13-year-old, and so at the end of the day when everyone is home, and we're having conversations, and that's where the family moments and the bonding and all that kind of healthy stuff happens, I'm nodding off and I'm kind of asleep. So I've actually worked out, and I even put it in my calendar, that I have an hour to meditate and sleep in the late morning. So I can have an evening with my family to be around and be present for them. And that's really important.

 

JP: How long did it take you to learn that lesson?

 

OG: Oh, not very long at all. Like I said, I started to lose my sleep hours, and so I started to become a cantankerous bastard. And nobody wants to live with, work with, sleep with, eat with that kind of person. So I had to sort it out.

"I can't run onto Lang Park in Brisbane and play a game of football with my friends where the Broncos play. For me, that's a really important thing about cycling. It is so accessible. "

JP: So we both met through cycling. Tell me about what role this sport plays in your life, even now as your career has taken off?

 

OG: Cycling, to me, is such an incredible sport to be a part of as a punter, just a regular punter like me. I carry 15 more kilos than I should, but that doesn't mean that I can't sign up to the Amy Gillett ride down in Victoria, and ride on the very same road that the Women's Championship Ride rode on that day. I can't run onto Lang Park in Brisbane and play a game of football with my friends where the Broncos play. For me, that's a really important thing about cycling. It is so accessible.

 

Cycling is also such a great way to see new places, new countries. I went to business school in Amsterdam for a while and just went windmill hunting every day. It was fricking incredible. I lived in Venice in Los Angeles for 10 years and could be on Topanga Canyon, and high above the city within 20 minutes.

 

JP: And when you get busy, does your time on the bike get less?

 

OG: For two seasons of The Bachelor, we had a bachelor mansion that was close enough to Sydney that I could ride there and back. It's a fricking amazing way to work, because you're awake and you've got everything processed and everything kind out of your system by the time you get there, and you arrive at work with a clean head. Conversely, when you're on your way home, everything that was stressing you about work, by the time you get home, is gone.

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"In Australia, eight people will commit suicide today. Five of them will be men. If that was the road toll, they would stop all traffic across the country until they figured it out. "

JP: So where do we take this conversation from here? The Man Ride for Black Sheep is our chance to really take a lead on this issue. What role can companies like ours, and voices like yours, play in this issue?

 

OG: The most important thing is to simply to start the conversation, and bear in mind the stakes. In Australia, eight people will commit suicide today. Five of them will be men. If that was the road toll, they would stop all traffic across the country until they figured it out. But it's not. So it means we're going to have to do something about it ourselves.

"Ask someone how they are, how you can help, and then actually listening. That can change a life."

Ask someone how they are, how you can help, and then actually listen. That can change a life. It can save a life. We, as humans, need to rub up against each other, and speak with each other. We're social animals and it's important that we talk. You don't have to open up like I've been doing for the last 45 minutes. Not at all. You just have to talk about what might be shitting you that day. And that might be enough to release the gasket a bit, and not let the pressure build up so much.

 

You may not want to talk to your mates about it. That's fine. Go to a doctor. Call up Lifeline. Just call someone and tell them that you're struggling, because the stakes are high. One in five Australians will be directly affected by a mental illness sometime and you would still be amazed how many people have this as a part of their brain. We just need to normalise talking about it.

 

JP: Osher, you're a legend.

 

OG: Mate, ride safe, ride well, have a great time out there.

RAISING AWARENESS FOR MEN'S MENTAL ILLNESS

 

On October 1, nine locations around the world will come together to raise awareness for Men’s Mental Illness by doing something crazy on a bike. The inaugural The Man Ride Day is a 200-kilometre ride, for men and women, designed to push you to the extreme, physically and mentally. We don’t want your donation, just you and your bike.

 

JOIN THE RIDE. JOIN THE CONVERSATION