You may have gone to one of our sold-out MINDvsMOUNTAIN shows in the past two years at the Cinematheque, or seen the MINDvsMOUNTAIN community pop up on your Facebook page recently. Through the use of video, photography and public speaking, founders Brent Seal and James Frystak are exploring the parallels between climbing mountains and climbing out of mental health struggles.
After a packed send-off party at Arc’teryx Kitsilano, Brent and James left on their next big adventure – trekking to Everest base camp and the surrounding peaks on May 1st. We were able to catch them for an interview before they took off – even answering some questions for us on their layovers on their way to Nepal!
Can you tell us what MINDvsMOUNTAIN is all about? What is your mission?
Brent: To me, MINDvsMOUNTAIN is about exploring the parallels between climbing mountains and climbing out of mental health struggles. The mission is to climb some of the world’s highest mountains while sparking conversations around mental health.
James: MINDvsMOUNTAIN is taking the topic of mental health and making it exciting, engaging and also entertaining. A lot of mental health conversations can be very serious and sometimes make you feel even more depressed or anxious. We want to change that and make it more empowering and fun.
Where did the idea for MINDvsMOUNTAIN come from?
Brent: MvM was created as a result of my recovery journey from schizophrenia. The mountains became a big part of my recovery and early on I had a dream to climb Mt Everest. Everest was something tangible and positive to focus on during the struggles whereas mental health recovery can be difficult to define. James joined MvM after we climbed Denali together in 2016, and brings the skills of a photographer and filmmaker to the team.
What motivated you to start exploring the outdoor adventure and mountaineering world? How have the mountains impacted your life?
Brent: After being diagnosed, I couldn’t really do much. I had to drop out of school, I couldn’t work or hang out with my friends, my entire existence was focused on survival and getting through each day. Medication side effects also made walking from the living room to the kitchen feel like a marathon. My mom was a hiker for most of her adult life and I asked her to take me on a hike. Those simple hikes that summer were some of the only times I felt calm and at peace. Soon after, I was hooked and began dreaming about mountaineering as it seemed like one of the ultimate outdoor experiences.
Being into the outdoors has provided opportunities for positive relationships, ongoing motivation to get fit and stay healthy and a sense of aliveness that’s difficult to duplicate.
James, you work as a professional adventure, action sports and expedition filmmaker and photographer. What came first – the adventures or the photography and videography?
The adventures definitely came first. It’s only in the past few years I decided to pick up a camera and start documenting my adventures. I’ve been been completely obsessed ever since.
You both conquered Denali together, the highest mountain peak in North America, in 2016. What was the greatest take-away or lesson from the expedition?
Brent: I definitely don’t feel like we conquered Denali, but we danced our way up it for a couple of weeks and it allowed us to stand on top for a brief moment, which even in a whiteout was an incredibly powerful experience. I’d say my biggest takeaway is that while the unknown can fill us with fear, we can move forward one step at a time and achieve things we once thought weren’t possible.
James: Denali actually freaked me out before we left. I almost didn’t go on the expedition due to the amount of preparation (or lack of). I only had 4 weeks to get ready and was feeling very un-prepared and anxious about the whole thing. After talking to Brent about this he convinced me that just because we make it to Alaska or camp 1 or camp 4 doesn’t mean we have to continue going up. If anyone one on the team is not “feeling it” we don’t have to go up and it was that talk that took the pressure off and relieved any anxiety sounding the whole trip.
It was knowing that my climbing partners got my back and will be there for me was my biggest take away of all.
What are you most looking forward to on your expedition to the Himalayas?
James: I’m most looking forward to experiencing the culture of the local people. They live in such remote and harsh conditions yet they seem to be very peaceful and happy people.
Brent: I’m most looking forward to being back fully immersed in the mountains. I love the simplicity of life in the mountains – move, eat, sleep, repeat. Also looking forward to connecting with the locals and climbers from around the world, and of course the sights and culture and seeing Everest in real life for the first time. I’m not much of a spiritual person, but trekking to Everest feels as close to a spiritual experience as it gets after dreaming about it for the past decade.
Brent and James will be presenting again at our February 2019 Festival. They are also working on a web series documenting their adventures and interviews with others breaking mental health stigmas. Click on the links below to find more information about MINDvsMOUNTAIN and to follow along with Brent and James’ Himalaya expedition.
All Photo credits: James Frystak