Wayne Cho didn’t know until he was 30 that he suffered from anxiety.
Now four years later, the Toronto native is running across Canada to raise awareness for anxiety and depression—and to help shatter the stigma around anxiety and depression.
“I have general anxiety disorder. I had it all my life, but I didn’t know until I went back to school in 2005 to study psychology part-time and found out . . . what I suffered from was anxiety,” Cho said Monday from Kenora, where he had stopped for the day.
While he had intended to make his way down to Fort Frances, he was unable to secure speaking engagements here.
“At that point, I realized that it affects so many people and very little is being talked about it on a regular basis,” Cho said. “So I wanted to bring awareness to it, and the fact that mental illness, anxiety, and depression affect about 20 percent of the population.
“It’s something that is part of being a human being,” he stressed. “As such, we should know these illnesses well enough so that when someone has them, we can recognize the symptoms and get them timely treatment.”
Cho noted his philosophy is that mental illness is a truth and, as such, people, especially men, should not be afraid or ashamed to talk about it.
He feels he’s getting his message across to the people he’s met so far.
“People have come up to me and said it is good I am doing this. They say, ‘We have been waiting a long time for these illnesses to be brought out into the open so that we can discuss them.’
“People don’t feel like they’re alone, and carrying dark secrets,” added Cho. “I have had a good response to the message.”
Cho, who only took up running in 2004, said he trained intensively for his cross-country trek.
“I am just doing all I can,” he remarked. “Just like people who suffer anxiety and depression, if you are really determined and persevere, you will be able to overcome any obstacle.”
On that same note, Cho also is promoting the positive link between physical fitness and mental health.
“One of the main goals of the run is to promote the benefit of physical exercise,” he said. “I personally rely on exercise to control my anxiety symptoms.
“Many researchers have indicated that physical exercise is very beneficial for mental health. It produces chemicals such as serotonin, which will help control the mood.
“People don’t even have to run—they can bike, swim, whatever exercise they prefer, and they can still benefit from it,” he said. “I come across people who walk for half-an-hour a day and benefit greatly from it.
“And one main thing about exercise is it gives you a sense of control over what you’re doing,” Cho added. “For me, no matter how stressful things get during the day, I can always rely on the fact that tomorrow morning, I will be able to do my run and get that relief.
“I can always go for a run when I feel too anxious.”
Cho first started running from Newfoundland last May but had to stop on New Year’s Eve outside of Thunder Bay because of a heel injury. He has been resting and training in Toronto over the last month and, as of Feb. 24, is back on his feet and making his way west across Northwestern Ontario.
Cho said he averages about 30 km a day, though that depends on how busy he is with speaking engagements and meeting the public. He hopes to reach British Columbia by the end of May or beginning of June.
“I am trying to run through the country and spread the message,” he remarked. “The focus is on trying to talk to as many people as possible, and not just run through the country for the sake of it.
“If it takes me longer to spread the message along the way, that’s what I will do.”
The public can learn out more about Cho and his cause—and keep tabs on his trek—by visiting www.crosscanadarun.com and reading his blog, or joining his “Facebook” group.