Learning to look after his black dog has been the defining experience for Justin Milesi in the transition from adolescence to adulthood. The journey to his 30s hasn’t been a straight line. Mendl co-founder Mark Losewitz sat down with the born-and-bred Melbournian, Design Strategist, Swans supporter and good mate to discuss how opening up to those around him has helped contribute to a clearer and happier state of mind. And while they’ve shared many beers over the journey, this was the first time the long-time mates shared one on record in the inaugural Mendl Movement Conversation.
ML : “Thanks for coming mate, how’s the week been?”
JM : “Anytime, I’ve been looking forward to it. First week back is always hectic – just found out I’m off to London for a few weeks on Friday”
“Fantastic news – excited?”
“There’s always a bit of anxiety around these types of trips… a bit of pressure I guess. But yes, very excited”
“I'm confident you’ll nail it! You've done it a million times, you're just doing it in another country. So to start, I wanted to give you the opportunity to tell us a bit about your experience with your own mental health.
“Yeah certainly. I guess understanding and dealing with my mental health has been something of a necessity from about 18, I had some pretty low times finishing school and starting university. It was particularly difficult because I’d always been pretty active, really social and just generally high energy and all of a sudden I couldn’t face the idea of leaving the house, let alone taking on a degree. I failed miserably at Uni, let my physical health go to shit and had a relationship fall apart. I spoke with a few doctors and had my mental health struggles diagnosed and treated, which was a pretty rattling experience for a young bloke. When your brain is telling you there isn’t much worth hanging around for, you very quickly learn to ignore that voice and your instinct – I think the real challenge has been learning to trust myself again. So, I guess the last 10 years have been about learning how to live with it and trust myself again by embracing it not only as a part of me but as something that actually enriches my life… which it really does!”
“I very quickly realised that this approach wasn’t particularly sustainable, so reached out to a mate and simply said I’m struggling.
I didn’t really expect much from that, but what I got back was
exactly what I didn’t realise I needed”
“That's truly amazing to hear mate. I know that over the time we’ve known each other, your approach to mental health has been something that you’ve developed and honed through self-reflection and experimentation. Having known each other for as long as we have now, I’ve seen the many different versions of you, all of which I can attest to having shaped you into the man you are today. How do you think you’ve approached talking about your mental health over that journey?”
“I appreciate that mate, I think I’ll probably always be work in progress – it’s more fun than having all the answers. In terms of talking about my mental health, it was definitely challenging early. I think I fell into a trap of thinking no one would really understand and I wouldn’t be able to articulate it, given I didn’t really understand it myself. I very quickly realised that this approach wasn’t particularly sustainable, so I reached out to a mate and simply said I’m struggling. I didn’t really expect much from that, but what I got back was exactly what I didn’t realise I needed, someone to just acknowledge it and tell me it was fine. Since then, a more open approach to my mental health has enabled me to finish a couple of degrees, travel the world, strengthen some bloody great friendships and build a career. And while I still don’t necessarily talk to everyone about it, having the few people I do talk to helps me beyond belief in working through my shit and keeping on a good even keel.”
“So can you tell us what conversations then mean to you? Are they something that these days, you utilise more and more?”
“My thoughts have never worked in straight lines, it’s chaos up here. I think conversations mean three things to me these days; firstly they let me know I’m not the only one. Whatever it is I’m feeling at the time, someone is or has experienced the same thing before and I take real comfort in knowing that it’s not just me. Secondly, they help me straighten out my thoughts. It’s so easy for the mind to spiral when it’s all kept inside, and that’s never a good time. I’ve got 2 or 3 mates I know I can go to who will help me order my thoughts and make sense of my feelings – this has been one of the most important factors in better dealing with the old black dog. Thirdly, I reckon conversations mean listening. I’ve been lucky enough to have some incredible listeners in my life, through them I’ve learnt how to be a better listener myself for those around me.”
“That’s a great way to break it down. So let’s bring it back to your trip before we wrap up - because I think it's important we touch on this before we finish - how do you think you’ll go managing your well-being over there?”
“For me it’ll just be about maintaining a good routine I think - taking all the good habits and thought processes I have here and not dropping the ball on them over there - this helps to keep the anxiety at bay I think. I like to find time in most days to fully disconnect and get a good measure of how I’m feeling. So I’ll make sure I go for a run, read a good book, build something, anything that gives me a few moments of mindfulness. Apart from that, I guess you can expect a call if it all goes to shit.”
“You know I love a chat! International rates though… you’ll be doing the calling. Thanks for sitting down with me and sharing a bit about your experience.”
“A pleasure, thanks mate.”