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When Big Brother star Tom Mackay burst onto our TV screens in 2014, it looked like he had it made. Brimming with drive and ambition, he was one of the more likeable housemates, but behind the smiles, Tom struggled with overwhelming anxiety and depression and for the past six years has tried everything to hide it.

"I was stuck in this sleepwalking routine of mediocrity and had lost all momentum," he tells Peninsula Living.

"I began to wish away the work week to arrive at the weekend where alcohol became my favourite toy in the playground. It was my way to escape from the pressures of life and my anxiety."

Unsure what was causing his depression; he says he “tried everything under the sun to snap back into gear". This included flotation tanks, acupuncture, yoga and meditation. “I seriously had to sit back and ask myself what I wanted to get out of life.”

His answer was a life-changing trip to India, walking 900km in just under six weeks.

Tom set off but he says the weight on his shoulders weighed more than his rucksack. Using walking and running as a tactic to combat his demons, Tom confirms he saw his challenge through India as an opportunity for some soul searching.

"It was incredible relief," says Tom, "and for the first time in years, I felt I was heading in the right direction."

After that initial step, he began a rhythm of getting up at daybreak and strapping his feet to undergo the daily grind of 30km. From enduring 40-degree heat, to being the first to spring into first-aid action at the scene of a severe car accident, to having a close encounter with a King Cobra slithering by his foot in the bush, Tom tested his comfort zone.

He says friends always ask why people in India are so happy when they have no material possessions compared with Western society. "I believe it‘s their sense of community and the way they express their feelings," he acknowledges.

“I've realised there's a massive difference between pleasure and happiness. Pleasure comes from short term pick-me-ups, like money and material possessions. Real happiness is to be shared with others, being content with you, showing kindness and compassion."

When asked what the most rewarding part of his epic journey was, without hesitation Tom says it was the response.

“Having grown men write to me and tell me that they’ve gone through some similar  things that they haven’t been able to talk about until now - that really puts this journey into perspective."

Tom‘s challenge raised more than $13,000 for Beyond Blue and he's now on a mission to break the stigma surrounding mental health, especially for men.

"Guys don‘t want to lose face,” he claims. "The biggest issue is the ‘she'll be right' attitude we have here in Australia. It‘s this macho, masculine culture where it’s seen as weak to show your vulnerabilities.

"We all have the means to go beyond our self-imposed limitations and learn about ourselves - but of course, it doesn't necessarily mean having to walk across India. It can be found anywhere you want it to be."


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