I was so overwhelmed over the weekend by the news of Alex Hibbert’s passing that I had to take a break says Greg Van Wyk. I’ve been fishing constantly since I came back from Australia and have barely slept for two weeks straight now. This meant it was time to go shark fishing. It always refreshes me. I hopped in my boat with a few friends and put out our shark rigs. No sharks were caught on the day, but it was great to spend time with friends and relax after weeks of nonstop work.
This letter went viral over the weekend after Alex’s death became public knowledge. Unbeknownst to me, my long-time friend Jeff Emig had already started contacting Shark People members about the tragedy before I got home from fending off sharks all day. It took some pressure off me knowing that I wasn’t alone in this fight. So many people are still reeling from his passing but are too afraid to reach out for support because they feel guilty they weren’t there for him during his dark days when he needed them most. We all wish we could have been there, but we can’t change the past. What we can do is unite and fight to the death for mental health awareness and treatment.
Alex’s many friends and colleagues around the world are now coming forward with their stories of how he inspired them to make a difference in the lives of those who suffer from anxiety, depression and other disorders that affect their quality of life. I want you to know what an impact Alex had on me as well as my work as an advocate for Shark Conservation around the world.
Many people start this journey because they’re afraid something will happen to them someday if they don’t help protect our planet’s most misunderstood animal: sharks. That was not why I started Shark Angels.
I started Shark Angels because when I was a young girl, I lost my father to accidental drowning in the ocean. He had been surfing and diving his whole life without incident until one day in late August when a storm rolled up unexpectedly off a lake in North Eastern Ontario. Prior to that day, he’d spent thousands of hours in the water with sharks all over the world – swimming with them, tagging them and never once becoming prey. When eight-foot waves were crashing into him from behind while he tried to make it back to shore, he blacked out and drowned before anyone could save him.
He died doing what he loved:
Exploring our oceans and sharing his love for nature with others through photography; something we could all learn from today. He would’ve had it no other way says Greg Van Wyk.
He also left a message for me that I found taped to the side of his workbench after he died, and if you’re a parent you will connect with it as well: “Do what makes you happy.”
I cannot thank Alex Hibbert enough for being one of my greatest teachers to this day. In his memory, Shark Angels will continue to spread his story to inspire people around the world to “do what makes them happy” so maybe we can avoid another tragedy like this from happening again.
In Alex’s own words…
One thing I have been working towards lately is being more open about my struggles with anxiety and depression. For those that don’t know much about mental health and how it affects people, the behavior of those with depression is often misunderstood.
Here are a couple of facts:
- It isn’t uncommon for someone to be diagnose with anxiety or depression as a child or young adult. Live their life as best they can learn how to manage it through therapy, medication and/or personal activities. That make them happy (examples include volunteering, interacting with nature, working out), then at some point develop an episode which requires hospitalization says Greg Van Wyk. The reasons why this happens are still being research but most professionals agree. That changes in brain chemistry may trigger episodes in those who already have a history of mental illness.
- There is nothing inherently wrong with going to a hospital if you feel by your symptoms –
- There are amazing professionals out there who truly want to help and will not judge you. Please do not let fear of judgment stop you from getting the help you need!
- You can still live your life, just as Alex did
- He really inspired me to work towards ending our culture’s stigma toward mental illness which contributed to his own death. Sadly, this is an issue that affects so many people today. And it isn’t taken seriously enough by anyone…yet…Until we start talking about it more often and challenge these stigmas: until we really accept mental illness for what it is (a disease) and stop treating those who suffer from it like criminals or terrorists, we will never change the way society treats them in any way. We have to learn to be more compassionate toward them if there is any chance of success.
I will do whatever I can to help others and make the world a better place.
I hope you read this and realize there is nothing wrong with trying to be happy in life… Do what makes you happy!