“Without vulnerability, we’re blind to our full potential”
Ultra Athlete Josh Llewellyn-Jones writes about a lifetime of showing resilience to beat the odds, yet he also reveals how a recent period of mental health problems showed him what the word really means.
Born with cystic fibrosis in 1987, the outlook wasn’t a positive one for Josh Llewellyn-Jones. Given 10% chance of surviving his first night due to a blocked stomach, fighting to stay alive at 21 and then becoming a world record holder for lifting 1 million kilos in under 24 hours, ‘resilience’ is probably the best word to describe Josh and his mindset.
I’ve been described as resilient for much of my life but never really thought much about why. There’s the obvious reasons, like the setbacks with cystic fibrosis, and my operations, and coming through those tough times. I choose to do extreme physical challenges to raise money and awareness for cystic fibrosis, and having been successful at putting my body and mind through hell (by choice), I’m viewed as ‘resilient’ or ‘unbreakable’.
In a very strange way, I seek out dark places physically and mentally just to feel alive. However, people forget I’m still human. I sometimes forget I’m still human. A few years ago, it became apparent to me I was pouring from an empty cup. Mentally drained from not only having to be ‘tough’ but also as a positive person that people can feed off, my mental health took a turn for the worse.
I was ultimately helping so many people to become resilient that I forgot about me. I was coaching far too many and not focussing on what I personally needed. There was a moment where I had a huge realisation that I needed to become vulnerable in order to progress and get out of the dark hole I put myself in. Vulnerability can often be seen as a weakness but without it, we’re quite blind to our full potential.
People seem to think that if you’re a resilient person, you don’t have times of weakness or doubt and that couldn’t be further from the truth. In my eyes, it’s the ability to accept vulnerability which makes you more resilient. You have a much better understanding of yourself and the environment you’re in if you accept we all have weaknesses and you don’t always have the answers.
Something that amazes me in today’s society is the idea that we should almost remove the word ‘failure’ from schools and in the formative years of a child’s life. So many people quote ‘It’s not failing, it’s learning’ when in actual fact, it’s both. I’ve probably learnt more lessons from my failures than I have my successes. Failing is such a positive part of life and is probably the one thing that helps us become more resilient than anything else. I believe that if we change our thought process around failure, so many people will benefit mentally.
Having been asked to write this for The Book of Man, it’s only right that I talk about my passion for men’s mental health. There’s still huge stigma around men and opening up to being vulnerable. Historically, the role of the man has been the breadwinner, provider, risk taker, to be dominant and aggressive. If ever there’s a feeling of failure, some men tend to get scared they’re not performing well enough.
One of the biggest things I’ve realised when it comes to mental health is the link with the gut. Growing up with a disease that impacts digestion, I’ve always tried to take care of my diet and general health but never really thought about it having an impact on my mental health. I read recently that mental health is directly linked to the health of the gut.
I started taking ‘Symprove’ and whilst it was hard to see the actual results on paper (something I’ve gotten used to over the years), I general felt much better about myself and my gut health after a few weeks. That’s now turned into a morning routine before I do anything and I can’t see myself going back to life without it now.
I suppose with much of my life being on social media, I’ve felt the pressure to only show the good bits and that’s been the biggest eye opener for me over the past 6 months. I fell into that trap of just showing a shop window into my life which wasn’t just toxic for my followers, but also me. I cared too much about what people thought and deep down, I’ve never wanted to be like that.
There’s no doubt this had an impact on my mental health and my resilience. I was posting too much of the easy stuff that I thought people wanted to see – the wins. Where in actual fact, the best way I can help people is by showing them I’m human, I have ups and downs, I have days where I’m not motivated but most of all, I have failures.
Being resilient isn’t being unbreakable. There’s a difference. Being resilient is the ability to get back up when you’re down and overcome an obstacle. The way we become resilient is by experiencing those obstacles over and over and knowing that it’s not the end.
So my message to you is…
To progress you must be honest with yourself. To be successful, you must fail. To be resilient, you must be vulnerable.
Josh is an advocate for water-based food supplement, Symprove, which contains four carefully selected strains of live and active bacteria. To kickstart your Symprove journey, order a 12-week (£158) or 4-week (£79) course online via Symprove.com
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