The trauma stemming from a sexual assault as a child eventually took its toll on Ivan Miller when he was 32.
“It just caught up with me and I had a major breakdown,” he says.
Hospitalised and heavily medicated, Ivan says he was stuck in a ‘Groundhog Day of misery’ for seven years starting in 2003.”
Ivan turned to drugs and alcohol and wanted to end his life.
After multiple stints in the Nelson Mental Health Unit, Ivan eventually met a friend who helped him turn things around.
He suggested Ivan take an art course at NMIT, which he now says saved his life.
“It put structure back in my day and gave me a social life which I had lost while I was ill.”
He says it gave him an outlet to express everything he was feeling.
One by one, Ivan came off his medications, learnt different strategies to cope when things got hard and says he slowly got his life back.
At the end of 2018, Ivan was living in Kerikeri when he lost his job due to a work restructure and saw it as the perfect opportunity to do something special.
To help raise funds and awareness for mental health, Ivan set out to circumnavigate the country on foot.
“I had this idea of walking around New Zealand and I was ready to do it, so I sold all my stuff and just headed out.”
Having done no training and very little exercise in his life, Ivan says it was a bit of a shock to the system at first.
“By the time I got to 90 Mile Beach I knew I had to keep going.”
Now, 12 months on, Ivan is still on his journey, having covered 3900km with about 2000km and six months to go.
“My biggest priority was to connect with New Zealanders and open a conversation around mental health because it’s something that is not talked about enough.”
His journey hasn’t been without plenty of adversity.
“Winter was a mental challenge more than anything else. Camping out in the frost, the coldest night was minus 6 degrees on the West Coast of the South Island.”
In Fox Glacier he was caught in a storm and stranded for three weeks.
“I couldn’t go north or south, there were 100,000 lighting strikes one night which was the most terrifying thing of my life, but I survived it.”
He has been inundated with offers along the way from people taking his pack to the next stop. And Ivan says his mental health is fantastic.
“I was in a very good place when I started but it’s just grown.”
He says he doesn’t even think about walking anymore, his legs “just do it”.
“I don’t know how I am going to stop when I get to Cape Reinga.”
You can follow Ivan’s journey ‘Walking for Life’ on Facebook.