MICK O’Connor hit the road to deal with his demons.
Suffering depression for 29 years and substance abuse for 38 years as well as two broken marriages, Mick hoped a journey of self discovery from Colac to Deniliquin would help him heal.
But along the way, his journey has become an inspiration for others suffering in silence.
While passing through Echuca-Moama on Friday, Mick shared his story with the Riv over some much-needed water and a cigarette.
Although he is trying to give up smoking, it’s a vice he is letting go of slowly considering he has gone cold turkey on the marijuana and cut down his drinking significantly.
‘‘I was smoking six joints a day and drinking a large can of Woodstock and half a cask of Port every day,’’ he said.
‘‘I would bomb myself out just to go to sleep.
‘‘I’ve now given up daily drinking and the last time I smoked marijuana was four weeks ago.’’
The 54-year-old said being on the road had forced him to give up that lifestyle.
‘‘You can’t round up a drug dealer on the road,’’ he laughed.
‘‘If I stayed in Colac, nothing would have changed.
‘‘I need to get my shit together to live a long enough life to see my grandkids turn 21.’’
So on June 20 — three years to the date since he was fired from his $84,000 a year job for drinking at work — Mick set off from Camperdown to ‘‘do some serious soul searching’’.
‘‘The trip was about getting out there and dealing with my demons,’’ he said.
However, it became so much more than that — his Facebook page becoming more like a public forum for people to discuss and raise awarness of mental illness and substance abuse.
‘‘It’s grown into such a big thing. It went from 260 members to almost 900 overnight,’’ he said on Friday.
By yesterday, the facebook page had attracted more than 1200 members.
‘‘I’ve found every second person on the page is battling their own demons and I have been speaking with some of them,’’ Mick said.
He has been walking about 7.5km a day, but sometimes hitches a ride to make sure he catches up with the inspiration for his journey — John Cadoret.
John, also known as the highway man, has been walking the Australian highways for the past 40 years.
‘‘My aim is to meet John, share a fire and a feed and a few yarns and then mosey on my way back and be back in Colac by late November,’’ he said.
‘‘But I have to find John first.’’
Yesterday, his dream came true, catching up with John in Deniliquin.
‘‘It was awesome. He was a true gentleman,’’ Mick said yesterday.
Mick will continue to update his followers about his travels on Facebook at Walking Stick Mick, one step at a time.
‘‘From time to time I will post where I am, how I am and where I am heading to next. Members can help me out by adding any friends or family in that area to the group and ask them to keep an eye out,’’ he said.
‘‘This group was created to raise awareness of depression and substance abuse and promote the Aussie spirit of helping out a battler who is doing it tough.’’
He hopes his journey will help reduce the stigma of mental illness and substance abuse and is encouraging people in similar situations to seek help.
‘‘If one person doesn’t top themselves because I’m doing this, then it’s worth it,’’ he said.
■If you see Mick walking along the roads, stop and ask if he needs a drink to keep him hydrated between towns.