Being mindful of the mind

Two shows in the Tri-Cities this month explore what it's like to live with a mental illness.

The idea to climb Mount Everest came shortly after Brent Seal was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2007.

Then, he had reached what he said was the lowest point of his life; he even attempted suicide.

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To counter his illness, he focused on a tangible action — one that proved he could do anything he set his mind to.

For the next decade or so, Seal pushed himself both physically and mentally.

He graduated from SFU as the class valedictorian.

He ran ultra-marathons.

He founded Mavrixx, a training agency that aims to redefine mental health.

And, in 2016, he became the first person with schizophrenia to summit the two highest peaks on the north and south American continents.

During that time, Seal also co-founded Mind vs Mountain with his climbing colleague James Frystak.

And, last year, the pair set off to the Nepal Himalayas to conquer Seal’s ultimate quest.

They documented their Everest adventure with the goal to share with viewers that they, too, can fulfil their dreams — no matter what physical or mental challenge they face.

On Feb. 23, the friends will speak about their journey to the base camp — and field questions from the audience after they show Episode 3 from their web series — at the Port Moody edition of the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival.

Speaking with The Tri-City News today (Friday), the Vancouver residents touched on their trip, which they plan to repeat next year, and their wish to spread their story.

For Frystak, who hauled cameras, lenses, audio gear, a drone and other equipment to film at Everest, he knew of Seal’s diagnosis from their first meeting.

“He’s an open book. He’s self-aware and very honest,” the cinematographer said.

Accompanying Seal on his climbs has not raised any issues to date nor has it required additional training about mental health, Frystak said.

Seal, who takes medication twice a day, said their Everest voyage was relatively smooth though, toward the end, he accidentally ingested high-altitude pills that triggered some symptoms.

Seal said Frystak was there to talk him down from his paranoia and give him time to ride it out.

Both said their Everest experience showed that “mental health no longer has to be a life sentence,” Seal said. “It’s about breaking down barriers and normalizing the conversation about it. It doesn’t have to negatively affect your life and we hope to inspire people so that they, too, can do whatever they want.”

Meanwhile, other flicks showing at the Inlet Theatre (100 Newport Dr.) for the Mind vs. Mountain series are: Craig’s Reaction; The A.O., which will have its North American premiere; and Women Are Mountains.

VIMFF opens at 2 p.m. on Feb. 23 with the Best of: Mountain Sports series and continues Sunday with Best of: Adventure and, in the evening, the Himalayan Show.

For tickets and the film line-up, visit


Mental health is also in the spotlight next Sunday when Brendan McLeod takes the Evergreen Cultural Centre stage for Brain and Other Stories.

In his comedic monologue, titled Brain, McLeod — a former Canadian SLAM and fringe festival champion who found the music group The Fugitives — explores coming of age and his struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder.

McLeod was diagnosed with OCD at the age of 18 after battling it for six years.

“I want to get into the bones of it and talk about things that are not regularly talked about,” he said of his 55-minute show, which was launched in 2015. “I want there to be less stigma around mental illness.”

His OCD “has affected my life in a variety of ways and it’s constantly changing, with my thought patterns and relationships,” the Toronto resident said.

For the second half of his show, titled Other Stories, McLeod will play songs, read poems, comment on politics and offer “emotional histrionics,” he said.

For tickets to Brain and Other Stories on Feb. 17, call the Evergreen Cultural Centre (1205 Pinetree Way, Coquitlam) at 604-927-6555 or visit


Brendan McLeod





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