Climbing out of depression

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Anyone who has battled depression knows it can be an uphill battle, which is precisely why Jean-Francois Dupras has set his sights on climbing the highest peak on each continent.

Throughout his life, Dupras has struggled with bouts of depression, however, the 38-year-old Canmore resident is determined to prove that depression doesn’t have to stop you from achieving your dreams.

“It’s always been a dream of mine,” said Dupras, who has lived in Canmore for the past 12 years.

“Physical exercise has always been a big part of my life. Whenever I was feeling bad I was always doing less and whenever I feel better I know I’m doing more, so I know it’s a way for me to circulate that energy inside my body.”

As a teenager, Dupras enjoyed reading about mountaineering, however, a series of traumatic events in his early teens led to his first experience with depression, which would ultimately culminate in a suicide attempt when he was 19.

“I lost myself in every possible way I could,” said Dupras, who initially tried to escape his problems by drinking and partying with friends.

By 17, his problems were only getting worse and he found himself with a bad gambling habit.

“I was pretty much making no money, but spending my whole paycheque.”

A year later things went from bad to worse.

“At the age of 19, I couldn’t do it anymore. I was so lost, so confused, so unhappy and one night I decided that was it,” said Dupras, who backed out of his plan at the last minute.

Shortly after his suicide attempt, he injured his thumb in a workplace accident which for most people with depression would have sent them on a downward trajectory. But for Dupras, the accident turned into a blessing.

“It was an amazing gift of life, because the month that I was off work I started reading books about personal development and positive thinking and it really opened my mind that there was more in life,” said Dupras.

“It really helped me understand life better and myself better and what was going on inside.”

Despite feeling more optimistic about life, he said he still had a lot of ups and downs and had another dark moment two years ago that nearly derailed his recovery.

“Two years ago, I was training to be a park ranger with Alberta Parks, it was super stressful and I did the full month of training and then at the end of the training I hurt my back,” said Dupras, who was relegated to the couch and found himself once again slipping into depression.

“I had some really bad thoughts and I realized that this is not how I want to live anymore,” said Dupras.

Determined to get his life back on track, he finally decided to reach out for professional help.

“It was tough,” said Dupras, who has two young children and a wife. “It was probably the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make in my life.”

Fast forward to today and Dupras has been able to find clarity in his life by forgiving himself for his past mistakes and focusing on his future, like climbing the tallest peak on each continent.

“I feel free and finally like myself,” said Dupras.

With a new outlook on life he intends to make the most of it by making good on his dream beginning with climbing Mt. Denali in Alaska in June.

Measuring 6,190 metres, it is the highest peak in North America and often considered more difficult than Mount Everest because it is located above the Artic Circle, making for unpredictable weather.

To prepare for the expedition he has been going to the gym four times a week, hired a personal trainer and practiced climbing nearby peaks like Grotto Mountain in the middle of winter. He will join Patrick Maguire and Christopher Peppler, who also intend to try and reach the top of Mt. Denali this summer.

If all goes well, Dupras hopes to reach the top of Aconcagua in Argentina in January 2019, followed by Mount Elbrus in Russia and Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania next summer.

Reaching the summits of the final three mountains is largely dependent on funding, however, they include Mt. Vinson Massif in Antarctica, Carstensz Pyramid in Indonesia, and finally, Mount Everest in Nepal.

If getting physically fit wasn’t enough, Dupras has also been spending a lot of time organizing a fundraiser on April 19 to raise money for the Canadian Mental Health Association, Calgary Region.

The event will include live music by Dépaysé, a silent auction and guest speaker Margo Talbot, a local author, speaker and coach. The event will be held at the Iron Goat starting at 6:30 p.m. and is free of charge.

“It doesn’t matter what you’re facing or doing in life, one step at a time makes everything possible, including climbing a mountain,” said Dupras.

For more information about his expeditions and upcoming fundraiser, visit www.jean-francoisdupras.com.

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Rocky Mountain Outlook