The reality man struggled to accept before his depression spiral

·News Editor
·5-min read

Jonathan Goerlach was living the dream in Sydney like most people in their 20s.

He was partying, travelling, skipping from job to job and spending all his time with mates.

However, unlike most people in their 20s, Mr Goerlach had Usher Syndrome – a rare and genetic condition affecting one in 10,000 people.

It causes both hearing and vision loss and was slowly starting to change his way of life.

Mr Goerlach was already hearing impaired when he was diagnosed as a teen, and he was aware Usher Syndrome was also an eyesight degenerative condition that would continue to get worse.

There's no cure, no treatment, and glasses don't fix anything.

Jonathan Goerlach has spoken out about his battle with mental health. Source: Supplied
Jonathan Goerlach has spoken out about his battle with mental health. Source: Supplied

But between the ages of 17 and 26, Mr Goerlach avoided getting his eyes checked and he soon discovered he had not prepared himself for life with a disability.

This was then the catalyst for a lengthy mental health battle as life as he knew it began to completely change.

"When I was 26 my GP urged me to start preparing for the future," Mr Goerlach told Yahoo News Australia as part of its What's Up? mental health series.

"I was living in Sydney, hanging out with my mates, doing all the normal things – I had not learnt to accept that I did have a disability."

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Mr Goerlach booked in with a specialist to finally get his eyes checked, a "traumatic" six-hour process at a Sydney hospital.

"I spent six hours waiting to get the test and then spent 10 minutes hearing that I'm definitely going blind," he said.

"I had no idea how to approach life with this disability and over the coming months it sent me on a spiral.

"I didn't know what to do with my life and I was thinking too far ahead and not in control of what was coming.

"That's where a lot of depression and anxiety comes from – you aren't in control."

Man's pivot point into downward spiral

Being young without the support of other people living with Usher Syndrome, Mr Goerlach said he felt alone as depression and anxiety started to creep up on him.

Family and friends began to shelter Mr Goerlach, telling him he couldn't do certain activities that he once would and he started to feel his independence disappearing.

"I didn't understand what was coming," he said.

"I allowed behaviour from family and friends to shelter me and essentially tell me the things I shouldn't or can't do.

Jonathan Goerlach pictured in his Australian Institute of Sport triathlon shirt. Source: Supplied
Jonathan Goerlach struggled to accept the realities of living with Usher Syndrome. Source: Supplied

"They didn't know what it was like living with that disability. They want to shelter me from a negative experience, but I think allowing that behaviour compounded with the fact I felt like I had no future – when I had that reality check that was the pivot point to having a downward spiral."

Mr Goerlach said his social lifestyle diminished and he started locking himself in his room.

It wasn't until he had a conversation with his mum he realised he needed to seek help.

"It was 12 years ago and mental health wasn't really spoken about then," he said.

"A mental health issue was seen as something that was negative and if people found out then there was something wrong with you.

"When speaking to my mum I realised the way I was acting and feeling were big red flags and I needed to do something."

Mr Goerlach went and spoke to his GP who referred him to a clinical psychologist he still sees today, 11 years on.

Three World Paratriathlon victories

Despite living with Usher Syndrome and mental health issues, Mr Goerlach stopped listening to those who told him he couldn't achieve his dreams.

After a longing to live overseas, he moved to Amsterdam and connected with others with Usher Syndrome and even got a job working at a dining in the dark restaurant where employees were either blind or vision impaired.

He also started riding a bike for the first time since he was a teenager and started training for triathlons.

Jonathan Goerlach competing in a triathlon. Source: Supplied
Jonathan Goerlach says getting enough sleep and eating healthy helps keep him balanced. Source: Supplied

Mr Goerlach has now achieved three World Paratriathlon Series event victories since 2017, and placed third in the Tokyo International Triathlon Union World Cup in 2019.

While continuing to speak to a psychologist, Mr Goerlach says he manages his mental health with some simple techniques.

"I try not to fill my cup up too much, and understand the triggers for me to avoid them or self-talk when it happens," he said.

"Being out at night time I'm not in control, and I rely on other people in pubs and clubs to get around. I lose independence and that can trigger that sort of anxious feeling."

Mr Goerlach added sleep was one of the most important things for him, as well as eating healthy.

He also manages to keep balance in his life with relaxing activities like building Lego while having a glass of whisky.

"My main message is don't be afraid to ask for help and surround yourself with people who know what you're going through – empathy is so underrated," he said.

"Speaking with someone else is worth its weight in gold."

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.

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