Matt DeLong lives a quiet life in Shelbourne, NS. He settled there a few months ago with his wife, Leanne, and their newborn, Mabel. The skies in Matt’s life were not always this bright. There were darker days, making Matt immensely grateful for what he has today.
Fifteen years ago, he was in university, living life the way he felt he needed to. He didn’t believe he was academically inclined but thought going to school was what he needed to do. This lack of motivation, coupled with boredom led him towards unhealthy behaviours.
“I had outdoors homies at the time, I tried to get out when I could, I had my canoe with me but it’s super hard to pursue those things when you go through the grind of going through school and working a part time job. It’s way easier to roll a doobie or pop some mushrooms to have that sense of adventure for a little bit.”
During the last weeks of his undergrad, Matt went a little over the top. Wanting to do it all, exams, partying, seeing everyone one last time, he used drugs to help him achieve that, especially Psilocybin Mushroom.
“The effect it had on me was that it just kept me awake. I was like, sweet, I can keep on socializing with people and do all these things. I went multiple days without sleep. All that just triggered that psychotic episode.”
Four a couple of days, Matt had delusions which led him to believe he was Jesus and as a result, he was hospitalized for a month. He remembers it as being the worse time of his life.
“The inpatient thing was brutal because I think that aspect of the health care system is still in the dark ages. People don’t really know what to do with you.”
Fortunately, at the time he got out, he was able to access an “Early Psychosis Intervention Program”, one of only two in the country. It helped him understand what happened to him and he got to meet others who were going through the same thing.
“It’s super hard to comprehend because I had totally lost touch with reality. When you start seeing things or hearing things that don’t exist, it’s pretty mind screwing. That was really good for me but at the same time there was a lot of embarrassment. You loose friends over something like that.”
The following months were a challenge. Matt moved back with his parents and shut himself off from the rest of the world. Although it was good for him to slow down, after a while it wasn’t healthy at all. He had a recreational kayak at the time, his parents would encourage him to pursue it. He met Brian, an experienced boater, who was going to become one of his mentors. He got his first freestyle kayak and started exploring more, and being more adventurous with kayak surfing and whitewater, enjoying having found a more positive way to be taking risks.
“I surfed my first little ocean wave and felt like I was flying. That was it. I didn’t even know how to roll. I kept just bailing and bailing and bailing, but I did’t care. There was not only catching the wave and feeling like you’re flying but just getting wet, being in cold water, it’s still part of the stoke for me. I love driving through crashing waves because you feel more alive when you get that cold water busting you in the face.”
That was a turning point for Matt. His new passion brought him back to life. He also got into sea kayaking and got his sea kayaking basic skills before having to move to British Columbia when Leanne started her studies to become a doctor. He was able to continue his sea kayaking skills and guiding training there, and got more accustomed and in love with whitewater during the five years they spent in Prince George.
“There was a really solid whitewater community there through the Northwest Brigade Paddling Club and some pretty solid boaters. I was kind of new but there were really good people that mentored me in whitewater. I put 30-40 days in the first couple of seasons and then 50 and 60 for the last couple of seasons.”
Although they loved British Columbia, and had it in their choices when Leanne was applying for residency, they also liked the laid back lifestyle in the Atlantic and were not against coming back to Nova Scotia. In the end, the randomized computerized system sent them to the Yarmouth Program, NS. They were a little worried because they had developed a good network of friends and were part of a great paddling community. They had found their balance in BC.
“Out West, we had just developed this lifestyle of just one season overlapping another with Whitewater starting in April, that went until September which overlapped hunting season, which rolled right into skiing season to whitewater again, over and over and non stop.”
Two years after returning to Nova Scotia, the DeLong family does not regret their choice. Leanne is enjoying a short break from her family medicine residency after having given birth to their first child, Mabel. Matt has made his dream come true by having his own kayak guiding and teaching business based out of Shelbourne, where their new life now is.
“Guiding and coaching is something I have wanted to do for a while. For Leanne and I, we also want to use this business as a way to connect with people, build relationships and be something positive in the community. I want to use the business as a way to promote kayaking in the community and try to establish a paddling culture. There is an unhealthy perceived risk of paddling, the ocean, whitewater and all this kind of stuff around here and I think it’s kind of sad. I’d love to be able to change that a bit.”
Matt feels like he is living the dream. His family, his business, his passions brings him so much joy, it irradiates out of him. He is immensely grateful for what he has and for how lucky he is for not having had psychosis relapses. He spent seven years being medicated after his episode and with the help of his doctor, was able to wean himself off a couple of years ago.
“I feel pretty good to not take them anymore. For a while, I was really anal about sleep and diet. I didn’t have any alcohol for 10 years, which was a pretty good thing too. Now I’m just being conscientious of having a healthy lifestyle, being active, the key components of mental and physical health.”
Ultimately though, a healthy lifestyle is not what brings Matt on the water almost everyday; it s the fact that he has found his bliss, his balance, his happiness.
“Kayaking is something that gives me life. I want to do the thing that gives me the most life all the time. It’s as simple as that.”