Jo Sorrenson joined the police force on a dare back in the 90s but was too scared to tell her police officer father.
She describes joining the force as walking into a place that felt like home, but never imagined the course her life would take some 20 years later.
Jo was one of those people who didn’t think that mental illness was serious, and it was just a case of needing to toughen up.
This was until symptoms of PTSD emerged and it changed her entire life. She viewed mental illness as a weakness and kept telling herself to snap out of it.
It was only when she accepted it and obtained help that her perspective started to change.
“I believed it was a weakness which now I realise it's not. It takes so much strength every day to work through these types of conditions, that it's not a weakness.”
Taking back control
Jo loved her time as a member of the NSW Police Bicycle Squad, so it made sense when a friend suggested she try mountain biking during her recovery.
Although a little apprehensive, it only took a few rides to remember the fun she used to have on the bike.
The riding gave her freedom, exhilaration, adrenaline and a sense of achievement.
The mountain biking progressed to road cycling and then her friend suggested triathlon.
From someone who experienced panic attacks walking out her front door, Jo was now travelling overseas and racing. It gave her a sense of control that she hadn’t felt since developing her mental illness.
Jo describes her immersion in triathlon almost like an addiction. She needed to feel the rush of crossing the finish line and there were plenty! She even qualified for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships.
Not long after qualifying for Worlds, Jo came off her bike and sustained serious injuries which required several surgeries and months of recovery and rehab.
She was bitter about the accident and felt depression and anxiety sneaking back into her life.
If she didn’t have the World Championships locked in, Jo might never have got back on her bike.
But in a strange twist of fate, after her accident she met a man named Rob. He happened to be a triathlon coach also recovering from a similar bike accident. Jo credits Rob with getting her to the World Championships. He understood her physical limitations, as well as her need to manage her mental illness during the process.
You’ve got to accept that life is different now.
Jo speaks about how she used to function at a high level. Juggling work and home life and not letting the balls drop. These days she accepts that life doesn’t look like this anymore.
She likens the daily management of her mental illness to surfing. Sometimes the waves take you out, but you need to trust that the waves will bring you back in and things will be ok. You’ve just got to roll with it.
Community perception of mental illness
We also discuss public perception of mental illness and how it’s often difficult to comprehend the complexities unless you have direct experience.
Jo’s perception has certainly changed through this journey and wants others out there to throw away the shame and know that you’re doing a great job.
We discuss all this and more including her last-minute entry to her next race!
Notes and resources:
You can follow Jo's adventures on Instagram.