Meet the man behind Pocket Smiles - Hugh Miles

Tell me, what have you been up-to? 

Hi there! Thanks for reaching out; I'm honoured!

HEAPS! I'm working a lot, I'm living in and renovating a huge 70s caravan to make my long term home, I'm surfing a lot, working on my surf tour and my mental health businesses, and stoked to be travelling a bit between Noosa, Byron and home a bit.

You've recently just moved back from Torquay. What drew you back to Northern Rivers? 

It was pretty spontaneous; I just had a bunch of big things wrapped up at home and came up here for a little holiday where friends persuaded me to come back up. So two weeks later, I packed up my Subaru and moved… and I was not looking forward to another long cold winter. They take a toll on ya!

Where did you grow up?  

I was born in Melbourne, then moved to Sydney till I was 5 then my dad's work took us to Pennsylvania, then Northern California for about 7 years before moving to Torquay. It was so amazing to have my childhood over there, I wouldn't trade it for anything!

What was life like for you growing up?  

Very lucky. I've got the two most incredible parents, I got to do a lot of travelling at a young age, and I'm surrounded by friends I love dearly. I was a funny kid, funny looking with a big afro and face pubes from year 5, and stuck in this paradox of being a very shy/good boy not breaking any rules but yearning for rebellion. I was heavily influenced by things like punk music, watching jackass, surf/snowboard movies etc.  

So you now work at McTavish Surfboards? Tell us about what you do there!?

I do! Currently, I am in the surfboard manufacturing line, polishing and finishing boards with a bit of handyman work around the factory. 

What do you love about working for them?  

Hope it's not to cliche, but everything! It's such a beautiful family to be a part of. Everyone has been so warm and friendly, and it's rewarding to be working with my hands and producing such beautiful works of art. 

Got to say it's an honour working with Bob and his son Ben too. It was a doco on Bob on fuel tv. When I was 11, that made me want to start surfing in the first place, then in year 9, reading books on him and the whole scene back then made me want to eventually begin shaping boards, which I started straight out of high school.

 

Tell us about Pocket Smiles. How did that come about? 

Pocket Smiles is a book I put together on positive mental health.

It came from big adversity I faced in 2015, which sent me on a long journey with mental illness. I was thrown in the deep end but eventually started learning about this thing, "mental health", which for me at the time was a very foreign topic. 

I got out of the grips of depression and realised, "fuck, if I had known this stuff from the start, I wouldn't have wasted so much time!" I then thought it would be how much I'd love to share what I had learnt with my friends and family. So I put together an awareness campaign called "The Death of Goldilocks", where I would shave my head to raise money for beyond blue (I had long blonde curly hair back then). It was about being vulnerable and opening up about your mental health to those around you, peeling back the layers of this stinky onion, if you will. In the end, my friends and family raised 10k for beyond blue.

I loved this experience so much that I started planning my next project when I finished uni and had time on my hands.

Pocket Smiles is all about raising mental health awareness - have you suffered from mental health issues yourself? 

Oh yeah! Still do, but these days I see things a lot clearer; I know I can get through adversities and know I'll learn a lot from experience. 

The previously mentioned adversity was an unprovoked "coward punch" at a friends party in Coolangatta. His fist hit my mouth, my head hit the concrete, and I woke up in hospital before being sent home. Unfortunately, I was not warned about any side effects I might face, so I tried to go about life as normal. However, I soon realised that something was wrong. I couldn't smell for one, and my taste was weird; I couldn't remember things that happened seconds ago, I couldn't plan anything, couldn't concentrate on anything, and highs were higher, and lows were lower. Then the anxiety attacks started happening, which if you've suffered from them, you know how shitty they are! I had an identity crisis and was afraid and confused about what was going on, so much so I quickly sunk into a bad depression. 

I've been depressed since, even after writing the book and my studies. And I still manage anxiety attacks, but these days I know my formula to prevent, avoid or escape these states of mind.

I actually met you a few months after what'd happened that night  - to me, I would never have been aware of what you'd gone through if I hadn't been told. You are someone who radiates light. To see how far you've come and what you've achieved is incredible. 

That's so sweet, thank you! Back at ya! I'm so inspired by you! I've only hung out with you and your crew up there a very small amount of times, but it feels like your family. 

I think that's what it comes down to, trusting that there's love and compassion for you everywhere you go and making sure to pass it on. You guys opened your hearts to me, and it made a huge difference in my recovery. 

But it hasn't been easy has it? So tell us a bit about how you recovered from that experience?

I mentioned how I got to rock bottom and was down there for a while. I wasn't suicidal, but I understood why someone might take their life at that point. I had a euphoric moment around the time of my 10,000th play of Bobby Dylan's "it's not dark yet" when I got sick of it. I knew what I wasn't going to do, so I could either stay like this or take charge. I thought of depression as a "final boss" like in a video game (I actually did). I'd take on the different levels, open myself to helpful conversations with professionals and friends, learn new skills, set physical goals, and I was surprised how quickly things started to turn around. I've got a dumb saying "the more you do, the more you do." Which pretty much means when you start something, the rest has a snowball effect. 

The biggest trick I've learnt is to stay curious about your thoughts and try new things once you've got something that works, run with it!

I'm still recovering, but it's not a burden these days. I train my brain by learning songs on guitar/piano, and not using my phone for help as much with day to day life. Then any mental challenges, I see them as an opportunity for growth and to learn.

If you could say anything to that person right now, what would it be?  

Haha, to be honest, I don't know. It's something I used to think about a lot. Everything from using my words to cause as much pain as possible all the way through to forgiving him. Now I'd like to think I'd shake his hand, and give him a smile, and that would be it.

You did what most struggle to do - you confronted how you were feeling and harnessed it. What would you say to someone who is suffering and isn't sure what to do?

It's important to know that your thoughts and mental state do not define you. Think back to every hardship you've faced and see that you have come out smarter and stronger because of it. Leonard Cohen said, "Everything is broken; that is how the light gets in."

And thus birthed Pocket Smiles. It's such an incredible initiative. What was the inspiration around a book like Pocket Smiles? I feel the name is pretty explanatory but did you always think it would take this shape or form?

The idea came from this trick I learnt at uni called "The 5 Whys", where you ask why 5 times a problem get to a solution because the real problem might not be what it appears on a surface level. For example, you could say, "mental illness is the problem", then ask yourself why? You'd say "because so many people are suffering",… why?, "because society… you get the picture.'

I came to the conclusion that the problem was with the stigma around mental health. If you search or talk about mental health, you're instantly hit with scary statistics and stories on the topic, making it very uninviting. Pocket Smiles was born out of trying to make the topic more inviting while playing with my strength and love of making people smile. The more I dove down the rabbit hole on the benefits of smiling, the more the project started to unfold.

The book is made up of jokes, quotes, stories, things to try, all designed to make you smile. Then every page is accompanied by a custom artwork by a different artist. The first few pages are really about simplifying mental health and how we can approach it in a curious open-minded way, and the benefits of smiling. The slogan for the book is: "We use humour to break down barriers and inspiration to drive change." 

All of the artists donated their time and talent to make this book what it is. It is all due to them that makes this book special.

I'm so proud of it!

If you could have any artists in the world contribute to Pocket Smiles, who would it be? 

Reg Mombassa has always been a favourite also, Matt McCormick from the states I've adored for a long time, and maybe Van Gogh!

Where to next for Pocket Smiles? 

I've taken a little break as of late, as I decided from the start that I was not going to pay myself for this, and every cent was going to be donated to Black Dog Institute to support their mental health education programs. This decision made it hard to focus on the project full time. However, McTavish has got me in a position where I can be comfortable and flexible to start pushing this again. I've been working on ideas for big momentum pushers for socials and getting the book stocked in more stores. So you will start to see a lot more from Pocket Smiles very soon! 

Amazing, can't wait! Just a fun one to wrap things up, It's your last day on earth, your allowed one beer and one meal? What is it? 

A beer from Blackmans Brewery, from my hometown of Torquay, they're the best! And authentic Mexican tacos with all my friends and fam.

And lastly, What's important to you when wearing a piece of jewellery? 

I don't have any tattoos, so the jewellery I wear really has to mean something to me. I have two rings, one from a close friend they bought in Mexico representing my friends, then I have a family heirloom representing my family's history. 

We love that, What makes a piece of jewellery stand out to you?

Simple but original all the way!

 

If you want to keep up with Pocket Smiles make sure to give it a follow. 

If you, or anyone you know needs help, find helplines here and always remember to check in on your mates! 


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