OK, Not OK. Self harm and self love with Thomas Hübert

How well to you really know your friends? Do you take the time to check in? Or do you just assume that everyone’s busy #livingtheirbestlives?

I met Thomas a few years ago on a trip to Japan. We had a great time riding and shooting together, and pretty much everything about him impressed me. Aside from his skills on his board, he was really creative and always smiling. He seemed at ease traveling alone, and equally at ease whenever our crew started speaking in French, accidentally leaving him out of the conversation.

He seemed to be on top of the world, and I just assumed that when we said farewell, he happily floated off into a fairytale life of semi-pro snowboarding — That is, until I saw a post from him that revealed that he’d just come back from a truly dark place. A place of sadness, self harm and near suicide. It was heartbreaking to realize that I really didn’t have a clue about what was going on with Thomas, so I reached out to show my support.

The conversation got a lot longer and deeper that I expected. Thomas is one of the bravest guys that I know, so he agreed to share it. It’s probably not exactly what you came here for… but it’s important.

Hey Thomas, how’re you feeling these days?
Hey Ahriel, good question! Lately I’ve been feeling good. Confident in myself and just been doing a lot of climbing, getting ready for the season, hyped to go board. I’m also surfing and learning about graphic design as well as psychology. I’ve been getting to know myself better in both good ways and bad ways, reflecting on life and going to my shrink. Which, at this point, is pretty good, you know? Getting to know myself feels important because not too long ago, I truly hated myself and the world!

I was speaking with Brage (Richenberg) the other day, right before that Instagram post, and we were chatting about feeling good in your own company. Lately, I have been waking up alone… haha. This sounds sexual, but that’s not what I mean. I mean that I’ve got this surprising feeling like, holy shit, I’m thriving!

I haven’t felt like that in quite a while, so it feels great. I don’t always need to be around people to thrive, you know? I love the energy I get from other people though. I love it, because it shows me that I’m doing better and I’m stoked on that.

I’m also doing this art project with my mate, Minne Jane, about mental health. I don’t know when it will be done, but hopefully soon. It takes time, but I love the process — just chatting over the phone, sharing ideas and growing together is so cool. Really connecting, you know?

Thomas Hübert, Handplanting at Kodama Lodge in Norikura, Japan by Ahriel

Oh man, that’s so good to hear! It really sounds like you are in a good place now. How did you manage to come through your difficult times?
I’ve struggled with low self-esteem, low self respect, zero confidence. I even struggled with not believing in myself and feeling like a burden, believing that I wasn’t enough. And a lot more too, but these are all thoughts and feelings, you know? They led me to having thoughts about suicide, threatening suicide, and even at one point sitting in my apartment with a rope around my neck. It also resulted in self harm.

We’re all different and have different ways of coping, so I don’t think that there’s a right or wrong way. But before I did anything right, I did so many things wrong. Things like pushing friends and family away, lying to myself, not doing the things that are good for me, not accepting that this is going to take time, giving up with the first sign of struggle, and much more.

I reckon that my biggest mistakes were pushing the close ones away, not taking care of myself and lying to myself.  I did all of those things because I didn’t feel like I deserved to be happy. I didn’t deserve to feel better. So I was punishing myself. I was afraid, because it is scary to share and be open, even with family, friends and the psychologist, you know?

I wasn’t able to accept that this stuff was going to take time before it got better. I wanted it to happen right now. Just get well and be done with it. Truth is, it takes time.

For me, not trusting myself meant that I didn’t trust anyone. But, the day I was cutting my chest, the photo on my gram, I called the psychologist and said that I need help. Around that time, I had quit going to the sessions because I though that I was doing better.

I went there the next day. After a year of going through hell, was the day that it started to get better. I went in with this insane plan where everything was going to happen all at once. Get better, travel, snowboard, surf, graphic design, pay my bills, work a shitload of overtime, and so much more. The shrink said OK, we will get there, but let’s start with these three steps:

1. Hang out with friends.
2. Run or go for a walk in the forest.
3. Get to work on fucking time!

I tried so hard every day, but it was hard in the beginning. I quickly realized that if I could do it one time, it would get a bit easier the next day. That gave me courage and confidence in myself, believing that I could do more. But, the big thing that I realized a while later was that this time, I did it for me, and only me. I had finally accepted that it was going to take time.

After that, I started to share everything, first with my shrink, and more with my my best mates and family. I finally started to ask for help when shit sort of hit the fan, like with negative thoughts and so on. I was looking at myself, rather than blaming everything on others. It felt good. But having a shrink was so good, because sharing with family and friends is scary.

I was scared of judgment, not being taken seriously and so on. This was my mind fucking with me. Still, having someone to talk to that is always objective and can help sort thoughts out was so good. After a month and a half, I started to read about graphic design, colors, typography and more stuff. Accepting myself, my strengths and my weaknesses, and working on them as hard as I could.

Thomas Hübert Tripoding in Cortina, Japan by Ahriel

It sounds like getting professional help really paid off. I think that’s really solid advice. But it’s also interesting how much friends and family were able to help. Can you tell me a bit more about how that worked? I’d love to be better prepared to help the people close to me if they’re ever struggling.
My best mate, Brage, called me every day for 3 or 4 months, just to talk, or ask if I wanted to play PS4 with him and talk there. My friends and fam helped out a lot, even though I pushed them away for a very long time.

For them to just be there for me was so important. Having someone to talk to, someone who knows you, having someone to share thoughts, activities, and just help me to get out of my head.

I’m truly grateful for those people! My mother, father, brother, Brage, Aleksander Klerud and Johan Selmar. True friends love you for who you are, and mine showed me that. I’m just so fucking lucky to have them by my side, you know?

Absolutely! But still… I’m sure that a lot of people were shocked when you started sharing your story. It was pretty great to see all of the positive feedback though. How has that felt for you?
Dude, it was insane. First off, a big thank you to everyone who reached out and just sent lovely messages. And to those that shared your stories, another big thank you. You guys are so brave to share it with me. I was even told that my post inspired someone to share their struggles, and holy shit, that is a big honor.

I’m truly grateful for all of the beautiful words. I was scared to share that stuff. It makes me very vulnerable, but it also felt good because I was ready. And to see so many people reaching out, giving their beautiful words of love, telling their stories, and so on, was just an incredible experience.

Thomas Hübert, bs3 in Norikura, Japan by Ahriel

That’s amazing. I’m such a social media hater sometimes, but that story really shows how it can also be positive. Have you also felt some negative effects from social media, or has it mostly been a good thing for you?
It can definitely screw with your mind in so many ways. Everything you see on SoMe is just the perfect life with big boats, trips, tricks, houses and whatever, because we portray it that way. We think that celebrities and other humans are living the perfect life. While seeing this, we tend to think that our life is just fucked, because we don’t have what they have, you know? The reality is different though. You have no clue what people are dealing with. We tend to give people we either find attractive or look up to these abilities that we don’t even know that they have. Vice versa with people who we don’t find attractive or look up to. That’s called the Halo effect.

Understanding that gives me some perspective and helps me think twice before labeling someone. Me and Alek Oestreng have been talking about this, and to some extent, SoMe is good for you if you treat it with resect. But also, taking time off of these networks is important, and I do that more frequently now. If I feel that I get stuck on my phone, I’ll put it in a different room and go do something useful, like clean the house, exercise, climb read a book…. anything that doesn’t involve a screen.

So that’s probably the way it affected me most. Just stealing time. Time that I could have used to do something meaningful. I still slip up for sure, but I try my best. But it is very easy to do it, because it means that you can just lay in bed and just do nothing. Sounds comforting right? Not really. The aftereffects weigh on you because, the stress that comes when you didn’t finish your goals for the day starts to add up. And for me, that takes away some of my self confidence.

Thomas with Simon Favez in Happo Banks, Japan by Ahriel

I wonder if it’s even harder on you since lots of the guys that you grew up with are killing it in snowboarding right now. Is that part of it?
I don’t think of it like that. I’m always hyped for my mates who kill it on and off of the board. It’s more the pressure and critique that I give to myself. Wanting to be better, and to do more gets hard from time to time. I reckon that’s because I want to show myself that I can be better.

There was a time when I wanted to prove myself to everyone else. Not a good place to be, I think. For me, it’s important that the things that you love are for you, and only you. Not because you want that sponsorship, or that chick, or that house… but because it will give you a sense of meaning. It strengthens you as a human being. Pushing yourself to see how much you can learn and how far you can go. This also has a downside for sure, if you don’t reach your goal, that hurts bad.

I feel like there’s a weird thing in snowboarding where it’s important to be critical. Grabs have to be proper. Style has to be on point. Spots have to be creative… do you think that we take it a bit too far sometimes?
The biggest critic in life is you, towards yourself.

But when it comes to snowboarding, I fell like it is still important to be critical towards yourself, but in a positive manner. You should push yourself to be better, but not in a way that makes you not believe in yourself. It’s a fine game of balance.

Someone said that the most important conversation that you have is the one you have with yourself. That is so true. Not being too hard on yourself is very important. Always give yourself some credit and keep pushing. So I reckon that there is a balance, and that balance is different for everyone. It’s always evolving as we go through life.

Thomas Hübert, Dam Planting in Norikura, Japan by Ahriel

What would you say to the people who look at your life, as a snowboarder and maybe they don’t take your struggles so seriously? Like the classic, “first world problem” argument…
This was part of my struggle, and I feel that it’s important to say, don’t compare your issue to mine. People might think, oh, he had real issues, so mine don’t count. Let me just stop you right there. Yes they matter. Don’t compare your problems to others. They are all equally valid!

When society says that you have nothing to complain about, that’s when we shut everything out. I spoke about this with Alek, and this is something that I reckon everyone struggles with. Let’s make it acceptable to not be doing well, no matter where you come from, rich or poor, or whatever. I reckon that will do us a lot of good.

I’ve heard so many stories of former pros struggling with depression towards the end of their carriers. Is there anything that the snowboard industry and media can do to support our pros better?
It’s just so important to ask how someone is really doing. I can’t stress this enough. The last few days, people have reached out and so many have said to me, “I never thought this could happen to you. You are always happy, smiling, and so on.” We don’t know how people feel until they tell us. So ask and listen. Maybe we should even make a foundation where boarders can reach out and ask for help or get some advice?

You you know what the media can do? Just show how boring life actually can be. It sounds dumb, but things like cleaning your house, washing clothes, washing dishes and so on. Not the funnest thing to do, but so important for your own self respect. Just show that life isn’t always about snowboarding, travel and beers. You need to take care of your surroundings to thrive.

Snowboarding, traveling and beers, by Ahriel. (sorry)

Speaking of taking care of yourself, have you ever had a concussion?
Yes, I had two really bad ones, I guess. One was on a swbs 9. I overshoot the jump and landed backwards and smacked my head. When I was walking my head was hurting, so I had to lay down completely still. I was all good after a week though.

And one time I smacked my head on ice. It was preseason and I was shredding Kvitfjell ski center with my mates, did a cab one nose press but the nose slipped off and I end up banging my head on the ice. I couldn’t remember shit. I forgot my age, birth dates of my mates…. trippy and scary experience for sure. But after a week it was all good once again.

Do you feel like head injuries might have had an effect on you over the years?
I don’t think they have effected me, not in a bad way anyway. When I broke my back, I just had the mentality of, OK it sucked…. but I got through it. It showed me that I was able to still go on. But a bad injury can definitely can fuck you up for sure.

Thomas Hübert, Haakon Flip in Norikura, Japan by Ahriel

I was curious because I’ve read some studies that link concussions to depression, anxiety and even suicide. So I wondered if you’ve had a lot. I know other snowboarders who’ve had so many, and I worry that it kind of feels a bit too normal in our community… But since you’ve only had two, that’s probably not related to your situation… I mean, I’ve had two and I’m behind a camera most of the time.
Yeah, for sure concussions can screw with your mind. There was a good movie with Will Smith called “Concussion” that was based on a true story. It’s about American football, but snowboarders can also have this. And let’s not forget the legend Kevin Pearce.

Yeah, his movie “Crash Reel” was pretty powerful… But let’s go back to your story. Is there anything that you’d like to say to someone who’s struggling right now?
So, if you’re struggling and not trusting yourself, which, in my case, led to not trusting my mates and fam, shoot me a DM on insta and we can take it from there. Whether it’s listening, talking, advice… I’m here. Or, if you are ready to talk to your mates and fam, do it. Ask for help. Don’t wait for them to come to you. Its always OK to ask for help, you are not a burden! That realization should be normalized. Ask for help!

And you should also ask your mates and family how they are doing, and if they open up, make sure that you listen and be there 100%! They are being vulnerable, and that’s an opportunity for love!

For me, sharing my story has been really positive. But if you aren’t ready, wait until you are, or don’t do it. I was still scared when posting, because I put myself in a vulnerable place, but the response was insane. There’s a lot of love out there. We tend to forget that and stay in our heads, thinking about all of the worst scenarios.

I also have to thank myself for what I did after I shared my story. I posted it, and didn’t touch my phone much that day, because I did it for myself, not for everyone else.

Thomas, surviving the storm in Happo One, Japan by Ahriel

That sounds like a the best reason. But I still really appreciate how open you’ve been. I think we can all learn a lot from it. Moving forward, I really hope that we can be better as a community at supporting each other! Is there anything else that you’d like to add?
I would like to give a big shout out to Brage, Alexander, Johan, my mother, father and brother for always being by my side. I love you guys to the moon and back. I’m the luckiest boy in this universe to have you guys as my friends and family <3. And shout out to all my other friends for being there. And big thank you to everyone who has reached out and shared their stories. The world is so beautiful.

Shout out to Kent Willy over at Volcom, David at West Snowboarding and Jeremy at Rad Gloves for being so understanding and supportive during that time. I’m grateful for that.

I also wanna say a big thank you to you, Ahriel, for our trip to Japan. It was so fun. And for listing and letting me share some of my story. And thank you for making the interview and helping to spread the word about mental health and the importance of being open and taking care of your loved ones.

Thanks again Thomas! I’ve learned so much. If anyone reading this is struggling at the moment, please don’t hesitate to ask for professional help. In Switzerland www.143.ch is a great place to start, but there are similar resources all over the world.