Justin Peck is a veteran professional off-road racer who has struggled with mental health for much of his life. In his mid-20s, Peck made what he calls the irrational momentary decision to end his life, which thankfully did not happen due to another otherwise trusty gun not working one time. In the years since, the now 46-year-old Peck has continued to address his own mental health concerns and helps other men do the same through public speaking, advocacy work and his memoir Bulletproof.
The Utah-based racer for five different circuits is not the only person with these struggles. Per data from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, there were approximately 1.4 million attempts in 2017, and more than 47,000 Americans succeeded. Comprehensive care under a mental health professional is essential for anyone dealing with such issues.
In 2018, Peck discovered that cannabis also helps him as an adjunct to his professional care, though he makes it clear that mental health conditions are an ongoing battle for him and others. The racer, entrepreneur and advocate recently spoke with PRØHBTD to help shine a light on mental health awareness while discussing his cannabis use for the first time on the record.
When were you diagnosed with bipolar disorder?
I was diagnosed at 26 years old. When I was diagnosed, I understood what the disorder was, so I could look back at my life. I remember when my first manic episode happened when I was 12 or 13, but I had no idea what it actually was at the time. I just knew that I felt different than everybody else.
How does it feel inside having bipolar?
Imagine you’re driving home late at night after seeing a scary movie or whatever. It’s dark and quiet when you get home. You’re tiptoeing and you’re flipping on the lights. You’ve got an uneasy feeling in your gut. And then, BLAM, all of a sudden your kids or your friends jump out and scare the shit out of you, right?
That emotional, physical dopamine dump that you get in that moment is what mania feels like. But it feels like that all the time. You’re on this constant adrenaline rush of just “go, go, go, go, go.” It’s fun, I’m not gonna lie. It literally is the most fun thing ever, but the world has a funny way of balancing itself out.
And depression is the opposite side?
Yeah, that’s where the balance comes into place. The depressive side is based on how the mania is affecting me. Meaning if I’m in a super, super high mania phase and it lasts for six or seven months, when I crash, I crash pretty hard. So, I’ll go into a bipolar depression side.
I’m 46 now, and within the last four or five years, I’ve had to be on suicide watch. My brain just doesn’t function very well at those moments. We’ve all got different coping mechanisms, different coping skills, different things. I’m still learning to combat that depressive side.
What does the mania feel like?
I’m good with myself, but everybody around me can’t stand me because I’m crazy. I’m bouncing all over the walls. The depression side means everybody wants to help, yet I hate myself.
Literally, anything can happen. Addictions can flare-up, so I’m very cognizant of that. I did have an opiate addiction 20 years ago, so I know that there’s a possibility [of relapse]. I like to gamble. I like to play cards and poker and stuff like that. I like girls. When I’m in the mania phase, there’s that possibility of getting myself in trouble for being very super impulsive.
What are your coping mechanisms?
Silence and music are legit, man. If there is a moment when I know that shit’s not going to go right, I either need to have complete silence with no one talking to me for at least 30 minutes or I need to jump in my car, turn on the music and go burn around the block for a couple of hours. Those are just the things that have always worked for me.
Do you meditate?
[The coping mechanisms are] probably my form of meditation. I’ve tried to meditate before, but my brain spins so hard and so fast that I can be ready to meditate and then I’m thinking about how crayons are made. (Laughs.) Then what color of loofah I’m going to get the next time or why trees are growing here. It’s just random shit all the time.
Is cannabis a coping mechanism as well?
This is actually the very first article where I’m letting anybody know that I smoke a little.
Being a professional race car driver and doing what I do, there is this stigma behind cannabis. The crazy thing about it is that there’s a stigma behind the mental health side of it, too. I didn’t do any cannabis all through high school, not until I was like 40, 45. So I only got into it a year ago. I typically don’t talk about my medication, but because the article is what it is, I [will].
I was on a lot of Big Pharma medication. Much of it was for sleep. When I was in a manic phase, my brain ran so hard I wouldn’t sleep for more than an hour or two if I was lucky. To do that for months and months and months on end takes a toll on your body. So I took nighttime medication to at least shut my brain off for four hours so I could sleep and and then hopefully workout through the next day.
I was at a gifting event last year, walking around and looking at the CBD oils because I’m a huge fan of CBD anyway. I was looking at this product here and this product there. Then I walked up to a guy with CBD pens who gave me one to try.
I said, “I can’t, man. I get drug tested for my racing.” He said he completely understood but snuck them in my backpack, and I didn’t know.
I finished racing that Saturday and was tired so I started on patching stuff, and I see these two little cannabis pens [sitting] out. I don’t know so they sat there for a couple of weeks. I was sore and tired after the next race and I tried a little bit of it. I slept for 12 hours after that. I’ve never done that ever.
I decided that night that I wasn’t going to take my nighttime meds, which were enough to literally kill a small village. I tried it again that night. I didn’t take any of my Big Pharma meds, and I slept through the entire night.
Are THC and CBD your only current meds?
That’s it. I have just a little bit of THC at night, and then I do the CBD through the day.
What about all the recent talk by the president and lawmakers linking mental health to the recent gun violence deaths?
When a society blames mental health for mass shootings, we walk a very, very, very dangerous slope. Mental health does not commit murder. Mental health does not promote hate. If you look at gun violence in this country, nearly two-thirds of gun deaths in 2018 were by suicide.
Someone in a depressive state is more likely to harm themselves than others. If you really think about it, if you take a big breath in and blow it out, it’s common sense. If I’m lying in bed in a depressive state and I’ve been in [this state] for a couple months, I just want to die because I’m just having the worst time ever. The last thing I’m going to do is go to an elementary school and kill a bunch of kids.
Even after these most recent incidents, our president’s Republican side comes out and says, “Mental health, mental health, mental health, mental illness.” Within five or 10 minutes, the Democrats come across with, “Mental health, mental health, mental health, mental illness.”
It’s bullshit, man. The problem we really run into is if we as a nation and as a country start really labeling those with mental illness as perpetrating hate crimes or being murderers. Let’s just say that you suffered from schizophrenia or bipolar, but people are going to treat you as a murderer, are you going to go to the doctor and seek help?
I am so sick and tired of listening to these stories of people who have to deal with this day in and day out. I was that guy that lived in the stigma. I lived in that moment. I did not tell anybody. I was married eight years before I was diagnosed, and I didn’t even tell my wife at that time when I got diagnosed because I was embarrassed.
Why are men taking their lives at such rates, and how does that impact your mental health work?
The male suicide rate is one of the most sickening things to me ever. I just got cold chills right now. I hate it.
I want to give you a definitive factual answer, but I can’t. I don’t know why men are taking their lives more and more. But I will throw an opinion out there.
It’s like what we were talking about with the mental health and gun violence. It’s the illusory truth effect. We are born men and raised as men, and what are men supposed to do? We’re rough and ego-driven and high in testosterone, and we’re never going to complain or cry or bitch.
That’s just what we know. That’s what I was taught and what all my friends were taught. When we struggle and have a hard time, we fall back on those. I’m going to be a pussy if I don’t, you know? If I talk about it, I’m not going to be macho. I’m not going to be this. I’m not going to be that.
At the end of the day, who cares? This whole ego thing, it’s asinine. I’ll be the biggest man’s man around. I’m an MMA fighter. I’m a professional off-road racer. I’ll do anything, but it took me a long time to find and understand that you can be a hardcore guy, but people want the soft side of you as well.
They want to be able to understand what goes through your brain because people can learn by reading books, but when you were taught by someone who has been through the experience, I personally have found that you learn better.
What I try to do through Mental Health America, through the avenues and the engagement that I have now, is just explain to people that it is okay to have tears coming out of your eyes and snot rolling down your face. It’s okay. Everybody does it.
If we can just kill the stigma of THC, the stigma of mental health, the stigma of a lot of things, then we can provide more value to society.
For more on Justin Peck’s mental health journey, check out his upcoming podcast Racing Mind, debuting in September.