WATCH | How diving under ice to rise above the depths of depression and addiction

Beneath the ice, there is only deep black. For some, the murkiness is frightening, but not for Amber Fillary.

After a lifetime in the dark, it feels familiar to strain towards the light. The diver glides through inky liquid, muscles screaming, lungs pounding for air.

Pushing weakness out and away from her, the demons of Fillary’s past clutch at her ankles.

But every stroke takes her a second closer to the surface, where she’ll be free to breathe again. 

On 29 February 2020, Fillary claimed the Guinness World Record for the longest swim under ice, reaching a distance of 70 metres.

But the journey to the Norwegian lake where Fillary achieved this feat has been long and difficult. From the age of 16, she suffered from depression, alcoholism, and an eating disorder.

For decades, Fillary was tossed and turned in the current of these illnesses, struggling to break their hold. Having always been drawn to water, swimming was the only thing that brought her solace.

She undertook the record-breaking dive to shed light on the plight of people with mental health issues.

Fillary’s personal mantra has since become her battle cry: “Don’t let addiction and depression get in the way of your dreams,” she says.

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It’s tempting to look at successful athletes and project happiness onto them.

For Fillary, breaking records – the Guinness World Record is just one of several that she holds – only brought momentary relief to her pain.

After years of fighting, Fillary finally found the correct medication that stabilised her mood and enhanced her experience of life.

Yet there is still a culture of silence around depression, with shame attached to seeking treatment.

Fillary is adding her voice to the call to destigmatise mental illness and normalise getting help.

Her hardship has forged a steel will in her. Now, Fillary’s desire to heal and inspire others to do the same is the force behind every swim.