Man's search for gold in Sooke River yields mental health breakthrough
SOOKE -- Nicole and Paul are celebrating their ninth anniversary, holding each other close and reflecting on the Sooke River.
“We’re here by the river in the freezing cold,” Nicole smiles. “I’m used to it by now. It’s kind of or our thing.”
Before they realized the potential of flowing water, Paul was feeling stuck at work.
“He was a cog in the wheel,” Nicole says. “He didn’t feel valued.”
Paul was also struggling with his mental health, including debilitating anxiety attacks that made him feel like he was dying.
“It was terrifying,” Paul says. “It’s really scary.”
Then one day, Paul’s cousin invited him down to the river to try something different and go searching for gold. They found some.
“You freak out!” Paul smiles, gesturing to the river. “To be in a place like this and find free gold, it’s mind-boggling!”
It felt so good, Paul decided to keep searching and start sharing his adventures online.
“People enjoyed it,” Paul says of his early videos. “One thing led to another, then a lot of people started enjoying it.”
Almost 230,000 people have subscribed to the "PioneerPauly" YouTube channel, where Paul and his team produce videos showing how he scuba dives in rivers and discovers gold nuggets in the crevices along the bedrock. They’ve been viewed more than 31 million times.
“Eventually it paid more than my job previously,” Paul says. “It just kind of exploded from there and my life changed for sure.”
More than discovering gold, Paul says being surrounded by nature while searching for it is improving his mental health.
“I am no longer in my head,” Paul says of his time outdoors. “I’m in the moment.”
Instead of worrying about what’s going wrong, Paul focuses on what he can make right.
When he’s not openly talking about his mental health to inspire viewers to work on theirs, he’s picking up litter along the shore, or removing toxic materials like lead and mercury from the water.
Which brings us back to Nicole. While Paul is the star of his videos, Nicole can be found just off camera, supporting him in countless ways.
She says she couldn’t be more proud and grateful for what the river has inspired them to learn together over the past nine years.
“It’s about finding your thing and running with it,” she says. “Being happy and coming into your own.”
Being able to celebrate that feels like finding gold.