Trusting myself enough to give a new venture the best possible chance to succeed.

17 days ago I wrote a post about how my mental health journey had turned into a process of reinvention, how I had started the year with a clear mindset and with clear goals for what I wanted to tackle. I skimmed through it again this morning, and it certainly looks great on paper. The last week has been one of the most difficult in my mental health journey, not because I hit a dip, but because I started to doubt myself and my ability to succeed on this new path of wanting to become a writer.

There’s not doubt in my mind that my mental health dipped a bit from the start of the week, I could feel it coming on, as I was engaging in a lot of unhealthy self soothing activities: excessive drinking, excessive dating, extending excessive energy outward, rather than turning my focus inward, and generally having to deal with anxiety levels that were through the roof. I see no point in beating myself up about it, it happened, I dealt with it the best possible way I could, and I’ve got to let that go as something that is part of the journey. None of these things are bad when done in moderation, but I could feel that I was extending myself further than I usually would, dropping a few self care routines in the process and ultimately contributing more to my anxiety. It has meant I’ve had to take a few additional steps to “navigate the rumbling strip” so to speak, and I will be implementing a few boundaries in the week ahead, as well as preparing to meet with a psychiatrist, who will hopefully be able to assist me in finding a medication that will be able to balance my anxiety levels. I’m a naturally anxious person, but considering the shifts I’m busy planning in my life, it’s normal for my anxiety levels to be elevated, but I’m of no use to anyone when it is debilitating to my day-to-day and when it stops me from functioning like a normal member of society and getting to the things I’d like to get to. We all deserve to soothing in this often very harsh world, and perhaps meeting with a specialist will help me find a better balance than my GP is able to offer me. What I’ve been busy doing clearly isn’t doing my mental health any favours. One day at a time.

This week, self trust has been on my mind a lot. I stumbled onto the concept while doing some light reading online, realising that a lot of my day-to-day anxiety comes from a fear of failure. My self esteem is inextricably linked to my career success, something that was drilled into me from childhood with high expectations for school performance, and thus why I’ve always worked fairly high profile jobs. I realised though, that the decision to pursue something as ‘volatile’ as a career in writing (or any career in a creative field), would not have been possible had I not trusted myself enough to feel that I could succeed at it in the first place. This entire week, I’ve been worrying about failure, and not trusting that I would be able to bounce back from failure. This is something that is fairly ridiculous of course, as I’ve bounced back from many failures, and in essence it is what makes life such an interesting journey after all. I’ve just been doubting myself and the decision to focus more time and energy into my writing, convincing myself that it “wasn’t a real dream” and that it is something that I shouldn’t be doing. This week ahead, I’d like to make an active effort to remind myself that I’m allowed to trust myself as I move into this new chapter and on this new journey. In the short space of time since I’ve made the decision to move in this direction, I’ve been given a bunch on wonderful ‘gifts’ already, in the sense of meeting people from similar industries, being referred to writer communities and finding opportunities for me to tackle. It simply is now the time to put my head down and to give it a gong.

I was on a walk earlier today, questioning whether I was making the right decision in pursuing my passion. As I got to the of the road I was walking on, I stepped on a painted sign on the road that read “FH” (fire hydrant). As I stepped on the sign, the artist I was listening to on my headphones chanted the word “fire” in the middle of the song, in a moment of sweet serendipity. A few minutes later a butterfly flew right up to me and grazed my knee. I was reminded that I am exactly where I am supposed to be at this very moment. I was reminded to continue to work to be kind and gentle to myself in this process. I was reminded that I’m simply a human being, doing his best, and going through a process that isn’t an easy undertaking. These past eight months have been months of tremendous personal and spiritual growth, and I won’t let one bad week set me back for the rest of the year. It just isn’t worth it. Time to trust myself enough to know that no matter what, I will get through this.

– Conrad was here.

How my mental health journey became a process of personal reinvention.

You are pursuing your passion. Remember this on the good and the bad days. Life is a journey. You are but a sea fish, swept along the current, sucked in and spat out in continual motion. Everything as and when it should be. Adjust and recover accordingly. You are not in control. Love yourself. Go kindly & gently.*

It’s been 200 days since I started my self care and mental health journey, and if you’ve been following my story on the blog, you’ll know just what a journey it’s been. I have thoroughly enjoyed documenting what can only be referred to as a tricky period in my life, but am also so thankful that we’re at this point, where, with sufficient reflection, I’ve realised that the breakdown happened for one very distinct reason: as part of me starting a process of personal reinvention.

A reinvention can be classified as the process where something is changed so much, it appears to be entirely new, and this is exactly how I’m feeling after six months of depression recovery. Over the festive season, I took stock of all the decisions I made in the last twelve months in fact, and realised that each one of them has led me to this very moment, where I now have the ability to revisit and change my approach, to change how I respond to untoward situations, to break the emotional shackles that have held me back for so many years, and to, frankly put, come of age as an adult. It all started when I realised how easily I “sulk” when things don’t go my way. I’m at a point where I get ashamed when my natural reaction is to sulk, which means that things are moving in the right direction.

So what does a reinvention include, according to me? I’ve reflected extensively on this, taking into account how my life has changed since I started prioritising my mental health. Here is what I’d like to focus on moving forward:

  • Moving from sporadic (inconsistent) learning to active reading and doing my best to learn something from everyone I meet.
  • Approaching my life in a more mindful way, escaping the clutches of robotic and systemic thinking in how I make decisions. This includes a 15 minute silent meditation each morning, which I am enjoying so much.
  • Getting out of the “bubble” of my local community, and expanding my network to meet more people from all walks of life and different places around the world. This has been made possible by a few interesting platforms that landed “on my desk” in the last month or so, and I’ve noticed just how much I still have to learn about other societies and cultures.
  • Being intrinsically motivated (doing personally fulfilling work) in my career, rather than being financially motivated. I’ll be sure to share a separate post on this too, as there is a lot to talk about here, but basically, I want to spend my time working on projects that are worthwhile for me. Changes are coming.
  • Accepting a modest and unstable life as a creative, rather than searching for something lucrative and “stable” (if you can even consider any kind of existence stable).
  • Living a more nomadic lifestyle, rather than being office/computer bound. This includes the ability to work from anywhere in the world, rather than being tied to a full-time position. This also includes more trips in nature and connecting with the earth, exploring its secrets and finding the best possible learning path for myself.
  • Pursuing a more authentic look: I’m growing a beard, letting my body hair grow, and would like to explore clothing that is more me: my friends have commented that I have quite a preppy aesthetic, which I’ve discovered is something that isn’t truly who I am, but rather a bi-product of the community I grew up in.
  • Classifying myself as a dreamer, rather than a careerist. This includes no longer grounding my self esteem in terms of my work, but rather in terms of my creative vision and dreams. This ties in with my impeding career change, which I’ll discuss further in another post.
  • Continuing to say no when my self care is compromised. This is a boundary I will be practicing to uphold, well, come hell or high water, this year. It has been interesting to see how my peers have reacted to me not giving the automatic yes to everything I get asked to do or go to.
  • Living day-to-day, rather than month-to-month or with extensive plans that try to control where things are going. All we have is today, all we have is this very moment.
  • Moving away from the dreams my parents had for me (in terms of family, my career, housing, marriage etc.), to my own goals, which are mainly creatively grounded and set up in a way to connect on a 1:1 basis with as many different people as possible. I don’t mean to disrespect their vision, but it was never mine to begin with, and I’d like to find my own passions independently of what anyone in my inner circle may have to say about it.
  • Diverting from this notion that we’re meant to be chasing happiness as the end goal: this year, I’m chasing a multitude of emotional experiences, and making peace with the bad along with the good. Some days you’ll have anxiety and exhaustion with a great sense of joy from the smallest of moments. It’s simply the flow of life. I’d like to make peach with that.
  • Finding solace in my introversion, and accepting that I’m just not somebody that enjoys playing the part of “extrovert” in a social setting. Let’s have a quiet cup of tea and connect 1:1 – then you truly understand who I am.
  • Living modestly and as a minimalist, rather than pursuing excess, whether that be in materialistic purchases, where I live, what I drive, or something as simple as how much I’m eating on a bad day. Everything is to be taken as a practice in moderation. Everything to be taken as an opportunity to remain realistic about what is happening out there in the real world and to adapt accordingly.

I’d like to end off this post with three additional ideas that I’m exploring as part of the reinvention process, which I thought deserved a little bit more emphasis and discussion. They are as follows:

1. Changing my definition of success.

In my twenties, I used to measure success by traditional financial standards, comparing myself to my peers, school friends as well as placing a lot of emphasis on my job title, salary, or the company I work for. Moving into 2019, and as part of my reinvention process, I’ve decided that for me, success will rather be measured in terms of how well I’m developing my competencies this year.

Before my 30th birthday, I used to focus all my efforts to correcting my “flaws” and giving so much energy towards the things I considered to be ‘wrong’ with me. You can imagine what that did to my self esteem. That has changed massively since I started my self care journey. Now, my primary focus is on pursuing the things that I already consider myself to be competent in. My writing ability, for example, is a wonderful gift that I’d like to practice and refine as it is something that gives me great joy. Since the start of my holiday, I’ve been writing about two hours a day, something that is showing no signs of slowing down, so we’re making decent progress so far. Watch this space!

2. Being more flexible with my decisions.

I didn’t drink a drop of alcohol between 17 June and the end of December last year, all as part of giving the anti-depressants the best possible chance go “do their thing”, but over the festive season I realised that I would not be able to go into 2019 with such a rigid mindset about well, anything. The alcohol example is the most practical one I can share, to emphasise how I’d like to be a bit more gentle with myself going as part of the reinvention. Nothing in life is sustainable as simply “this” or “that”, it requires flexibility and I realised I needed to let up on my rigidity to practice being kinder to myself.

I ended up having a glass of wine while on holiday. It was in a controlled environment, I managed my mental health very carefully (those who have followed the blog will know that I usually dipped emotionally two days after drinking) and quite frankly, it didn’t add or take away much, so I consider it to have been a good decision. Drinking a bottle of wine because I feel anxious? Not a vibe or an option as part of my self care journey. Having a glass of champagne with friends when I find out they’re having a baby? Yes. Having a glass of red wine on a date where I’m connecting with someone? Absolutely. It’s also alright for me to enjoy myself, I don’t have to earn the right to do so.

3. Freeing myself from emotional shackles holding me back.

There are three key emotional shackles that have held me back for a very long time, that I wanted to share here very quickly:

  1. Anxious attachment: Do yourself a favour, and research the four different psychological attachment styles. I’ve discovered that I attach anxiously in all relationships in my life, even in my work. While not easily possible to change to a secure attachment style, it is possible to change how you respond in situations when you feel your anxious attachment coming on. As they say in Eat. Pray. Love: “Think of me, send me love, and drop it”. It has been very helpful to get me to detach across a wide spectrum of dynamics in my life and I’ll be sure to write more about this soon.
  2. The rescuer mentality: I’ve always been known as a good problem solver, and I can easily talk anyone off’ an emotional ledge, thanks to my ability to really listen when someone is sharing with me. Sometimes, especially in my past, this has become something I sought out to distract myself, i.e. trying to find someone to “rescue”. My therapist made a great point on this last year. “If you try to rescue someone, you are highlighting to others that they haven’t yet been saved, and that they’re not strong enough to save themselves”. This was a powerful momentum shifting statement. While it’s gotten a lot better, and I’ve detached successfully from this kind of behaviour with my inner circle, I am mindful that it is something that can still be a problem for me moving forward.
  3. The need for external validation. We all want to feel seen or heard. Sometimes I want this a little too much, and, as with many of us it trickles into the image I project on social media. I’m breaking free from this shackle in 2019, focusing on tackling my self esteem issues via therapy and coaching, and best yet, in my writing. I am whole, for I am both the good and the bad. Brene Brown comes to mind here, who in her most recent book said “you don’t need to prove that you deserve a seat at the table”. Just sit and enjoy yourself.

Moving forward, the blog will be positioned as an avenue for me to discuss this reinvention process. Thank you so much to everyone who has been following my journey so far. I’d love for you to continue with me as we enter into a new phase.

– Conrad was here.

*My first journal entry for 2019, in a diary I was given by my friend Jana.

Six months into my depression recovery, what have I learned?

This morning I’m off to see the doctor for my six month checkup, armed with renewed confidence, thanks to a voicenote from a friend, who decided to sing “Happy Six Months, Conrad” to the tune of “Happy Birthday Mr. President” (in Marilyn Monroe fashion) to start off the day. I fully embrace the wonderful weirdness of the people I have in my life these days and she is someone who is so very special to me.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been half a year since my breakdown, and while challenging, these have been incredible personal learning months for me. I’ve made some big decisions, which I’m in the process of putting into action, including moving to a new living space in October, prioritising my inner circle over interaction with a broader crowd of acquaintances, and generally working on actively practicing self care and self love as regularly as possible. Man, is it bloody hard to do! You’d think it would be easy to be as kind to yourself as you like to be to others, but some days it is a real struggle. I’m working on it and it remains a daily practice.

The main lesson I’ve taken from this period is that recovery really is a day-to-day process and that you will go through cycles of feeling good, and cycles of feeling awful, based not only on life’s daily challenges, but also related to your sleep pattern, and how well you’ve been eating. Some days I feel stronger than others, some days I can take on more, but altogether I have definitely realised I have less capacity to take on and handle as much (or as many daily tasks) as I used to be able to. This was tough to come to terms with as I am known for being an overachiever. It’s hard to be gentle to yourself knowing what you used to be capable of doing, but my friends remind me that it’s like comparing two completely different people, which is so true. I hardly recognise the person I am today, compared to twelve months ago. I feel like I have progressed into a version of myself I recognise as someone more authentically me; less of a version I felt an expectation to be throughout my twenties.

This more authentic me does need a regular talking to though, and a regular reminder not to try to take on too much. When I get anxious, I get busy. I’ve had to learn how to draw a line in the sand with work, social and other life commitments. I’ve had to start saying no, even when it was very difficult to do so. My reasoning may have nothing to do with the request or the person, and everything to do with working to uphold my recovery boundaries. If a social setting is going to compromise my sobriety, you can guarantee I won’t be there. If a friend calls me only to offload their struggles, I have to gently remind them that I don’t have the capacity to take on any of their problems on top of my own. I can be an ear, I can’t be a solution. This is something that people are getting used to, as I used to be a yes man, and used to agree to anything and everything just for the sake of pleasing others. And here I wonder why I burnt out completely in June – clearly it was a long time coming! My life is far less complicated now because of this and quite frankly, it works for me.

Something else I’ve learned over these past 180 days, is that recovery from depression remains your journey, and yours alone. Yes, it helps to have a support network and to have access to resources. At the end of the day however, you are still responsible for getting yourself up in the morning, honouring your commitments, and you are equally responsible to consider how you would like to respond when you notice that you’re starting to spiral. I do some really stupid shit when I spiral, but I’ve learned that it’s not about being judgmental to my actions in those moments, but rather stopping to reflect on it as soon as possible, slowly working to navigate myself back to a healthier headspace, hopefully a bit sooner than I did last time. It’s very difficult but it has gotten easier over time. The best advice a friend gave me during a spiral day recently, was simply looking me square in the eyes, and saying “STOP IT”, with a cheeky smile. Another friend has reiterated that I “shouldn’t be so mean to her friend”, i.e, if I’m mean to myself, I’m essentially mean to her friend, which is a very sweet idea. These might not apply to and work for all relationships, but it’s helped to have a couple of people who can tell it to me straight when I need a dose of truth tea and when I start going down a rabbit hole of emotions. Similarly, I think I’ve gotten better at being direct and honest with people, which is always a positive.

I’m not going to sit here and say it’s been an easy road so far, but I definitely know myself better than I did six months ago, and for that I’m very thankful today. I’m taking a moment to pause on that and to reflect. My plan moving forward is to continue with the anti-depressants for at least another three months, and to re-evaluate where I am at in March. Let’s see what the doctor says and take things as they come.

Conrad was here.

Drawing closer to six months of depression recovery & sobriety this month.

The end of the year is here and I am inching ever closer to the six month checkup with my GP. I’m happy to report that since taking a break from the blog to focus more energy on my day-to-day recovery, I’ve stuck to my guns and and continued to take my meds each day, while also maintaining my sobriety, though I will say that it has been incredibly challenging, especially in the last month.

Call it a plateau, call it a dip, call it life throwing me a few curveballs in quick succession (To give some context: a work agreement with the first client I signed to my business ended abruptly, I slipped in the shower, hitting my head, arm and cracking open my toe, I got dumped out of the blue by someone I was starting to care about somewhat more than usual, two friends went through serious health scares, one of my housemates’ pets passed away unexpectedly, someone close to me made a life altering revelation to me and me alone, plus, I received a damn traffic fine for R2000 – this was yesterday in fact). No matter what you want to call it, dips remain a part of this thing we call life and I’ve made peace with that. Still pretty shitty to go through.

Like the waves of the ocean, things happen in ebbs and flows, and while the past month has been challenging in terms of external circumstances (essentially, adulting), I haven’t worried about dealing with these events, but rather been more concerned about potentially dropping my guard with regards to important self care boundaries I set up at the start of this journey in June. I have to admit did in fact drop a lot of the boundaries as a result of the external events, but I’m happy to report that with support from friends & family, coaching and therapy, as well as practicing saying no to people, I’ve gradually managed to navigate back out of the rumbling strip and am pointed back in a more positive direction: reaching 6 months of recovery, on December 17th.

For some reason, I managed to get it into my head that sobriety should make the recovery process “easier” or “faster”, make the meds work “better” than usual and would essentially mean that my mood and general energy levels would gradually improve until I was “fixed” from this whole depression experience, so to speak. To be fair, my mood changes were so drastic between months 2 and 4, that I could be forgiven for thinking so in the first place. My doctor was quick to correct this when I saw her regarding the slip in the shower, remarking that in cases with someone who has a family history of depression, it was important to note that a breakdown tends to require at least nine months of treatment, and even then, there are no real guarantees. Would have been useful to know this upfront and before I set my own expectations, but nevertheless, she got the information across without me throwing a fit.

She encouraged me not to assume that after six months everything would be miraculously better, and it did get me to rethink my approach to all of this. It was a bit of a bitter pill to swallow at the time (perhaps because deep down I already knew this, or because she was busy dressing my cracked toenail and I was having a mini meltdown), but I swallowed the pill nonetheless and have once again been reminded of something that has been central to this journey: you can really only take things one day at a time. There is no timeline, no rulebook, no right way to guarantee success. Nothing is promised and that’s ok. This perspective has allowed me to be more appreciative of the little pleasures in my day (which my Instagram has clearly been reflecting in recent weeks).

I also recently came to the realisation that mental health is a tremendously personal thing for everyone, depending on their journey and life story. Sobriety and taking your medication as prescribed naturally doesn’t hinder recovery and is encouraged by healthcare professionals, but I have realised it isn’t possible to apply general recovery principles to large groups of people, or to attempt to give advice to others that should be considered a ‘guaranteed solution’ for the other person, simply because it may have worked for me or made things a little more comfortable for me. I therefore now find pleasure not in giving advice, but rather in learning to be a better listener to the journey of others. I can only share my story and hope that it encourages others to take a step in the direction of mental health prioritisation once they are ready to do so and in their own time.

No other person on this earth can take responsibility for your mental health. Each person has their own journey to go on, and the best I can hope for moving forward is to have as many conversations about mental health as possible, in the process detaching from the self appointed title of “advocate” and essentially just allowing myself to be open to connecting with people who are brave enough to be vulnerable, and from whom I can learn a great deal too.

– Conrad was here.

Taking stock of the things that make me feel worthy, and focusing less energy on the things that don’t.

And no, this isn’t about creating a list of things and people to ‘keep around’ or kick out of my life indefinitely. This is all about prioritising where my energy goes, on a day-to-day basis, to ensure my mental health prioritisation remains at the top of my priority and focus list.

Earlier this week, I watched Brene Brown & Oprah on an older episode of SuperSoul Sunday, and at one point Oprah vocalises (fairly subtly, I might add, before the segment ends), that a feeling of “inherent unworthiness” sits even within her. I mean, damn girl, you’re Oprah freakin’ Winfrey.

Rather than being like me and straight away asking “so if Oprah feels unworthy of love sometimes, should I definitely feel unworthy, as I have achieved much less than she has?” (listen boo, who the hell hasn’t!), on second thought, your approach should also be to look at this through another lens, or from another perspective. I firstly took some time to rather ponder the fact that it is incredible for someone of her stature to have the courage to be this vulnerable, essentially exposing something we all feel, but are scared to talk about, to an audience of millions. My girl Brene Brown can of course do that to you so I’m not surprised.

The change of perspective came from a decision (spontaneously inspired in the middle of the night) to put a list together of the active things, people and influences predominantly adding to a feeling of worthiness, and those adding to this notion of unworthiness. It was a daunting but worthwhile exercise, which gave me great insight into the people and things I’ve “accumulated” (so to speak) in my life so far. This in turn helped me to see just how actively my mental health and general mood gets affected by the people and energy I surround myself with.

While the specific contents of my list will remain mostly anonymous, I do feel comfortable enough to share a few learnings from the journal that struck me as very curious and interesting:

  • I have 26 people in my inner (or day-to-day) circle. That’s a lot, and I should be thankful for that, so I took a moment to express gratitude for this earlier this week. There was a time, at the peak of my depression, that I was convinced nobody cared about me and that if I died, nobody would show up to my funeral. How wrong I was and how dark down the rabbit hole your mental health can take you if it wants to.
  • Out of a list of 26, I realised I have 18 “regularly consistent” people in my inner circle (roughly 70%). These range from friends, family, my therapist, coach, colleagues and even my landlords (ex and current). I have a feeling this is why my mental health recovery has been going so well over the past four months: my support circle is growing stronger by the day, thanks not only to the work I’m putting in, but also to the people I am actively sharing my story with and asking to support me through daily vulnerability.
  • Currently, there are 8 “regularly inconsistent” people in my inner circle. That’s roughly 30%. It might not seem like a lot, but if I had a day of only interacting with those people, I would certainly be drained and my mental health would definitely be compromised. As happy as I am that it isn’t more, it is still hard to see and not to take responsibility for their current situations. I’m a fixer and a do-er, but this has also taught me that people have to take responsibility for their own lives and for my own mental health, I need to be firm. As my therapist put it: “if you have an emergency in the middle of the night, don’t call me, call the ambulance”. This is something that remains a work in progress, but I have to remind myself that I simply cannot continue to recover from depression and still try to be everything to everyone. It is what it is, I am doing my best, and that’s ok.
  • I’d like to clarify that being inconsistent is not a reflection on the people themselves, but more their current circumstances, headspace or the cards that life has dealt them at the moment. This of course does change, and will change over time (people don’t stay in the inconsistent/consistent bracket forever, as I can attest to personally), though I consider it a snapshot of sorts, to give me more clarity about where I am investing my energy, and also subsequently keeping my own mental health in check in the process. All 8 of these people remain part of my “inner circle” and naturally are a priority to me as I love them, but I am just mindful of the energy I am able to invest in them at this stage, having just moved, starting a new chapter in my 30’s, and still being fairly early in my depression recovery, if you look at things holistically. 110 days is not a long time, so I need to be smart about where I invest my energy.
  • I realised that with work, both full-time and my two part-time businesses, I wasn’t able to allocate a “regularly consistent” score, as it remains work, with it’s ups and downs and lack of guarantees. In my twenties I invested too much energy in my work, and that’s all changing now (today, for example, I have taken a day off, and just spent 90 minutes taking a bubble bath for the first time in as far as I can remember). I have set up fixed boundaries with my career, to keep reminding myself that my jobs remain “regularly inconsistent”, can change at any time, and should be prioritised based on where I have capacity to do so. That doesn’t mean I do a bad job or skimp on my clients, as I am still ambitious and get a lot of pride from doing what I do well (just like most of us). If anything, it just means being more strict about when and how I work and ensuring that my mental health is taken care of regardless of the amount of pressure I am under.
  • I did however attribute a “regularly consistent” label to three core parts of my life and wellbeing: MH (mental health), PH (physical health) & SH (spiritual health). These remain as much of a priority as the people who have a “regularly consistent” score (reminder: I should love these aspects as much as I love those people!) and I’ve created a new system to keep track of where I am at each week, which I will share in a future blog post, so watch this space.

I’d like to invite you to try a similar exercise, and having a look at how many things (there really isn’t a better word to use) and people in your life add, or take away from your feeling of worthiness and love, for whatever reason. We all go through the motions, so you don’t need to cut these things out completely, but it certainly helps being self-aware and prioritising your energy in a direction of consistency. Taking stock is the first step towards establishing some clear boundaries in your life and I can attest to the fact that the short and long-term mental health rewards from doing so are vast and quite extraordinary.

Regularly feeling unworthy of love and affection is a struggle for millions of us, and it’s even more amplified if you’re working through or suffering from depression. Always remember that you are loved, and just by waking up this morning, you are worthy of love from yourself, me, and everyone else.

— Conrad was here.

Celebrating 100 days on my self care and depression recovery journey today.

And no, I’m not just posting a “smouldering, bewildered, real time” Instagram selfie to commemorate, haha. Yet another reminder that I shouldn’t just commit on the spot when people set a challenge for me. Next thing I’ll be committing to running a naked mile when I hit 200 days!

Today marks 100 days since I decided to seek treatment for my depression, since I started taking anti-depressants, quit drinking, changed my eating habits and generally just started focusing on my day-to-day self care and self love again. Here we are. I must say, it felt pretty damn good getting up this morning, even though 100 days isn’t that far in and I know the road ahead remains long and bendy. I shouldn’t digress and underplay the day though. It feels pretty damn good to be here this morning, with a smile on my face, after what felt like a situation that I didn’t think I would ever get myself out of. Depression is a beast and it will try to convince you that you can’t do it, but I promise you, you are strong, and with the right tools and support, you can get and will navigate yourself out of the murky waters. There is no ‘quick fix’ solution and I am by no means done – this is simply a small notch on the journey and one that is important to acknowledge and give some energy to.

We rarely celebrate the small victories in life, and today is all about that. I’m going for a coffee toast to #100Days this morning (nothing fancy or major) and I am very excited about doing so. Mental health victories should be celebrated just like career and life milestones, and this is one that I am particularly excited about. Am I a little bummed that I’m not getting a chip with Beyonce’s face on it for being sober for 100 days? Maybe just a little. But the hugs I’ll be requesting from the people I see in person today will certainly make up for that.

All jokes aside, I feel pretty fantastic this morning and am proud of myself for committing to this journey and for getting through the first stretch. The rewards have been vast and far reaching, which you’ll gather if you read some of my other posts. I must say, it has been incredible to get feedback about my journey from all over the world, and to have readers from various parts across the globe. It shows how depression and mental health remains a uniting force for us all, and that it’s something that requires a voice no matter where we are or what stage of life we’re in. Please keep talking about it. Please reach out if you need to. We can tackle this thing together if we remain courageous and proud to be vulnerable each day.

Before I head out to kick off this day, I wanted to take a second to express a sea of gratitude to my friends, family, colleagues and to YOU, for reading the blog and supporting this joy meets vulnerability journey of sass and hot mess-ness (maybe that should be the new tagline for the site) over the past 100 days. It truly means a lot to me.

I need to quickly acknowledge three of the special ladies in my life. Jana, Kate-Lyn & Bianca – you guys keep reminding me that it’s ok to be me. That it’s ok to do you, boo. Along with my family, you guys have been my pillars over these 100 days. You ground me and bring so much joy to my day. I can’t express in words just how much energy I get from my interactions with you, from the small acts of love you bestow on me, and my life is truly better since you guys came along. Thank you for putting up with my Saturday voice notes when I’m on the verge of tears about something as small as a cup (and so much more). Thank you for keeping me on the straight and narrow when I want to make bad self care decisions. Thank you for being your honest selves and for what you mean to me. I say it a lot but I don’t say it lightly: I love you so much, sistrens.

Here’s to getting to 200 days, and continuing to take things one day at a time.

Conrad was here.

It’s impossible to be everything to everyone. How I bounced back from a tough week by defining new personal boundaries.

If you’re a goal-oriented person, you’ll understand the internal struggle that ensues when things in your life start to slip and you realise you can’t juggle as many plates at the same time as you may be used to or have been able to do in the past. There are many factors that contribute to this feeling, but naturally being in a negative headspace (or working through depression) compounds these feelings and could result in you dropping all the plates altogether (been there, done that, got the T-shirt many times).

This week was quite a tricky one in all senses: I was being pulled at all angles from friends, family, work, in my love life and more. We all go through times like this, where navigating our happiness starts to feel like a bit of an impossibility and it just seems like there is too much going on to be able to cope as we normally would. I felt like this all through the week and knew I wasn’t coping as early as Monday, when I had the infamous Squillos relapse, something I’ve made peace with and forgiven myself for (go kindly, go gently, Conrad). I kept trying to convince myself that I could scrape through the week of course, and I did, but only because of a couple of cups of “truth tea” from my friends, colleagues and of course, my therapist. A bunch of people approached me privately about seeming out of sorts this week and I must say I appreciated them noticing, though it didn’t make me feel any closer to that ultimate goal – making it to my annual review meeting at work at 3pm on Friday. I eventually crawled there, only to have the sentiment I had heard all week echoed: Conrad, you’re taking on too much. Not everything has to happen right now. Not everything has to happen on your timeline, Conrad. This is a lesson I constantly have to remind myself about, and I push back to it so feverishly, as naturally I like to control things. I’m trying to appreciate it more when things are in the natural flow and where it feels like there is a good balance between the various aspects in my life, but if I’m honest, I can’t say that I’ve ever felt like I’ve had full control over all aspects of my life. I think the very idea of it is a farce, and a source of great shame for myself and for many of us.

I don’t want to simply brush past the most important lesson and learning from this week, which I reflected on quite a bit on the beach this morning. I’ve been taking on too much, and even went as far as to request more responsibilities at work in my review feedback(!), even knowing that I needed to scale down. My therapist says that when I’m anxious, I get busy, and this is so true. I’ll say yes to everything, everyone and ultimately shift and lose all focus on my personal wellbeing. It is so important to know your limits; to be weary of the signs when things start to slip, and to try to not get too far ahead of yourself. I constantly have to remind myself that not everything has to happen on the same, single day, and that there is often a trade off between making time for friends and family vs. time for my business, for example. Its not an exact science and you constantly need to engage in an exchange of your time, managing relationships and dynamics as you go, and you walk a tightrope, hoping you’re making the right decision at that particular time (cue: living on a prayer). It doesn’t always work and isn’t always emotionally convenient. I look at my business like a baby for example – it’s two years old after all (terrible two’s? hope not), so does that mean it needs more attention than my family does? Sometimes the answer is yes, because I am responsible for it and myself, and that’s OK. I try not to beat myself up about prioritising certain parts of my life when I need to but am also constantly trying to be everything to everyone. This is not sustainable and something I should consider tattooing to my forehead, as I seem to forget it more often than I remind myself of it.

So what did I actually do this week, in order to scale back on all the commitments, you ask? I started by defining some new personal boundaries, including:

  • Not arriving at work earlier than 9am, and ensuring I leave at 5:30pm. I failed at this on Tuesday, for which I was called out by my colleagues who know what I’m trying to do, though I will say I stayed longer for something fun at least (a cupcake decorating competition at the office). On Monday I was there for 11 hours and I felt the burn when I got home. It’s not a good look (#boybye).
  • Committing to not adding more social commitments to my schedule this week. That included telling my work wife that I couldn’t do dinner with her after work on Friday, even though we haven’t spent much time together for nearly two weeks. That of course, after I asked her to get together! I was simply getting busier when I should have focused on resting. I’m happy to report that last night I ate copious amounts of popcorn and watch half a season of Friends, something which gave me great joy and something I want to do more of.
  • Postponing the gym classes I wanted to attend this week until after I have moved next weekend. I figured a change in routine would be best once I’m settled in my new environment after October. I’m also exploring going to a yoga class as a meditative activity, and having never done a yoga class, I’m quite excited about it. While physical activity is important, I do make sure I walk 5km on the beach each weekend, so I told myself that the time simply wasn’t right for me to increase my physical activity and that’s ok. One day at a time.
  • Leaving all my daily prep and organisation for early in the morning, when I’m awake and productive, rather then stressing myself out to get organised when I get home after a long day of work. Nothing is going to happen if my lunch isn’t packed the night before. I can also get home and relax and that’s cool too.
  • Deactivating most notifications on my cellphone, so I don’t get so distracted and consumed during the day. This has been a growing concern since I got a new phone and started getting active on social media again. I was quiet on social media for almost 2 years (I used to have accounts with thousands of followers, which I deleted at the peak of my depression), so it’s a new change for me to be back out there so to speak and telling a new story about myself.
  • Another genius boundary I set, was implementing a daily “do not disturb” setting on my cellphone which silences calls and messages between 22h00 and 06h00, so I can try get 8 hours of sleep. I haven’t been sleeping so well, which has meant that my mood and energy levels have been suffering. I’m also switching my cell off for an hour a day, from 6 – 7pm, so I can enjoy dinner in peace and reflect on the day, rather than feeling pressured to get back to friends, family or a love interest. I can only do so much. Thankfully, with the iOS 12 update this week, I’ve also been able to start tracking screen time, to see just how many times in a day I pick up my phone and how long I spend on which app. I must say it’s kinda scary seeing the stats from the last couple of days, but it’s something I’m keeping an eye on! The feature allows you to disable apps for certain times during the day and I’m hoping I can stop myself from checking social media as the first thing I do when I get up in the morning. What would be better? 10 minutes of quiet time in bed (#goals).
  • Sticking to one cup of coffee a day, knowing that it affects my anxiety levels if I consume more than that. Yesterday, I broke out in a sweat from a single cappuccino (I had a good chuckle with some of my colleagues about this), yet another indicator that caffeine really isn’t good for me on a day when I’m feeling anxious to begin with.
  • Deactivating my Tinder card and letting my matches know that I’m taking a bit of time to myself this week, and that I would be more quiet than usual. Of course this meant people thought I unmatched them and that I wasn’t interested anymore, but quite frankly, I can’t be bothered and they can stay pressed. This was a liberating exercise, as it has felt very overwhelming managing so many new relationships and interests (I liken it to holding a flower in your hand for each match, and readjusting as the wind blows it around your palm, while you have very little context what the hell they’re feeling or busy going through). It has made me more anxious than ever. This can be a fairly emotionally draining process in many senses too as I am a romantic at my core. I love hard, I connect easily and invest quickly, something that is a work in progress and something I am trying to manage to the best of my abilities.
  • Committing to 3 solo lunch breaks a week at work. Recently I’ve discovered that I’m spending my lunch break with someone else pretty much every day of the week, which can be fun, but also draining, depending on who it is and what we talk about. I’m naturally inquisitive and like offering advice, but I forget that I sometimes take on the burden of someone else sharing with me. This is part of a gift of connecting with people which I am so appreciative of, but I also know that I have to be careful. Being Cancerian (i.e the crab), I know that I often need to “go into my shell” so to speak, and need some time to myself to reflect and write, so I’m making a new commitment to myself to only spend two lunch breaks a week with other people. As for the rest, I’ll take my friend Kate-Lyn’s advice, and simply “do whatever the fuck I want to” that day. I’ve also earned to right to do what feels right and to go with the flow where possible.
  • Learning to say “I’ll do my best to try do that for you”, rather than “yes, I’ll definitely do that for you”. Thank you to Alice, the head of the marketing department at work, for giving me this inspirational advice yesterday. I am so used to overcommitting and over stretching myself and wanting to get to everything and everyone. I don’t have to say yes and am also allowed to think about things. This is not something I need to explain extensively as a lot of us struggle with it, but it remains something I need to remind myself of and put into practice daily.

Are you feeling like your batteries are running a little low? If so, have a think about some boundaries you can set in your day, that will help to simplify things for you too. They can be as rigid or strict as you allow them to be, as long as you show yourself some kindness along the way.

As for the rest of the weekend, I’m happy to do whatever brings me the most joy, and also to spend some time focusing on the fact that I made it through a difficult week, with a couple of big personal victories.

Conrad was here.

 

Slipping up as I kick off month 4 of depression recovery, but making an active effort to bounce back sooner rather than later.

I could feel it coming on, but didn’t quite know how or when it would play out.

I used to have two favourite stress coping mechanisms: alcohol and food binges. I’ve discussed abstaining from alcohol until December quite extensively in previous posts, so I thought I’d give some time and weight to the latter. Wait, I have to give some time to the latter, as I slipped up yesterday and have a few things on my mind about it.

At the peak of my depression over the last few years, I was, almost daily, ploughing my body with unhealthy food. I would eat pizza at least 4 days a week, and take regular (daily) trips to different supermarkets to buy sweets, sugary cereal and as much chocolate as I could lay my hands on. I’d usually buy the same kinds of foods in the same period – almost in routine fashion. The list would be small but the items would always be in excess. A chocolate bar wouldn’t be enough, it would have to be a slab. One pizza wouldn’t be enough, it would have to be two, thick based doozies with so much oil I could start a fucking mine (ok maybe I’m being a bit dramatic). Since I started my depression recovery, I’ve been meticulous about eating healthily, cooking meals for myself and cutting down on the sugar, all in an effort to see how it would affect my mood and ability to get into a better mental and emotional space. Naturally this has had a great effect on my health, including the fact that I’ve dropped over 13kg’s, but I knew that temptation still loomed around the corner (this process isn’t a straight line after all), and I was wondering when it would be knocking on my door.

This is how I knew I was heading for a relapse of sorts in terms of the binge eating and it’s worth noting so I can feel it coming on in the future:

  • My sleeping pattern has been irregular again for the past week or so. I’ve been waking up very early (in the 4am region) and my body has required more sleep as I’ve been ill with flu for the past week. My mind hasn’t been able to switch off efficiently.
  • I missed therapy last week due to being ill, and I thought that taking a two week break between sessions would be ok, but not having the release and opportunity to share openly in a safe space (even if just for an hour) has shown me that it is not a good idea for me to go for an extended period of time without a session. That, coupled with travelling, clearly took a toll, regardless of how enjoyable my trip was.
  • I woke up and operated in militant fashion yesterday morning. I cleaned the apartment, organised my schedule by-the-hour (always a no-no, as you simply can’t maintain a 6am-6pm schedule in such a way without at least one thing being thrown out), got to work two hours early (dude!), and still expected that I would be able to get to everything I needed to and in the exact order that I had planned. Ironically, I also decided to preach to two people at work about spending too much time at the office (the nerve). Needless to say, by 3pm, I was fried and I couldn’t concentrate. Not only that, but I ended up staying late, until close to 6pm, meaning I had 11 hours at the office, something I used to do when I was in corporate and a promise I made to myself I wouldn’t do ever again, no matter how many companies I started or ventures I worked on, or how many adventures my career took me on.
  • I’m supporting a bunch of my friends through some murky waters, which is something I take on gladly and feel is part of a natural gift of connection, but also something that can take a toll and something I need to manage. It is so important for me to create boundaries in these situations, as I can get quite swept up, and distract myself from self care in the process. I’ve recently found myself worrying more and more about others, and slowly diverting attention away from my depression recovery, which contributed to what went down last night for sure.

For a bit of context I’ll tell you a bit about how I used to operate. In the past, I would feel awful and stressed, go buy alcohol and a ton of sugary food, switch my phone off for the rest of the day and simply lock myself away from the world, stuffing my face and numbing the pain with booze. This was my primary coping mechanism. I wasn’t on any kind of anti-depressant, wasn’t in therapy, didn’t have a coach, didn’t write, didn’t express myself in any kind of positive way. I’m happy to report that I didn’t fall into the same trap exactly yesterday, but it got awfully close and it was a nice reminder that I may not be doing as well as I’m projecting to people that I’m doing.

On the way home last night, after sitting in unusually long traffic thanks to the rain, I decided to stop at the local supermarket, ready to buy my one true kryptonite – a chocolate cereal box called Squillos, essentially a sugar laced, chocolate cereal with no nutritional value. I went through a phase in university where I ate a box of the stuff in a day and my weight spiralled from doing so. A whole box a day, yes. It had terrible consequences physically, not only to my appearance but in terms of my digestive health and I would feel bloated and tired all the time, compounding my depressive thoughts. As I was stopping at the supermarket, beating myself up for being so weak and not being able to resist the temptation, I kept thinking you know what you’re about to do, you know that there are always consequences when you do and in true human form (we are all flawed after all) I went in anyway and happily swiped my card for what certainly wasn’t an act of self care.

Let me paint you a picture. I went into the shop, grabbed what was the last box of the poison on the shelf (seems other people also like eating this crap), walked past the bakery section and grabbed two plain scones (because a box of cereal just wouldn’t be enough), along with a small Lindt dark chocolate bar, as well as a Tex milk chocolate bar. I approached the counter rather sheepishly, feeling guilty and ashamed that I was allowing myself to do this again, and ended up marching out of the store and home, avoiding eye contact where possible. It felt like a heroin addict getting a fix! What subsequently followed, was me switching my cell off – in fact, I had done it while sitting in traffic – hell bent that “tonight was my night” and “I didn’t give a shit” and I didn’t want to have to deal with anything. I got home, avoided my landlady, shut the curtains, threw all my things down (I didn’t even put my bag inside the cupboard, threw it on the floor), put PJ’s on with much effort, plonked myself in bed, put on an episode of Intervention (ironic, I know) and ploughed through the food in the space of a few minutes. Scones and chocolate down, I decided to tackle the cereal. I ate one cup of the stuff, and something told me that I needed to stop.

I think I realised that there would be consequences to a binge like this, and I simply didn’t want to put myself through more pain just because I was numbing my anxiety. There have always been consequences to a binge, especially when alcohol is involved, not only because I would treat people I care about like shit without feeling bad, but also because it compounded my depressive thoughts and usually meant that I would take a day or two to recover. It simply throws everything out and derails any progress in true all or nothing fashion and I hate that it’s such a big deal to me, but it is, and that’s part of the path that I am walking now.

Something changed in my head ahead of pouring the second cup of cereal. I got up, and poured out the rest of the box into the trash, and threw it away. This was a big moment for me. Don’t get me wrong, I was still feeling like I had stuffed my face, but I loved myself enough to stop and to attempt to regroup before totally spiralling. I switched my phone back on, it had been about two hours, and I had a bunch of messages, including one from my work friend Dan, who had tracked down a link to Robin Williams’ documentary about his life. Winning. A small victory, but a victory nevertheless. If I hadn’t changed my tune, I wouldn’t have been able to watch the documentary for the rest of the night (cell would have been off), I would have woken up feeling like shit, and also missed out on a couple of great conversations over the course of the night. A nice reminder that there is so much to be missed out on if you shut yourself away and numb your feelings. Reaching out and talking to people when I felt like this, hell, even writing about it now, is a better alternative and helps me to gain better insight and understanding around my depression and how I’m navigating it day-to-day.

I’m reminded now to keep being gentle and kind to myself as I tackle the rest of the week. Did last night mean I didn’t pack away the washing? Yes. Did last night mean I didn’t replace my car licence that arrived in the post, like I planned to? Of course. Did last night mean I didn’t was all the dishes like usual? Yeah. Did last night mean I didn’t plan out my Tuesday? Absolutely. I lose quite a bit of control over my day-to-day when I get into the militant, stressed mode and it’s almost like I’m just trying to get through, almost zombie-ish and unaware of the fact that I’m spreading myself too thin.

Sure, last night had some consequences for how I’m starting my day, but are they all bad? No. I might have woken up at 3am, but here I am, writing and sharing and showing that the journey is not all rainbows and butterflies. I want to give last night sufficient weight, and acknowledge that it’s something I should address in therapy today, but better than that, I know now that I have to be kinder to myself going into this new day. Here’s what I’m focusing on today:

  • Go into work when you’re supposed to, no earlier, no later. Yes, stay for the cupcake-making competition the HR manager is organising so excitedly for 5pm (yes that’s sarcastic but you know my sass game is real), but don’t stay longer than 30 minutes.
  • Avoid scheduling each second of your day. Write a few things down and tackle those if you’re able to. Don’t be too harsh on what you’re able to achieve today.
  • Prioritise getting to therapy today and play open cards in the session. Remind your therapist just how important your sessions are to your mental health prioritisation and that you’re worrying about the sessions coming to an end in 5 weeks.
  • You don’t need to eat rabbit food today to counter that you had a binge last night. You’re giving it enough time and energy by bringing it to light today. Pack a healthy lunch and grab a cappuccino with a slice of milk tart if you feel like it. It’s cool that you didn’t pack your lunch last night, you can forgive yourself. Yesterday was yesterday, you should acknowledge that you stumbled, but that you also recovered quite quickly, which is a great thing.
  • Remind yourself today that you can only do so much and that you’ve been doing incredibly these last few months. There are so many great things in your life, and there is so much to be thankful for. Your life is so different than it was a year ago. Remember, this is only the beginning! Keep going.
  • Shame passes, but resilience breeds momentum.

Conrad was here.