Why it’s a big deal that I got up and cleaned the apartment today.

I may have needed some encouragement from Sam Smith (I literally played “Burning” on repeat while cleaning) but I managed to get myself up this morning to clean the apartment, not because I had to, but because I actually wanted to.

This is an important revelation, as when you’re suffering from depression, everything in your life feels like a have to. I have to show up to the family gathering. I have to go to the party. I have to put on a brave face at work. You literally lose touch with the things that you actually want to do. The big deal and the victory for me was that for the first time in a very long time, I actually wanted to clean as part of a self care promise I had made to myself yesterday.

I got up with quite a debilitating headache, and I figured I was in for a low day, but around 9am I decided it was time to spring into action. This is clearly a departure from three weeks ago, where I couldn’t even get up from out of bed to throw in a load of washing. It was therapeutic in a way, being focused on a single task, and knowing that I was doing something that would bring happiness to my day. I feel really good having achieved something, having taken a proactive step to clean my living space, and giving myself room (physically and emotionally) to carry on with the good momentum I’ve been generating as part of my recovery and treatment.

I’m learning to appreciate the small things and to remember to acknowledge my victories, no matter how small they may be. One foot in front of the other.

Conrad was here.

 

Summarising the changes in my life since starting with treatment for my depression 20 days ago.

I’m almost three weeks into starting treatment for my depression, which has included consulting with a GP, being put on an anti-depressant and anxiety medication, telling my colleagues, friends and family, as well as attending two therapy sessions and joining a local support group in my area. This morning I woke up feeling better than before, like a weight had been lifted in a way, and I wonder if it means the medication is starting to yield some positive effects at long last. I was told it would take four to six weeks, but everybody is different and I’d like to believe that the lifestyle changes I have made (in terms of eating healthily and cutting out alcohol completely) have also contributed to me feeling a lot better than I did a few weeks ago.

I wanted to utilise this positive momentum this morning, by reflecting on some of the changes in my life since I came to terms with my depression, got a formal diagnosis and started what I know will be a long road to recovery. There have been a few interesting changes in these last few weeks, which I’d like to summarise for you quickly.

  • The first major change has been a change in appetite and subsequent weight loss. The medication has really hit my system hard in a way, and the nausea doesn’t allow for you to be hungry too much, which means sometimes eating half a meal, or cooking something and putting it back in the fridge for the next day. I have been making an effort to include more fruit and vegetables in my diet and as I mentioned I’ve cut alcohol out of my diet completely for the six months that I have committed to the anti-depressants. What has resulted, is more than one person mentioning that I’ve lost some weight, which I double checked on the scale, and interestingly enough I am down about 3.5kg’s already. I have been a little bit overweight for a while as a result of self medication (unhealthy eating and binge drinking) and while I want to manage how quickly the weight is coming off, I also am happy that my body is returning back to a level where I am confident and will soon feel like my ‘old’ (renewed) self.
  • This week was my first week back at work, and there have been some real struggles with concentration and motivation to get to work tasks. I showed up for four out of five workdays this week, which is a victory in itself, and found that the medication not only makes it difficult to concentrate, but also causes blurry vision at times. This doesn’t help when your work requires you to stare at a computer screen most of the day. I tried to cut myself some slack and the focus was really just on getting through the first week. Next week, I will try and add more tasks to my to do list, and go from there. Thankfully my employer is happy for me to take it a day at a time.
  • One of the interesting changes that I had very little control over was a definite increase in support from colleagues, friends and family. After playing open cards about my diagnosis, my inner circle has really stepped it up, checking in and opening up to me about some of the struggles they have been going through too. For me, this has been major not only because it’s brought me closer to people I had isolated for so long, but because it also helps my recovery and to bring back that feeling that I can connect with people again. This has always been one of the core gifts of my personality and is something I am making an active effort to start nurturing again, even if that means a quick heart emoji to my best friend at the start of the day. Less can truly be more in certain situations.
  • I’ve started a new phase of exploring, rather than active decision making. This is in part due to advice from my therapist and working through some professional hurdles in my life, but it is worth mentioning nevertheless. I’m usually someone who makes decisions quite quickly, or is able to change course in life rather spontaneously and based on a hunch or an impulse. Usually it means I write a lot of notes and in essence make myself more anxious in the process. The beauty of the recovery journey with depression is that you can start exploring again. What do I like to do? Is this job offering me what I want? Am I someone who attracts selfish energy? Am I too harsh with my family? and other questions have started to come up, and it’s given me a chance to really “dream” a little about the things I like and dislike in my life. I don’t need to make any decisions about my career, or any big plans at this stage, I simply have to take time to explore and continue on what is a new chapter in my journey of self discovery.
  • The biggest change so far, has been truly starting to live life day-by-day. It’s an old cliche for a reason, because it’s true. I’ve mentioned previously that depression recovery does not happen in a straight line. While today might be a good day, tomorrow I could be stuck in bed again until noon. You learn to appreciate the small and simple tasks in your day, and to acknowledge when you’ve had a victory in your day. This morning, my plan was simply to go buy banana’s at the grocery store when I got up. I ended up buying a bunch of groceries, and in fact spending a little less than I anticipated, so I decided to treat myself to a cappuccino at the local coffee shop nearby. When I sat down, I felt an urge to call my mom, and we “had coffee” so to speak (the power of modern technology), reflecting a bit on the week and on the latest happenings at Wimbledon. On the way home, I decided to take a detour and go for a walk on the beach, something I have been avoiding for weeks and something I haven’t had the energy to do. When I got home, my landlady was reading the newspaper on the verandah and we had a nice fifteen minute chat. What started out as a morning of just buying banana’s, turned into one where I had so many great blessings and ultimately built up the strength to sit down and share this post. If you give over control and start to live in the moment, things slowly start to move in another direction. Who knows what tomorrow will bring, but I will deal with it when I get there. For now, I am happy to have had a wonderful morning.

Conrad was here.

Why I took more time off from work after being back at the office for two days.

Simply put, it’s because depression recovery doesn’t happen in a straight line. You can be juggling a bunch of recovery “tools” of sorts, (therapy, meditation, antidepressants, etc.) with the expectation that things will get better quickly, and still wake up on any given morning in a state of total apathy.

This is something I had been told by friends who also suffer with depression, and by people who had gone on anti-depressants and anxiety medication, but I wanted to believe that taking two weeks off from work would be enough, and that by eating right and resting enough, I would start to feel strong enough for things to return “to normal” (so to speak) sooner rather than later.

This is not the case. With depression, there are good days and there are bad days and these continue all through the recovery process. Yesterday was one of those bad days, where I didn’t sleep much the night before, as the meds were wreaking havoc on my system. I was umm-ing and ahh-ing about going in for a while after I woke up, but luckily my manager at work advised me that it was best to rest and to remember that I had made a lot of good progress in the space of a short time. I’m aware that not many people will be as lucky, especially after already being off for two weeks, but I’m appreciative to have an open relationship with the team at work and for the ability to speak freely about what I’m going through. It certainly makes it easier to cope, especially on a days when its a little harder than usual to get up.

So why didn’t I go to my GP yesterday if my system was acting up? Firstly, because apparently it is one of the side effects of the medication. I’ve found that the symptoms are amplified when I mix the anti-depressant and the anxiety medication so I’m being overly cautious about that. It usually results in an instant headache and a loss of appetite, which I’m trying to get used to, but it isn’t easy. The second reason I didn’t go to my GP right away, was because she is on leave for two weeks. I can hear your thoughts already – why not just go to someone else? – but it is another one of the effects of depression, where the stigma attached to the disease makes you believe it’s simply too exhausting to have to explain it to another GP. I know there are good doctors out there, but when it comes to mental health issues, I’ve only encountered a handful that make it a priority and even speak to you about it openly and willingly. I simply didn’t have the strength to go to someone new yesterday, and opted to rather focus on resting and getting through the day in the best way possible. I ended up taking two meetings and sleeping for a majority of the day, which isn’t ideal, but it is what it is.

I’m back at the office today, attempting to get back into the swing of things. I had a session yesterday with my business coach, which was very effective, and she’s helping me find some new techniques to better manage how I respond to stressful day-to-day situations and I hope I can apply these tools to my workdays moving forward. I’ve also got another therapy session this afternoon, which work is happy for me to leave early for. Baby steps, as I’ve said before. One day at a time.

Conrad was here.

First day back at work: check.

My first day back at work since I was diagnosed with depression was both wonderful and incredibly weird.

It was wonderful because of being back around the positive energy at work and I felt the love from both the direct team I work with and the extended company team as well. Lots of people came in for a quick hug and to say they were happy to have me back, but very few people discussed my diagnosis with me, which I think is testament to the fact that there is still so much stigma attached to opening up about depression. Nobody knows how to approach the topic and it was evident that some people were uncomfortable discussing it, especially in an open plan environment. I did have a few private conversations with people, and quite frankly thought I would be able to speak more freely about it, but in many ways the victory for the day was showing up, and not necessarily starting a conversation about mental health just quite yet. It’s something I’d like to get to once I’m back in a better routine as it is something that is a part of my journey now, though I didn’t want to rush anything on a day that I felt a little out of sorts.

The weird part of the day was not ploughing through e-mails or sitting in a few meetings, it was how much I struggled to concentrate as a result of the anti-depressants. I found myself zoning out quite a bit, unable to really apply myself to a single task, rather being a bit frazzled and frantic and trying to get to a bunch of different things at the same time. I had a small stint of anxiety in the middle of the day but I managed it without having to involve anyone else. For day two, the approach is to tackle a few specific tasks but not to push myself too much. While my anxiety levels have been manageable over the last day or so, I can definitely feel it kicking up a gear when I start to think about also managing my work contracts as part of my business (which I run on a part-time basis) and throwing more only my plate at this stage. I’ve got to find a way to better manage my time and also not jump straight back into 150% like I had been operating at previously, as I’ve got to start showing more kindness to myself and being more strict about my limitations.

Another learning from yesterday was that I’ll need to take care with how I manage my meals back at the office. I didn’t pack a particularly big lunch, anticipating that my appetite would be low as it has been in the days prior, but I ended up being rather ravenous by lunch time, which was a first since I started taking medication two weeks ago. It resulted in me buying a muffin and drinking a second cappuccino, which was a big mistake. The caffeine really did not do well with my system, and I was up very late and quite ill and nauseous both last night and this morning. I can only take it as a lesson and a learning and adjust how I operate moving forward. This morning I packed a sandwich, three pieces of fruit and will only be drinking Rooibos tea today. Managing recovery from depression, especially when you’re on medication, definitely requires some lifestyle changes and adjusting on a day-to-day basis. Certain foods are just not going to agree with the medication, and it is up to you to do your research, try a few things, and see what works for you. I’m still figuring it out but am very aware of how an excess of sugar and caffeine wreaks havoc on my system now.

The good news is that I showed up for day two of work and am taking today as it comes. It’s the best I can do for now.

Conrad was here.

Going back to work two weeks after I was diagnosed with depression.

Or so I hope. I’m doing everything I can today to get myself into the right headspace before my alarm goes off tomorrow. I did my best to set aside two hours today to get to some life admin, including going out to buy groceries, buying a few overdue birthday presents (I had three friends celebrate their birthdays in the last two weeks while I was out of action) and throwing in the washing. I guess a major plus is that two weeks ago today I was in such a bad state that I spent the whole day in bed, weighed down by my depression, unable to even do something as simple as a load of washing. Getting to it today has got to count for some kind of progress over and above every now and then feeling lighter and laughing a bit more spontaneously than usual over the last couple of days. There are definitely some baby steps in the right direction.

Let me clarify that there is no outside pressure for me to return to work tomorrow, it’s simply that I feel guilt and pressure for already being away from ongoing projects for two weeks. The friends who visited me on my birthday on Friday all reiterated that I should take as much time as I need and I’m being stubborn and finding it hard to listen to them. Friday was a euphoric day of sorts, turning a new leaf and starting a new chapter as I kicked off my 30’s. In a way my mind tricked me into thinking I was further along than I was as a result of the amazing day, and I did feel a bit of a dip yesterday once all the fuss was over.

Full disclosure – this morning, as much as I did all the tasks I mentioned at the start of the post, it took me until noon to get up from bed. Noon. Sure, the win for the day is that I got up at all, but it’s still a little daunting to realise that recovery from depression really is a day-to-day process and it is something you have very little (if any) control over. This is not just something I can take a few pills for and hope for the best. As I’ve mentioned previously, it’s a lifestyle change, it’s making smarter decisions about what I’m putting into my body and constantly checking in with myself about where my mental health is at. I’m now at the 14 day mark in terms of being on medication, so apparently I’m meant to feel better by now, and in a way I do, but I must say it was also extremely exhausting being back out in public and I struggled to enjoy what I was doing – I had to go into militant get it done mode just to get through my errands, earphones in and not really wanting to talk to anyone.

So how am I feeling about going back to work tomorrow? Scared. It will be the first time I’m facing everyone after admitting my diagnosis publicly and I’m sure people have been talking about it. I’m not worried about how anyone will react towards me, I’m more worried about how I’ll react being around everyone again. As you can tell, I still find it very overwhelming being in loud and busy spaces and I worry that it may all be a little bit overwhelming. I think the approach has to be different. I can’t go back and expect to perform at the same level of intensity and efficiency as I’m used to. I have to adjust my thinking. By operating at 150% I got to breaking point in the first place. I’ll need to start prioritising tasks based on a slower schedule and working my way back into what can be quite a high pressure (high performing) team environment. At least this time around I’m armed with the knowledge that nothing trumps my mental health, and I’ll slowly start practicing saying no to meetings and projects that I know will be too taxing in that sense.

That said, there’s also no better time than the present to pull the bandaid off. I have to be open to fact that recovery from depression is not a linear process and doesn’t slowly go from bad to good to great in a straight line. There are good days and there are bad days. I’ll have a lot more of both and it’s something I’ll have to get used to living with. All I can do is try my best, and as a good friend of mine told me, “just show up”. Gonna do my best. 

Conrad was here.