– Conrad was here.
– Conrad was here.
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’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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
Conrad was here.
It’s hard to believe it’s already been three months since I started a new journey of mental health prioritisation, and so much has changed in my life since undertaking this process. While it remains a difficult process to navigate, there have been some incredible rewards from the work so far, including getting closer with my friends & family, opening up about mental health and depression and connecting with people from all walks of life, getting back out there and starting to date again, as well as generally waking up with a willingness to tackle the day; something that certainly wasn’t the case back in June.
This week was one of the more testing weeks for me, as I got sick with the flu for the first time this year and knew it would throw off my routine. There were two key observations from getting ill that I wanted to share with you quickly today. The first, was that I used to get sick with precision in August of each year (my GP commented on this a year or two ago). I would reach burnout from not taking sufficient leave and getting enough rest, and my body would shut down like clockwork. We’re in September now, so it seems the spell has been broken (is this something I should celebrate?), and prioritising my self care has meant that instead of reaching breaking point from working too hard, my body has now simply had to adjust to the change of season. Secondly, my recovery from the flu has been twice as fast as it was anytime I can recall in my twenties. This would also be spurred on my the fact that I maintained a healthy diet this week and that my immune system – which is certainly stronger now than it was six months ago – can handle things far better. I started feeling ill on Tuesday, and by Friday I was feeling how I would usually be feeling after a week (my fever had subsided and I was just a little bit superficially congested still).
Getting ill also usually took a heavy toll on my mental health, and I would bomb out for days on end. While it wasn’t a total walk in the park, and I did go through my dips having to be in bed for a few days, I certainly feel like I managed the process a bit better and it felt like my mind, body and spirit were working together to try get me back to a healthier place. I also accepted help in places I wouldn’t have previously: I asked my friend Kate-Lyn to drive me to the pharmacy on Tuesday when I was feeling faint (ok, she insisted, but it was also a good sign that I could put my pride and stubbornness aside to accept I couldn’t do something on my own). Am I feeling 100% this morning? Not quite, and I don’t want to bullshit you into thinking it’s been a walk in the park. But I’m certainly closer to my happy, bubbly self than I would have been otherwise and I am thankful for that this morning.
Now that we’re heading into month four of my journey with depression recovery, I wanted to check in about the mental health goals I set for myself back in June. It was the first thing that popped into my head this morning and I was curious to see how I would feel about the goals I set for myself at the start of this process:
So where am I at with these? As I mentioned, I haven’t had a drop to drink in 90 days, which quite frankly has had a tremendous effect on my mental health. I’ve been far more consistent and stable as a result and this is something that remains non-negotiable for me until I finish up 6 months of treatment. I have decided however, that even if I continue with taking anti-depressants next year, I’ll still allow myself the freedom to enjoy a glass of champagne or a drink as part of a celebration: I simply don’t see it as a realistic “it must never happen” parameter for myself. Where I started getting problems was from falling into a routine of drinking and not dealing with the issues in my life, or the day-to-day stresses I’ve encountered. Quite frankly, I also want to be able to enjoy the moments! It’s all about the how and why, and not drinking so I don’t have to deal with problems. This is something I’ll keep revisiting, especially as December creeps ever closer.
I’m not gonna lie, meditation has been difficult prioritise, and although I’ve talked to others about it, including talking to my coach about it, I just haven’t been pulled towards it enough to feel like it’s worth my while. Well, pulled towards it in the traditional sense. I downloaded apps, tried Youtube, got up early to meditate, tried it in the evenings, but it just didn’t stick for me over these three months. So I allowed myself some freedom. Time to readjust and not be so rigid (YAAS). Freedom to wake up and listen to music! Freedom to put on a playlist and dance my ass off (I literally am starting to feel like a contestant on a 90’s MTV dance show, Wade Robson comes to mind). Freedom to sit in my thoughts and to use music as a meditative reflection. Hell, I’m even listening to a playlist now as I write this post. Is it meditation in the traditional sense? I’m not so sure and that’s OK. Whatever it is, is allowing my mind to wander and for me to dream a little again, which is definitely a positive and something that might not work for everyone, but is working for me.
I’ve taken my meds for 90 days straight and haven’t missed a day, which I am very proud about. Friends and colleagues have opened up to me about how terrible it affects them when they miss their medication, so I try to be pedantic about this. I had a particular small victory that I’d like to mention here as well. My Nuzak prescription comes in packets of 30, so I have to go to the doctor once a month to collect the refill of the prescription. It’s also a nice way to keep track of how long I’ve been taking the meds. This week, having been ill and in bed, I did what I usually wouldn’t do (as I like sorting things out on my own usually), and asked my landlady if she would pick up the prescription for me, as I was too ill to go to the doctor on my own on Thursday. Not only a good exercise in knowing my limits and knowing when I’m too ill to be out and about, but also a good chance to normalise the process of collecting anti-depressants, talking about it to someone outside of my family, and being comfortable with them lending me a helping hand. Needless to say I appreciated her helping out greatly and it was also somewhat of a bonding experience for us on some level too. Simply put, reaching out is the way to go.
Therapy has been amazing, and I’ve completed 10 out of the 15 approved sessions through my medical aid PMB benefits. I still stand firm that therapy is a hugely positive tool for depression recovery, and if you have a good fit in terms of the therapist-patient dynamic (as I am lucky enough to have), hang on to it. This week I was too ill to go to my session, which made me very sad on the day and was quite the source of anxiety, but I also had to realise that taking care of myself meant not driving 40 minutes to town when I was rocking a fever and feeling like I was going to faint. Has there been a positive to doing this? Health-wise, absolutely. Has it given me some more time to think about what we talked about in the session last week? Absolutely. It also has given me the freedom to process a few conversations I had with family on my vacation last week, which were enlightening, helped me learn more about myself and them, and also brought us all closer. Nothing is a good or a bad thing exclusively.
I’ve certainly also worked hard to keep talking about mental health prioritisation to others, but it always feels like there is more work to be done. By starting up my new venture, Delve Deeper Coaching, and signing my first client, I have been further encouraged to keep talking to people about their mental health and having daily conversations. I’ve tried to listen more, and speak less (something that can be hard at times)! Checking in with someone about their mental health doesn’t need to be as formal as a session or even a sit down coffee with someone. You can simply take a minute or two to check in with a friend at the start of their day, or with a colleague in the kitchen at work, or if you bump into them in the parking lot before saying goodbye for the day. We don’t need to make mental health this big elephant in the room. We don’t need to set aside boardrooms and schedule meetings to talk about it. I believe my advocacy is making a positive contribution because it pops up naturally and spontaneously during the course of the day. Did I wake up feeling good this morning, and by lunch I was flat for some reason? Sure, it happens, but now I’m actually talking about it at work, I’m communicating my feelings to others in a non-disruptive way, in an attempt for them to also better understand the journey and to possibly learn something about their own journey too.
Last of all, have I been writing three blog posts a week? If you’re following the blogs, you’ll know that this has not been the case and I usually post once a week. This has largely been due to the fact that my therapist challenged me to keep myself in check on the blog (she knows me well enough). She expressed a concern a while ago that I might be putting too much “PR spin” on my writing (I work in marketing after all so it happens!) and she encouraged me to write from a place of authenticity and vulnerability. Preach Brene, preach. So I made the decision to write when I’m pulled to write, like this morning, rather than working on a rigid schedule and feeling an obligation to put pen to paper. I also write when I can feel that for the sake of my mental health, I need to. Last night I wasn’t in the best mental headspace, I felt lonely and vulnerable and there was a pull to project onto others (especially easy when you’re in a phase where you’re meeting a lot of new people), so I knew that this morning it would be good to hop onto the blog, and I figured what I should write about would come to me. This is a rather long post, so I guess it was meant to be this way! I love writing this blog and sharing my journey but the challenge isn’t how often I write, but that I keep it honest and real, even if that means two posts a month, or one, for that matter.
What I’ve found so striking from these goals, even in my reflections from my physical journal, is that I can be quite rigid with myself, frankly, unnecessarily hard on myself, with fixed (measurable) parameters determining the success of my goals. This is great in terms of business KPI’s, but I don’t think it works for life KPI’s. Goals require boundaries of course, otherwise you’ll keep worming yourself out of achieving them or simply convince yourself that someone else is to blame for not reaching them, but one thing I’m very curious about reading back and in my reflection is how militant I can be with myself when it comes to my personal development. “Quit drinking alcohol” i.e never drink again or you fail, “Meditate 3 times a week” i.e. if you do so twice you are a failure. Everything has very fixed parameters and there are limitations for flexibility. Simply put, fuck that. I realise now I need to readjust my thinking going into the second half of the six month anti-depressant treatment and I need to cut myself some slack. I’ve tried to rewrite my goals – correction – these came to me more spontaneously, through my own journalling, and I wanted to share what I’ll be focusing on for the next phase:
Conrad was here.
In 2013, I was interviewed for a publication called Career Compass, an opportunity that was set up by a friend. The article essentially detailed my career journey towards becoming station manager at the local radio station at 23 years old, which happened as a result of me gaining experience and working part-time while I was studying at university. It was meant to inspire other students to consider working alongside studying to build up their CV’s, before heading into the job market (something I would still recommend and I know is more of a requirement these days considering the global employment outlook).
I was rather shocked when, a couple of days ago, one of those dreaded Facebook memories popped up (thankfully not reminding me of the “Conrad Schwellnus is READYYY 2 PARTAY tonight” posts from 2007), showing that it had been five years since the article had been published. I was curiously interested in seeing how differently I felt now, all these years later, especially considering my new journey of self care and mental health prioritisation, and also to find out what my 30 year old self would have to say about how my 25 year old self saw and portrayed himself publicly.
While I essentially skimmed through the interview, scared I would be totally embarrassed by my answers, one question caught my eye; the dreaded “Where do you see yourself in five years?” humdinger, which possibly grabbed my attention as a result of the fact that it is now five years later (alarm bells in my head), and that I’m actually busy living the “end” of my so-called set out five year plan. Here’s how I answered the question in the interview:
“I’m a firm believer in setting up five year plans for yourself. Recently I stumbled across a list I had written for myself in June of 2008. We’re now five years from that point. Point 8 said “Get involved with the opportunities at MFM [92.6 Radio Station]. Make a name for yourself. While this is one point I have certainly achieved and I am proud of, there are other areas that I still need to work on. It’s a constant process of evaluating yourself and your life, and the harder you work on yourself, the greater the rewards.
Needless to say my 2018 list is currently in draft phase! In five years (when I turn 30), I see myself working in the music and broadcasting industry, but across more areas of the industry. I’m very interested in taking up a management role in a commercial radio environment but I would also like to pursue my other interests, such as songwriting, journalism and marketing.”
Here’s how I interpret the piece now, today, as I’m sitting under the covers, snuggled up and listening to the rain, on leave from work and taking a day to do whatever feels right. Please enjoy the running commentary that played over in my head from reading the answer out loud to myself this morning.
I can’t believe how much I wanted to control my life and my path. I can’t believe how rigid I was about my career and where it should go, what I was expected to do, and what path it should have taken. I can’t believe a goal was to “make a name for myself” and to so blatantly blow smoke up my own ass, and say that I have already achieved this. I can agree with constantly evaluating your progress, not constantly evaluating yourself (essentially I said you should evaluate who you are!). I have also learned that working hard is not the only way to reap rewards or to find joy in life. Sometimes life gives you gifts, and sometimes they can be as small as a kindness from a stranger, or a hug from a friend on a bad day.
I mentioned blindly that I still wanted to work in the music and broadcasting industry at 30. I worked for a major record label between 2014 & 2017, and it was a tremendously bad fit for my mental health. I was hellbent on a management role in an industry that wouldn’t be able to satisfy my soul, as much as I had wished it would. It must also be said, that I mentioned commercial radio in the interview not because I wanted a job in commercial radio, but because I assumed it would look good to a prospective employer. I had no intention of staying in radio and am shocked that I even said that back then as I knew it was never about the industry itself for me. What working in that industry was for me, was that it was always about connecting with the people and my team: this included individual development, goal setting and guiding potential in people wherever it was possible to do so.
I certainly am nowhere near where I was expecting to be based on the response to the question in the interview. I now work in the conservation industry (which I could have never predicted in a million years), as well as running a marketing consultancy called Delve 6, which has just signed its tenth client. I recently started up a mental health coaching business called Delve Deeper Coaching, signing my first client just this week, something I am tremendously excited about. Is my life worse off for being on this path, rather than the one I had expected myself to be on now? Very doubtful.
I could have never predicted that my career would have brought me here, even to this very blog and this very moment where you are reading what I want to share, and I wish I had given myself more freedom to enjoy the way in which life brought me here, highlights and rug-pulling-out-from-under-you moments combined. The years since I made “the plan” and the second half of my twenties can only be called a hot mess, as all of life tends to be and we need to get comfortable with things being messy! I made some good and bad decisions but I’m accountable to each and have taken as many lessons as I possibly can from it all.
I was convinced that turning 30 meant I had to “have my shit together” so to speak and that I’d have it all figured out by then. I wish I could have just given over control right from the start of my career, taken it day-by-day, and seen it as a marathon, and not a sprint. I may well have ended up writing more songs than the two I penned about my first love in my twenties (please stop laughing) and I may well have had the guts to submit them to the artists that I worked with on the daily had I not believed I wasn’t good enough and didn’t deserve to enjoy my life. All of that is busy changing thanks to prioritising my mental health and my general wellbeing and the past three months have really starting driving this point home for me in a big way.
Before I carry on with my day off, I wanted to share how I would answer the question now, at 30, and having started this new journey of self care, connection and mental health advocacy. Short, sweet and to the point, with the BS meter in check:
“I don’t believe in setting up five year plans for yourself at all. In five years, I’d like to have lived out over 500 000 five minute plans. I’d like to have taken time to enjoy the journey, rather than focusing on what I think the destination should be. I’d like to be better at cutting myself some slack in each sphere of my life. I’d like to have celebrated the small and big victories, as well as continuing to learn from the losses and disappointments. I’d like to be encouraging others to take their lives just a few minutes at a time and to be living that very mantra myself, no matter how difficult it may be. All of this in honour of my physical, mental, spiritual and emotional wellbeing. I want to have connected with as many people from as many walks of life as possible, in order to learn more about myself and also nurture and encourage potential wherever possible. Let’s see how it goes and be alright with whatever the outcome may end up being.”
Conrad was here.
Simply put, it was time. I’ve been working full-time for seven years, and not once has it crossed my mind that it was something worth prioritising – something I think a lot of us can relate to in the hustle and bustle of modern life.
I’ve been on this journey for nearly ten full weeks know, and if you’ve read my previous post, you’ll know that things have changed drastically since I acknowledged I needed to get help and started to prioritise my self care.
On Monday this week, I could feel that I was slowly starting to crawl towards a burnout. My friends and colleagues could see it and each day got progressively worse. There is always a clear sign that not many people spot, but if I don’t shave more than twice a week, you know that there is more going on than I’m letting on. I had been navigating my full time employment, side hustle business, tax affairs and a substantially more active social life in recent weeks to a point where I was starting to feel it coming on and I could predict that things were moving in a different direction. I was starting to plan each hour of each of my days out in militant fashion, a sign (my therapist agrees) that the train is moving in the wrong direction. As a friend told me, you don’t have to prove to anyone that you’re doing OK. It’s OK to not be OK. This was the catalyst for me making a decision to request leave for today, kicking off a day of self love and care and giving me the chance to bring myself back to the kind of space I’m comfortable being in.
So why did I do it? Because frankly put, I still need to actively prioritise my mental health, even though things are starting to get better. This process is a journey, with good days, and bad days. Had I not come to this decision, and just carried on this week, waiting out the weekend, I guarantee I would have spent the next couple of days locked in my apartment, with the curtains drawn and my cellphone off. It would have in all likelihood led to a trip to the GP next week, with a few sick days – never a good look, and not something I want to put my employer, colleagues or clients through.
So what actually happened today, was the freedom for me to relax, and do whatever feels right. Yes I’m a compulsive planner, but I decided to set a few guidelines for myself, rather than having an iron fist schedule of what I needed to “tick off” today. It started with agreeing that my cell wouldn’t be off for the day (usually how I cope – by switching off from the world), and I made an active effort to reach out to people this morning. Essentially, I did the opposite of what old Conrad would have done. Where was I, you ask? The beach. It was the most spectacularly beautiful morning (see my Instagram for a pic) and I was nearly moved to tears as I walked down the coastline, cappuccino in hand and armed with a Spotify playlist called “Hot Mess” (a reference to life in general, and filled with so many Ke$ha bangers that I had been neglecting for ages).
What ensued was a couple of things I couldn’t anticipate, but that ultimately put a massive smile on my face. I spotted a quote written on a sign next to the beach (get in touch if you want to know what it said), which made me think of some of the special people in my life. Some have only been a part of my life for a short while, others for a longer stint of the up’s and downs. It just made me realise how incredibly lucky I am to have such an incredible support base around me. It is truly a blessing, especially for someone who gives himself so much flack for being a giant (sasquach), loud, proud, sensitive gay man, often believing that the world is out to get him, particularly so on the bad days. I adore the people I have in my life and I am realising more and more just how much value my peeps add to my day and to the general sustainability of my mental health. If you’re one of them, you know, and I need you to understand that you inspire me to keep going with each and every interaction we have.
As I was sitting next to the sea, I realised that I was craving a waffle and a creme soda (something that is very rare considering how Nuzak suppresses your appetite). I pondered driving to Simonstown, but opted to check in at the local cafe rather, and lo and behold, they sold both. As I sat down to enjoy it (while texting a few friends) a familiar face tapped me on my shoulder. It was my fabulous hairdresser Jamie, her newborn, and her husband. Where in the world would you have guessed that we would bump into each other there of all places? It turns out she was on leave too, and I got to thank her for the wonderful job she did on my hair a few weeks ago. As I got up to walk to my car, I noticed there was an artist creating a sculpture of a mother and baby on the beach (serendipitous much?). His name is Michael, he is so incredibly talented, and his work gets quite a bit of traction on this page. The universe was clearly trying to send me a message about nurturing, and the fact that today is about my own nurturing, hell, even the fact that I am taking time to write for the first time in twelve days, shows that all signs lead to a place of self care. Life is what happens when you’re not making plans, and paying attention to the little things. While I never carry cash these days, I remembered I had a R10 in my pocket from buying a coffee for a friend yesterday – the perfect opportunity to support the arts and encourage creativity in a place I was not expecting it! For the first time in a long time, things just felt in sync, something I hope depression sufferers will speak up about more as they talk about their journey with the disease, and something to be so incredibly thankful for when it happens.
Where will the afternoon take me? I’m not sure. I’ve invited my landlady for a cup of tea, and will then decide where to from there. Perhaps I’ll water my plants, put on a RomCom (I literally watched My Best Friend’s Wedding last night) and spend some time with the dogs on the property. Or I’ll drive somewhere and see what I am pulled towards. I am being strict though, with only choosing activities that are to be considered self care. No house cleaning, but cutting toenails is ok haha. Netflix movie marathon? Now we’re in the right territory. Self love starts with accountability and boundaries and the beautiful thing about doing a mental health day where you’re just going with it, is that you never really know where it’s going to lead you. It provides you with a break from your routine, allows you to gain some clarity and insight, and to generally just soak up the fact that like with my playlist, life is a hot mess for us all. I’m proud of myself for utilising the day in a way that ensures my batteries will hopefully be recharged by the end of the week and would like to give myself a pat on the back for redirecting my energy today. Next week is not a worry right now. I’m living in the moment and seeing where the wind blows me and absolutely f*cking loving it.
Conrad was here.
Two months ago I spent almost an entire weekend in bed, unable to get up to do something as simple as throwing in a load of washing a couple of steps from my bed. I had hit rock bottom, hiding my depression from my family, friends and colleagues and pretending that I was OK and coping with the pressures of modern life.
This morning my day started completely differently: I woke up and cleaned the apartment, went for a walk on the beach, grabbing a cappuccino at a local cafe, and yes, it’s 10:27 and I’ve managed to throw in my washing already. I’m giving myself major points for that one.
My life has changed drastically since I realised I needed to get help, and I wanted to share the things that feel different now compared to then, with hopes that it will encourage you to get some help if you feel like things are getting too heavy and you need a change in your life. I know we all have a different journey and that depression affects people in a variety of ways, but this has been a part of my journey, and perhaps you can draw some similarities in your experience too.
Firstly, therapy has completely changed my outlook on life. I’ve done 7 sessions so far, and I am at a point now where my therapist is challenging me on specifics that I need to deal with. It’s wildly uncomfortable and exciting at the same time, as I am gaining greater insight into myself and feeling like I am developing a strong set of mental heath coping mechanisms in the process. While it doesn’t work for everyone, CBT has always been a winner for me and I am lucky to have a therapist I have a strong connection with – she is able to put me in my place (very few people are) and it’s exactly what I’ve needed these past few weeks to change my attitude and to keep going on the recovery journey.
Since the SSRI’s kicked in about two weeks ago (week 6), I’ve started feeling spontaneously happy during the course of my day. I’ve started noticing the small treasures in life again, been able to show gratitude for creative pleasures like a flower blooming in the garden, found myself singing out loud for the first time in many years (sorry neighbours), and I love dancing; in fact, I do so much dancing these days I’m wondering if I shouldn’t join a class! Perhaps that’s something for once spring is here.
I’m closer than ever with my family. Having gone through two or three difficult years with them, opening up about my depression and reaching out has changed the entire dynamic between us. I’ve also learned that long term relationships (be it love, friendship or family) require a constant process of forgiveness. I’ve learned to let things go, appreciate my family for showing up for me during this dark time, and also am developing a genuine interest in their lives again. When I was at the peak of my depression, I couldn’t even be bothered to answer calls from any of them, let alone ask them about work and life and express just how important it is for me to see them happy too. My love and admiration for them grows daily, especially as I see them tackling the challenges in their lives too, and I am more able to provide support for them now than anytime during my twenties.
I have energy to do things again. A few weeks ago, if someone asked me to a spontaneous coffee, I would decline regardless of whether I was busy or not. Depression just doesn’t give you the option to get excited and do something on the fly. Yesterday, a friend messaged me out of the blue (perhaps it helped that she started the message with “Hey my sexy friend”), and I decided to take her up on an offer to get together an hour later, and we had a lovely time at a cafe next to the beach. We spoke about mental health and she shared part of her journey these past few months too. Once you open up and show vulnerability, you will connect with people in a way you never thought possible and it has been one of the biggest blessings of this journey so far.
I’m optimistic about my career and business again. In September, my company will be turning two years old, which is something I’d like to acknowledge and celebrate. There was a time I wondered if I would make it through even one year. I have a new drive to look at ways for it to continue and to grow in the years ahead. Before I started treatment, while I was in a really dark place, I deleted my expensive company website and told people I was going to close the business. I’ve changed my mind (something I have recently learned is ok!) and I am opening myself up to new opportunities. I’m also starting to plot my next move for the company, and explore additional business ideas – specifically, one where I would like to approach providing coaching services to other millennials (I’m calling the idea DDC: Delve Deeper Coaching for now). Everyone always says I am a good listener, easy to talk to, and easy to connect with, and I’d love for my journey with depression to be a catalyst to help others (hell, that’s why I started this blog in the first place)! Let’s see how the idea grows in the months ahead. One thing I know, is that it needs to be a natural progression, an obvious next step, and I don’t want to force an idea or make something happen that is going to derail my progress and add more strain to my life. It’s a daily process of exploration, which I am rather excited about.
These days, I laugh and joke a lot more. Not only at home, but at work and with friends too. Someone once told my that my sense of humour was priceless and beautiful; something I took for granted back then and definitely lost as my depression hit its peak. I’ve always portrayed a very serious image to the world, but like all of us, I love a good laugh, and better yet, love making people laugh. I have been in far better spirits now that I am dealing with my issues, and even went as far as to attend a comedy show on Friday night: something I would have avoided earlier in the year (and likely gone to, been offended by, and moaned that the show was boring). I laughed so much my face hurt the next day. My attitude has changed tremendously and I am very proud of myself for that. Here’s to more laughing in the months ahead.
Lastly, the most drastic change for me, is that I haven’t had a single drop to drink in the last two months. This has been difficult, especially in a culture of drinking and because there is temptation all around us and almost daily. While I haven’t given up drinking indefinitely (and still want to drink a glass of champagne when there is a celebration of sorts), I have noticed a dramatic improvement in my energy levels, mood and general outlook on the world since I got sober. I often tell people that I wouldn’t get depressed on the day I had a hangover, but I would get cripplingly depressed the day after, almost like my body was returning to “normal”, though I always felt way worse than I did before I took the first drink. All of that has since gone away. I now wake up early without an alarm, I sleep a normal amount of hours, I’m able to prioritise self care activities (like cleaning, washing dishes, listening to music, engaging with friends) and just feel like a different person. I have only been tempted to have a drink once, when my best friend was visiting and we had had a tough day of work, but I opted for a Rooibos and I am proud of myself for maintaining my boundaries in lieu of my recovery journey.
Cutting out the alcohol has had a dramatic effect on my weight. In February, I was around 95kg’s, feeling bloated, tired and out of sorts. Yesterday, I weighed myself and astonishingly, I’m down to just under 85kg’s (-10kg’s). My confidence levels are up dramatically, so much so and to the point that I decided to get a haircut yesterday to celebrate and I am feeling so much more comfortable in my skin again. After the haircut, I was feeling particularly fresh and decided I should use that energy to put myself back out there, and am now exploring casual dating once again. I am moving to a new house in October, and am excited to host a few dinner parties and to show off my wannabe Masterchef Australia skills to friends, family and perhaps a potential romantic interest, should the cards fall that way. Baby steps, and not in a way that derails my progress. All in the name of fun and starting to enjoy my life again.
I can honestly say that my life has done a complete 180 since I started opening up about my struggles with anxiety and depression, and each of the steps I took – therapy, coaching, consulting a GP, getting an anti-depressant prescription, taking some time off, starting to do weekend walks on the beach, listening to music, connecting with family, dancing etc. has all played a part in me feeling exponentially better.
I’d like to take a second to acknowledge the progress and appreciate that things have turned for the better. As fellow depression sufferers know, it remains a daily tussle, but these baby steps really do provide you with the momentum needed to keep going and to keep pushing yourself. I’m living my life one day at a time: I almost see each day as a point in a tennis match. Monday may be bad, but that only means the score is 0-15. Tuesday things could turn around, and we’re back at 15-15. It’s all about riding the wave. I’m starting to tell people that turning 30 has really been the best thing to happen to me and I am proud to be writing this post with a smile on my face. Let’s hope I can carry on and keep going to maintain this level of clarity. I’m thankful that the fog has started to lift.
Conrad was here.
Yep, that’s what a colleague said to me yesterday. To be fair, it was said in jest and after I turned down an offer to go for a drink after work, but still, it’s a good opportunity for us to talk about alcohol. In fact, we need to talk about alcohol and how it affects and perhaps even accelerates the symptoms of depression.
I haven’t had a drop to drink since I started my treatment in June, and it has truly changed my life. It wasn’t that I was a heavy drinker to begin with, but it was all in the how and that I was essentially self-medicating and not really putting boundaries in place when I was feeling low. I was happy to have a glass of wine or three if I was feeling low. Wine became a part of my grocery shopping. While I can handle a hangover, I can’t handle the crippling depression that follows two days after a bender, which is usually when my mind catches up with my body and which really does send me into a spiral that is very difficult to get out of. Things balance out and to be frank, you feel worse than you did before.
Health risks aside, drinking heavily and extensively will have major effects on your body and mind in the long term, including affecting how you age, and your general levels of productivity. In the short term you may feel better by grabbing a drink when you’re stressed or anxious, but over time it becomes detrimental in many ways, all of which are detailed in a host of Youtube documentaries you can check out, but which I am only more aware of now, having been a regular party drinker in my 20’s. Thankfully I haven’t carried that habit over into my 30’s and I’d like a celebratory glass of champagne to become just that – something to enjoy for the right moment and the right reason, rather than just because or because it is the weekend.
If we’re talking about depression, we need to talk about alcohol, as the two go hand-in-hand for me. I have seen a drastic change in my mood since I stopped drinking, and generally, in conjunction with the anti-depressants of course, my mood has lifted tremendously in recent weeks. I wake up with more energy, not only to make my bed, do some chores and get to activities like walking on the beach, going grocery shopping or seeing friends for a coffee, but my attitude shift seems fairly substantial and I have a renewed capacity to be able to manage my tasks and the emotions that go along with them. It has also had quite a drastic impact on my weight: as things stand, I’m down to 87kg again, having started this journey in the 92/3kg range.
So how long am I going to be off’ alcohol? If you’ve been following the blog since the start of my journey, you’ll know that I’ve committed to six months as a minimum, for two reasons. The first, is that I don’t want to mix medication with alcohol, and I am on a six month script for my anti-depressants, which is non-negotiable. The second reason relates to it taking six months for your liver to “self repair” so to speak, especially if you have been drinking for an extensive period of time and there may be considerable damage. We’re lucky that our livers are able to repair themselves over time, though it is only possible if you catch it in the early stages, when there are symptoms of liver damage.
As I said, I drank socially all through my 20’s, so would like to allocate this time not only to improve my mental health, but to reverse some of that damage if possible, while also seeing the longer term effects and benefits to my general health and mood (if any). I’m planning on getting a checkup at the doctor’s at the end of the year and will be able to get a better sense of how my health has improved over time and hopefully this part of my journey can become another tool to help combat my depression.
Conrad was here.