Preparing for the first night out since my depression diagnosis a month ago.

Two of my friends at work have been dying to go to a dinner experience in Cape Town, that includes some world renowned burgers as well as a regularly scheduled Friday night drag show.

I haven’t been to this restaurant since 2013, so it has been a while, and I’ve been wanting to go back but haven’t really prioritised doing so in recent months. Little did I know that these friends would want to surprise me with this in celebration of my 30th birthday, so tonight we’re heading there and I’m looking forward to an interesting experience. Initially the plan was to do it closer to my birthday but as I was booked off, things were put on hold until I had enough strength to commit to a social commitment and I was partially back on my feet again.

So how are things different now, than when I used to plan to go out previously? Firstly, as I’m not drinking alcohol for at least 6 months while I’m on medication, we don’t have to worry about organising lifts and I’m more than happy to drive. In the past the biggest consideration used to be figuring out who could lift, whether we would Uber, and how we would go about it, but I’m happy that I could confidently agree that I would drive if they wanted to enjoy a few drinks, plus it also keeps me accountable to my mental health goals, which include going cold turkey with alcohol while I’m on anti-depressants. It might seem like a small decision to commit to drive, but it is in fact a victory in terms of me starting to set some important personal boundaries too.

The biggest consideration for me at this stage is managing my anxiety levels building up to this evening, when I will find myself back in a noisy, social place. I haven’t been out since the Friday night before my diagnosis (which was increasingly messy), and the only way I could cope with the noise back then was to drink, so it’s going to be interesting to see how it goes tonight. I’m focusing on the task at hand: my friends are doing something nice for me, so I should embrace and enjoy that, and it also doesn’t mean that we have to stay for 10 hours. We can go, have our burgers, enjoy some laughs and the show and then head home at a decent hour. This is a far cry from my twenties but quite frankly, it is a welcome relief and it’s something that works for me now. This is the new normal for me, and quite frankly I am pretty excited about adopting a new attitude towards my social life.

The other consideration for me today centres around when and what I’ve been eating. The meds have been reducing my appetite (which I’ve discussed at length before) and frankly, the thought of a burger & chips meal doesn’t quite get me as excited as it used to and I worry that I won’t be able to finish it. The office has also arranged for a birthday cake for me today (now that I’m back at work) so I’m just very mindful of what I’m putting into my body, especially ahead of doing something new tonight. I don’t need an upset system, or worse yet, a sugar high and a subsequent crash. It’s almost like depression requires you to give an extra ounce or layer of consideration to everything you do, and recovery truly does require a lifestyle change in all senses. Things just aren’t the same, and won’t be the same, and perhaps that’s OK. No, not perhaps, it really is alright. I’m happy to be moving in what feels like a better direction. Wish me luck.

Conrad was here.

Why I left my depression support group in the first month of recovery.

No, it wasn’t because I’ve started feeling better and I thought I didn’t need to go.

On the contrary, I’m committed to finding a support group that works for me, but unfortunately this wasn’t as automatically a good fit as I had hoped. I liken the situation to going to a therapist for the first time, and just not clicking as much as you had hoped, and deciding that you need to look for an alternative.

My expectations going into support group meetings were to have an open platform to share, to be able to talk to other people about coping mechanisms for anxiety and depression, and to celebrate small victories, like opening up to others about your depression and breaking down stigma barriers. This wasn’t quite true for what went down and it meant that I had to think long and hard (and talk to friends and family) about whether I was going back or not.

My first red flag was – to no fault of the group itself – that I was the only male at the session. This wouldn’t usually be a problem, but I found that a lot of the discussion in the group was centred around female issues and that built up a rapport of support for each other quite closely related primarily to these specific issues. I’m more than open about talking about these things (I grew up with two sisters who I am close with and have always gravitated to female friends), but it was really just the realisation that I felt quite othered while sitting there, now so much more aware that there is a bigger stigma around talking about depression among men, but also acutely aware that I didn’t quite fit in with the group. I cracked a joke about being the “odd one out” but I could also tell that having a male around made a few other people quite uncomfortable to share, which is not something I wanted to be contributing to, especially as these ladies had taken a big step towards their recovery by showing up to the group in the first place.

The second thing that threw me off a bit, was that many people decided to use the group as a pseudo-therapy session. My expectations were clear – I don’t necessarily want to carry what I’m dealing with in therapy through to a broader group of strangers, but I also don’t think it’s fair to just offload your baggage in the meeting and to make the session about yourself only. I wanted to have engaging conversations with others about what they had tried, what had worked for them, and what hadn’t. I wanted group to be a tool that would help me generate positive momentum, rather than being a space where it’s just about talking and venting. I understand that sharing can be a big deal for some people, and it can be an important factor of recovery, but my type A personality possibly just isn’t comfortable with not feeling like we’re actively doing something to get from where we’re at now, to where we’d like to go.

I think the key to finding a good support network around you is to make sure that you feel 100% comfortable, supported and that you can connect with the group. It wasn’t just about being the only male in the group, but also because the group mainly had people that were a lot older than me. I understand that dealing with depression and anxiety is a lifelong battle, and I take nothing away from the group being set up the way it is, but simply put, I need to be able to talk to people who are still working full-time, possibly those who have experience being an entrepreneur and running a business, and also those who have a better idea about millennial struggles in 2018.

Perhaps my expectations were too high, perhaps I had other ideas for what group will be, but I also think it’s important to be firm with myself about what will help my recovery, and what won’t. I could attend these meetings and take on a lot of the baggage of the other members, which is something I’ve always struggled with, but I’m doing my best to set some healthy new boundaries in my life in order to prioritise my recovery. It remains a work in progress, but I feel like I’m heading in the right direction at least. I wish the group I left well and hope to find one that suits me a bit better soon.

Conrad was here.

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.

 

Five things I know for sure on my 30th birthday.

I got up this morning at 03:30, if you’ll believe it. Perhaps my mind was racing a little because I was coming to terms with the fact that – when I went to bed – I said goodbye to my twenties and ushered in a new era in my life. I’m sure I’ll look back at laugh at myself for feeling this way, but then again, every hit sitcom in the two decades or so has made a fuss about at least one character turning the big 3 0, so in a way I’ve been amping myself up for the experience for years and years. I’m thinking in particular of the episode of Friends where Joey chants “Why God, why?” and where Monica gets blackout drunk before her surprise party. Happy to report I haven’t done either of those today!

The first thing I did this morning was grab my notebook – the one I’ve been scribbling in feverishly each day since my depression diagnosis – and what came out of this was a list of five things I know for sure, having lived through my twenties. I can’t take full credit for all of these, some of them have been passed down by my mom (we had a 20 minute conversation about life this morning) and others I’ve learned the hard way, through living life, being in love, going through tough times and generally navigating what is considered a tumultuous period for most people.

  1. Nothing is supposed to be any which way. As much as Rachel has a five year plan on the Friends episode where she turns 30, and as much as I’ve navigated the last fifteen years of my life with serious five year plans, I’ve learned that things are not supposed to happen in any order, in a straight line, or in the way that you hope they will happen. You don’t need to be married by a certain age. If you want to be a parent, it will happen when it does, and it may not be in the way you thought it will be. You don’t need to be earning a certain amount of money by a certain age. You don’t need to start a business just because your parents did (which is pretty much what I did two years ago). Learning this has helped me cut myself some slack, and given me more room to try to go easy on myself. It’s a work in progress.
  2. The rug can be pulled out from you at any time, and it will happen again and again. Life will be full of moments that toss your world upside down. The death of a friend or family member, losing a job, being scammed out of most of your money, the end of a friendship – these can all happen to you at any time, no matter whether you’re in a good or a bad place in your life. It’s all about how you navigate things when the rug does get pulled out from under you, and how you respond in that moment. I’ve gotten good at wallowing about it and feeling sorry for myself in recent years – another byproduct of depression. I find though that each time it happens, I respond a little bit differently (and better for that matter). You learn, adapt and go from there.
  3. Life’s pleasures come from the simple things. Maybe I’ve been watching too many Florence Welch interviews, but this is something I’m slowly starting to appreciate and understand. No amount of external influences will bring you long-term happiness, you need to turn your attention inwards. Sure, money makes life easier in many ways, but it will not solve your problems. For me, having a cappuccino at a coffee shop while listening to a new album from one of my faves, watching the sunrise on the beach, or even just a 5 minute conversation with a colleague over lunch, gives me a great deal of pleasure. It has taken me a long time to realise and appreciate this, perhaps I’m only coming to terms with it now that I’m writing it down. Usually we are so focused on the “big things” not going your way, that we forget about all the precious things that happen in your day, particularly when you’re not paying attention and operating on autopilot. My new goals include taking more time to observe and appreciate the things that are happening in my life. As my therapist said yesterday, “you have a lot going for you” and I’d like to start listening.
  4. Know yourself and stay true to that. I spent my twenties experimenting with pretty much everything, and making hundreds of mistakes along the way, I might add. I questioned my values, my hobbies and even my sexuality, in order to get a clear picture of who I was as a person. I have a much clearer picture now than I did when I was twenty. Depression tries to make you forget who you are, and it makes you act out in ways that you can’t even comprehend. I can’t tell you how many friendships I squandered because of drunkenly blocking someone without giving them a chance to respond to my anger. It was almost surgical in a way, cut it off, don’t deal with it. It’s not fair to anyone, regardless of what they did. Funny thing is, I’ve been told that compassion and empathy are at the core of my being, so whenever my depression tells me otherwise, I have to work on implementing new tools to remind me of this. This is an ongoing struggle and I get the feeling that most people struggle with something similar. I’m trying to write more letters to myself, trying to show more kindness to myself, using positive language and getting a few examples down of where I acted from my core.
  5. Nothing is certain, except for change. Change is certain. Things will evolve, regress, and generally happen in what I like to call a spiral. How resilient are you going to be? I will ask myself this all through my journey of recovery and as I go into this new decade from today. Embrace change and the growth will be monumental.

Conrad was here.

 

Am I apprehensive about going back into therapy today?

Different things work for different people, but for me, talking about my problems has always given me the opportunity to confront, deal, heal and move forward with my life. I’m definitely someone that lives more inside his own head, and finds it difficult to articulate true feelings, always worried I’m going to offend someone or shake things up in a way.

In recent years I’ve become a lot more reserved, sharing less about my life on social media, and even to a large extent with friends and family. This is all a natural part of growing into adulthood and realising that the world doesn’t necessarily revolve around you and what you ate on that particular day, but it also comes with the territory when you are depressed. Where it has become particularly problematic, is that in a lot of ways people have started to make the assumption that I don’t want to share, or that I don’t want to open up to them. This became all the more evident to me when I friend called me from Germany last week and said “I wasn’t sure whether you wanted me to know your engagement had ended” when the topic came up. She had heard about it from someone else. The end of my relationship wasn’t exactly the kind of thing I was rattling off about on social media, but I still believe that if you hear a friend is going through something major, you take a few seconds to pick up the phone as a first step, and worry about the intricacies later. She had of course done this as soon as I spelled out my depression on a Facebook post, which I am thankful for, but it did make me wonder how many other people are also worried to talk to me about the big changes in my life because they fear I might be uncomfortable talking about it. If you’re reading this, I’m not uncomfortable, and talking really does help.

I used to be in therapy in my early twenties and it helped me not only in navigating the start of my career, but also in starting to find my own identity. I hit it off right away with a therapist I found through my university, which a lot of people are not always as lucky to have the first time they try find someone to talk to, and which I am very thankful for. I had a friend who went to a therapist who tried to impose their own religious beliefs onto him, right from the first session, which obviously is a bit of a red flag. That’s when you know that the person is not doing what they’re supposed to be doing and you should look at other options. First and foremost, therapy should be a non-judgmental, open, safe space for you to speak freely about whatever it is you believe in, are feeling, or what you’re busy going through. Luckily I’ve never had to worry about that in the sessions I’ve been in.

As my life moved between cities throughout my twenties, my therapist and I may have stopped having sessions, but she always kept the door open for me and likened the relationship to one you would have with a family member. It really is a deeply personal and intimate connection and I am thankful that all these years later, when the shit hit the fan and I realised that I was depressed and needed to go see a doctor, her name was on the list of people I should reach out to and she responded to my e-mail very quickly on the day.

So am I apprehensive going back into therapy? Not at all. When I started it in 2010, I had no idea what to expect, but I was prepared to talk. Today, I know what to expect, but I’m not so sure how prepared I am to talk.

It has been a while since I’ve had to turn the mirror around and start asking myself some difficult questions again but I’m glad I’m doing it on the eve of my 30th birthday. In a way, it may help me to start this new chapter of my life with a new sense of clarity and closure. I’d to take as much time as possible today to reflect on my twenties and to focus my energy towards acquiring some new tools that are going to help me navigate the trials and tribulations of the next decade with as much grace and humility as possible.

Conrad was here.

We set physical health goals, but what about mental health goals? These are mine.

All through my late teens and my early twenties I set a lot of physical fitness goals. Run a half marathon. Lose 10kg’s. Jog five times a week. Walk three times a week. These were all usually achieved, as I tend to be someone who gets almost militant about achieving personal goals. It’s a blessing and a curse, and part of the reason why I ended up being diagnosed with depression in the first place. I’m learning to be a bit less rigid and more adaptable, which is part of what I’m working on with a life coach at the moment.

I find it incredible that we’re always quick to set physical health goals, but that mental health doesn’t get the same treatment. I can’t recall once in my life – other than in the last two weeks – taking time to prioritise what is going to be important in terms of my mental health and wellbeing as someone who suffers from depression. I’ve always been happy to accept that you simply get over what you’re feeling or going through, the phrase “get on with it” usually rings in my head, and subsequently my depression has crept further and further into my life, causing chaos across all spheres.

There was a stage a few weeks ago, before I was diagnosed with depression, where I wasn’t able to see past my 30th birthday, essentially, past the end of this month. I was in a very dark, suicidal place, which I am glad I can talk about in the past tense.

A useful recovery exercise for me has been to map out some short-term (6 month) mental health goals, which not only assist in keeping my recovery on track, but also helps me to see past just this month, this day, and this very moment. In a lot of ways, recovering from depression is a day-to-day process, and I wouldn’t advise on setting up a new five year plan when you’re in this state of mind, but some short-term checkpoints can really help to keep you motivated and also help you to have something positive about your journey to share with loved ones. Your recovery doesn’t have to be all “yes mom, I’m doing ok today”. Your goals provide context and others will be encouraged to support you along the way.

So what are my mental health goals for the next six months? I’ve tried to highlight them as simply and clearly as possible.

  • Quit drinking alcohol while you are on anti-depressants, to give your body the best possible chance to settle and readjust. This is something I haven’t spoken to any of my friends or family about, and am waiting to talk about once I’m a little further into my recovery. I haven’t even had the urge to drink anything since I started the meds and quite frankly I don’t need another reason for my body to feel worse. Ironically, people like showing up at my place for support, bottle of wine in hand.
  • Meditate three times a week. This one is tough, as I usually struggle to prioritise even just 15 minutes for myself at the end of the day. I’ve learned that it doesn’t need to be rigid and for a fixed amount of time, sometimes simply sitting in silence, practicing mindfulness for a few minutes, can make all the difference. In the long run, I’d love to make this a daily practice, but I’d like for it to draw me in. No more swimming upstream to make it a part of my schedule.
  • Take anti-depressants for at least six months. The doctor did warn that after a month, when I feel better, I’ll get the urge to go off the meds. I’ve committed to following through with the meds for at least six months, with the option to extend to a year if need be. Slow and steady wins the race. I’ve given over to the fact that I can’t control how this disease makes me feel by simply hoping I’ll feel better soon – the meds are an important tool in this regard.
  • Go to 15 therapy sessions. My medical aid has approved 15 free sessions based on my diagnosis (a ‘severe depressive episode’), which I need to use before the end of the year. This is major, as I would not otherwise be able to afford the sessions. I’m starting with therapy tomorrow and will continue weekly through until October.
  • Keep talking about your mental health to others. This includes what I consider a new calling to be a mental health ambassador of sorts. This blog, coupled with ‘real world’ conversations, has the power to reach people from all walks of life, and hopefully will encourage others to start a real conversation about how difficult depression can be to navigate. I’d like to explore becoming a mental health ambassador at work, and will be talking about it HR and my line manager about it once I’m further along in the process.
  • Write three blog posts a week. I’m aware that I’ve had the luxury of writing more over the past week or so, considering I’ve been off from work. Writing is therapy for me, nothing else. I am however aware that things will not always be as simple and that life will happen, and things will get busy again. I’d still like to make my writing a priority, as this blog is a big part of my recovery process. I’ve prioritised writing three posts a week for the rest of the year as one of my goals and am going to do my best to stick to this (so stick with me, won’t you?).

Perhaps you can draw some inspiration from my list. I also believe it’s important to make them fluid. Life happens, so navigate them to the best of your abilities. That’s not to say that the goals should be taken lightly, but also remember to go easy on yourself.

Recovering from depression is a marathon, not a sprint. Some days the list will seem impossible, others it will be the only thing getting you out of bed. It’s all about rolling with the punches. What are your mental health goals? I’m rooting for you!

Conrad was here.