Why I decided to put in leave for a “mental health day” for the first time in my career.

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.

How drastically different my life is 8 weeks after seeking out treatment for my depression.

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.

 

 

“Maybe you’re depressed because you’re not drinking”

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.

A few learnings from the first 40 days of depression recovery.

Today marks 40 days since I was diagnosed with depression, and this weekend I’m planning on celebrating 6 weeks of this new lifestyle, marking a milestone in the recovery process and congratulating myself on the progress made so far! I’ve discovered that usually I’m more than happy to be overly critical of my choices, but I never take the time to celebrate the victories, no matter how big or small. All that is busy changing and it’s starting this weekend, when I’m planning on doing something for myself as a small pat on the back for the progress.

In lieu of this, I wanted to share a couple of lessons and learnings from the first forty days of being on anti-depressants, being in weekly therapy and generally starting to open up about my diagnosis and reaching out to others going through the same things:

  1. How you navigate life’s curveballs plays a big part in the recovery process. Life doesn’t stop when you get diagnosed with depression. If anything, things continue to move forward, but making an active decision to keep on your path, not getting distracted by the happenings around you, however difficult they may be, you keep going a single day at a time. It has helped me a lot to stay focused, and I’ve proved to myself that my willpower remains strong, even through some tough adversities, like retrenchments at the office, or even turning 30, and having to turn down multiple requests for a “bender on the town”.
  2. Life will continue to teach you lessons and you need to continue to be flexible and adapt. Since I got sober and started taking my meds, I’ve become far more self-aware and have noticed where my day-to-day behaviour needs a bit of work. I’ve become acutely aware of being quite insecure in my work (wanting to prove myself, when I don’t need to) and have always been a bit of an overachiever – something I’m starting to work on now to maintain a bit better balance. I’m a successful marketer and business owner, and I need to start owning and acknowledging that.
  3. Friends and family will see you getting better, and forget to check in with you. This is not a negative reflection of them, but rather an impression that you are starting to get better, which is obviously a good thing, but they may assume that you don’t need to be checked in on anymore. This is not always the case. I wanted to share this, so you don’t have the expectation that people will check in with you too much as you go through your process, but be mindful (and take note) of the people who were there at the beginning, and always draw on that strength and support, especially on low days. I don’t need to be checked in on daily anymore, but I still love getting a random message from a friend, even just saying “hope you’re doing OK”.
  4. Recovery will mean getting to know yourself in a way you can’t understand when you start the journey. As I slowly regain my confidence, and gain clarity on the decisions I made in my 20’s, I’m learning so much more about who I am now and starting to look reflectively at my life, pondering where I want to continue to make changes, and also work more actively to keep certain negative influences (selfish people) at bay. It’s an evolving process and I’m happy for the clarity and the ability to distinguish between situations that are good for and ones that are detrimental to my recovery.
  5. My mood is drastically improving from this week. The doctor did say it would take 6 weeks for the SSRI’s to really do their thing, and I can feel it this week. I’ve started having spontaneous good moods in the evenings, and also found myself dancing, singing and just enjoying myself day-to-day a lot more from this week. My cheek muscles are starting to hurt again in the evenings, from laughing so much with friends and colleagues in the day. I’m compartmentalising my problems from a much healthier foundation, and saving dealing with them for therapy, choosing to focus on some of the smaller joys and pleasures in my day.

I’m thankful to be approaching week 7 already. I wanted to take a minute to show some gratitude for my friends, family, colleagues and readers of the blog, for helping me to keep motivated and to keep going on this journey. I’m only 20% into my six month treatment, and there is a long road ahead, but I’m feeling optimistic about the process and the changes taking place in my life. They’re starting to feel big for some reason, they’re starting to feel life-changing, life-altering in fact. I still have a feeling something big is coming and that I’m preparing for, and I’ll be ready as a result of facing my depression head on. Hope you can get the strength to do the same, and remember, you’re not alone in this.

Conrad was here.

 

Maintaining personal boundaries for the sake of my depression recovery, regardless of surprise retrenchments at work last week.

On Friday, ten people at the company I work for got called in and told that their positions had become redundant. While I’m relieved that my position was not one of those, it obviously sent shockwaves throughout the entire office and anxiety levels across the board increased tenfold. As I’m typing this I have very sweaty palms, and am still trying to make sense of the decision and all the implications it has to the team as a whole.

While my reaction to the news was shock and disbelief, I knew that my response and how I would go about dealing with the news, especially as we approached a weekend, would be crucial and important to my recovery journey. The first instinct for a lot of people was to hand beers around at the office. I politely declined, and found myself turning my attention inward, boiling the kettle and making some Rooibos tea. This might not sound like something spectacular, but it was a big win for me in the moment.

When I got home, I was still in disbelief and shock, especially as two of my close friends had effectively been told they had just lost their jobs and they now needed to start making alternative plans. I knew that while I would need to support them through this process, I would need to make sure not to derail any progress I had made regarding my depression recovery in the process of doing so. This is very tough for me, as my natural reaction is to try and support and assist, and to put my own needs aside. I knew that self-medicating would not be the option at any stage during this process. On Friday night, while I only managed to put a bowl of cereal together for myself (at least I ate something), I decided to call it a night relatively early, ignoring any impulses to reach for a glass of wine or beer.

I did a lot of writing on Saturday, mapping out what this change means in the greater scope of my career, and also reminding myself that I should reprioritise my own business, which I’ve been working on for almost two years, but which hasn’t taken centre stage (and has been part-time) for a while. It got me to ask a lot of questions right now as I explore my next move and consider what I would have done had I been one of the unlucky people losing their permanent employment. Explore being the key term here – as I’ve been told by my therapist we’re in an exploration phase, not in a decision-making one, which is vital to remember. It’s nice to dream a little again, and to see where my thoughts will take me in the weeks ahead, but I’m not meant to make myself anxious and to pull my usual stunt, which is to react quickly, set some serious new goals, and then struggle to live up to them in the long run. Short and sweet is the only way to go.

I spent the rest of the weekend focusing on positive coping activities like walking on the beach with my sister, listening to a lot of music, cleaning the apartment (man, I gave it a great scrub) and cooking a really nice meal last night. I tried my best to maintain and keep working with some of the systems I have put in place, which are there for the very reason they need to be, to make sure the depression recovery ship doesn’t veer off course now. I went to visit two of my colleagues on Sunday, provided an ear where possible, but also forced myself not to take their struggle onto myself or my own shoulders, but rather just to be there for them and to show up for them as they had showed up for me in the past. It’s a fine balance and it remains a challenge to maintain the boundaries you set for yourself.

This was the lesson and the true test, in my opinion. Life is always going to throw curveballs, and this is a big one, but there will be more, and things continue in their usual ebb and flow. It would have been an easy reason for me to pick up a drink, or take my anxiety medicine, which I had been taken off’ from my GP visit last week, but I still have a few tablets left. For me, self-medicating is not the option, and I managed to remain rather level-headed throughout the whole weekend. It set me up well to be able to support the people coming in today for their retrenchment consultations and this was also a big victory in a way. I’m able to be level-headed today and clear about spotting where I need to help others cope with this.

While I’m definitely upset, I’m choosing to redirect those thoughts to a formal place (a therapy session tomorrow afternoon) and to simply take things a day at a time as we navigate through the week. It’s somewhat of a blessing that my best friend is visiting this week (see my previous post for more details about that) and I’m going to work through this time to the best of my ability, as we look towards the 6 week depression recovery milestone, which I’d like to celebrate in some productive way too. Baby steps.

Conrad was here.

Having a friend visit and stay with me for the first time since my depression diagnosis.

My best friend, who lives a two hour flight away from me, was supposed to come visit me the weekend of my 30th birthday, but we postponed the trip, considering my breakdown ten days prior and because I really wasn’t sure whether I would be good company to anyone at that time. I had just started taking medication and my body was (and is) still adjusting, so I’m really glad we made that decision, as hard as it was at the time and as much as it would have been great to have her around for a celebration. As my mom put it: my recovery was supposed to take centre stage at that time and I’m glad it did.

Two nights ago she let me know that she was travelling to my city for work next weekend, and that she was hoping to stay with me for a night or two. Usually, it would be a quick and easy YES and under “normal” circumstances it wouldn’t be something I would have to think twice about, but since my depression diagnosis, there are a couple of considerations to make and a few things that I had to consider before committing.

Firstly, I know she’s going to want to see other people who live in this area, and there will likely be networking commitments for her over the weekend as well. As I’m living day-to-day, it’s really hard to judge how I’m going to feel when I wake up and as I navigate my recovery, so I wouldn’t be able to just “up and go” and take part in spontaneous plans as in the past. Setting personal boundaries means I need the people in my life to understand that I can’t just be the “yes guy” jumping at each and every plan. As a result of this, there is definitely a bit of anxiety around navigating plans with someone who is more flexible and in fact has just started a new job, so also needs to still impress and show up to plans made by the MD of the company. Just last night she let me know that he had invited us to dinner on Friday night, which I am open to going to but still unsure of how I’ll be around a bunch of new people, but I figured committing to it would be good, as it would mean we have Saturday to spend some quiet (alone) time together. We’ve only seen each other for 4 days in pretty much the last 10 months and we used to live together and see each other all day, so it would be awesome to get a bit more dead time in, but I’m also aware that life is very different than it was a year ago for the both of us and our friendship has to readjust in certain ways as well.

The other consideration with regards to someone coming to stay with me is that it can be quite disruptive to the new routine I’m trying to establish. I’ve tried to systematically work in a healthier routine, which I’d like to carry all the way through to the end of the year and beyond, which will hopefully make it easier for me to get off’ the meds and help me to place some good coping mechanisms in place to deal with life’s upcoming ebbs and flows. Having someone come to stay is not an issue per se, but there is also a consideration to be made for the fact that this friend will have certain expectations and an understanding of how things usually were before my diagnosis. We usually enjoyed a glass of wine or three together when we saw each other and now that I’m off the booze it will be a different dynamic. It will be an adjustment and a test of some sorts to maintain my sobriety over the weekend too – something she would never make a fuss about – but something that I know will be a bit of an adjustment. Being out in town last weekend and staying sober was a big test and it showed I can do it and still have a good time, but I really can’t let anything – not even my best friend visiting – derail my efforts and get me back into that “self medicating” space which landed my mental health in hot water in the first place. Simply put, depression truly is disruptive in the simple and complicated aspects of your life, and you have to make constant considerations and rethink your old ways, if you’re looking to propel yourself into a new direction.

I think it’s going to be key for me to communicate my fears, to talk about the new lifestyle changes I’ve been making (for one – getting healthy groceries on a Saturday morning, followed by a delicious cappuccino at the place across the store, which I don’t think should fall away just because I have someone staying with me). She has to essentially fall in with my plans and my routine, and I have to navigate it so it’s as enjoyable as possible, without disrupting any personal progress. Feels a bit selfish but it’s what needs to happen. The upside? When she comes, I will have been on the anti-depressants for 6 weeks, which is when they are supposed to start “levelling out” (according to my doctor) and when the serotonin levels in my brain should be at their highest. This means my mood should be pretty decent and hopefully we’ll just have our usual fun, late night chats and we can speak openly and freely about what we’ve both been going through for the last while. I’m excited, a little anxious and generally aware that it will be a bit of a test, but life is going to keep throwing things at me, and I’ll need to learn to navigate, and what better way to pull off the bandaid than with someone who knows me inside out, and will be understanding regardless of what I do. Let’s see how it goes.

 Conrad was here.

I finally started a morning meditation routine, and no it didn’t take as much time and effort as I thought it would.

Before my depression diagnosis I used to schedule meditations into my weekday evenings after work, but I found myself becoming so very robotic and militant about them, that they almost became a burden and a source of anxiety when I simply didn’t have the energy to get to them, or when I was running late on a particular day.

Little did I know that I didn’t have to have a rigorous schedule regarding prioritising mindfulness, and it was something that you could do “until you were pulled towards doing something else”. There are no rules regarding how, when, where and for how long you should meditate on any given day. I had this Eastern idea (or stereotype) of doing so for hours on end in my mind and always thought I was failing if I didn’t want to do it for 30 minutes to an hour. The fact that I can be flexible with it comes from some great advice from the coach I’ve been working with, who told me she has been meditating for years and years, subsequently kicking her anti-depressants almost 20 years ago as a result of the long term benefits she has experienced from doing so daily.

A colleague at work told me to check out Headspace, a mindfulness app you can download to your phone. They provide ten days of short meditations between 3 and 10 minutes, so I decided to take the plunge and download the app last night, with hopes that I would get up and spend at least 10 minutes going through the first guided meditation. In the past I had simply listened to any 30 minute meditation I could find on Youtube, which worked for me at times, but often after 10 or 15 minutes I’d find myself starting to disconnect with the process as my mind starts to wander about the next task on my to-do list. Stubborn to a tee and wanting to “tick the box” so to speak, I would carry on with the meditation and hope that it would be beneficial to me in the long run, only really growing resentful about it over time. Well, as we saw, my breakdown in June still happened and I didn’t manage to reap many benefits from taking this approach, so it was time to try something else.

So this morning I completed the first of 10 training videos, and it was a good experience. It takes time and practice and consistency, but I definitely think it is going to help me quite a bit, because it already made it a little easier for me to be clearer about the day ahead, and helped me through the biggest stumbling block in my depression: getting up from bed and into the shower. Once I can achieve that, the day does seem to gain momentum slowly and surely, but the struggle is definitely not letting my anxiety and the worries of the day take over my mind before I’ve even lifted my head from the pillow.

The goal for now is to complete 10 of these 10 minute meditations between now and the end of the month, to see if I can start enjoying the process and learning to operate from a more mindful place in my mornings. I think it’s particularly important now that the doctor has taken me off the anti-anxiety meds, and I’m relying solely on the anti-depressants for the next six months. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – they are simply one tool to help me recover, not a quick fix or a “magic pill” – I’ll have to keep doing work in terms of my diet, get more active where possible, and also use positive support systems (like family and friends, as well as therapy and coaching) to cope with ongoing day-to-day pressures. I’ve also realised that while the lifestyle changes right now are not providing immediate benefits, they definitely will have affected my life six months down the line. I’m looking forward to going into 2019 with a renewed outlook and I’m taking stock of the lessons I’m learning on a daily basis. Hopefully I’ll look back on this difficult time with a smile on my face.

Conrad was here.

What I learned from seeing a doctor again a month after being diagnosed with depression.

For one, I was a lot less anxious than going into the first consultation. Perhaps this was because I knew what to expect this time around, had met the doctor before and actually woke up feeling a whole lot better than the last time I had to get myself out of bed to admit I was depressed.

You still have these unsettling doubts though, that the doctor is going to switch up your medication, tell you you’ve been doing a bad job prioritising your recovery and leave you to get on with dealing with it. At least that’s what my depression tried to convince me it would be like. Naturally, in reality this wasn’t the case at all, and I had some valuable learnings from the experience which I wanted to share with you today.

  1. If you speak honestly about what you’ve been experiencing, a GP can help you more. I opened up about my loss of appetite and feeling like a walking zombie when I combine the anti-depressant with the anxiety medication, which we could address once I had put it on the table. It turns out that only happens to a small percentage of people, especially with the brands I am on, which I was surprised to learn. I haven’t taken an anxiety tablet for a few days and I’m coping fine, so the recommendation is to leave them and just focus on the anti-depressant for now. What this means is that I only have to take one tablet a day, which is a winner in my books. It also got me thinking: If I take an anxiety tablet systematically when feeling anxious and highly stressed, is that not the same as reaching for a beer after a long day? It’s all about the how, not necessarily the what. I don’t need more bad coping mechanisms. I’d prefer to focus my energy on positive ones, like writing, walking on the beach, reading my book or cooking a healthy meal.
  2. Loss of appetite and fluctuating energy levels are part of the first couple of weeks on Nuzak. The doctor told me to expect the loss of appetite to subside by month 3 (after 8 weeks), not any sooner. This was reassuring as I had been wondering if my system was actually rejecting the medication but this isn’t the case. I now have a framework of what to work with and what to expect, which does really help me, and I’m happy to know that this is mostly a phase that comes with the territory when you start on anti-depressants and particularly this kind of medication.
  3. You don’t have to buy all your meds in one batch. While I don’t have to see her again for a consultation until the end of the script (December), I could arrange with the dispensary that I come collect and pay for the medication each month. As I’ve never been on chronic medication, I thought you had to pay for it all upfront, which was a point of anxiety for me. Call me naive if you want, but I imagine other people wonder the same thing. Bottom line, is that you get to dictate when and how you collect your meds, which I thought was pretty cool, and reassured me that I did actually have some element of control in a process which is largely uncontrollable.
  4. This is only the beginning. She was pleased with the lifestyle changes I had made, and commented that it seemed like things were going better with me (“You smiled at me when you greeted me this time”). She did remind me that this is only the beginning though, and that the SSRI’s will “level out” (peak) at the 6 week mark only, so we’re still building the levels of serotonin in the brain. She told me to be patient, and that the lifestyle changes now might not have immediate positive benefits, but that in six months they definitely will. The alcohol abstinence, for example, does wonders not only for my mood, but for my liver, which took a hammering in my 20’s. I really, really, really don’t want to be 35 and suffering from liver disease (there are some really interesting documentaries about this on Youtube, if you want to learn more).
  5. I’ll be on medication for the rest of the year, and I’ve come to terms with that. Like I mentioned, she’d like me to see her again early in December, for us to discuss how I’ll be reducing the dosage going into January, so that ultimately I can (hopefully) be completely off’ the anti-depressant by February next year. That’s the goal for now, and it is a fluid one. Situations change, my body could respond differently to the medication a day, week or month from now, but it does seem like there is a bit more clarity about the process now and I am happy to proceed with the framework for the rest of the year. While it seems like a long time away, it really isn’t that far away, and also gives me a bit of a benchmark and a goal to work towards.

The ship is slowly starting to steady and even though I’m aware that we’re still in the early days, I’m starting to feel more of a glimmer of hope about the future again, and quite frankly, heading in a new direction that I know can only bring me better things. Let’s keep the conversation (and the momentum) going as we look towards August.

Conrad was here.

Returning to the doctor’s office for a 30 day follow-up consultation.

The first 30 days of taking medication for my depression has certainly had its ups & downs, but I can definitely say that I’m happy to be this far into the recovery process and I’m glad it isn’t the 18th of June anymore. A lot has changed and there are many things to be thankful for since that fateful weekend where I realised everything needed to change.

Tomorrow I’m going back to my GP for a one month check-up, to discuss the medication and to see if any adjustments need to be made. I’m also going to be picking up a new script, as I completed the first one, and I’m proud of myself because I didn’t miss any doses this month.

A couple of things I’d like to bring up with her:

  • My appetite is still greatly reduced, even after four weeks of taking the medication. I’m barely eating 1000 calories a day, which is resulting in rapid weight loss, which I know isn’t uncommon. Perhaps she will have some tips to help increase my appetite. I have noticed that my appetite comes and goes and can change pretty quickly.
  • The anxiety medication, in combination with the anti-depressant, has been rather debilitating at times. You really feel like you’re in a haze when you take it. I’ve greatly reduced when I take the anxiety medication, and have felt I can cope better at work and in general by not combining the two, unless I absolutely have to. Thankfully the anxiety medication is not meant to be taken each day, only when necessary, so I’m trying not to make it a crutch. There is no point in “self medicating” with an anxiety tablet, similarly to how I would have done with sugar or alcohol in the past. Solve the problem, don’t change the means to an end only.
  • I’d like to discuss if she believes the medication has kicked in yet. I’m told it takes between 4 and 6 weeks and while I do feel better, I’ve also made some drastic lifestyle changes, like only eating takeaways once in the last month, and cutting alcohol out of my diet. Do I feel visibly better? I definitely feel better than a month ago. Am I able to cope a little better? Definitely. Is it a drastic change that would have happened without the medication? Doubtful, but I’m not feeling amazingly better, just incrementally so. Perhaps that’s how it works, I don’t know.

I’m definitely more relaxed about the appointment than I was going for the first time, and a part of me can’t believe that it’s already been a month since my breakdown. Things can only look up from here, and I’m proud of the progress I’ve made in a short space of time. I am still committed to seeing the medication through for at least six months and would be interested to hear if she feels I should be changing medication or not. I don’t think the dosage is incorrect, but perhaps I’m not on the right kind of medication and she has something that will help to increase my appetite. I have to be honest, that I’m not too keen to experiment that much and may ask to just carry on with the current meds for at least one more month, before looking at adjustments. I’m making strides in the right direction. Let’s see how it goes!

Conrad was here.

 

Reaching out to one of my colleagues about depression and realising we’re going through exactly the same thing.

I’ve talked extensively about how the support group I attended wasn’t 100% a right fit, for a variety of reasons, and how I wanted to find a group, or even just someone else, who could relate to what I was going through and who I could talk to about what I’m going through. To be clear, I’ve had major support from the team at work in general, and have spoken to a bunch of people (mostly women) about what I’m going through, but what I’m talking about here is finding another male who is willing to talk about depression and to share tips for how he’s doing and coping, given the various day-to-day pressures at work.

In passing, I heard that a guy in one of the other departments was recently booked off following a depression diagnosis, but I wasn’t 100% sure as he hadn’t said anything outright and for all I knew this was just a rumour and he had simply been off with the flu. I decided to reach out to him over Skype two weeks ago, sharing what I had been through, and mentioning what I heard, not really knowing if he would come back denying it, or how he would approach it. There is definitely an even stronger stigma around a male talking about their feelings, or even admitting ‘weakness’ so to speak, so it was a bit of a roll of the dice. I have overcome these thoughts but I had no idea where he was at and whether he even wanted to have a conversation about things.

What transpired was a message from him thanking me for reaching out, and sharing his journey so far, which was shockingly similar to what I was going through. We planned to get together that week to chat about it all and rather spontaneously found ourselves sitting next to each other in the rec room the following day over lunch, starting the conversation about it, in front of some other colleagues, in fact. We weren’t shouting about it really, but another guy at the office heard us talking, and mentioned to me later how great it was to see two men connecting over depression and treatment and talking about their experiences. Baby steps. It’s not something that’s going to happen naturally or too easily (so to speak), so I’m trying to be proactive and to check in with him where I can, especially if I see he may be a bit more down than usual, with the hopes that the support helps him generate some momentum, but also because I’d love to share tips around how we can both cope a bit better with the pressures we have to tackle each day. I checked in with him again this morning and we agreed to go for a walk tomorrow over lunch, which will be nice, so we can trade some stories and see if there are other ways in which we can continue to support each other through recovery.

The biggest learning from all of this was that reaching out really helps, and the worst that could happen is the person could deny your request, and you will know where you stand with them. Even just asking someone how they are really doing (not just “how are you?” like a robot, when you get in in the morning) can make all the difference. Reach out if you see a change in behaviour with someone, if you happen to hear something, and the process could be very rewarding to your own recovery as well.

Conrad was here.