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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conrad was here.

 

What actually happened at the end of a five year plan I discussed in a magazine interview in 2013.

In 2013, I was interviewed for a publication called Career Compass, an opportunity that was set up by a friend. The article essentially detailed my career journey towards becoming station manager at the local radio station at 23 years old, which happened as a result of me gaining experience and working part-time while I was studying at university. It was meant to inspire other students to consider working alongside studying to build up their CV’s, before heading into the job market (something I would still recommend and I know is more of a requirement these days considering the global employment outlook).

I was rather shocked when, a couple of days ago, one of those dreaded Facebook memories popped up (thankfully not reminding me of the “Conrad Schwellnus is READYYY 2 PARTAY tonight” posts from 2007), showing that it had been five years since the article had been published. I was curiously interested in seeing how differently I felt now, all these years later, especially considering my new journey of self care and mental health prioritisation, and also to find out what my 30 year old self would have to say about how my 25 year old self saw and portrayed himself publicly.

While I essentially skimmed through the interview, scared I would be totally embarrassed by my answers, one question caught my eye; the dreaded “Where do you see yourself in five years?” humdinger, which possibly grabbed my attention as a result of the fact that it is now five years later (alarm bells in my head), and that I’m actually busy living the “end” of my so-called set out five year plan. Here’s how I answered the question in the interview:

“I’m a firm believer in setting up five year plans for yourself. Recently I stumbled across a list I had written for myself in June of 2008. We’re now five years from that point. Point 8 said “Get involved with the opportunities at MFM [92.6 Radio Station]. Make a name for yourself. While this is one point I have certainly achieved and I am proud of, there are other areas that I still need to work on. It’s a constant process of evaluating yourself and your life, and the harder you work on yourself, the greater the rewards.

Needless to say my 2018 list is currently in draft phase! In five years (when I turn 30), I see myself working in the music and broadcasting industry, but across more areas of the industry. I’m very interested in taking up a management role in a commercial radio environment but I would also like to pursue my other interests, such as songwriting, journalism and marketing.”

Here’s how I interpret the piece now, today, as I’m sitting under the covers, snuggled up and listening to the rain, on leave from work and taking a day to do whatever feels right. Please enjoy the running commentary that played over in my head from reading the answer out loud to myself this morning.

I can’t believe how much I wanted to control my life and my path. I can’t believe how rigid I was about my career and where it should go, what I was expected to do, and what path it should have taken. I can’t believe a goal was to “make a name for myself” and to so blatantly blow smoke up my own ass, and say that I have already achieved this. I can agree with constantly evaluating your progress, not constantly evaluating yourself (essentially I said you should evaluate who you are!). I have also learned that working hard is not the only way to reap rewards or to find joy in life. Sometimes life gives you gifts, and sometimes they can be as small as a kindness from a stranger, or a hug from a friend on a bad day.

I mentioned blindly that I still wanted to work in the music and broadcasting industry at 30. I worked for a major record label between 2014 & 2017, and it was a tremendously bad fit for my mental health. I was hellbent on a management role in an industry that wouldn’t be able to satisfy my soul, as much as I had wished it would. It must also be said, that I mentioned commercial radio in the interview not because I wanted a job in commercial radio, but because I assumed it would look good to a prospective employer. I had no intention of staying in radio and am shocked that I even said that back then as I knew it was never about the industry itself for me. What working in that industry was for me, was that it was always about connecting with the people and my team: this included individual development, goal setting and guiding potential in people wherever it was possible to do so.

I certainly am nowhere near where I was expecting to be based on the response to the question in the interview. I now work in the conservation industry (which I could have never predicted in a million years), as well as running a marketing consultancy called Delve 6, which has just signed its tenth client. I recently started up a mental health coaching business called Delve Deeper Coaching, signing my first client just this week, something I am tremendously excited about. Is my life worse off for being on this path, rather than the one I had expected myself to be on now? Very doubtful.

I could have never predicted that my career would have brought me here, even to this very blog and this very moment where you are reading what I want to share, and I wish I had given myself more freedom to enjoy the way in which life brought me here, highlights and rug-pulling-out-from-under-you moments combined. The years since I made “the plan” and the second half of my twenties can only be called a hot mess, as all of life tends to be and we need to get comfortable with things being messy! I made some good and bad decisions but I’m accountable to each and have taken as many lessons as I possibly can from it all.

I was convinced that turning 30 meant I had to “have my shit together” so to speak and that I’d have it all figured out by then. I wish I could have just given over control right from the start of my career, taken it day-by-day, and seen it as a marathon, and not a sprint. I may well have ended up writing more songs than the two I penned about my first love in my twenties (please stop laughing) and I may well have had the guts to submit them to the artists that I worked with on the daily had I not believed I wasn’t good enough and didn’t deserve to enjoy my life. All of that is busy changing thanks to prioritising my mental health and my general wellbeing and the past three months have really starting driving this point home for me in a big way.

Before I carry on with my day off, I wanted to share how I would answer the question now, at 30, and having started this new journey of self care, connection and mental health advocacy. Short, sweet and to the point, with the BS meter in check:

I don’t believe in setting up five year plans for yourself at all. In five years, I’d like to have lived out over 500 000 five minute plans. I’d like to have taken time to enjoy the journey, rather than focusing on what I think the destination should be. I’d like to be better at cutting myself some slack in each sphere of my life. I’d like to have celebrated the small and big victories, as well as continuing to learn from the losses and disappointments. I’d like to be encouraging others to take their lives just a few minutes at a time and to be living that very mantra myself, no matter how difficult it may be. All of this in honour of my physical, mental, spiritual and emotional wellbeing. I want to have connected with as many people from as many walks of life as possible, in order to learn more about myself and also nurture and encourage potential wherever possible. Let’s see how it goes and be alright with whatever the outcome may end up being.”

Conrad was here.

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

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.

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.