A 90 day mental health goal check-in, and turning my goals on their head in order to be more gentle with myself.

It’s hard to believe it’s already been three months since I started a new journey of mental health prioritisation, and so much has changed in my life since undertaking this process. While it remains a difficult process to navigate, there have been some incredible rewards from the work so far, including getting closer with my friends & family, opening up about mental health and depression and connecting with people from all walks of life, getting back out there and starting to date again, as well as generally waking up with a willingness to tackle the day; something that certainly wasn’t the case back in June.

This week was one of the more testing weeks for me, as I got sick with the flu for the first time this year and knew it would throw off my routine. There were two key observations from getting ill that I wanted to share with you quickly today. The first, was that I used to get sick with precision in August of each year (my GP commented on this a year or two ago). I would reach burnout from not taking sufficient leave and getting enough rest, and my body would shut down like clockwork. We’re in September now, so it seems the spell has been broken (is this something I should celebrate?), and prioritising my self care has meant that instead of reaching breaking point from working too hard, my body has now simply had to adjust to the change of season. Secondly, my recovery from the flu has been twice as fast as it was anytime I can recall in my twenties. This would also be spurred on my the fact that I maintained a healthy diet this week and that my immune system – which is certainly stronger now than it was six months ago – can handle things far better. I started feeling ill on Tuesday, and by Friday I was feeling how I would usually be feeling after a week (my fever had subsided and I was just a little bit superficially congested still).

Getting ill also usually took a heavy toll on my mental health, and I would bomb out for days on end. While it wasn’t a total walk in the park, and I did go through my dips having to be in bed for a few days, I certainly feel like I managed the process a bit better and it felt like my mind, body and spirit were working together to try get me back to a healthier place. I also accepted help in places I wouldn’t have previously: I asked my friend Kate-Lyn to drive me to the pharmacy on Tuesday when I was feeling faint (ok, she insisted, but it was also a good sign that I could put my pride and stubbornness aside to accept I couldn’t do something on my own). Am I feeling 100% this morning? Not quite, and I don’t want to bullshit you into thinking it’s been a walk in the park. But I’m certainly closer to my happy, bubbly self than I would have been otherwise and I am thankful for that this morning.

Now that we’re heading into month four of my journey with depression recovery, I wanted to check in about the mental health goals I set for myself back in June. It was the first thing that popped into my head this morning and I was curious to see how I would feel about the goals I set for myself at the start of this process:

  • Quit drinking alcohol while you are on anti-depressants, to give your body the best possible chance to settle and readjust.
  • Meditate three times a week.
  • Take anti-depressants for at least six months.
  • Go to 15 therapy sessions.
  • Keep talking about your mental health to others. This includes what I consider a new calling to be a mental health ambassador of sorts.
  • Write three blog posts a week. Writing is therapy for me, nothing else.

So where am I at with these? As I mentioned, I haven’t had a drop to drink in 90 days, which quite frankly has had a tremendous effect on my mental health. I’ve been far more consistent and stable as a result and this is something that remains non-negotiable for me until I finish up 6 months of treatment. I have decided however, that even if I continue with taking anti-depressants next year, I’ll still allow myself the freedom to enjoy a glass of champagne or a drink as part of a celebration: I simply don’t see it as a realistic “it must never happen” parameter for myself. Where I started getting problems was from falling into a routine of drinking and not dealing with the issues in my life, or the day-to-day stresses I’ve encountered. Quite frankly, I also want to be able to enjoy the moments! It’s all about the how and why, and not drinking so I don’t have to deal with problems. This is something I’ll keep revisiting, especially as December creeps ever closer.

I’m not gonna lie, meditation has been difficult prioritise, and although I’ve talked to others about it, including talking to my coach about it, I just haven’t been pulled towards it enough to feel like it’s worth my while. Well, pulled towards it in the traditional sense. I downloaded apps, tried Youtube, got up early to meditate, tried it in the evenings, but it just didn’t stick for me over these three months. So I allowed myself some freedom. Time to readjust and not be so rigid (YAAS). Freedom to wake up and listen to music! Freedom to put on a playlist and dance my ass off (I literally am starting to feel like a contestant on a 90’s MTV dance show, Wade Robson comes to mind). Freedom to sit in my thoughts and to use music as a meditative reflection. Hell, I’m even listening to a playlist now as I write this post. Is it meditation in the traditional sense? I’m not so sure and that’s OK. Whatever it is, is allowing my mind to wander and for me to dream a little again, which is definitely a positive and something that might not work for everyone, but is working for me.

I’ve taken my meds for 90 days straight and haven’t missed a day, which I am very proud about. Friends and colleagues have opened up to me about how terrible it affects them when they miss their medication, so I try to be pedantic about this. I had a particular small victory that I’d like to mention here as well. My Nuzak prescription comes in packets of 30, so I have to go to the doctor once a month to collect the refill of the prescription. It’s also a nice way to keep track of how long I’ve been taking the meds. This week, having been ill and in bed, I did what I usually wouldn’t do (as I like sorting things out on my own usually), and asked my landlady if she would pick up the prescription for me, as I was too ill to go to the doctor on my own on Thursday. Not only a good exercise in knowing my limits and knowing when I’m too ill to be out and about, but also a good chance to normalise the process of collecting anti-depressants, talking about it to someone outside of my family, and being comfortable with them lending me a helping hand. Needless to say I appreciated her helping out greatly and it was also somewhat of a bonding experience for us on some level too. Simply put, reaching out is the way to go.

Therapy has been amazing, and I’ve completed 10 out of the 15 approved sessions through my medical aid PMB benefits. I still stand firm that therapy is a hugely positive tool for depression recovery, and if you have a good fit in terms of the therapist-patient dynamic (as I am lucky enough to have), hang on to it. This week I was too ill to go to my session, which made me very sad on the day and was quite the source of anxiety, but I also had to realise that taking care of myself meant not driving 40 minutes to town when I was rocking a fever and feeling like I was going to faint. Has there been a positive to doing this? Health-wise, absolutely. Has it given me some more time to think about what we talked about in the session last week? Absolutely. It also has given me the freedom to process a few conversations I had with family on my vacation last week, which were enlightening, helped me learn more about myself and them, and also brought us all closer. Nothing is a good or a bad thing exclusively.

I’ve certainly also worked hard to keep talking about mental health prioritisation to others, but it always feels like there is more work to be done. By starting up my new venture, Delve Deeper Coaching, and signing my first client, I have been further encouraged to keep talking to people about their mental health and having daily conversations. I’ve tried to listen more, and speak less (something that can be hard at times)! Checking in with someone about their mental health doesn’t need to be as formal as a session or even a sit down coffee with someone. You can simply take a minute or two to check in with a friend at the start of their day, or with a colleague in the kitchen at work, or if you bump into them in the parking lot before saying goodbye for the day. We don’t need to make mental health this big elephant in the room. We don’t need to set aside boardrooms and schedule meetings to talk about it. I believe my advocacy is making a positive contribution because it pops up naturally and spontaneously during the course of the day. Did I wake up feeling good this morning, and by lunch I was flat for some reason? Sure, it happens, but now I’m actually talking about it at work, I’m communicating my feelings to others in a non-disruptive way, in an attempt for them to also better understand the journey and to possibly learn something about their own journey too.

Last of all, have I been writing three blog posts a week? If you’re following the blogs, you’ll know that this has not been the case and I usually post once a week. This has largely been due to the fact that my therapist challenged me to keep myself in check on the blog (she knows me well enough). She expressed a concern a while ago that I might be putting too much “PR spin” on my writing (I work in marketing after all so it happens!) and she encouraged me to write from a place of authenticity and vulnerability. Preach Brene, preach. So I made the decision to write when I’m pulled to write, like this morning, rather than working on a rigid schedule and feeling an obligation to put pen to paper. I also write when I can feel that for the sake of my mental health, I need to. Last night I wasn’t in the best mental headspace, I felt lonely and vulnerable and there was a pull to project onto others (especially easy when you’re in a phase where you’re meeting a lot of new people), so I knew that this morning it would be good to hop onto the blog, and I figured what I should write about would come to me. This is a rather long post, so I guess it was meant to be this way! I love writing this blog and sharing my journey but the challenge isn’t how often I write, but that I keep it honest and real, even if that means two posts a month, or one, for that matter.

What I’ve found so striking from these goals, even in my reflections from my physical journal, is that I can be quite rigid with myself, frankly, unnecessarily hard on myself, with fixed (measurable) parameters determining the success of my goals. This is great in terms of business KPI’s, but I don’t think it works for life KPI’s. Goals require boundaries of course, otherwise you’ll keep worming yourself out of achieving them or simply convince yourself that someone else is to blame for not reaching them, but one thing I’m very curious about reading back and in my reflection is how militant I can be with myself when it comes to my personal development. “Quit drinking alcohol” i.e never drink again or you fail, “Meditate 3 times a week” i.e. if you do so twice you are a failure. Everything has very fixed parameters and there are limitations for flexibility. Simply put, fuck that. I realise now I need to readjust my thinking going into the second half of the six month anti-depressant treatment and I need to cut myself some slack. I’ve tried to rewrite my goals – correction – these came to me more spontaneously, through my own journalling, and I wanted to share what I’ll be focusing on for the next phase:

  1. Love and care for yourself. You are great, kind, caring and lovable.
  2. Ground yourself in the journey, not the destination.
  3. Manage and prioritise your mental health daily.
  4. Say no where necessary.
  5. Continue your heathy relationship with food and alcohol.
  6. Don’t self medicate.
  7. Nurture your relationships, especially those long standing connections where you’ve walked a long path with someone.
  8. Grow into your identity as a gay man with honesty and self acceptance.
  9. Continue to try to be more honest and vulnerable, living your life with openness and compassion on a daily basis.
  10. Know your limits and reach out when you need to.

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.

 

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.

 

Recommitting to my mental health and pondering the future 28 days into my depression treatment.

The doctor did say that I would be tempted to go off the meds after a month. She said everyone goes through this, as they assume that feeling better means they can kick the medication and cope on their own. I’ve learned that overcoming depression is not something that happens overnight and I’m not really up to taking that chance at this stage.

Things have changed quite a bit in the four weeks since I saw my GP and received the depression diagnosis. I can certainly say that I’m starting to feel better and looking at the future with optimism once again, but it certainly hasn’t been solely because of the medication. I can now understand more than ever that your medication is meant to be one of the tools that assists you in recovery, and helps to make the process more manageable in general if you are on the correct dosage and able to continue with day to day functions. It gives you the extra push to keep going and to start setting new goals, however small they may be. This morning I celebrated four weeks of treatment with a walk on the beach, which I have to be honest, was absolutely exhausting, but I’m glad I did it, and glad I took the time to do something for myself. A month ago this wasn’t even an option as it felt like I was paralysed or glued to the bed, with no real hope or enthusiasm about anything, so it’s a welcome change and I am starting to look at my mental health getting better in increments, slowly but surely and with each passing good decision.

I’ve got at least five more months of taking the anti-depressants, which is something I have told myself is non-negotiable, regardless of the improvements in my mood. I made a commitment to my own mental health recovery when I told the doctor I would stick it out for at least six months, and I owe myself that. I’m taking a second today to recommit to that for my own future and general wellbeing. I’m continuing with weekly therapy until at least October, having monthly coaching sessions lined up too, and will soon start to actively look for more ways to keep having conversations with people about depression and anxiety. While the support group I went to initially didn’t quite pan out, I’d like to get to a point where I’m actively looking for a new group to go to, especially for the second half of the six months and for when my free therapy sessions run out. Looking ahead, I’d like to slowly start working in more activity into my week – as exhausting as the walk was this morning, I know that the endorphins from the activity are really good for my mental health and I haven’t had that release from activity in quite a while now. We’re not talking about running a marathon here, we’re just talking about working in two activities a week and taking things from there.

I’d like to continue having conversations with people about depression, anxiety and their mental health and wellbeing, not only to learn more for my own recovery, but to hopefully help others seek treatment if they are at the same state I was in last month. There are so many of us struggling with the same thing, but not open to speaking about it we fear we will be ostracised for it. It’s time to be brave and to prioritise our mental health. Own the disease, own that it is something you have to learn to live with. Talk to friends and family, I guarantee you it will bring you closer to at least one other person. I am reaping many new rewards just from talking to my family about it. I want to keep the conversation going and also continue to share my journey, with hopes that others will be able to draw parallels and actively start tackling those small increments I mentioned, just one day a day at a time.

 Conrad was here.

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

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

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

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

Conrad was here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conrad was here.

Ten days after my depression diagnosis, and I’m out of the house this morning.

It’s been ten days since my depression diagnosis and this morning I find myself outside of the house, at a coffee shop around the corner from where I live. This is good news, no wait, great news, as yesterday I struggled to get up from bed, and I barely managed to get myself to a grocery store by 5pm. My landlord knocked on my door to remind me that it was important for me to get out of the house and I had to remind her that while I appreciate the sentiment, there are going to be good and bad days with this thing nasty thing called depression.

Over the last few days, I’ve had two noticeable spells of my mood lifting somewhat – the first, while watching a movie two nights ago, where I found myself spontaneously laughing at one or two of the scenes. The second, was on a phone call with my best friend, who lives about a two hour flight away from me. I don’t even recall what we were laughing about, but we were both in fits for a few minutes, which was a good feeling. That’s one of the side-effects of the medication, not really being all too present (I can’t recall much of what I’ve been talking to people about over the last few days) and feeling like your mind is in a bit of a haze. I equate the feeling to the way Hogwarts looked at the start of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1. You know, when Snape was headmaster. Misty, hazy, odd, but eerily calm in a way too.

So what was I expecting? These are anti-depressants after all. I didn’t have many expectations of what they would do to me, considering it’s my first time being on a medication like this, but I did expect to start feeling a little bit weird, which is exactly what has happened. Over the past few days, I’ve had to navigate between days where I’ve felt nauseous and unable to stomach much food, to days where my body seems to be more ravenous than usual. I’ve been meticulous about keeping a healthy diet, and not giving into the temptation to indulge in sugary, processed food, and subsequently sending me into a further spiral. I’m still adamant about giving my body the best possible chance to adapt to the meds and am also aware that a lot of rest is exactly what the doctor ordered.

As I’ve mentioned before, my doctor said it would take about two weeks for the medication to start doing its thing, so perhaps I simply am not feeling the effects yet. It’s really hard to tell if I’m feeling better because I’m getting my strength back and starting to tackle things, or if there is a physiological change. Both are probably closely interlinked. I’m told by friends who have gone through this, that one day I’ll just realise that I’m feeling better, it won’t arrive in a straight line, I won’t just wake up and be OK. So many people expect an anti-depressant to be a “fix” and it simply isn’t that. I watched a video on Youtube recently where someone referred to it as “one of the tools” you use to get your mental health back to a good place. I like the sound of that – it works in conjunction with other lifestyle changes. And I’m making a lot of those.

For now, as difficult as it is to sit in a crowded restaurant (the noise is still just as debilitating as when I went for breakfast with my friend last weekend), I’ve at least got my headphones in, I’m sipping on a delicious cup of cappuccino, I’ve showed up and gotten out of the house, out of my head, and crawled a few more baby steps in the right direction.

Conrad was here.