Sorry birthday plans, dealing with my depression is priority #1 now.

I’m turning 30 in a few days, and while I’ve been adamant about not making big plans this year, things have naturally cropped up as I have good people in my life.

That in itself is a revelation, as for the longest time my depression had been trying to convince me that nobody cared or would be interested in celebrating with me. Things must slowly be starting to tick over again, which feels like a big deal as I write this.

I initially had plans of throwing a big 80’s themed bash, which changed to a small birthday drinks, which changed to no plans at all, which changed to getting on a flight to go see my best friend, which changed to having my best friend fly here to come stay with me for the weekend, which changed to DROP EVERYTHING, YOU NEED TO DEAL WITH YOUR DEPRESSION.

My diagnosis effectively put everything on hold. Not because I don’t want to see anybody. Not because I don’t want to celebrate a milestone in my life (I threw two 21st birthday parties, in different cities), but simply because dealing with my depression is now priority #1. Work, clients, buying a new jersey, doing laundry, whatever… all of this is now secondary.

I had been toying with the idea of going back to work this week, simply because I know there are plans for them to bake me a cake, and honestly put, it would be so lovely to be surrounded by the positive energy on the day. I am however also well aware that getting that, would mean a trade off in terms of getting back into the swing of things at work, in a time when not only my body is still adjusting to the anti-depressants (see previous post) but where I simply am not operating at full mental capacity for work tasks and to show up for my employer in the way I would be comfortable knowing I can do my best work. As a result I will be taking more time off, until at least the 2nd of July.

The allure to be distracted, even in a week like this one, is huge, but I am proud that I am putting some checkpoints in place to make sure the recovery process continues and that I keep building on the momentum I’ve generated so far. I’m starting therapy this week, which will be a big win, I just know it. I had also initially gotten annual leave approved for two weeks (2 – 16 July) and those plans have been put on hold, as I know that going away or changing up my routine now, will definitely detract from what I need to do now. I also can’t go away when I’ve just started therapy, it simply does not make any sense. It’s all about just taking things a day at a time and putting your best foot forward. Here’s hoping I’ll look back at this post with a smile on my face one day.

Conrad was here.

The first social commitment after my depression diagnosis was unexpectedly difficult.

It wasn’t because I was in bad company, that’s for sure.

A friend of mind had travelled over an hour to come see me. See, she had been away for a week, and in fact wanted to meet up at my place and bring some food. Proud as always, I decided to rather schedule a breakfast for us at a nearby coffee shop, not really thinking it would be too difficult to sit through a meal and a nice chat about everything that had gone down in the last week. I also wanted an excuse to get out of the house early in the morning, and to prove to myself I could do it with minimal fuss.

Little did I know my body wasn’t going to be playing along. Firstly, she was running a bit late, so I ordered a cappuccino while waiting. Without even thinking about it, I ordered a refill, which definitely meant the experience was made a little bit harder than it should have been. Caffeine, coupled with the meds, and a loud, crowded environment, was not a good combination and I felt instantly overwhelmed. I’ve felt this in the past, and now know that I need to be careful with caffeine, really just limiting myself to one cup whenever I am in a social setting. I’ve completely given up on instant coffee which is a good thing.

I was so happy to see her when she arrived, but honestly speaking, I couldn’t hear a word she was saying over the coffee grinder, something that wouldn’t usually be a problem, but I was not able to zone out of it and found myself particularly sensitive to all the noises around us. I’m told this is part of what the medication does and is something I’ll need to get used to. It got to a point where I couldn’t concentrate on what she was saying, so I asked if we could rather move to an outside table where it was seemingly more quiet.

Little did I know that it would be worse outside, with bustling shopping trolleys coming through the doors every few seconds (there is a big supermarket next to this coffee shop) and generally people were streaming in and out, considering it is the weekend and everyone is doing their weekly shopping. I struggled so much to concentrate and had to work very hard to stay with the conversation – a first for me. For someone who is usually a champion listener, this was a first and a very surreal experience. It was another reminder that there will be a readjustment period and that life is and will continue to be a lot different now that I’m taking medication for my depression and anxiety.

Speaking of anxiety, it was absolutely through the roof, and I’m sure the caffeine didn’t help. I could hardly sit still and my palms were continuously sweaty. I’m not sure what I was so worried about, but I had in fact taken some anti-anxiety medication before I left, and thought that it would help. I had no apprehension about meeting up with this friend – in fact, she is someone I’ve opened up to a lot in the last nine months – so it was more about the general environment and having to be back in a social setting, with a lot of unpredictable elements.

While the bad service from the restaurant didn’t help the situation, I was most surprised by the fact that by the time my breakfast arrived, I had completely lost my appetite, and ate only a slice of toast and a bit of scrambled eggs. I felt immediately nauseous and didn’t really know what to make of this, as I had only eaten a banana first thing in the morning and in normal circumstances would be quite ravenous at 11am. When the waiter asked if I wanted to take my leftovers home, I told him that I was feeling ill and not up to eating, possibly more to spare the feelings of the chef, I don’t know. The bottom line was I was going to be sick if I ate it, now or later.

All-in-all it was wonderful to catch up with my friend, but I realised that things are going to start being different now following my diagnosis. It’s not as straightforward for me to make plans with people, as I’ll always need to be managing what the medication may do to me on a given day, and also be mindful of my anxiety levels, which, at times, feel high just for the sake of it, with little or no explanation why. The doctor did warn me that this would happen in the first few weeks, so hopefully it’s not a long term side effect.

Today was a good lesson about new limitations and how I need to become more mindful of the fact that some things need to be approached with a bit more caution. I am however really glad I got out today. One day at a time, we will get there.

Conrad was here.

What it felt like to show up for the first depression support group meeting.

It’s a little bit like wearing a “hey, I’m depressed.” sign on your forehead, which is not the easiest thing to deal with just a few days after being diagnosed. But pull off the bandaid we must and we did.

Showing up is definitely the hard part. All week I’ve been focused on getting there, focused on just getting myself planted down onto a seat at this meeting, though I wasn’t prepared for the anxiety I would feel going into the session. Let me clarify that this isn’t related to a fear of needing to share with a group of strangers. In fact, the moderator told me that there is no obligation for me to even share on the day, which was reassuring.

It’s more related to the fact that showing up to one of these groups is a personal admission that I am depressed. There’s no going back now. It is saying to a group of strangers “Hey, I’m here, I’m depressed, I’d like to talk about it. I’d like to do something about it”.

Funnily enough, showing up to meet with a handful people in person and talking about the illness felt harder than posting about it to hundreds of people on social media. I had more expectations of how my circle of friends and acquaintances would react (hell, they know me of course) but frankly there is a lot of self doubt in your mind if you’ve been raised in a culture where you simply have to get on with it. Funny thing is – and I only realised this now while writing about it – the other people at this meeting are there for the same reasons, but your depression will make sure you question the process regardless. They are also there to share, open up and find a safe space to heal.

While all contents of the meeting are confidential, I can say that it was both wonderful and very overwhelming to hear about the struggles that other people are facing. My anxiety levels were through the roof afterwards, which I’m not sure is a good thing, but mostly this is because I naturally take on the feelings of others (a major blessing and a major curse). The meeting reiterated to me that depression and anxiety related disorders can be majorly debilitating in multiple spheres of your life, and in fact, it can only get worse if you don’t face it and seek out treatment and support. I gained a lot of perspective from going, but better yet, I got to show up, and admit to myself that there is this thing that I have to start navigating in order to get back to a good place in my life.

Conrad was here.

Five ridiculous things my depression made me do that made me realise I needed to get help.

We’re not talking major life events or anything here, I’ll save those stories for another day. These are a few small things that made me more aware of the fact that I needed to get professional help and that from a mental health standpoint things were starting to move in the wrong direction.

  1. I bought and ate a sandwich at work, and without even thinking put the plastic wrapper it came in inside my water bottle. I don’t know why and I have no memory of this, perhaps I wanted to throw it away when I refilled my bottle. Problem is I didn’t do it right away, and ended up refilling the bottle, only to find the plastic wrapper inside the bottle at the end of the day when I refilled again. Pretty strange and fairly gross that I drank from the bottle all day.
  2. One night I was doing dishes at home and walked over to the cupboard to grab something, only to literally find myself staring inside the cupboard for 10 minutes, trying to figure out what I was looking for. I still don’t know what I was trying to get and it was incredibly frustrating and demoralising.
  3. Sitting at a restaurant, and picking up salt to put on my scrambled egg, only to be distracted by my phone vibrating, and putting it down. When I realised I hadn’t used the salt (just a few seconds later), I grabbed the pepper instead, and threw that on, only to realise the salt was still right in front of me. I know, I know, at least it was pepper, but it could just as well have been sugar, or one of the other condiments on the table.
  4. Thinking back now, I also recall throwing boiling water into my cereal rather than in my coffee cup one morning last year. I could at least laugh at this one a little and even joked about it to my colleagues at some point, but still, it had to have been a way for my mind to start telling me that I was starting to run on empty.
  5. A friend at work asked if she could drive behind me to a pub we were all going to after work on a Friday. I left the office with full intentions to wait for her outside so she could get into her car and follow me, but as I drove past I just carried on driving, even waving goodbye to her in my rear view mirror, completely oblivious that we had just made plans for her to drive behind me. That one I will however attribute to a bit of Friday brain, but still rather alarming if you consider that most of my friends refer to me as someone they can always depend on. I didn’t know what to say to her when we got to the pub, hell, I only recalled that I had made the promise once she had brought it up!

On the surface these five things don’t seem to be too serious, but in essence the forgetfulness and general strange behaviour was a strong indicator that something was not quite right, especially for a highly driven, type A personality such as myself. Luckily, I can reflect on these experience now from a point of recovery, keeping in mind that I’ll be able to spot this kind of behaviour in future, which will hopefully give me a little bit more power and time to make changes when I exhibit similar symptoms during the ebbs and flows of life in general.

Have you experienced something similar? If so, please consider speaking to someone about it and reach out to a medical professional if you’re at a point where it is becoming debilitating, regardless of which which sphere of your life it is happening in.

Conrad was here.

Why I sent my ex-fiance a letter about my depression yesterday.

The idea of reaching out had been playing on my mind for a few days, not only because I’ve come to the realisation that my depression has been going on for longer than the six months since we split, but because I genuinely believe we both suffered from the disease for the greater part of our relationship, and especially so from a couple of months after we got engaged.

I had spent so much of the last year of the relationship pushing my fiance to get help, following a retrenchment and an immediate depressive spell which emerged right at the start of 2017. Of course I found it easy to dish out the advice, while not necessary turning the mirror around and looking at all the ways my depression had grown silently stronger over time, and how it was slowly starting to take over my life. I simply didn’t have the time or capacity; I had just left a stable corporate job and started my own business, plus we had just moved into a new home together and were on the verge of getting a puppy. Yet I continued, and in a way, focused all my energy outward, without taking a minute to breathe, without pausing and reflecting properly on what I was busy doing to myself.

So why did I reach out to someone I haven’t seen since December? To someone who made a decision to block me on all social media? Because someone has to. I reached out because I’m not sure anyone else will start the conversation.

So I sent along some details about my experience with depression this year. I discussed how I realised I had been depressed all through our relationship (and even in the years before that), and offered guidance as to how to navigate the treatment process, should there be a willingness pursue it. I talked about my suicidal thoughts and about learning more about extended family members who also suffered from mental illnesses.

Will I get a response? I doubt it. Does that matter? No. But perhaps there will come a time when it will make sense, perhaps later it will switch a lightbulb on, when the time is right. It doesn’t have to be today, tomorrow or even next year. Until then, the conversation continues, and I’d like to believe that doing the right thing – even when it’s not necessarily an easy thing to do – is the way to go. Sometimes showing up for someone – regardless of your history or any baggage – can make all the difference.

Conrad was here.

How I shared my depression diagnosis with 600 people.

In my early twenties, I went through the same social media mania all millennials went through when it first became a thing. As the years went on and my depression started to take a firm hold on my life, I slowly moved away from sharing updates, to the point where people would ask me “where are you?” when they bump into me in real life, as if my social media silence implied I wasn’t standing right in front of them right now. I had to hold back the urge to say “I’m standing right in front of you, dumbass!” a couple of times.

Yesterday I felt a compelling pull to open up to my Facebook circle about my depression diagnosis, especially as it was one of the better days and I had the strength to interact with others. This blog is in itself a platform for me to share my journey, but opening up and breaking down the stigma is something that starts at home. While I’ve had conversations with my family and core friends, I felt compelled to reach out and find out if there are others who have been suffering in silence, and the response was rather overwhelming. I’m still processing the reaction and taking in as much as I can from people sharing their stories of their own struggles, or the struggles of someone close to them. One friend messaged me to say “While I don’t know what it’s like myself, I can sympathise as a family member has suffered with depression for years, and I’ve seen what it can do to a person”. This kind of self-awareness and compassion is what anybody suffering with something major wants to hear and I felt a lot of love hearing that.

So here’s how I did it. If you’re reading this from somewhere around the world and it strikes a nerve with you, you can reach out to me directly via this page on the blog.

At the start of this week I was diagnosed with depression, something I knew was a long time coming, and something I’m now aware will be an obstacle I’ll have to deal with on a day-to-day basis moving forward. I’ve taken a couple of proactive steps in the right direction this week, including taking a break from work, seeking treatment with a GP, getting in touch with a therapist and joining a local depression support group in my area.

 

Over the past two weeks, I’ve had multiple conversations with people who are in a similar boat and are simply not coping with the pressures of modern life. In fact, just from a few small conversations, I have a list of nearly 20 people in my direct circle who suffer from anxiety and depression related problems, and pretty silently and secretly so. I’m sure there are many more. My message today is simple and clear. PLEASE REACH OUT. If you’re suffering, talk to someone about it. It took me a paralysing 40 hour stint in bed to realise that I needed to put my pride aside, have some honest conversations with colleagues, clients, friends and family, and to do something to get help before it’s too late.

 

As part of my recovery and as a therapeutic practice, I’ve created a blog which will detail my journey of living with, opening up about and breaking down the stigma attached to depression. If you’d like to read it and find out more about my story, pop me a private message and I’ll send you a link. If you’d just like to talk to someone about the disease or ask questions about the help I’m getting and how I went about it, then DM me too. I’m not an expert, but I’m learning and am happy to be an ear to anyone willing to reach out. Depression is a serious disease, and suicide is never an option. Let’s start having some real conversations about it.

Conrad was here.

Needing a natural “pick me up” but finding a surprising obstacle.

When I was a student, I used to go for regular Vitamin B12 injections at the local pharmacy, and when a friend suggested I go for one as a “pick me up” the day before I had initially planned on going back to work, I thought it would be something good to wake up for and to get done, so I had a bit of an energy boost to face people at the office after my diagnosis.

I got up, felt ready to go do this, hell, I even managed to shower and get dressed without too much fuss. I got to the mall, and decided to try the first of two pharmacies. I knew I needed a backup in case I ran into any kinds of problems at one. Perhaps I preempted having problems with getting the shot, but after queuing patiently, I was met with a pharmacist who informed me that I needed a script to be able to get the shot. A vitamin shot, that – as far as I know – is not something that is necessarily addictive, but more just an energy boost for people who would like to prep themselves up a bit every six months or so.

Not to be too phased, I thought I’d try my luck at pharmacy number two, but still, no luck. Besides a swelling anger boiling up in me, I immediately thought of people out there who may be struggling with a low, creeping closer to a depression, who actually took the initiative to get help in a small way (like getting the shot) and being turned away, only to spiral into further darkness. Someone may have the courage to admit they need a pick me up, and then when they get turned away like this, could be further discouraged and believe the system really is working against them. If they are not in a place yet where they are ready to see a GP, then perhaps the system is failing them. Conversely, some may then actually go to a GP, but what are the chances that the GP will mention depression and talk about mental health? A vitamin B12 shot could simply be masked as “I need a boost, my energy levels are low”.

We need better systems in place, a better structure of support, especially if were going to tackle this worldwide disease. Let’s start having conversations and find new ways of making it easier for people to get access to the help they so desperately need, before things turn really dire.

Conrad was here.

Depression makes you believe nobody cares about you – which is total BS.

Having been formally diagnosed with depression, prescribed medications and following a full blown sob fest on the phone to mom, I walked back to my apartment and remembered I had promised my landlady a cup of tea and a chat. I opened my WhatsApp and she was busy typing already, she must have heard me come in, but I quickly interrupted and messaged “Ready for tea?” to which she sent her usual emoji’s. A few minutes later, after I had swallowed my first anti-depressant and didn’t know how I was going to feel in five minutes, she arrived with a tray containing Rooibos and a rather anxious look on her face.

“I need to tell you something,” I started, having poured us both a cup. She was avoiding my gaze somewhat and I realised I just had to come out and say it, like ripping off a band aid. “I’ve been prescribed anti-depressants” I started, not sure if “I have depression” would be the best way to go. Come to think of it, I’m not even sure I said it out loud until I was sitting talking to my sister a couple of days later. Her eyes lit up for a second, and there was a change in her demeanour. The air was immediately lighter, and I wasn’t sure why. She said she was sorry to hear that, and her eyes filled with tears.

“We thought you were moving out. I talked to [insert husband name here] while you were at the appointment and found myself crying about the thought of you leaving. It has just been such a pleasure having you living here.”

Not one day prior – just a few steps away from their house – I had been contemplating taking my own life before my 30th birthday, in their apartment of all places, because my depression had genuinely made me believe that I was unloved, unwanted and that nobody cared about me. What absolute bullshit. We talked for about 30 minutes, where she shared about how difficult it was for her to get mental health assistance after her brother passed away many years ago (“the only shrink in the town was known to be someone who ran her mouth”) and I realised that this is a cross-generational problem. Better than that, I realised that I was loved and my company cherished, even just by someone I would have the odd five minute conversation with as I got back from a day at work. Your depression will try fool you, and it will not get the better of you.

Conrad was here.

Talking myself out of my depression while sitting in the doctor’s office.

I was already talking myself out of going when I got in the car, but off I went to the doctor’s office. I had opted to go for a female GP, as it felt like it may be easier to open up to a woman about my depression. Not sure why, but it is what it is.

After I had paid for my consultation upfront, I sat down in a crowded waiting room and thought I would only need to wait for a few minutes. The doctor was running very late, though nobody was keeping me updated, and I hesitated to get up, because I worried that if I got up, I would walk out and not come back. Here I had decided to be brave, to be vulnerable, and to share what I was going through with a complete stranger with the hopes that I would be able to get some help, and I had to sit for an hour, questioning the decision, looking for ways to get out of there, even considering making a scene and telling the receptionist to go fuck herself.

At long last, I was moved to another waiting area, and a short while and a few forced smiles to people walking past later, I was sitting in front of a young doctor who had trustworthy eyes. “I’m so so so so sorry to have kept you waiting” she started, after which she rambled something about old people taking forever during consultations. I was too anxious to care or even listen, I just wanted to get talking. I had made it this far, and I just wanted to hear some sort of feedback for how I had been feeling. I had practiced over and over how I would start the conversation. How do you start the conversation? This is a great source of anxiety in itself. “Hi doctor, I’m depressed.” – too forward. “Hi doctor, my mental health is low” – low? What does that mean? I didn’t know how to do it.

I can’t recall what I said or what she asked, but a minute later I was rambling off about the last six months of my life, talking about how I had started to isolate myself from everyone for the past few years, mentioning the breakdown of my engagement last year, discussing how it had affected my work performance, how I had always been able to “put on a show” at work, and how I had somehow managed to make it here. “Suicidal thoughts?” she asked. I paused. I mentioned that I was unable to see past June. As in, unable to see past 13 days from now, when it would be July 1st. “So no plan of action yet then?” she continued, adding what I interpreted as humour. Time and place, lady.

Now this is where I need to give her some serious props. Following this and acknowledging my depression diagnosis, she started talking to me about mental health, the stigma around it and how by 2030 it will be the leading cause of death in the world.

She called it a disease, which automatically made me feel more scared, yet more validated. I had expected to be told that it was something “you just get over” but she really stressed the severity of the situation. I am thankful to her for doing so, because had she not, I may have walked out of there feeling worse about this illness, perhaps also thinking that it wasn’t serious and that my suicidal thoughts would go away. She told me that she was going to try me on an antidepressant called Nuzak for 1 month, but that I would need to commit to 6 months as a minimum if I wanted to see any long term changes. She told me it wasn’t a magic pill, and that I would need to make some serious lifestyle changes. We talked about marijuana, which I don’t use anyway, but funny enough she didn’t mention alcohol at all – something I do consume, pretty regularly. I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t mentioned as a go-to.

Regardless, and still feeling more assured and like a weight had been lifted off my chest, I left her consulting room and went to the dispensary in the same building, handing my prescription (which also contained some anti-anxiety medication – apparently anxiety is a side effect once you start taking anti-depressants for the first time) to a nice old lady who I felt was probably going to judge me for needing to get these medications, but I couldn’t dwell. All part of the stigma, all part of the fear that you’re somehow “broken” by suffering from a physical imbalance over which you have absolutely no say or control. She came back a little while later, I paid for both medications, happy that they were more affordable than I thought they would be (in your mind you also tell yourself that they will be ridiculously expensive to deter you from going), and I was on my way.

As I got into the car, it started raining and I sat for a minute staring at the boxes. I opened them frantically and started reading through the leaflets for information on anything I could expect to feel over the next few days. The doctor has simply mentioned headaches, but had not given me an indication as to what to expect. She didn’t give me an indication as to whether the dose would be low, or if it was high. I really was going in blind, which is something that is definitely also a part of the hurdle of getting treatment. I wish there was a simple way – a checklist of sorts – to help people get the information they want. If people had more of an idea of what they were in for – regardless of the fact that I know everyone responds differently and there is no ‘one size fits all solution’ – perhaps more people would reach out and seek treatment for depression.

After digging through the leaflets, still not satisfied but keen to get going with my treatment, I decided to head home, but not before calling my mom from the driveway, sobbing, and finally acknowledging that I had been diagnosed with that dreaded, never-to-be-spoken of disease called depression.

Conrad was here.