Drawing closer to six months of depression recovery & sobriety this month.

The end of the year is here and I am inching ever closer to the six month checkup with my GP. I’m happy to report that since taking a break from the blog to focus more energy on my day-to-day recovery, I’ve stuck to my guns and and continued to take my meds each day, while also maintaining my sobriety, though I will say that it has been incredibly challenging, especially in the last month.

Call it a plateau, call it a dip, call it life throwing me a few curveballs in quick succession (To give some context: a work agreement with the first client I signed to my business ended abruptly, I slipped in the shower, hitting my head, arm and cracking open my toe, I got dumped out of the blue by someone I was starting to care about somewhat more than usual, two friends went through serious health scares, one of my housemates’ pets passed away unexpectedly, someone close to me made a life altering revelation to me and me alone, plus, I received a damn traffic fine for R2000 – this was yesterday in fact). No matter what you want to call it, dips remain a part of this thing we call life and I’ve made peace with that. Still pretty shitty to go through.

Like the waves of the ocean, things happen in ebbs and flows, and while the past month has been challenging in terms of external circumstances (essentially, adulting), I haven’t worried about dealing with these events, but rather been more concerned about potentially dropping my guard with regards to important self care boundaries I set up at the start of this journey in June. I have to admit did in fact drop a lot of the boundaries as a result of the external events, but I’m happy to report that with support from friends & family, coaching and therapy, as well as practicing saying no to people, I’ve gradually managed to navigate back out of the rumbling strip and am pointed back in a more positive direction: reaching 6 months of recovery, on December 17th.

For some reason, I managed to get it into my head that sobriety should make the recovery process “easier” or “faster”, make the meds work “better” than usual and would essentially mean that my mood and general energy levels would gradually improve until I was “fixed” from this whole depression experience, so to speak. To be fair, my mood changes were so drastic between months 2 and 4, that I could be forgiven for thinking so in the first place. My doctor was quick to correct this when I saw her regarding the slip in the shower, remarking that in cases with someone who has a family history of depression, it was important to note that a breakdown tends to require at least nine months of treatment, and even then, there are no real guarantees. Would have been useful to know this upfront and before I set my own expectations, but nevertheless, she got the information across without me throwing a fit.

She encouraged me not to assume that after six months everything would be miraculously better, and it did get me to rethink my approach to all of this. It was a bit of a bitter pill to swallow at the time (perhaps because deep down I already knew this, or because she was busy dressing my cracked toenail and I was having a mini meltdown), but I swallowed the pill nonetheless and have once again been reminded of something that has been central to this journey: you can really only take things one day at a time. There is no timeline, no rulebook, no right way to guarantee success. Nothing is promised and that’s ok. This perspective has allowed me to be more appreciative of the little pleasures in my day (which my Instagram has clearly been reflecting in recent weeks).

I also recently came to the realisation that mental health is a tremendously personal thing for everyone, depending on their journey and life story. Sobriety and taking your medication as prescribed naturally doesn’t hinder recovery and is encouraged by healthcare professionals, but I have realised it isn’t possible to apply general recovery principles to large groups of people, or to attempt to give advice to others that should be considered a ‘guaranteed solution’ for the other person, simply because it may have worked for me or made things a little more comfortable for me. I therefore now find pleasure not in giving advice, but rather in learning to be a better listener to the journey of others. I can only share my story and hope that it encourages others to take a step in the direction of mental health prioritisation once they are ready to do so and in their own time.

No other person on this earth can take responsibility for your mental health. Each person has their own journey to go on, and the best I can hope for moving forward is to have as many conversations about mental health as possible, in the process detaching from the self appointed title of “advocate” and essentially just allowing myself to be open to connecting with people who are brave enough to be vulnerable, and from whom I can learn a great deal too.

– Conrad was here.

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.

 

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

Simply put, it was time. I’ve been working full-time for seven years, and not once has it crossed my mind that it was something worth prioritising – something I think a lot of us can relate to in the hustle and bustle of modern life.

I’ve been on this journey for nearly ten full weeks know, and if you’ve read my previous post, you’ll know that things have changed drastically since I acknowledged I needed to get help and started to prioritise my self care.

On Monday this week, I could feel that I was slowly starting to crawl towards a burnout. My friends and colleagues could see it and each day got progressively worse. There is always a clear sign that not many people spot, but if I don’t shave more than twice a week, you know that there is more going on than I’m letting on. I had been navigating my full time employment, side hustle business, tax affairs and a substantially more active social life in recent weeks to a point where I was starting to feel it coming on and I could predict that things were moving in a different direction. I was starting to plan each hour of each of my days out in militant fashion, a sign (my therapist agrees) that the train is moving in the wrong direction. As a friend told me, you don’t have to prove to anyone that you’re doing OK. It’s OK to not be OK. This was the catalyst for me making a decision to request leave for today, kicking off a day of self love and care and giving me the chance to bring myself back to the kind of space I’m comfortable being in.

So why did I do it? Because frankly put, I still need to actively prioritise my mental health, even though things are starting to get better. This process is a journey, with good days, and bad days. Had I not come to this decision, and just carried on this week, waiting out the weekend, I guarantee I would have spent the next couple of days locked in my apartment, with the curtains drawn and my cellphone off. It would have in all likelihood led to a trip to the GP next week, with a few sick days – never a good look, and not something I want to put my employer, colleagues or clients through.

So what actually happened today, was the freedom for me to relax, and do whatever feels right. Yes I’m a compulsive planner, but I decided to set a few guidelines for myself, rather than having an iron fist schedule of what I needed to “tick off” today. It started with agreeing that my cell wouldn’t be off for the day (usually how I cope – by switching off from the world), and I made an active effort to reach out to people this morning. Essentially, I did the opposite of what old Conrad would have done. Where was I, you ask? The beach. It was the most spectacularly beautiful morning (see my Instagram for a pic) and I was nearly moved to tears as I walked down the coastline, cappuccino in hand and armed with a Spotify playlist called “Hot Mess” (a reference to life in general, and filled with so many Ke$ha bangers that I had been neglecting for ages).

What ensued was a couple of things I couldn’t anticipate, but that ultimately put a massive smile on my face. I spotted a quote written on a sign next to the beach (get in touch if you want to know what it said), which made me think of some of the special people in my life. Some have only been a part of my life for a short while, others for a longer stint of the up’s and downs. It just made me realise how incredibly lucky I am to have such an incredible support base around me. It is truly a blessing, especially for someone who gives himself so much flack for being a giant (sasquach), loud, proud, sensitive gay man, often believing that the world is out to get him, particularly so on the bad days. I adore the people I have in my life and I am realising more and more just how much value my peeps add to my day and to the general sustainability of my mental health. If you’re one of them, you know, and I need you to understand that you inspire me to keep going with each and every interaction we have.

As I was sitting next to the sea, I realised that I was craving a waffle and a creme soda (something that is very rare considering how Nuzak suppresses your appetite). I pondered driving to Simonstown, but opted to check in at the local cafe rather, and lo and behold, they sold both. As I sat down to enjoy it (while texting a few friends) a familiar face tapped me on my shoulder. It was my fabulous hairdresser Jamie, her newborn, and her husband. Where in the world would you have guessed that we would bump into each other there of all places? It turns out she was on leave too, and I got to thank her for the wonderful job she did on my hair a few weeks ago. As I got up to walk to my car, I noticed there was an artist creating a sculpture of a mother and baby on the beach (serendipitous much?). His name is Michael, he is so incredibly talented, and his work gets quite a bit of traction on this page. The universe was clearly trying to send me a message about nurturing, and the fact that today is about my own nurturing, hell, even the fact that I am taking time to write for the first time in twelve days, shows that all signs lead to a place of self care. Life is what happens when you’re not making plans, and paying attention to the little things. While I never carry cash these days, I remembered I had a R10 in my pocket from buying a coffee for a friend yesterday – the perfect opportunity to support the arts and encourage creativity in a place I was not expecting it! For the first time in a long time, things just felt in sync, something I hope depression sufferers will speak up about more as they talk about their journey with the disease, and something to be so incredibly thankful for when it happens.

Where will the afternoon take me? I’m not sure. I’ve invited my landlady for a cup of tea, and will then decide where to from there. Perhaps I’ll water my plants, put on a RomCom (I literally watched My Best Friend’s Wedding last night) and spend some time with the dogs on the property. Or I’ll drive somewhere and see what I am pulled towards. I am being strict though, with only choosing activities that are to be considered self care. No house cleaning, but cutting toenails is ok haha. Netflix movie marathon? Now we’re in the right territory. Self love starts with accountability and boundaries and the beautiful thing about doing a mental health day where you’re just going with it, is that you never really know where it’s going to lead you. It provides you with a break from your routine, allows you to gain some clarity and insight, and to generally just soak up the fact that like with my playlist, life is a hot mess for us all. I’m proud of myself for utilising the day in a way that ensures my batteries will hopefully be recharged by the end of the week and would like to give myself a pat on the back for redirecting my energy today. Next week is not a worry right now. I’m living in the moment and seeing where the wind blows me and absolutely f*cking loving it.

Conrad was here.

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

Two months ago I spent almost an entire weekend in bed, unable to get up to do something as simple as throwing in a load of washing a couple of steps from my bed. I had hit rock bottom, hiding my depression from my family, friends and colleagues and pretending that I was OK and coping with the pressures of modern life.

This morning my day started completely differently: I woke up and cleaned the apartment, went for a walk on the beach, grabbing a cappuccino at a local cafe, and yes, it’s 10:27 and I’ve managed to throw in my washing already. I’m giving myself major points for that one.

My life has changed drastically since I realised I needed to get help, and I wanted to share the things that feel different now compared to then, with hopes that it will encourage you to get some help if you feel like things are getting too heavy and you need a change in your life. I know we all have a different journey and that depression affects people in a variety of ways, but this has been a part of my journey, and perhaps you can draw some similarities in your experience too.

Firstly, therapy has completely changed my outlook on life. I’ve done 7 sessions so far, and I am at a point now where my therapist is challenging me on specifics that I need to deal with. It’s wildly uncomfortable and exciting at the same time, as I am gaining greater insight into myself and feeling like I am developing a strong set of mental heath coping mechanisms in the process. While it doesn’t work for everyone, CBT has always been a winner for me and I am lucky to have a therapist I have a strong connection with – she is able to put me in my place (very few people are) and it’s exactly what I’ve needed these past few weeks to change my attitude and to keep going on the recovery journey.

Since the SSRI’s kicked in about two weeks ago (week 6), I’ve started feeling spontaneously happy during the course of my day. I’ve started noticing the small treasures in life again, been able to show gratitude for creative pleasures like a flower blooming in the garden, found myself singing out loud for the first time in many years (sorry neighbours), and I love dancing; in fact, I do so much dancing these days I’m wondering if I shouldn’t join a class! Perhaps that’s something for once spring is here.

I’m closer than ever with my family. Having gone through two or three difficult years with them, opening up about my depression and reaching out has changed the entire dynamic between us. I’ve also learned that long term relationships (be it love, friendship or family) require a constant process of forgiveness. I’ve learned to let things go, appreciate my family for showing up for me during this dark time, and also am developing a genuine interest in their lives again. When I was at the peak of my depression, I couldn’t even be bothered to answer calls from any of them, let alone ask them about work and life and express just how important it is for me to see them happy too. My love and admiration for them grows daily, especially as I see them tackling the challenges in their lives too, and I am more able to provide support for them now than anytime during my twenties.

I have energy to do things again. A few weeks ago, if someone asked me to a spontaneous coffee, I would decline regardless of whether I was busy or not. Depression just doesn’t give you the option to get excited and do something on the fly. Yesterday, a friend messaged me out of the blue (perhaps it helped that she started the message with “Hey my sexy friend”), and I decided to take her up on an offer to get together an hour later, and we had a lovely time at a cafe next to the beach. We spoke about mental health and she shared part of her journey these past few months too. Once you open up and show vulnerability, you will connect with people in a way you never thought possible and it has been one of the biggest blessings of this journey so far.

I’m optimistic about my career and business again. In September, my company will be turning two years old, which is something I’d like to acknowledge and celebrate. There was a time I wondered if I would make it through even one year. I have a new drive to look at ways for it to continue and to grow in the years ahead. Before I started treatment, while I was in a really dark place, I deleted my expensive company website and told people I was going to close the business. I’ve changed my mind (something I have recently learned is ok!) and I am opening myself up to new opportunities. I’m also starting to plot my next move for the company, and explore additional business ideas – specifically, one where I would like to approach providing coaching services to other millennials (I’m calling the idea DDC: Delve Deeper Coaching for now). Everyone always says I am a good listener, easy to talk to, and easy to connect with, and I’d love for my journey with depression to be a catalyst to help others (hell, that’s why I started this blog in the first place)! Let’s see how the idea grows in the months ahead. One thing I know, is that it needs to be a natural progression, an obvious next step, and I don’t want to force an idea or make something happen that is going to derail my progress and add more strain to my life. It’s a daily process of exploration, which I am rather excited about.

These days, I laugh and joke a lot more. Not only at home, but at work and with friends too. Someone once told my that my sense of humour was priceless and beautiful; something I took for granted back then and definitely lost as my depression hit its peak. I’ve always portrayed a very serious image to the world, but like all of us, I love a good laugh, and better yet, love making people laugh. I have been in far better spirits now that I am dealing with my issues, and even went as far as to attend a comedy show on Friday night: something I would have avoided earlier in the year (and likely gone to, been offended by, and moaned that the show was boring). I laughed so much my face hurt the next day. My attitude has changed tremendously and I am very proud of myself for that. Here’s to more laughing in the months ahead.

Lastly, the most drastic change for me, is that I haven’t had a single drop to drink in the last two months. This has been difficult, especially in a culture of drinking and because there is temptation all around us and almost daily. While I haven’t given up drinking indefinitely (and still want to drink a glass of champagne when there is a celebration of sorts), I have noticed a dramatic improvement in my energy levels, mood and general outlook on the world since I got sober. I often tell people that I wouldn’t get depressed on the day I had a hangover, but I would get cripplingly depressed the day after, almost like my body was returning to “normal”, though I always felt way worse than I did before I took the first drink. All of that has since gone away. I now wake up early without an alarm, I sleep a normal amount of hours, I’m able to prioritise self care activities (like cleaning, washing dishes, listening to music, engaging with friends) and just feel like a different person. I have only been tempted to have a drink once, when my best friend was visiting and we had had a tough day of work, but I opted for a Rooibos and I am proud of myself for maintaining my boundaries in lieu of my recovery journey.

Cutting out the alcohol has had a dramatic effect on my weight. In February, I was around 95kg’s, feeling bloated, tired and out of sorts. Yesterday, I weighed myself and astonishingly, I’m down to just under 85kg’s (-10kg’s). My confidence levels are up dramatically, so much so and to the point that I decided to get a haircut yesterday to celebrate and I am feeling so much more comfortable in my skin again. After the haircut, I was feeling particularly fresh and decided I should use that energy to put myself back out there, and am now exploring casual dating once again. I am moving to a new house in October, and am excited to host a few dinner parties and to show off my wannabe Masterchef Australia skills to friends, family and perhaps a potential romantic interest, should the cards fall that way. Baby steps, and not in a way that derails my progress. All in the name of fun and starting to enjoy my life again.

I can honestly say that my life has done a complete 180 since I started opening up about my struggles with anxiety and depression, and each of the steps I took – therapy, coaching, consulting a GP, getting an anti-depressant prescription, taking some time off, starting to do weekend walks on the beach, listening to music, connecting with family, dancing etc. has all played a part in me feeling exponentially better.

I’d like to take a second to acknowledge the progress and appreciate that things have turned for the better. As fellow depression sufferers know, it remains a daily tussle, but these baby steps really do provide you with the momentum needed to keep going and to keep pushing yourself. I’m living my life one day at a time: I almost see each day as a point in a tennis match. Monday may be bad, but that only means the score is 0-15. Tuesday things could turn around, and we’re back at 15-15. It’s all about riding the wave. I’m starting to tell people that turning 30 has really been the best thing to happen to me and I am proud to be writing this post with a smile on my face. Let’s hope I can carry on and keep going to maintain this level of clarity. I’m thankful that the fog has started to lift.

Conrad was here.

 

 

Why I took more time off from work after being back at the office for two days.

Simply put, it’s because depression recovery doesn’t happen in a straight line. You can be juggling a bunch of recovery “tools” of sorts, (therapy, meditation, antidepressants, etc.) with the expectation that things will get better quickly, and still wake up on any given morning in a state of total apathy.

This is something I had been told by friends who also suffer with depression, and by people who had gone on anti-depressants and anxiety medication, but I wanted to believe that taking two weeks off from work would be enough, and that by eating right and resting enough, I would start to feel strong enough for things to return “to normal” (so to speak) sooner rather than later.

This is not the case. With depression, there are good days and there are bad days and these continue all through the recovery process. Yesterday was one of those bad days, where I didn’t sleep much the night before, as the meds were wreaking havoc on my system. I was umm-ing and ahh-ing about going in for a while after I woke up, but luckily my manager at work advised me that it was best to rest and to remember that I had made a lot of good progress in the space of a short time. I’m aware that not many people will be as lucky, especially after already being off for two weeks, but I’m appreciative to have an open relationship with the team at work and for the ability to speak freely about what I’m going through. It certainly makes it easier to cope, especially on a days when its a little harder than usual to get up.

So why didn’t I go to my GP yesterday if my system was acting up? Firstly, because apparently it is one of the side effects of the medication. I’ve found that the symptoms are amplified when I mix the anti-depressant and the anxiety medication so I’m being overly cautious about that. It usually results in an instant headache and a loss of appetite, which I’m trying to get used to, but it isn’t easy. The second reason I didn’t go to my GP right away, was because she is on leave for two weeks. I can hear your thoughts already – why not just go to someone else? – but it is another one of the effects of depression, where the stigma attached to the disease makes you believe it’s simply too exhausting to have to explain it to another GP. I know there are good doctors out there, but when it comes to mental health issues, I’ve only encountered a handful that make it a priority and even speak to you about it openly and willingly. I simply didn’t have the strength to go to someone new yesterday, and opted to rather focus on resting and getting through the day in the best way possible. I ended up taking two meetings and sleeping for a majority of the day, which isn’t ideal, but it is what it is.

I’m back at the office today, attempting to get back into the swing of things. I had a session yesterday with my business coach, which was very effective, and she’s helping me find some new techniques to better manage how I respond to stressful day-to-day situations and I hope I can apply these tools to my workdays moving forward. I’ve also got another therapy session this afternoon, which work is happy for me to leave early for. Baby steps, as I’ve said before. One day at a time.

Conrad was here.

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.

 

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.