Embarking on a 50 day challenge to start healing my tricky relationship with food.

I’ve always had a tricky relationship with food — it’s usually been more of an emotional crutch, because I’ve never really learned how to cook and usually tend to go for more efficient food options, rather than making the most nutritious choices.

If it was up to me, I’d swallow a pill every morning that would give me all the nutrition I need in one go, but I’ve recently become more aware of how much food brings people together, creates joy, and is at the heart of communities around the world. Considering my plans to travel for the rest of the year, I’d love to be able to explore more types of foods and traditional dishes from cultures other than my own and it’s time to get out of my comfort zone a bit.

Tomorrow, I’m starting a 50 day personal challenge to start working on adjusting (or healing) my relationship with food. My goal is to reconnect with food as a source of nourishment, something to enjoy and quite frankly, to be grateful for.

I stumbled onto a TedTalk about this topic after doing a basic Google search earlier today and I was happy to find out that I’m not alone in the struggle. The talk was hosted by dietitian Eve Lahijani, and included the following tips, which I’ve tweaked slightly to fit my lifestyle, and incorporated into the challenge:

  • Reconnect with your hunger. Eat only when you’re hungry, not out of boredom, stress, or just because it is available. Do so when you first get hungry, not when you’re already ravenous.
  • Feed what your body is craving. Go with your instincts about what your body is asking for, which requires you to tune into your feelings. I think this will be particularly useful to me during my morning meditations.
  • Try not to use food as a reward or punishment. I’m a pro at this, and will need to be extra mindful of this. Mostly, my rewards are sugar heavy and I’ve gone down the sugar rabbit hole far too many times for my own liking.
  • Don’t punish yourself for bad days. It happens, carry on.

Over and above this, I also have two additional resources in my corner that found their way to me today, which I’ll also be incorporating into the challenge.

The first, is the latest episode of the Spiritual Gayz podcast. Angel and Brandon discuss the importance of ritual, and especially so when you’re working on healing some or other aspect of yourself. From listening to the show, I’ve decided to work a small mantra into my morning routine, a ritual of sorts, where I’ll start my morning with a simple sentence: commit to feeding yourself with love today. It’s as simple as that.

The final resource I’ll be utilizing along this journey, is a Masterclass I found today, which is hosted by Thomas Keller. From just the first lecture, it’s clear that he will be delving into the very basics of cooking, even to the point of discussing which kitchen utensils are best to use and how to prepare before you even start preparing a meal. It’s very clear to me that I need this in my life! I’ve decided I’ll be doing one class a day for the next month and I believe it’s also a nice way to easy myself into it, soaking up each lesson and practicing some of the lessons, rather than binging them all in a single sitting.

As I mentioned at the start of the article, I have never learned how to cook, and have always had a “get it done and move on” attitude towards my own nourishment, but perhaps, as part of my self care journey, and just generally wanting to lead a more healthy lifestyle, which protects the one body I’ve been gifted with to live this life through, it’s time for me to take my relationship with food to a new level. Today brought me a couple of signs and I’m excited to see what the challenge does to my energy levels, mental health and frankly put, my general enjoyment when it comes to food.

I’ll be sure to document some of the journey on the blog, and feel free to get in touch if you have any tips, suggestions or resources. The challenge will wrap up on June 1st, and I’ll be sure to share my results and learnings with you on the blog, so stick around for that over the next couple of weeks.

– Conrad was here.

Rest easy, beautiful. You’ve left a lesson or two behind.

I recently entered my first writing competition, hosted by Writing Tips. They share writing tips every day to an audience of over 40 000 followers and their goal is to help fellow writers like myself out with various nuggets of advice. I wanted to share my entry with you today. The challenge was to submit something based on a single keyword: adrenaline. This was the first English poem I wrote this year, so it’s extra special to me in that sense as well. I’d love to hear from you if it evokes any kind of reaction or feeling in you.

I’ve written a poem, inspired by music legend Whitney Houston. Her life had so many ups and downs, her career was truly adrenaline filled, but when you dig a little deeper, there is an innocence to who she really was. The poem is a eulogy of sorts, which I was inspired to write after learning more about her life in a documentary.

It reminded me that we’re all human, with our own dreams and wishes, and that success doesn’t always guarantee personal fulfilment. I hope you enjoy it.

“Roaming”
by Conrad Schwellnus

She wandered the earth, an angel,
Broken by a spirit of trust —
Commanding the masses,
But carry her family, she absolutely must.

In her meandering, she fumbles, she’s done —
But where were the coin smugglers in your troubled days?
I weep for you, Ms. Houston, roaming even in death,
A legacy of a ghost, but a human being like the rest.

Sing for me Nippy, lament the pop monster —
When did the people start to let you down?
Did you need to be held, need to be fed —
Your emotions on fire, sacrificed for what others did and said.

I will extend myself inward,
I will always love me…
You remind me of my pitfalls,
Drawn into the ashes by a wave of echoed calls.

You remind me to be gentle,
You encourage me to be kind —
Rest easy, beautiful.
You’ve left a lesson or two behind.

Update: I have just been told that my entry came in third place in the competition, which is a wonderful honour. Thank you to the judges for believing in my work and for sharing my piece with their community.

– Conrad was here.

You are worthy of a full experience of all the emotions life has to offer.

Below is a journal entry I wrote on the 12th of December 2018, the day I resigned from my job, having made a decision to pursue a new career as a writer. I stumbled onto the text recently, and three months later, on the verge of starting this new chapter from April 1st, I felt inspired to share what I had written on that day while I sat in a coffee shop over lunch.

Hello, writer! Here you are. You’re giving this thing a go. Embrace it. Go in knowing you can (and will) fail at some point, but it’s all about how you pick yourself up, how you respond, and how you remain resilient within the decision you’ve made for yourself.

You have had a lot on your place these past six months, but you have made it this far. Well done. With a bit of luck, and encouragement from the universe, you will go where you would like to go. Remind yourself of your goal on a regular basis. Remember that you are doing this to meet and connect with as many different people from as many walks of life as possible. This is something that is of the utmost importance to you at this stage.

That particular notion should not, however, apply exclusively to your career. This decision is all about finding new avenues for connection. Where are there avenues for you to connect with people through your words? TSOL (The School of Life), blogging, short stories, songwriting, speech writing… the list in endless, really. Start by paying it forward. The appropriate opportunities will come your way naturally. You have asked the universe for it already. Trust your abilities. Trust that this is the right thing for you.

Remember to keep practicing being your authentic self in the months ahead. Prepare yourself for what is to come. There are many things for you to continue to say no to. A job or any client work that isn’t intrinsically satisfying. Self interested people. Parental notions of who I am supposed to be. Dates which feel too familiar (leave if you need to!). Anxious attachment. Pleasing others over and above taking care of myself. Trying to fit a specific mould based on who I believe myself to be. Excess! Perfection. The idea of what being a writer is and will be. A romantic notion that it won’t be long hours of hard work. Don’t kid yourself and stay on course, dude.

One second at a time, Conrad. Things are already happening. Embrace the change. You know what you don’t want, which is a great place to start from. The freedom of being accountable to your own time is going to make all the difference, as daunting as it may be. Do whatever it takes. You are taking a risk, but you have a great opportunity to succeed too.

Good luck to you, good sir. Remember that you are worthy of a full experience of all the emotions life has to offer.

– Conrad was here.

A gentle reminder from a friend to practice being a better listener (and yes, it requires some work on my part).

I was in conversation with two of my closest friends yesterday, and while I usually don’t face too many pushbacks (well, talking back) in the conversations I have with people, this particular time was a bit different. My one friend started a story, which she had told me privately before, and I interjected right away, changing the topic and essentially, diverting the attention back to myself. I was in no mood to waste her time, or mine.

Our other friend who was there subsequently interjected me mid-sentence, reminding me that she actually wanted to hear the story, and that I should remember that within our friendship group it is good to ‘share the floor’ from time to time. Ouch. “We all give each other time to tell our stories and share,” she said very calmly and patiently, but naturally, this made me realise that I may be in a phase where I am diverting a lot of attention back towards myself. I immediately recalled a few recent conversations where I had changed the topic and rattled off about my own life — perhaps an after effect of the underlying (subtle) anxiety I am feeling about the changes in my career, or perhaps, I’m just going through a phase of being more self absorbed than usual. This is something I work hard to keep in check, but I’ll leave those thoughts for my therapist’s office.

What struck me the most from reflecting on this particular incident was, in fact, a realisation of what a good listener this friend who interjected me was. Out of all my marble jar friends (people who keep adding to the trust jar, according to Brene Brown) she is perhaps the one who I know the “least” about in the conventional sense. She is the one who I haven’t heard as much about her past, or perhaps, who usually is an ear to me and others, rather than being someone who is allowed to lean on her friends 50/50. I think both parties have to acknowledge when this happens, whether that is in a friendship or a relationship, gradually adjusting and working harder to steer the ship out of the rumble strip.

Upon further reflection I realised that in most of my close relationships, I have recently started to veer more into a direction of voicing an opinion loudly and in somewhat of a steamrolling fashion, rather than sitting back, and practicing the art (and skill) of active listening. I’ve also experienced this in a new relationship I have entered into, where often, I find myself interjecting during his stories, and I am trying to be more mindful of this, as, in fact, we are still getting to know each other and I like hearing more about his life and world view.

So how do you become a better listener? As I’ve mentioned, I believe that it is a practiced skill. The first step, is not interrupting someone when they are speaking. This can be hard, especially if you’re addressing a fairly stimulating topic, or one that you may feel you have some kind of expertise in. I find myself feeling like I know a little bit about everything, well… all the time. It’s not always a good look for the people around me and it is somewhat of a source of shame for me. What I’ve learned, through the teachings of other philosophers and motivational speakers, is that it’s all about becoming the learner, not the knowerYou cannot possibly believe that you know a little bit about everything, or even a lot about anything. If you approach every conversation armed with an idea that you want to learn something, rather than forcing your opinion, you’ll not only learn more, but in my experience, you also find that you will be asked your opinion a lot more as well.

By paying attention through active listening, you also pick up on the finer details of what someone is saying: essentially, you listen to understand. This implies hearing what the person is saying on the surface, and what they may actually be saying. “You need to practice listening more to others” is a direct message to me, of course, but viewed differently, I pondered whether perhaps this friend of mine wasn’t feeling heard in our friendship (or group), and that she may also be longing to have her opinion heard more, be it because of this particular aspect of her life, work or even her home life. So, the next time someone says something to you, better yet, the next time someone says something malevolent to you, take a second to consider that it could in fact be hiding some sort of a deeper issue they could be working through. I don’t think this was necessarily the case with my friend, who wasn’t malevolent in her approach, but we all face people in our days who do make it a bit harder to express their opinions with kindness and empathy.

Actively listening to someone else when they are spending time with you, and holding back on giving your opinion until they have expressed themselves is a courtesy that I like to compare to an old African proverb I read about once, which essentially says “I see you — I am here”. I want all the people in my inner circle (and even just those acquaintances who pop in and out of your life) to feel seen, and to believe that I am there with them and present in the moment. This is at the core of true connection for me, and a skill that I definitely could do with practicing a little bit more. So here’s my goal for the next few weeks: sit back, and listen to the stories of others. Take note of what they’re saying, and what they’re implying by what they’re saying. Enjoying learning from others. Remember that you are not the centre of the universe, and that we all have something to teach each other. I’ll be sure to report back on how this went in a future blog post, not because I’m trying to be fancy, but because I realise I need to be held accountable too. I’m really thankful to my friend for reminding me to be a better listener, and in essence, it has allowed us to connect on a deeper level. It also never hurts to have somebody spill some truth tea on you, especially if it is someone who you respect and value. I’m grateful for the reminder.

– Conrad was here.

 

 

 

 

Trusting myself enough to give a new venture the best possible chance to succeed.

17 days ago I wrote a post about how my mental health journey had turned into a process of reinvention, how I had started the year with a clear mindset and with clear goals for what I wanted to tackle. I skimmed through it again this morning, and it certainly looks great on paper. The last week has been one of the most difficult in my mental health journey, not because I hit a dip, but because I started to doubt myself and my ability to succeed on this new path of wanting to become a writer.

There’s not doubt in my mind that my mental health dipped a bit from the start of the week, I could feel it coming on, as I was engaging in a lot of unhealthy self soothing activities: excessive drinking, excessive dating, extending excessive energy outward, rather than turning my focus inward, and generally having to deal with anxiety levels that were through the roof. I see no point in beating myself up about it, it happened, I dealt with it the best possible way I could, and I’ve got to let that go as something that is part of the journey. None of these things are bad when done in moderation, but I could feel that I was extending myself further than I usually would, dropping a few self care routines in the process and ultimately contributing more to my anxiety. It has meant I’ve had to take a few additional steps to “navigate the rumbling strip” so to speak, and I will be implementing a few boundaries in the week ahead, as well as preparing to meet with a psychiatrist, who will hopefully be able to assist me in finding a medication that will be able to balance my anxiety levels. I’m a naturally anxious person, but considering the shifts I’m busy planning in my life, it’s normal for my anxiety levels to be elevated, but I’m of no use to anyone when it is debilitating to my day-to-day and when it stops me from functioning like a normal member of society and getting to the things I’d like to get to. We all deserve to soothing in this often very harsh world, and perhaps meeting with a specialist will help me find a better balance than my GP is able to offer me. What I’ve been busy doing clearly isn’t doing my mental health any favours. One day at a time.

This week, self trust has been on my mind a lot. I stumbled onto the concept while doing some light reading online, realising that a lot of my day-to-day anxiety comes from a fear of failure. My self esteem is inextricably linked to my career success, something that was drilled into me from childhood with high expectations for school performance, and thus why I’ve always worked fairly high profile jobs. I realised though, that the decision to pursue something as ‘volatile’ as a career in writing (or any career in a creative field), would not have been possible had I not trusted myself enough to feel that I could succeed at it in the first place. This entire week, I’ve been worrying about failure, and not trusting that I would be able to bounce back from failure. This is something that is fairly ridiculous of course, as I’ve bounced back from many failures, and in essence it is what makes life such an interesting journey after all. I’ve just been doubting myself and the decision to focus more time and energy into my writing, convincing myself that it “wasn’t a real dream” and that it is something that I shouldn’t be doing. This week ahead, I’d like to make an active effort to remind myself that I’m allowed to trust myself as I move into this new chapter and on this new journey. In the short space of time since I’ve made the decision to move in this direction, I’ve been given a bunch on wonderful ‘gifts’ already, in the sense of meeting people from similar industries, being referred to writer communities and finding opportunities for me to tackle. It simply is now the time to put my head down and to give it a gong.

I was on a walk earlier today, questioning whether I was making the right decision in pursuing my passion. As I got to the of the road I was walking on, I stepped on a painted sign on the road that read “FH” (fire hydrant). As I stepped on the sign, the artist I was listening to on my headphones chanted the word “fire” in the middle of the song, in a moment of sweet serendipity. A few minutes later a butterfly flew right up to me and grazed my knee. I was reminded that I am exactly where I am supposed to be at this very moment. I was reminded to continue to work to be kind and gentle to myself in this process. I was reminded that I’m simply a human being, doing his best, and going through a process that isn’t an easy undertaking. These past eight months have been months of tremendous personal and spiritual growth, and I won’t let one bad week set me back for the rest of the year. It just isn’t worth it. Time to trust myself enough to know that no matter what, I will get through this.

– Conrad was here.

How my mental health journey became a process of personal reinvention.

You are pursuing your passion. Remember this on the good and the bad days. Life is a journey. You are but a sea fish, swept along the current, sucked in and spat out in continual motion. Everything as and when it should be. Adjust and recover accordingly. You are not in control. Love yourself. Go kindly & gently.*

It’s been 200 days since I started my self care and mental health journey, and if you’ve been following my story on the blog, you’ll know just what a journey it’s been. I have thoroughly enjoyed documenting what can only be referred to as a tricky period in my life, but am also so thankful that we’re at this point, where, with sufficient reflection, I’ve realised that the breakdown happened for one very distinct reason: as part of me starting a process of personal reinvention.

A reinvention can be classified as the process where something is changed so much, it appears to be entirely new, and this is exactly how I’m feeling after six months of depression recovery. Over the festive season, I took stock of all the decisions I made in the last twelve months in fact, and realised that each one of them has led me to this very moment, where I now have the ability to revisit and change my approach, to change how I respond to untoward situations, to break the emotional shackles that have held me back for so many years, and to, frankly put, come of age as an adult. It all started when I realised how easily I “sulk” when things don’t go my way. I’m at a point where I get ashamed when my natural reaction is to sulk, which means that things are moving in the right direction.

So what does a reinvention include, according to me? I’ve reflected extensively on this, taking into account how my life has changed since I started prioritising my mental health. Here is what I’d like to focus on moving forward:

  • Moving from sporadic (inconsistent) learning to active reading and doing my best to learn something from everyone I meet.
  • Approaching my life in a more mindful way, escaping the clutches of robotic and systemic thinking in how I make decisions. This includes a 15 minute silent meditation each morning, which I am enjoying so much.
  • Getting out of the “bubble” of my local community, and expanding my network to meet more people from all walks of life and different places around the world. This has been made possible by a few interesting platforms that landed “on my desk” in the last month or so, and I’ve noticed just how much I still have to learn about other societies and cultures.
  • Being intrinsically motivated (doing personally fulfilling work) in my career, rather than being financially motivated. I’ll be sure to share a separate post on this too, as there is a lot to talk about here, but basically, I want to spend my time working on projects that are worthwhile for me. Changes are coming.
  • Accepting a modest and unstable life as a creative, rather than searching for something lucrative and “stable” (if you can even consider any kind of existence stable).
  • Living a more nomadic lifestyle, rather than being office/computer bound. This includes the ability to work from anywhere in the world, rather than being tied to a full-time position. This also includes more trips in nature and connecting with the earth, exploring its secrets and finding the best possible learning path for myself.
  • Pursuing a more authentic look: I’m growing a beard, letting my body hair grow, and would like to explore clothing that is more me: my friends have commented that I have quite a preppy aesthetic, which I’ve discovered is something that isn’t truly who I am, but rather a bi-product of the community I grew up in.
  • Classifying myself as a dreamer, rather than a careerist. This includes no longer grounding my self esteem in terms of my work, but rather in terms of my creative vision and dreams. This ties in with my impeding career change, which I’ll discuss further in another post.
  • Continuing to say no when my self care is compromised. This is a boundary I will be practicing to uphold, well, come hell or high water, this year. It has been interesting to see how my peers have reacted to me not giving the automatic yes to everything I get asked to do or go to.
  • Living day-to-day, rather than month-to-month or with extensive plans that try to control where things are going. All we have is today, all we have is this very moment.
  • Moving away from the dreams my parents had for me (in terms of family, my career, housing, marriage etc.), to my own goals, which are mainly creatively grounded and set up in a way to connect on a 1:1 basis with as many different people as possible. I don’t mean to disrespect their vision, but it was never mine to begin with, and I’d like to find my own passions independently of what anyone in my inner circle may have to say about it.
  • Diverting from this notion that we’re meant to be chasing happiness as the end goal: this year, I’m chasing a multitude of emotional experiences, and making peace with the bad along with the good. Some days you’ll have anxiety and exhaustion with a great sense of joy from the smallest of moments. It’s simply the flow of life. I’d like to make peach with that.
  • Finding solace in my introversion, and accepting that I’m just not somebody that enjoys playing the part of “extrovert” in a social setting. Let’s have a quiet cup of tea and connect 1:1 – then you truly understand who I am.
  • Living modestly and as a minimalist, rather than pursuing excess, whether that be in materialistic purchases, where I live, what I drive, or something as simple as how much I’m eating on a bad day. Everything is to be taken as a practice in moderation. Everything to be taken as an opportunity to remain realistic about what is happening out there in the real world and to adapt accordingly.

I’d like to end off this post with three additional ideas that I’m exploring as part of the reinvention process, which I thought deserved a little bit more emphasis and discussion. They are as follows:

1. Changing my definition of success.

In my twenties, I used to measure success by traditional financial standards, comparing myself to my peers, school friends as well as placing a lot of emphasis on my job title, salary, or the company I work for. Moving into 2019, and as part of my reinvention process, I’ve decided that for me, success will rather be measured in terms of how well I’m developing my competencies this year.

Before my 30th birthday, I used to focus all my efforts to correcting my “flaws” and giving so much energy towards the things I considered to be ‘wrong’ with me. You can imagine what that did to my self esteem. That has changed massively since I started my self care journey. Now, my primary focus is on pursuing the things that I already consider myself to be competent in. My writing ability, for example, is a wonderful gift that I’d like to practice and refine as it is something that gives me great joy. Since the start of my holiday, I’ve been writing about two hours a day, something that is showing no signs of slowing down, so we’re making decent progress so far. Watch this space!

2. Being more flexible with my decisions.

I didn’t drink a drop of alcohol between 17 June and the end of December last year, all as part of giving the anti-depressants the best possible chance go “do their thing”, but over the festive season I realised that I would not be able to go into 2019 with such a rigid mindset about well, anything. The alcohol example is the most practical one I can share, to emphasise how I’d like to be a bit more gentle with myself going as part of the reinvention. Nothing in life is sustainable as simply “this” or “that”, it requires flexibility and I realised I needed to let up on my rigidity to practice being kinder to myself.

I ended up having a glass of wine while on holiday. It was in a controlled environment, I managed my mental health very carefully (those who have followed the blog will know that I usually dipped emotionally two days after drinking) and quite frankly, it didn’t add or take away much, so I consider it to have been a good decision. Drinking a bottle of wine because I feel anxious? Not a vibe or an option as part of my self care journey. Having a glass of champagne with friends when I find out they’re having a baby? Yes. Having a glass of red wine on a date where I’m connecting with someone? Absolutely. It’s also alright for me to enjoy myself, I don’t have to earn the right to do so.

3. Freeing myself from emotional shackles holding me back.

There are three key emotional shackles that have held me back for a very long time, that I wanted to share here very quickly:

  1. Anxious attachment: Do yourself a favour, and research the four different psychological attachment styles. I’ve discovered that I attach anxiously in all relationships in my life, even in my work. While not easily possible to change to a secure attachment style, it is possible to change how you respond in situations when you feel your anxious attachment coming on. As they say in Eat. Pray. Love: “Think of me, send me love, and drop it”. It has been very helpful to get me to detach across a wide spectrum of dynamics in my life and I’ll be sure to write more about this soon.
  2. The rescuer mentality: I’ve always been known as a good problem solver, and I can easily talk anyone off’ an emotional ledge, thanks to my ability to really listen when someone is sharing with me. Sometimes, especially in my past, this has become something I sought out to distract myself, i.e. trying to find someone to “rescue”. My therapist made a great point on this last year. “If you try to rescue someone, you are highlighting to others that they haven’t yet been saved, and that they’re not strong enough to save themselves”. This was a powerful momentum shifting statement. While it’s gotten a lot better, and I’ve detached successfully from this kind of behaviour with my inner circle, I am mindful that it is something that can still be a problem for me moving forward.
  3. The need for external validation. We all want to feel seen or heard. Sometimes I want this a little too much, and, as with many of us it trickles into the image I project on social media. I’m breaking free from this shackle in 2019, focusing on tackling my self esteem issues via therapy and coaching, and best yet, in my writing. I am whole, for I am both the good and the bad. Brene Brown comes to mind here, who in her most recent book said “you don’t need to prove that you deserve a seat at the table”. Just sit and enjoy yourself.

Moving forward, the blog will be positioned as an avenue for me to discuss this reinvention process. Thank you so much to everyone who has been following my journey so far. I’d love for you to continue with me as we enter into a new phase.

– Conrad was here.

*My first journal entry for 2019, in a diary I was given by my friend Jana.

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.