Six months into my depression recovery, what have I learned?

This morning I’m off to see the doctor for my six month checkup, armed with renewed confidence, thanks to a voicenote from a friend, who decided to sing “Happy Six Months, Conrad” to the tune of “Happy Birthday Mr. President” (in Marilyn Monroe fashion) to start off the day. I fully embrace the wonderful weirdness of the people I have in my life these days and she is someone who is so very special to me.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been half a year since my breakdown, and while challenging, these have been incredible personal learning months for me. I’ve made some big decisions, which I’m in the process of putting into action, including moving to a new living space in October, prioritising my inner circle over interaction with a broader crowd of acquaintances, and generally working on actively practicing self care and self love as regularly as possible. Man, is it bloody hard to do! You’d think it would be easy to be as kind to yourself as you like to be to others, but some days it is a real struggle. I’m working on it and it remains a daily practice.

The main lesson I’ve taken from this period is that recovery really is a day-to-day process and that you will go through cycles of feeling good, and cycles of feeling awful, based not only on life’s daily challenges, but also related to your sleep pattern, and how well you’ve been eating. Some days I feel stronger than others, some days I can take on more, but altogether I have definitely realised I have less capacity to take on and handle as much (or as many daily tasks) as I used to be able to. This was tough to come to terms with as I am known for being an overachiever. It’s hard to be gentle to yourself knowing what you used to be capable of doing, but my friends remind me that it’s like comparing two completely different people, which is so true. I hardly recognise the person I am today, compared to twelve months ago. I feel like I have progressed into a version of myself I recognise as someone more authentically me; less of a version I felt an expectation to be throughout my twenties.

This more authentic me does need a regular talking to though, and a regular reminder not to try to take on too much. When I get anxious, I get busy. I’ve had to learn how to draw a line in the sand with work, social and other life commitments. I’ve had to start saying no, even when it was very difficult to do so. My reasoning may have nothing to do with the request or the person, and everything to do with working to uphold my recovery boundaries. If a social setting is going to compromise my sobriety, you can guarantee I won’t be there. If a friend calls me only to offload their struggles, I have to gently remind them that I don’t have the capacity to take on any of their problems on top of my own. I can be an ear, I can’t be a solution. This is something that people are getting used to, as I used to be a yes man, and used to agree to anything and everything just for the sake of pleasing others. And here I wonder why I burnt out completely in June – clearly it was a long time coming! My life is far less complicated now because of this and quite frankly, it works for me.

Something else I’ve learned over these past 180 days, is that recovery from depression remains your journey, and yours alone. Yes, it helps to have a support network and to have access to resources. At the end of the day however, you are still responsible for getting yourself up in the morning, honouring your commitments, and you are equally responsible to consider how you would like to respond when you notice that you’re starting to spiral. I do some really stupid shit when I spiral, but I’ve learned that it’s not about being judgmental to my actions in those moments, but rather stopping to reflect on it as soon as possible, slowly working to navigate myself back to a healthier headspace, hopefully a bit sooner than I did last time. It’s very difficult but it has gotten easier over time. The best advice a friend gave me during a spiral day recently, was simply looking me square in the eyes, and saying “STOP IT”, with a cheeky smile. Another friend has reiterated that I “shouldn’t be so mean to her friend”, i.e, if I’m mean to myself, I’m essentially mean to her friend, which is a very sweet idea. These might not apply to and work for all relationships, but it’s helped to have a couple of people who can tell it to me straight when I need a dose of truth tea and when I start going down a rabbit hole of emotions. Similarly, I think I’ve gotten better at being direct and honest with people, which is always a positive.

I’m not going to sit here and say it’s been an easy road so far, but I definitely know myself better than I did six months ago, and for that I’m very thankful today. I’m taking a moment to pause on that and to reflect. My plan moving forward is to continue with the anti-depressants for at least another three months, and to re-evaluate where I am at in March. Let’s see what the doctor says and take things as they come.

Conrad was here.

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.

Taking stock of the things that make me feel worthy, and focusing less energy on the things that don’t.

And no, this isn’t about creating a list of things and people to ‘keep around’ or kick out of my life indefinitely. This is all about prioritising where my energy goes, on a day-to-day basis, to ensure my mental health prioritisation remains at the top of my priority and focus list.

Earlier this week, I watched Brene Brown & Oprah on an older episode of SuperSoul Sunday, and at one point Oprah vocalises (fairly subtly, I might add, before the segment ends), that a feeling of “inherent unworthiness” sits even within her. I mean, damn girl, you’re Oprah freakin’ Winfrey.

Rather than being like me and straight away asking “so if Oprah feels unworthy of love sometimes, should I definitely feel unworthy, as I have achieved much less than she has?” (listen boo, who the hell hasn’t!), on second thought, your approach should also be to look at this through another lens, or from another perspective. I firstly took some time to rather ponder the fact that it is incredible for someone of her stature to have the courage to be this vulnerable, essentially exposing something we all feel, but are scared to talk about, to an audience of millions. My girl Brene Brown can of course do that to you so I’m not surprised.

The change of perspective came from a decision (spontaneously inspired in the middle of the night) to put a list together of the active things, people and influences predominantly adding to a feeling of worthiness, and those adding to this notion of unworthiness. It was a daunting but worthwhile exercise, which gave me great insight into the people and things I’ve “accumulated” (so to speak) in my life so far. This in turn helped me to see just how actively my mental health and general mood gets affected by the people and energy I surround myself with.

While the specific contents of my list will remain mostly anonymous, I do feel comfortable enough to share a few learnings from the journal that struck me as very curious and interesting:

  • I have 26 people in my inner (or day-to-day) circle. That’s a lot, and I should be thankful for that, so I took a moment to express gratitude for this earlier this week. There was a time, at the peak of my depression, that I was convinced nobody cared about me and that if I died, nobody would show up to my funeral. How wrong I was and how dark down the rabbit hole your mental health can take you if it wants to.
  • Out of a list of 26, I realised I have 18 “regularly consistent” people in my inner circle (roughly 70%). These range from friends, family, my therapist, coach, colleagues and even my landlords (ex and current). I have a feeling this is why my mental health recovery has been going so well over the past four months: my support circle is growing stronger by the day, thanks not only to the work I’m putting in, but also to the people I am actively sharing my story with and asking to support me through daily vulnerability.
  • Currently, there are 8 “regularly inconsistent” people in my inner circle. That’s roughly 30%. It might not seem like a lot, but if I had a day of only interacting with those people, I would certainly be drained and my mental health would definitely be compromised. As happy as I am that it isn’t more, it is still hard to see and not to take responsibility for their current situations. I’m a fixer and a do-er, but this has also taught me that people have to take responsibility for their own lives and for my own mental health, I need to be firm. As my therapist put it: “if you have an emergency in the middle of the night, don’t call me, call the ambulance”. This is something that remains a work in progress, but I have to remind myself that I simply cannot continue to recover from depression and still try to be everything to everyone. It is what it is, I am doing my best, and that’s ok.
  • I’d like to clarify that being inconsistent is not a reflection on the people themselves, but more their current circumstances, headspace or the cards that life has dealt them at the moment. This of course does change, and will change over time (people don’t stay in the inconsistent/consistent bracket forever, as I can attest to personally), though I consider it a snapshot of sorts, to give me more clarity about where I am investing my energy, and also subsequently keeping my own mental health in check in the process. All 8 of these people remain part of my “inner circle” and naturally are a priority to me as I love them, but I am just mindful of the energy I am able to invest in them at this stage, having just moved, starting a new chapter in my 30’s, and still being fairly early in my depression recovery, if you look at things holistically. 110 days is not a long time, so I need to be smart about where I invest my energy.
  • I realised that with work, both full-time and my two part-time businesses, I wasn’t able to allocate a “regularly consistent” score, as it remains work, with it’s ups and downs and lack of guarantees. In my twenties I invested too much energy in my work, and that’s all changing now (today, for example, I have taken a day off, and just spent 90 minutes taking a bubble bath for the first time in as far as I can remember). I have set up fixed boundaries with my career, to keep reminding myself that my jobs remain “regularly inconsistent”, can change at any time, and should be prioritised based on where I have capacity to do so. That doesn’t mean I do a bad job or skimp on my clients, as I am still ambitious and get a lot of pride from doing what I do well (just like most of us). If anything, it just means being more strict about when and how I work and ensuring that my mental health is taken care of regardless of the amount of pressure I am under.
  • I did however attribute a “regularly consistent” label to three core parts of my life and wellbeing: MH (mental health), PH (physical health) & SH (spiritual health). These remain as much of a priority as the people who have a “regularly consistent” score (reminder: I should love these aspects as much as I love those people!) and I’ve created a new system to keep track of where I am at each week, which I will share in a future blog post, so watch this space.

I’d like to invite you to try a similar exercise, and having a look at how many things (there really isn’t a better word to use) and people in your life add, or take away from your feeling of worthiness and love, for whatever reason. We all go through the motions, so you don’t need to cut these things out completely, but it certainly helps being self-aware and prioritising your energy in a direction of consistency. Taking stock is the first step towards establishing some clear boundaries in your life and I can attest to the fact that the short and long-term mental health rewards from doing so are vast and quite extraordinary.

Regularly feeling unworthy of love and affection is a struggle for millions of us, and it’s even more amplified if you’re working through or suffering from depression. Always remember that you are loved, and just by waking up this morning, you are worthy of love from yourself, me, and everyone else.

— Conrad was here.

Celebrating 100 days on my self care and depression recovery journey today.

And no, I’m not just posting a “smouldering, bewildered, real time” Instagram selfie to commemorate, haha. Yet another reminder that I shouldn’t just commit on the spot when people set a challenge for me. Next thing I’ll be committing to running a naked mile when I hit 200 days!

Today marks 100 days since I decided to seek treatment for my depression, since I started taking anti-depressants, quit drinking, changed my eating habits and generally just started focusing on my day-to-day self care and self love again. Here we are. I must say, it felt pretty damn good getting up this morning, even though 100 days isn’t that far in and I know the road ahead remains long and bendy. I shouldn’t digress and underplay the day though. It feels pretty damn good to be here this morning, with a smile on my face, after what felt like a situation that I didn’t think I would ever get myself out of. Depression is a beast and it will try to convince you that you can’t do it, but I promise you, you are strong, and with the right tools and support, you can get and will navigate yourself out of the murky waters. There is no ‘quick fix’ solution and I am by no means done – this is simply a small notch on the journey and one that is important to acknowledge and give some energy to.

We rarely celebrate the small victories in life, and today is all about that. I’m going for a coffee toast to #100Days this morning (nothing fancy or major) and I am very excited about doing so. Mental health victories should be celebrated just like career and life milestones, and this is one that I am particularly excited about. Am I a little bummed that I’m not getting a chip with Beyonce’s face on it for being sober for 100 days? Maybe just a little. But the hugs I’ll be requesting from the people I see in person today will certainly make up for that.

All jokes aside, I feel pretty fantastic this morning and am proud of myself for committing to this journey and for getting through the first stretch. The rewards have been vast and far reaching, which you’ll gather if you read some of my other posts. I must say, it has been incredible to get feedback about my journey from all over the world, and to have readers from various parts across the globe. It shows how depression and mental health remains a uniting force for us all, and that it’s something that requires a voice no matter where we are or what stage of life we’re in. Please keep talking about it. Please reach out if you need to. We can tackle this thing together if we remain courageous and proud to be vulnerable each day.

Before I head out to kick off this day, I wanted to take a second to express a sea of gratitude to my friends, family, colleagues and to YOU, for reading the blog and supporting this joy meets vulnerability journey of sass and hot mess-ness (maybe that should be the new tagline for the site) over the past 100 days. It truly means a lot to me.

I need to quickly acknowledge three of the special ladies in my life. Jana, Kate-Lyn & Bianca – you guys keep reminding me that it’s ok to be me. That it’s ok to do you, boo. Along with my family, you guys have been my pillars over these 100 days. You ground me and bring so much joy to my day. I can’t express in words just how much energy I get from my interactions with you, from the small acts of love you bestow on me, and my life is truly better since you guys came along. Thank you for putting up with my Saturday voice notes when I’m on the verge of tears about something as small as a cup (and so much more). Thank you for keeping me on the straight and narrow when I want to make bad self care decisions. Thank you for being your honest selves and for what you mean to me. I say it a lot but I don’t say it lightly: I love you so much, sistrens.

Here’s to getting to 200 days, and continuing to take things one day at a time.

Conrad was here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conrad was here.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conrad was here.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conrad was here.

 

 

Maintaining personal boundaries for the sake of my depression recovery, regardless of surprise retrenchments at work last week.

On Friday, ten people at the company I work for got called in and told that their positions had become redundant. While I’m relieved that my position was not one of those, it obviously sent shockwaves throughout the entire office and anxiety levels across the board increased tenfold. As I’m typing this I have very sweaty palms, and am still trying to make sense of the decision and all the implications it has to the team as a whole.

While my reaction to the news was shock and disbelief, I knew that my response and how I would go about dealing with the news, especially as we approached a weekend, would be crucial and important to my recovery journey. The first instinct for a lot of people was to hand beers around at the office. I politely declined, and found myself turning my attention inward, boiling the kettle and making some Rooibos tea. This might not sound like something spectacular, but it was a big win for me in the moment.

When I got home, I was still in disbelief and shock, especially as two of my close friends had effectively been told they had just lost their jobs and they now needed to start making alternative plans. I knew that while I would need to support them through this process, I would need to make sure not to derail any progress I had made regarding my depression recovery in the process of doing so. This is very tough for me, as my natural reaction is to try and support and assist, and to put my own needs aside. I knew that self-medicating would not be the option at any stage during this process. On Friday night, while I only managed to put a bowl of cereal together for myself (at least I ate something), I decided to call it a night relatively early, ignoring any impulses to reach for a glass of wine or beer.

I did a lot of writing on Saturday, mapping out what this change means in the greater scope of my career, and also reminding myself that I should reprioritise my own business, which I’ve been working on for almost two years, but which hasn’t taken centre stage (and has been part-time) for a while. It got me to ask a lot of questions right now as I explore my next move and consider what I would have done had I been one of the unlucky people losing their permanent employment. Explore being the key term here – as I’ve been told by my therapist we’re in an exploration phase, not in a decision-making one, which is vital to remember. It’s nice to dream a little again, and to see where my thoughts will take me in the weeks ahead, but I’m not meant to make myself anxious and to pull my usual stunt, which is to react quickly, set some serious new goals, and then struggle to live up to them in the long run. Short and sweet is the only way to go.

I spent the rest of the weekend focusing on positive coping activities like walking on the beach with my sister, listening to a lot of music, cleaning the apartment (man, I gave it a great scrub) and cooking a really nice meal last night. I tried my best to maintain and keep working with some of the systems I have put in place, which are there for the very reason they need to be, to make sure the depression recovery ship doesn’t veer off course now. I went to visit two of my colleagues on Sunday, provided an ear where possible, but also forced myself not to take their struggle onto myself or my own shoulders, but rather just to be there for them and to show up for them as they had showed up for me in the past. It’s a fine balance and it remains a challenge to maintain the boundaries you set for yourself.

This was the lesson and the true test, in my opinion. Life is always going to throw curveballs, and this is a big one, but there will be more, and things continue in their usual ebb and flow. It would have been an easy reason for me to pick up a drink, or take my anxiety medicine, which I had been taken off’ from my GP visit last week, but I still have a few tablets left. For me, self-medicating is not the option, and I managed to remain rather level-headed throughout the whole weekend. It set me up well to be able to support the people coming in today for their retrenchment consultations and this was also a big victory in a way. I’m able to be level-headed today and clear about spotting where I need to help others cope with this.

While I’m definitely upset, I’m choosing to redirect those thoughts to a formal place (a therapy session tomorrow afternoon) and to simply take things a day at a time as we navigate through the week. It’s somewhat of a blessing that my best friend is visiting this week (see my previous post for more details about that) and I’m going to work through this time to the best of my ability, as we look towards the 6 week depression recovery milestone, which I’d like to celebrate in some productive way too. Baby steps.

Conrad was here.

Having a friend visit and stay with me for the first time since my depression diagnosis.

My best friend, who lives a two hour flight away from me, was supposed to come visit me the weekend of my 30th birthday, but we postponed the trip, considering my breakdown ten days prior and because I really wasn’t sure whether I would be good company to anyone at that time. I had just started taking medication and my body was (and is) still adjusting, so I’m really glad we made that decision, as hard as it was at the time and as much as it would have been great to have her around for a celebration. As my mom put it: my recovery was supposed to take centre stage at that time and I’m glad it did.

Two nights ago she let me know that she was travelling to my city for work next weekend, and that she was hoping to stay with me for a night or two. Usually, it would be a quick and easy YES and under “normal” circumstances it wouldn’t be something I would have to think twice about, but since my depression diagnosis, there are a couple of considerations to make and a few things that I had to consider before committing.

Firstly, I know she’s going to want to see other people who live in this area, and there will likely be networking commitments for her over the weekend as well. As I’m living day-to-day, it’s really hard to judge how I’m going to feel when I wake up and as I navigate my recovery, so I wouldn’t be able to just “up and go” and take part in spontaneous plans as in the past. Setting personal boundaries means I need the people in my life to understand that I can’t just be the “yes guy” jumping at each and every plan. As a result of this, there is definitely a bit of anxiety around navigating plans with someone who is more flexible and in fact has just started a new job, so also needs to still impress and show up to plans made by the MD of the company. Just last night she let me know that he had invited us to dinner on Friday night, which I am open to going to but still unsure of how I’ll be around a bunch of new people, but I figured committing to it would be good, as it would mean we have Saturday to spend some quiet (alone) time together. We’ve only seen each other for 4 days in pretty much the last 10 months and we used to live together and see each other all day, so it would be awesome to get a bit more dead time in, but I’m also aware that life is very different than it was a year ago for the both of us and our friendship has to readjust in certain ways as well.

The other consideration with regards to someone coming to stay with me is that it can be quite disruptive to the new routine I’m trying to establish. I’ve tried to systematically work in a healthier routine, which I’d like to carry all the way through to the end of the year and beyond, which will hopefully make it easier for me to get off’ the meds and help me to place some good coping mechanisms in place to deal with life’s upcoming ebbs and flows. Having someone come to stay is not an issue per se, but there is also a consideration to be made for the fact that this friend will have certain expectations and an understanding of how things usually were before my diagnosis. We usually enjoyed a glass of wine or three together when we saw each other and now that I’m off the booze it will be a different dynamic. It will be an adjustment and a test of some sorts to maintain my sobriety over the weekend too – something she would never make a fuss about – but something that I know will be a bit of an adjustment. Being out in town last weekend and staying sober was a big test and it showed I can do it and still have a good time, but I really can’t let anything – not even my best friend visiting – derail my efforts and get me back into that “self medicating” space which landed my mental health in hot water in the first place. Simply put, depression truly is disruptive in the simple and complicated aspects of your life, and you have to make constant considerations and rethink your old ways, if you’re looking to propel yourself into a new direction.

I think it’s going to be key for me to communicate my fears, to talk about the new lifestyle changes I’ve been making (for one – getting healthy groceries on a Saturday morning, followed by a delicious cappuccino at the place across the store, which I don’t think should fall away just because I have someone staying with me). She has to essentially fall in with my plans and my routine, and I have to navigate it so it’s as enjoyable as possible, without disrupting any personal progress. Feels a bit selfish but it’s what needs to happen. The upside? When she comes, I will have been on the anti-depressants for 6 weeks, which is when they are supposed to start “levelling out” (according to my doctor) and when the serotonin levels in my brain should be at their highest. This means my mood should be pretty decent and hopefully we’ll just have our usual fun, late night chats and we can speak openly and freely about what we’ve both been going through for the last while. I’m excited, a little anxious and generally aware that it will be a bit of a test, but life is going to keep throwing things at me, and I’ll need to learn to navigate, and what better way to pull off the bandaid than with someone who knows me inside out, and will be understanding regardless of what I do. Let’s see how it goes.

 Conrad was here.