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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conrad was here.