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.

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.

Slipping up as I kick off month 4 of depression recovery, but making an active effort to bounce back sooner rather than later.

I could feel it coming on, but didn’t quite know how or when it would play out.

I used to have two favourite stress coping mechanisms: alcohol and food binges. I’ve discussed abstaining from alcohol until December quite extensively in previous posts, so I thought I’d give some time and weight to the latter. Wait, I have to give some time to the latter, as I slipped up yesterday and have a few things on my mind about it.

At the peak of my depression over the last few years, I was, almost daily, ploughing my body with unhealthy food. I would eat pizza at least 4 days a week, and take regular (daily) trips to different supermarkets to buy sweets, sugary cereal and as much chocolate as I could lay my hands on. I’d usually buy the same kinds of foods in the same period – almost in routine fashion. The list would be small but the items would always be in excess. A chocolate bar wouldn’t be enough, it would have to be a slab. One pizza wouldn’t be enough, it would have to be two, thick based doozies with so much oil I could start a fucking mine (ok maybe I’m being a bit dramatic). Since I started my depression recovery, I’ve been meticulous about eating healthily, cooking meals for myself and cutting down on the sugar, all in an effort to see how it would affect my mood and ability to get into a better mental and emotional space. Naturally this has had a great effect on my health, including the fact that I’ve dropped over 13kg’s, but I knew that temptation still loomed around the corner (this process isn’t a straight line after all), and I was wondering when it would be knocking on my door.

This is how I knew I was heading for a relapse of sorts in terms of the binge eating and it’s worth noting so I can feel it coming on in the future:

  • My sleeping pattern has been irregular again for the past week or so. I’ve been waking up very early (in the 4am region) and my body has required more sleep as I’ve been ill with flu for the past week. My mind hasn’t been able to switch off efficiently.
  • I missed therapy last week due to being ill, and I thought that taking a two week break between sessions would be ok, but not having the release and opportunity to share openly in a safe space (even if just for an hour) has shown me that it is not a good idea for me to go for an extended period of time without a session. That, coupled with travelling, clearly took a toll, regardless of how enjoyable my trip was.
  • I woke up and operated in militant fashion yesterday morning. I cleaned the apartment, organised my schedule by-the-hour (always a no-no, as you simply can’t maintain a 6am-6pm schedule in such a way without at least one thing being thrown out), got to work two hours early (dude!), and still expected that I would be able to get to everything I needed to and in the exact order that I had planned. Ironically, I also decided to preach to two people at work about spending too much time at the office (the nerve). Needless to say, by 3pm, I was fried and I couldn’t concentrate. Not only that, but I ended up staying late, until close to 6pm, meaning I had 11 hours at the office, something I used to do when I was in corporate and a promise I made to myself I wouldn’t do ever again, no matter how many companies I started or ventures I worked on, or how many adventures my career took me on.
  • I’m supporting a bunch of my friends through some murky waters, which is something I take on gladly and feel is part of a natural gift of connection, but also something that can take a toll and something I need to manage. It is so important for me to create boundaries in these situations, as I can get quite swept up, and distract myself from self care in the process. I’ve recently found myself worrying more and more about others, and slowly diverting attention away from my depression recovery, which contributed to what went down last night for sure.

For a bit of context I’ll tell you a bit about how I used to operate. In the past, I would feel awful and stressed, go buy alcohol and a ton of sugary food, switch my phone off for the rest of the day and simply lock myself away from the world, stuffing my face and numbing the pain with booze. This was my primary coping mechanism. I wasn’t on any kind of anti-depressant, wasn’t in therapy, didn’t have a coach, didn’t write, didn’t express myself in any kind of positive way. I’m happy to report that I didn’t fall into the same trap exactly yesterday, but it got awfully close and it was a nice reminder that I may not be doing as well as I’m projecting to people that I’m doing.

On the way home last night, after sitting in unusually long traffic thanks to the rain, I decided to stop at the local supermarket, ready to buy my one true kryptonite – a chocolate cereal box called Squillos, essentially a sugar laced, chocolate cereal with no nutritional value. I went through a phase in university where I ate a box of the stuff in a day and my weight spiralled from doing so. A whole box a day, yes. It had terrible consequences physically, not only to my appearance but in terms of my digestive health and I would feel bloated and tired all the time, compounding my depressive thoughts. As I was stopping at the supermarket, beating myself up for being so weak and not being able to resist the temptation, I kept thinking you know what you’re about to do, you know that there are always consequences when you do and in true human form (we are all flawed after all) I went in anyway and happily swiped my card for what certainly wasn’t an act of self care.

Let me paint you a picture. I went into the shop, grabbed what was the last box of the poison on the shelf (seems other people also like eating this crap), walked past the bakery section and grabbed two plain scones (because a box of cereal just wouldn’t be enough), along with a small Lindt dark chocolate bar, as well as a Tex milk chocolate bar. I approached the counter rather sheepishly, feeling guilty and ashamed that I was allowing myself to do this again, and ended up marching out of the store and home, avoiding eye contact where possible. It felt like a heroin addict getting a fix! What subsequently followed, was me switching my cell off – in fact, I had done it while sitting in traffic – hell bent that “tonight was my night” and “I didn’t give a shit” and I didn’t want to have to deal with anything. I got home, avoided my landlady, shut the curtains, threw all my things down (I didn’t even put my bag inside the cupboard, threw it on the floor), put PJ’s on with much effort, plonked myself in bed, put on an episode of Intervention (ironic, I know) and ploughed through the food in the space of a few minutes. Scones and chocolate down, I decided to tackle the cereal. I ate one cup of the stuff, and something told me that I needed to stop.

I think I realised that there would be consequences to a binge like this, and I simply didn’t want to put myself through more pain just because I was numbing my anxiety. There have always been consequences to a binge, especially when alcohol is involved, not only because I would treat people I care about like shit without feeling bad, but also because it compounded my depressive thoughts and usually meant that I would take a day or two to recover. It simply throws everything out and derails any progress in true all or nothing fashion and I hate that it’s such a big deal to me, but it is, and that’s part of the path that I am walking now.

Something changed in my head ahead of pouring the second cup of cereal. I got up, and poured out the rest of the box into the trash, and threw it away. This was a big moment for me. Don’t get me wrong, I was still feeling like I had stuffed my face, but I loved myself enough to stop and to attempt to regroup before totally spiralling. I switched my phone back on, it had been about two hours, and I had a bunch of messages, including one from my work friend Dan, who had tracked down a link to Robin Williams’ documentary about his life. Winning. A small victory, but a victory nevertheless. If I hadn’t changed my tune, I wouldn’t have been able to watch the documentary for the rest of the night (cell would have been off), I would have woken up feeling like shit, and also missed out on a couple of great conversations over the course of the night. A nice reminder that there is so much to be missed out on if you shut yourself away and numb your feelings. Reaching out and talking to people when I felt like this, hell, even writing about it now, is a better alternative and helps me to gain better insight and understanding around my depression and how I’m navigating it day-to-day.

I’m reminded now to keep being gentle and kind to myself as I tackle the rest of the week. Did last night mean I didn’t pack away the washing? Yes. Did last night mean I didn’t replace my car licence that arrived in the post, like I planned to? Of course. Did last night mean I didn’t was all the dishes like usual? Yeah. Did last night mean I didn’t plan out my Tuesday? Absolutely. I lose quite a bit of control over my day-to-day when I get into the militant, stressed mode and it’s almost like I’m just trying to get through, almost zombie-ish and unaware of the fact that I’m spreading myself too thin.

Sure, last night had some consequences for how I’m starting my day, but are they all bad? No. I might have woken up at 3am, but here I am, writing and sharing and showing that the journey is not all rainbows and butterflies. I want to give last night sufficient weight, and acknowledge that it’s something I should address in therapy today, but better than that, I know now that I have to be kinder to myself going into this new day. Here’s what I’m focusing on today:

  • Go into work when you’re supposed to, no earlier, no later. Yes, stay for the cupcake-making competition the HR manager is organising so excitedly for 5pm (yes that’s sarcastic but you know my sass game is real), but don’t stay longer than 30 minutes.
  • Avoid scheduling each second of your day. Write a few things down and tackle those if you’re able to. Don’t be too harsh on what you’re able to achieve today.
  • Prioritise getting to therapy today and play open cards in the session. Remind your therapist just how important your sessions are to your mental health prioritisation and that you’re worrying about the sessions coming to an end in 5 weeks.
  • You don’t need to eat rabbit food today to counter that you had a binge last night. You’re giving it enough time and energy by bringing it to light today. Pack a healthy lunch and grab a cappuccino with a slice of milk tart if you feel like it. It’s cool that you didn’t pack your lunch last night, you can forgive yourself. Yesterday was yesterday, you should acknowledge that you stumbled, but that you also recovered quite quickly, which is a great thing.
  • Remind yourself today that you can only do so much and that you’ve been doing incredibly these last few months. There are so many great things in your life, and there is so much to be thankful for. Your life is so different than it was a year ago. Remember, this is only the beginning! Keep going.
  • Shame passes, but resilience breeds momentum.

Conrad was here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conrad was here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conrad was here.

 

 

“Maybe you’re depressed because you’re not drinking”

Yep, that’s what a colleague said to me yesterday. To be fair, it was said in jest and after I turned down an offer to go for a drink after work, but still, it’s a good opportunity for us to talk about alcohol. In fact, we need to talk about alcohol and how it affects and perhaps even accelerates the symptoms of depression.

I haven’t had a drop to drink since I started my treatment in June, and it has truly changed my life. It wasn’t that I was a heavy drinker to begin with, but it was all in the how and that I was essentially self-medicating and not really putting boundaries in place when I was feeling low. I was happy to have a glass of wine or three if I was feeling low. Wine became a part of my grocery shopping. While I can handle a hangover, I can’t handle the crippling depression that follows two days after a bender, which is usually when my mind catches up with my body and which really does send me into a spiral that is very difficult to get out of. Things balance out and to be frank, you feel worse than you did before.

Health risks aside, drinking heavily and extensively will have major effects on your body and mind in the long term, including affecting how you age, and your general levels of productivity. In the short term you may feel better by grabbing a drink when you’re stressed or anxious, but over time it becomes detrimental in many ways, all of which are detailed in a host of Youtube documentaries you can check out, but which I am only more aware of now, having been a regular party drinker in my 20’s. Thankfully I haven’t carried that habit over into my 30’s and I’d like a celebratory glass of champagne to become just that – something to enjoy for the right moment and the right reason, rather than just because or because it is the weekend.

If we’re talking about depression, we need to talk about alcohol, as the two go hand-in-hand for me. I have seen a drastic change in my mood since I stopped drinking, and generally, in conjunction with the anti-depressants of course, my mood has lifted tremendously in recent weeks. I wake up with more energy, not only to make my bed, do some chores and get to activities like walking on the beach, going grocery shopping or seeing friends for a coffee, but my attitude shift seems fairly substantial and I have a renewed capacity to be able to manage my tasks and the emotions that go along with them. It has also had quite a drastic impact on my weight: as things stand, I’m down to 87kg again, having started this journey in the 92/3kg range.

So how long am I going to be off’ alcohol? If you’ve been following the blog since the start of my journey, you’ll know that I’ve committed to six months as a minimum, for two reasons. The first, is that I don’t want to mix medication with alcohol, and I am on a six month script for my anti-depressants, which is non-negotiable. The second reason relates to it taking six months for your liver to “self repair” so to speak, especially if you have been drinking for an extensive period of time and there may be considerable damage. We’re lucky that our livers are able to repair themselves over time, though it is only possible if you catch it in the early stages, when there are symptoms of liver damage.

As I said, I drank socially all through my 20’s, so would like to allocate this time not only to improve my mental health, but to reverse some of that damage if possible, while also seeing the longer term effects and benefits to my general health and mood (if any). I’m planning on getting a checkup at the doctor’s at the end of the year and will be able to get a better sense of how my health has improved over time and hopefully this part of my journey can become another tool to help combat my depression.

Conrad was here.

A few learnings from the first 40 days of depression recovery.

Today marks 40 days since I was diagnosed with depression, and this weekend I’m planning on celebrating 6 weeks of this new lifestyle, marking a milestone in the recovery process and congratulating myself on the progress made so far! I’ve discovered that usually I’m more than happy to be overly critical of my choices, but I never take the time to celebrate the victories, no matter how big or small. All that is busy changing and it’s starting this weekend, when I’m planning on doing something for myself as a small pat on the back for the progress.

In lieu of this, I wanted to share a couple of lessons and learnings from the first forty days of being on anti-depressants, being in weekly therapy and generally starting to open up about my diagnosis and reaching out to others going through the same things:

  1. How you navigate life’s curveballs plays a big part in the recovery process. Life doesn’t stop when you get diagnosed with depression. If anything, things continue to move forward, but making an active decision to keep on your path, not getting distracted by the happenings around you, however difficult they may be, you keep going a single day at a time. It has helped me a lot to stay focused, and I’ve proved to myself that my willpower remains strong, even through some tough adversities, like retrenchments at the office, or even turning 30, and having to turn down multiple requests for a “bender on the town”.
  2. Life will continue to teach you lessons and you need to continue to be flexible and adapt. Since I got sober and started taking my meds, I’ve become far more self-aware and have noticed where my day-to-day behaviour needs a bit of work. I’ve become acutely aware of being quite insecure in my work (wanting to prove myself, when I don’t need to) and have always been a bit of an overachiever – something I’m starting to work on now to maintain a bit better balance. I’m a successful marketer and business owner, and I need to start owning and acknowledging that.
  3. Friends and family will see you getting better, and forget to check in with you. This is not a negative reflection of them, but rather an impression that you are starting to get better, which is obviously a good thing, but they may assume that you don’t need to be checked in on anymore. This is not always the case. I wanted to share this, so you don’t have the expectation that people will check in with you too much as you go through your process, but be mindful (and take note) of the people who were there at the beginning, and always draw on that strength and support, especially on low days. I don’t need to be checked in on daily anymore, but I still love getting a random message from a friend, even just saying “hope you’re doing OK”.
  4. Recovery will mean getting to know yourself in a way you can’t understand when you start the journey. As I slowly regain my confidence, and gain clarity on the decisions I made in my 20’s, I’m learning so much more about who I am now and starting to look reflectively at my life, pondering where I want to continue to make changes, and also work more actively to keep certain negative influences (selfish people) at bay. It’s an evolving process and I’m happy for the clarity and the ability to distinguish between situations that are good for and ones that are detrimental to my recovery.
  5. My mood is drastically improving from this week. The doctor did say it would take 6 weeks for the SSRI’s to really do their thing, and I can feel it this week. I’ve started having spontaneous good moods in the evenings, and also found myself dancing, singing and just enjoying myself day-to-day a lot more from this week. My cheek muscles are starting to hurt again in the evenings, from laughing so much with friends and colleagues in the day. I’m compartmentalising my problems from a much healthier foundation, and saving dealing with them for therapy, choosing to focus on some of the smaller joys and pleasures in my day.

I’m thankful to be approaching week 7 already. I wanted to take a minute to show some gratitude for my friends, family, colleagues and readers of the blog, for helping me to keep motivated and to keep going on this journey. I’m only 20% into my six month treatment, and there is a long road ahead, but I’m feeling optimistic about the process and the changes taking place in my life. They’re starting to feel big for some reason, they’re starting to feel life-changing, life-altering in fact. I still have a feeling something big is coming and that I’m preparing for, and I’ll be ready as a result of facing my depression head on. Hope you can get the strength to do the same, and remember, you’re not alone in this.

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.