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.

 

A 90 day mental health goal check-in, and turning my goals on their head in order to be more gentle with myself.

It’s hard to believe it’s already been three months since I started a new journey of mental health prioritisation, and so much has changed in my life since undertaking this process. While it remains a difficult process to navigate, there have been some incredible rewards from the work so far, including getting closer with my friends & family, opening up about mental health and depression and connecting with people from all walks of life, getting back out there and starting to date again, as well as generally waking up with a willingness to tackle the day; something that certainly wasn’t the case back in June.

This week was one of the more testing weeks for me, as I got sick with the flu for the first time this year and knew it would throw off my routine. There were two key observations from getting ill that I wanted to share with you quickly today. The first, was that I used to get sick with precision in August of each year (my GP commented on this a year or two ago). I would reach burnout from not taking sufficient leave and getting enough rest, and my body would shut down like clockwork. We’re in September now, so it seems the spell has been broken (is this something I should celebrate?), and prioritising my self care has meant that instead of reaching breaking point from working too hard, my body has now simply had to adjust to the change of season. Secondly, my recovery from the flu has been twice as fast as it was anytime I can recall in my twenties. This would also be spurred on my the fact that I maintained a healthy diet this week and that my immune system – which is certainly stronger now than it was six months ago – can handle things far better. I started feeling ill on Tuesday, and by Friday I was feeling how I would usually be feeling after a week (my fever had subsided and I was just a little bit superficially congested still).

Getting ill also usually took a heavy toll on my mental health, and I would bomb out for days on end. While it wasn’t a total walk in the park, and I did go through my dips having to be in bed for a few days, I certainly feel like I managed the process a bit better and it felt like my mind, body and spirit were working together to try get me back to a healthier place. I also accepted help in places I wouldn’t have previously: I asked my friend Kate-Lyn to drive me to the pharmacy on Tuesday when I was feeling faint (ok, she insisted, but it was also a good sign that I could put my pride and stubbornness aside to accept I couldn’t do something on my own). Am I feeling 100% this morning? Not quite, and I don’t want to bullshit you into thinking it’s been a walk in the park. But I’m certainly closer to my happy, bubbly self than I would have been otherwise and I am thankful for that this morning.

Now that we’re heading into month four of my journey with depression recovery, I wanted to check in about the mental health goals I set for myself back in June. It was the first thing that popped into my head this morning and I was curious to see how I would feel about the goals I set for myself at the start of this process:

  • Quit drinking alcohol while you are on anti-depressants, to give your body the best possible chance to settle and readjust.
  • Meditate three times a week.
  • Take anti-depressants for at least six months.
  • Go to 15 therapy sessions.
  • Keep talking about your mental health to others. This includes what I consider a new calling to be a mental health ambassador of sorts.
  • Write three blog posts a week. Writing is therapy for me, nothing else.

So where am I at with these? As I mentioned, I haven’t had a drop to drink in 90 days, which quite frankly has had a tremendous effect on my mental health. I’ve been far more consistent and stable as a result and this is something that remains non-negotiable for me until I finish up 6 months of treatment. I have decided however, that even if I continue with taking anti-depressants next year, I’ll still allow myself the freedom to enjoy a glass of champagne or a drink as part of a celebration: I simply don’t see it as a realistic “it must never happen” parameter for myself. Where I started getting problems was from falling into a routine of drinking and not dealing with the issues in my life, or the day-to-day stresses I’ve encountered. Quite frankly, I also want to be able to enjoy the moments! It’s all about the how and why, and not drinking so I don’t have to deal with problems. This is something I’ll keep revisiting, especially as December creeps ever closer.

I’m not gonna lie, meditation has been difficult prioritise, and although I’ve talked to others about it, including talking to my coach about it, I just haven’t been pulled towards it enough to feel like it’s worth my while. Well, pulled towards it in the traditional sense. I downloaded apps, tried Youtube, got up early to meditate, tried it in the evenings, but it just didn’t stick for me over these three months. So I allowed myself some freedom. Time to readjust and not be so rigid (YAAS). Freedom to wake up and listen to music! Freedom to put on a playlist and dance my ass off (I literally am starting to feel like a contestant on a 90’s MTV dance show, Wade Robson comes to mind). Freedom to sit in my thoughts and to use music as a meditative reflection. Hell, I’m even listening to a playlist now as I write this post. Is it meditation in the traditional sense? I’m not so sure and that’s OK. Whatever it is, is allowing my mind to wander and for me to dream a little again, which is definitely a positive and something that might not work for everyone, but is working for me.

I’ve taken my meds for 90 days straight and haven’t missed a day, which I am very proud about. Friends and colleagues have opened up to me about how terrible it affects them when they miss their medication, so I try to be pedantic about this. I had a particular small victory that I’d like to mention here as well. My Nuzak prescription comes in packets of 30, so I have to go to the doctor once a month to collect the refill of the prescription. It’s also a nice way to keep track of how long I’ve been taking the meds. This week, having been ill and in bed, I did what I usually wouldn’t do (as I like sorting things out on my own usually), and asked my landlady if she would pick up the prescription for me, as I was too ill to go to the doctor on my own on Thursday. Not only a good exercise in knowing my limits and knowing when I’m too ill to be out and about, but also a good chance to normalise the process of collecting anti-depressants, talking about it to someone outside of my family, and being comfortable with them lending me a helping hand. Needless to say I appreciated her helping out greatly and it was also somewhat of a bonding experience for us on some level too. Simply put, reaching out is the way to go.

Therapy has been amazing, and I’ve completed 10 out of the 15 approved sessions through my medical aid PMB benefits. I still stand firm that therapy is a hugely positive tool for depression recovery, and if you have a good fit in terms of the therapist-patient dynamic (as I am lucky enough to have), hang on to it. This week I was too ill to go to my session, which made me very sad on the day and was quite the source of anxiety, but I also had to realise that taking care of myself meant not driving 40 minutes to town when I was rocking a fever and feeling like I was going to faint. Has there been a positive to doing this? Health-wise, absolutely. Has it given me some more time to think about what we talked about in the session last week? Absolutely. It also has given me the freedom to process a few conversations I had with family on my vacation last week, which were enlightening, helped me learn more about myself and them, and also brought us all closer. Nothing is a good or a bad thing exclusively.

I’ve certainly also worked hard to keep talking about mental health prioritisation to others, but it always feels like there is more work to be done. By starting up my new venture, Delve Deeper Coaching, and signing my first client, I have been further encouraged to keep talking to people about their mental health and having daily conversations. I’ve tried to listen more, and speak less (something that can be hard at times)! Checking in with someone about their mental health doesn’t need to be as formal as a session or even a sit down coffee with someone. You can simply take a minute or two to check in with a friend at the start of their day, or with a colleague in the kitchen at work, or if you bump into them in the parking lot before saying goodbye for the day. We don’t need to make mental health this big elephant in the room. We don’t need to set aside boardrooms and schedule meetings to talk about it. I believe my advocacy is making a positive contribution because it pops up naturally and spontaneously during the course of the day. Did I wake up feeling good this morning, and by lunch I was flat for some reason? Sure, it happens, but now I’m actually talking about it at work, I’m communicating my feelings to others in a non-disruptive way, in an attempt for them to also better understand the journey and to possibly learn something about their own journey too.

Last of all, have I been writing three blog posts a week? If you’re following the blogs, you’ll know that this has not been the case and I usually post once a week. This has largely been due to the fact that my therapist challenged me to keep myself in check on the blog (she knows me well enough). She expressed a concern a while ago that I might be putting too much “PR spin” on my writing (I work in marketing after all so it happens!) and she encouraged me to write from a place of authenticity and vulnerability. Preach Brene, preach. So I made the decision to write when I’m pulled to write, like this morning, rather than working on a rigid schedule and feeling an obligation to put pen to paper. I also write when I can feel that for the sake of my mental health, I need to. Last night I wasn’t in the best mental headspace, I felt lonely and vulnerable and there was a pull to project onto others (especially easy when you’re in a phase where you’re meeting a lot of new people), so I knew that this morning it would be good to hop onto the blog, and I figured what I should write about would come to me. This is a rather long post, so I guess it was meant to be this way! I love writing this blog and sharing my journey but the challenge isn’t how often I write, but that I keep it honest and real, even if that means two posts a month, or one, for that matter.

What I’ve found so striking from these goals, even in my reflections from my physical journal, is that I can be quite rigid with myself, frankly, unnecessarily hard on myself, with fixed (measurable) parameters determining the success of my goals. This is great in terms of business KPI’s, but I don’t think it works for life KPI’s. Goals require boundaries of course, otherwise you’ll keep worming yourself out of achieving them or simply convince yourself that someone else is to blame for not reaching them, but one thing I’m very curious about reading back and in my reflection is how militant I can be with myself when it comes to my personal development. “Quit drinking alcohol” i.e never drink again or you fail, “Meditate 3 times a week” i.e. if you do so twice you are a failure. Everything has very fixed parameters and there are limitations for flexibility. Simply put, fuck that. I realise now I need to readjust my thinking going into the second half of the six month anti-depressant treatment and I need to cut myself some slack. I’ve tried to rewrite my goals – correction – these came to me more spontaneously, through my own journalling, and I wanted to share what I’ll be focusing on for the next phase:

  1. Love and care for yourself. You are great, kind, caring and lovable.
  2. Ground yourself in the journey, not the destination.
  3. Manage and prioritise your mental health daily.
  4. Say no where necessary.
  5. Continue your heathy relationship with food and alcohol.
  6. Don’t self medicate.
  7. Nurture your relationships, especially those long standing connections where you’ve walked a long path with someone.
  8. Grow into your identity as a gay man with honesty and self acceptance.
  9. Continue to try to be more honest and vulnerable, living your life with openness and compassion on a daily basis.
  10. Know your limits and reach out when you need to.

Conrad was here.