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.

 

 

What I learned from seeing a doctor again a month after being diagnosed with depression.

For one, I was a lot less anxious than going into the first consultation. Perhaps this was because I knew what to expect this time around, had met the doctor before and actually woke up feeling a whole lot better than the last time I had to get myself out of bed to admit I was depressed.

You still have these unsettling doubts though, that the doctor is going to switch up your medication, tell you you’ve been doing a bad job prioritising your recovery and leave you to get on with dealing with it. At least that’s what my depression tried to convince me it would be like. Naturally, in reality this wasn’t the case at all, and I had some valuable learnings from the experience which I wanted to share with you today.

  1. If you speak honestly about what you’ve been experiencing, a GP can help you more. I opened up about my loss of appetite and feeling like a walking zombie when I combine the anti-depressant with the anxiety medication, which we could address once I had put it on the table. It turns out that only happens to a small percentage of people, especially with the brands I am on, which I was surprised to learn. I haven’t taken an anxiety tablet for a few days and I’m coping fine, so the recommendation is to leave them and just focus on the anti-depressant for now. What this means is that I only have to take one tablet a day, which is a winner in my books. It also got me thinking: If I take an anxiety tablet systematically when feeling anxious and highly stressed, is that not the same as reaching for a beer after a long day? It’s all about the how, not necessarily the what. I don’t need more bad coping mechanisms. I’d prefer to focus my energy on positive ones, like writing, walking on the beach, reading my book or cooking a healthy meal.
  2. Loss of appetite and fluctuating energy levels are part of the first couple of weeks on Nuzak. The doctor told me to expect the loss of appetite to subside by month 3 (after 8 weeks), not any sooner. This was reassuring as I had been wondering if my system was actually rejecting the medication but this isn’t the case. I now have a framework of what to work with and what to expect, which does really help me, and I’m happy to know that this is mostly a phase that comes with the territory when you start on anti-depressants and particularly this kind of medication.
  3. You don’t have to buy all your meds in one batch. While I don’t have to see her again for a consultation until the end of the script (December), I could arrange with the dispensary that I come collect and pay for the medication each month. As I’ve never been on chronic medication, I thought you had to pay for it all upfront, which was a point of anxiety for me. Call me naive if you want, but I imagine other people wonder the same thing. Bottom line, is that you get to dictate when and how you collect your meds, which I thought was pretty cool, and reassured me that I did actually have some element of control in a process which is largely uncontrollable.
  4. This is only the beginning. She was pleased with the lifestyle changes I had made, and commented that it seemed like things were going better with me (“You smiled at me when you greeted me this time”). She did remind me that this is only the beginning though, and that the SSRI’s will “level out” (peak) at the 6 week mark only, so we’re still building the levels of serotonin in the brain. She told me to be patient, and that the lifestyle changes now might not have immediate positive benefits, but that in six months they definitely will. The alcohol abstinence, for example, does wonders not only for my mood, but for my liver, which took a hammering in my 20’s. I really, really, really don’t want to be 35 and suffering from liver disease (there are some really interesting documentaries about this on Youtube, if you want to learn more).
  5. I’ll be on medication for the rest of the year, and I’ve come to terms with that. Like I mentioned, she’d like me to see her again early in December, for us to discuss how I’ll be reducing the dosage going into January, so that ultimately I can (hopefully) be completely off’ the anti-depressant by February next year. That’s the goal for now, and it is a fluid one. Situations change, my body could respond differently to the medication a day, week or month from now, but it does seem like there is a bit more clarity about the process now and I am happy to proceed with the framework for the rest of the year. While it seems like a long time away, it really isn’t that far away, and also gives me a bit of a benchmark and a goal to work towards.

The ship is slowly starting to steady and even though I’m aware that we’re still in the early days, I’m starting to feel more of a glimmer of hope about the future again, and quite frankly, heading in a new direction that I know can only bring me better things. Let’s keep the conversation (and the momentum) going as we look towards August.

Conrad was here.