Preparing for the first night out since my depression diagnosis a month ago.

Two of my friends at work have been dying to go to a dinner experience in Cape Town, that includes some world renowned burgers as well as a regularly scheduled Friday night drag show.

I haven’t been to this restaurant since 2013, so it has been a while, and I’ve been wanting to go back but haven’t really prioritised doing so in recent months. Little did I know that these friends would want to surprise me with this in celebration of my 30th birthday, so tonight we’re heading there and I’m looking forward to an interesting experience. Initially the plan was to do it closer to my birthday but as I was booked off, things were put on hold until I had enough strength to commit to a social commitment and I was partially back on my feet again.

So how are things different now, than when I used to plan to go out previously? Firstly, as I’m not drinking alcohol for at least 6 months while I’m on medication, we don’t have to worry about organising lifts and I’m more than happy to drive. In the past the biggest consideration used to be figuring out who could lift, whether we would Uber, and how we would go about it, but I’m happy that I could confidently agree that I would drive if they wanted to enjoy a few drinks, plus it also keeps me accountable to my mental health goals, which include going cold turkey with alcohol while I’m on anti-depressants. It might seem like a small decision to commit to drive, but it is in fact a victory in terms of me starting to set some important personal boundaries too.

The biggest consideration for me at this stage is managing my anxiety levels building up to this evening, when I will find myself back in a noisy, social place. I haven’t been out since the Friday night before my diagnosis (which was increasingly messy), and the only way I could cope with the noise back then was to drink, so it’s going to be interesting to see how it goes tonight. I’m focusing on the task at hand: my friends are doing something nice for me, so I should embrace and enjoy that, and it also doesn’t mean that we have to stay for 10 hours. We can go, have our burgers, enjoy some laughs and the show and then head home at a decent hour. This is a far cry from my twenties but quite frankly, it is a welcome relief and it’s something that works for me now. This is the new normal for me, and quite frankly I am pretty excited about adopting a new attitude towards my social life.

The other consideration for me today centres around when and what I’ve been eating. The meds have been reducing my appetite (which I’ve discussed at length before) and frankly, the thought of a burger & chips meal doesn’t quite get me as excited as it used to and I worry that I won’t be able to finish it. The office has also arranged for a birthday cake for me today (now that I’m back at work) so I’m just very mindful of what I’m putting into my body, especially ahead of doing something new tonight. I don’t need an upset system, or worse yet, a sugar high and a subsequent crash. It’s almost like depression requires you to give an extra ounce or layer of consideration to everything you do, and recovery truly does require a lifestyle change in all senses. Things just aren’t the same, and won’t be the same, and perhaps that’s OK. No, not perhaps, it really is alright. I’m happy to be moving in what feels like a better direction. Wish me luck.

Conrad was here.

Why I left my depression support group in the first month of recovery.

No, it wasn’t because I’ve started feeling better and I thought I didn’t need to go.

On the contrary, I’m committed to finding a support group that works for me, but unfortunately this wasn’t as automatically a good fit as I had hoped. I liken the situation to going to a therapist for the first time, and just not clicking as much as you had hoped, and deciding that you need to look for an alternative.

My expectations going into support group meetings were to have an open platform to share, to be able to talk to other people about coping mechanisms for anxiety and depression, and to celebrate small victories, like opening up to others about your depression and breaking down stigma barriers. This wasn’t quite true for what went down and it meant that I had to think long and hard (and talk to friends and family) about whether I was going back or not.

My first red flag was – to no fault of the group itself – that I was the only male at the session. This wouldn’t usually be a problem, but I found that a lot of the discussion in the group was centred around female issues and that built up a rapport of support for each other quite closely related primarily to these specific issues. I’m more than open about talking about these things (I grew up with two sisters who I am close with and have always gravitated to female friends), but it was really just the realisation that I felt quite othered while sitting there, now so much more aware that there is a bigger stigma around talking about depression among men, but also acutely aware that I didn’t quite fit in with the group. I cracked a joke about being the “odd one out” but I could also tell that having a male around made a few other people quite uncomfortable to share, which is not something I wanted to be contributing to, especially as these ladies had taken a big step towards their recovery by showing up to the group in the first place.

The second thing that threw me off a bit, was that many people decided to use the group as a pseudo-therapy session. My expectations were clear – I don’t necessarily want to carry what I’m dealing with in therapy through to a broader group of strangers, but I also don’t think it’s fair to just offload your baggage in the meeting and to make the session about yourself only. I wanted to have engaging conversations with others about what they had tried, what had worked for them, and what hadn’t. I wanted group to be a tool that would help me generate positive momentum, rather than being a space where it’s just about talking and venting. I understand that sharing can be a big deal for some people, and it can be an important factor of recovery, but my type A personality possibly just isn’t comfortable with not feeling like we’re actively doing something to get from where we’re at now, to where we’d like to go.

I think the key to finding a good support network around you is to make sure that you feel 100% comfortable, supported and that you can connect with the group. It wasn’t just about being the only male in the group, but also because the group mainly had people that were a lot older than me. I understand that dealing with depression and anxiety is a lifelong battle, and I take nothing away from the group being set up the way it is, but simply put, I need to be able to talk to people who are still working full-time, possibly those who have experience being an entrepreneur and running a business, and also those who have a better idea about millennial struggles in 2018.

Perhaps my expectations were too high, perhaps I had other ideas for what group will be, but I also think it’s important to be firm with myself about what will help my recovery, and what won’t. I could attend these meetings and take on a lot of the baggage of the other members, which is something I’ve always struggled with, but I’m doing my best to set some healthy new boundaries in my life in order to prioritise my recovery. It remains a work in progress, but I feel like I’m heading in the right direction at least. I wish the group I left well and hope to find one that suits me a bit better soon.

Conrad was here.

Ten days after my depression diagnosis, and I’m out of the house this morning.

It’s been ten days since my depression diagnosis and this morning I find myself outside of the house, at a coffee shop around the corner from where I live. This is good news, no wait, great news, as yesterday I struggled to get up from bed, and I barely managed to get myself to a grocery store by 5pm. My landlord knocked on my door to remind me that it was important for me to get out of the house and I had to remind her that while I appreciate the sentiment, there are going to be good and bad days with this thing nasty thing called depression.

Over the last few days, I’ve had two noticeable spells of my mood lifting somewhat – the first, while watching a movie two nights ago, where I found myself spontaneously laughing at one or two of the scenes. The second, was on a phone call with my best friend, who lives about a two hour flight away from me. I don’t even recall what we were laughing about, but we were both in fits for a few minutes, which was a good feeling. That’s one of the side-effects of the medication, not really being all too present (I can’t recall much of what I’ve been talking to people about over the last few days) and feeling like your mind is in a bit of a haze. I equate the feeling to the way Hogwarts looked at the start of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1. You know, when Snape was headmaster. Misty, hazy, odd, but eerily calm in a way too.

So what was I expecting? These are anti-depressants after all. I didn’t have many expectations of what they would do to me, considering it’s my first time being on a medication like this, but I did expect to start feeling a little bit weird, which is exactly what has happened. Over the past few days, I’ve had to navigate between days where I’ve felt nauseous and unable to stomach much food, to days where my body seems to be more ravenous than usual. I’ve been meticulous about keeping a healthy diet, and not giving into the temptation to indulge in sugary, processed food, and subsequently sending me into a further spiral. I’m still adamant about giving my body the best possible chance to adapt to the meds and am also aware that a lot of rest is exactly what the doctor ordered.

As I’ve mentioned before, my doctor said it would take about two weeks for the medication to start doing its thing, so perhaps I simply am not feeling the effects yet. It’s really hard to tell if I’m feeling better because I’m getting my strength back and starting to tackle things, or if there is a physiological change. Both are probably closely interlinked. I’m told by friends who have gone through this, that one day I’ll just realise that I’m feeling better, it won’t arrive in a straight line, I won’t just wake up and be OK. So many people expect an anti-depressant to be a “fix” and it simply isn’t that. I watched a video on Youtube recently where someone referred to it as “one of the tools” you use to get your mental health back to a good place. I like the sound of that – it works in conjunction with other lifestyle changes. And I’m making a lot of those.

For now, as difficult as it is to sit in a crowded restaurant (the noise is still just as debilitating as when I went for breakfast with my friend last weekend), I’ve at least got my headphones in, I’m sipping on a delicious cup of cappuccino, I’ve showed up and gotten out of the house, out of my head, and crawled a few more baby steps in the right direction.

Conrad was here.