How my mental health journey became a process of personal reinvention.

You are pursuing your passion. Remember this on the good and the bad days. Life is a journey. You are but a sea fish, swept along the current, sucked in and spat out in continual motion. Everything as and when it should be. Adjust and recover accordingly. You are not in control. Love yourself. Go kindly & gently.*

It’s been 200 days since I started my self care and mental health journey, and if you’ve been following my story on the blog, you’ll know just what a journey it’s been. I have thoroughly enjoyed documenting what can only be referred to as a tricky period in my life, but am also so thankful that we’re at this point, where, with sufficient reflection, I’ve realised that the breakdown happened for one very distinct reason: as part of me starting a process of personal reinvention.

A reinvention can be classified as the process where something is changed so much, it appears to be entirely new, and this is exactly how I’m feeling after six months of depression recovery. Over the festive season, I took stock of all the decisions I made in the last twelve months in fact, and realised that each one of them has led me to this very moment, where I now have the ability to revisit and change my approach, to change how I respond to untoward situations, to break the emotional shackles that have held me back for so many years, and to, frankly put, come of age as an adult. It all started when I realised how easily I “sulk” when things don’t go my way. I’m at a point where I get ashamed when my natural reaction is to sulk, which means that things are moving in the right direction.

So what does a reinvention include, according to me? I’ve reflected extensively on this, taking into account how my life has changed since I started prioritising my mental health. Here is what I’d like to focus on moving forward:

  • Moving from sporadic (inconsistent) learning to active reading and doing my best to learn something from everyone I meet.
  • Approaching my life in a more mindful way, escaping the clutches of robotic and systemic thinking in how I make decisions. This includes a 15 minute silent meditation each morning, which I am enjoying so much.
  • Getting out of the “bubble” of my local community, and expanding my network to meet more people from all walks of life and different places around the world. This has been made possible by a few interesting platforms that landed “on my desk” in the last month or so, and I’ve noticed just how much I still have to learn about other societies and cultures.
  • Being intrinsically motivated (doing personally fulfilling work) in my career, rather than being financially motivated. I’ll be sure to share a separate post on this too, as there is a lot to talk about here, but basically, I want to spend my time working on projects that are worthwhile for me. Changes are coming.
  • Accepting a modest and unstable life as a creative, rather than searching for something lucrative and “stable” (if you can even consider any kind of existence stable).
  • Living a more nomadic lifestyle, rather than being office/computer bound. This includes the ability to work from anywhere in the world, rather than being tied to a full-time position. This also includes more trips in nature and connecting with the earth, exploring its secrets and finding the best possible learning path for myself.
  • Pursuing a more authentic look: I’m growing a beard, letting my body hair grow, and would like to explore clothing that is more me: my friends have commented that I have quite a preppy aesthetic, which I’ve discovered is something that isn’t truly who I am, but rather a bi-product of the community I grew up in.
  • Classifying myself as a dreamer, rather than a careerist. This includes no longer grounding my self esteem in terms of my work, but rather in terms of my creative vision and dreams. This ties in with my impeding career change, which I’ll discuss further in another post.
  • Continuing to say no when my self care is compromised. This is a boundary I will be practicing to uphold, well, come hell or high water, this year. It has been interesting to see how my peers have reacted to me not giving the automatic yes to everything I get asked to do or go to.
  • Living day-to-day, rather than month-to-month or with extensive plans that try to control where things are going. All we have is today, all we have is this very moment.
  • Moving away from the dreams my parents had for me (in terms of family, my career, housing, marriage etc.), to my own goals, which are mainly creatively grounded and set up in a way to connect on a 1:1 basis with as many different people as possible. I don’t mean to disrespect their vision, but it was never mine to begin with, and I’d like to find my own passions independently of what anyone in my inner circle may have to say about it.
  • Diverting from this notion that we’re meant to be chasing happiness as the end goal: this year, I’m chasing a multitude of emotional experiences, and making peace with the bad along with the good. Some days you’ll have anxiety and exhaustion with a great sense of joy from the smallest of moments. It’s simply the flow of life. I’d like to make peach with that.
  • Finding solace in my introversion, and accepting that I’m just not somebody that enjoys playing the part of “extrovert” in a social setting. Let’s have a quiet cup of tea and connect 1:1 – then you truly understand who I am.
  • Living modestly and as a minimalist, rather than pursuing excess, whether that be in materialistic purchases, where I live, what I drive, or something as simple as how much I’m eating on a bad day. Everything is to be taken as a practice in moderation. Everything to be taken as an opportunity to remain realistic about what is happening out there in the real world and to adapt accordingly.

I’d like to end off this post with three additional ideas that I’m exploring as part of the reinvention process, which I thought deserved a little bit more emphasis and discussion. They are as follows:

1. Changing my definition of success.

In my twenties, I used to measure success by traditional financial standards, comparing myself to my peers, school friends as well as placing a lot of emphasis on my job title, salary, or the company I work for. Moving into 2019, and as part of my reinvention process, I’ve decided that for me, success will rather be measured in terms of how well I’m developing my competencies this year.

Before my 30th birthday, I used to focus all my efforts to correcting my “flaws” and giving so much energy towards the things I considered to be ‘wrong’ with me. You can imagine what that did to my self esteem. That has changed massively since I started my self care journey. Now, my primary focus is on pursuing the things that I already consider myself to be competent in. My writing ability, for example, is a wonderful gift that I’d like to practice and refine as it is something that gives me great joy. Since the start of my holiday, I’ve been writing about two hours a day, something that is showing no signs of slowing down, so we’re making decent progress so far. Watch this space!

2. Being more flexible with my decisions.

I didn’t drink a drop of alcohol between 17 June and the end of December last year, all as part of giving the anti-depressants the best possible chance go “do their thing”, but over the festive season I realised that I would not be able to go into 2019 with such a rigid mindset about well, anything. The alcohol example is the most practical one I can share, to emphasise how I’d like to be a bit more gentle with myself going as part of the reinvention. Nothing in life is sustainable as simply “this” or “that”, it requires flexibility and I realised I needed to let up on my rigidity to practice being kinder to myself.

I ended up having a glass of wine while on holiday. It was in a controlled environment, I managed my mental health very carefully (those who have followed the blog will know that I usually dipped emotionally two days after drinking) and quite frankly, it didn’t add or take away much, so I consider it to have been a good decision. Drinking a bottle of wine because I feel anxious? Not a vibe or an option as part of my self care journey. Having a glass of champagne with friends when I find out they’re having a baby? Yes. Having a glass of red wine on a date where I’m connecting with someone? Absolutely. It’s also alright for me to enjoy myself, I don’t have to earn the right to do so.

3. Freeing myself from emotional shackles holding me back.

There are three key emotional shackles that have held me back for a very long time, that I wanted to share here very quickly:

  1. Anxious attachment: Do yourself a favour, and research the four different psychological attachment styles. I’ve discovered that I attach anxiously in all relationships in my life, even in my work. While not easily possible to change to a secure attachment style, it is possible to change how you respond in situations when you feel your anxious attachment coming on. As they say in Eat. Pray. Love: “Think of me, send me love, and drop it”. It has been very helpful to get me to detach across a wide spectrum of dynamics in my life and I’ll be sure to write more about this soon.
  2. The rescuer mentality: I’ve always been known as a good problem solver, and I can easily talk anyone off’ an emotional ledge, thanks to my ability to really listen when someone is sharing with me. Sometimes, especially in my past, this has become something I sought out to distract myself, i.e. trying to find someone to “rescue”. My therapist made a great point on this last year. “If you try to rescue someone, you are highlighting to others that they haven’t yet been saved, and that they’re not strong enough to save themselves”. This was a powerful momentum shifting statement. While it’s gotten a lot better, and I’ve detached successfully from this kind of behaviour with my inner circle, I am mindful that it is something that can still be a problem for me moving forward.
  3. The need for external validation. We all want to feel seen or heard. Sometimes I want this a little too much, and, as with many of us it trickles into the image I project on social media. I’m breaking free from this shackle in 2019, focusing on tackling my self esteem issues via therapy and coaching, and best yet, in my writing. I am whole, for I am both the good and the bad. Brene Brown comes to mind here, who in her most recent book said “you don’t need to prove that you deserve a seat at the table”. Just sit and enjoy yourself.

Moving forward, the blog will be positioned as an avenue for me to discuss this reinvention process. Thank you so much to everyone who has been following my journey so far. I’d love for you to continue with me as we enter into a new phase.

– Conrad was here.

*My first journal entry for 2019, in a diary I was given by my friend Jana.

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.

 

 

Sorry birthday plans, dealing with my depression is priority #1 now.

I’m turning 30 in a few days, and while I’ve been adamant about not making big plans this year, things have naturally cropped up as I have good people in my life.

That in itself is a revelation, as for the longest time my depression had been trying to convince me that nobody cared or would be interested in celebrating with me. Things must slowly be starting to tick over again, which feels like a big deal as I write this.

I initially had plans of throwing a big 80’s themed bash, which changed to a small birthday drinks, which changed to no plans at all, which changed to getting on a flight to go see my best friend, which changed to having my best friend fly here to come stay with me for the weekend, which changed to DROP EVERYTHING, YOU NEED TO DEAL WITH YOUR DEPRESSION.

My diagnosis effectively put everything on hold. Not because I don’t want to see anybody. Not because I don’t want to celebrate a milestone in my life (I threw two 21st birthday parties, in different cities), but simply because dealing with my depression is now priority #1. Work, clients, buying a new jersey, doing laundry, whatever… all of this is now secondary.

I had been toying with the idea of going back to work this week, simply because I know there are plans for them to bake me a cake, and honestly put, it would be so lovely to be surrounded by the positive energy on the day. I am however also well aware that getting that, would mean a trade off in terms of getting back into the swing of things at work, in a time when not only my body is still adjusting to the anti-depressants (see previous post) but where I simply am not operating at full mental capacity for work tasks and to show up for my employer in the way I would be comfortable knowing I can do my best work. As a result I will be taking more time off, until at least the 2nd of July.

The allure to be distracted, even in a week like this one, is huge, but I am proud that I am putting some checkpoints in place to make sure the recovery process continues and that I keep building on the momentum I’ve generated so far. I’m starting therapy this week, which will be a big win, I just know it. I had also initially gotten annual leave approved for two weeks (2 – 16 July) and those plans have been put on hold, as I know that going away or changing up my routine now, will definitely detract from what I need to do now. I also can’t go away when I’ve just started therapy, it simply does not make any sense. It’s all about just taking things a day at a time and putting your best foot forward. Here’s hoping I’ll look back at this post with a smile on my face one day.

Conrad was here.

Why I sent my ex-fiance a letter about my depression yesterday.

The idea of reaching out had been playing on my mind for a few days, not only because I’ve come to the realisation that my depression has been going on for longer than the six months since we split, but because I genuinely believe we both suffered from the disease for the greater part of our relationship, and especially so from a couple of months after we got engaged.

I had spent so much of the last year of the relationship pushing my fiance to get help, following a retrenchment and an immediate depressive spell which emerged right at the start of 2017. Of course I found it easy to dish out the advice, while not necessary turning the mirror around and looking at all the ways my depression had grown silently stronger over time, and how it was slowly starting to take over my life. I simply didn’t have the time or capacity; I had just left a stable corporate job and started my own business, plus we had just moved into a new home together and were on the verge of getting a puppy. Yet I continued, and in a way, focused all my energy outward, without taking a minute to breathe, without pausing and reflecting properly on what I was busy doing to myself.

So why did I reach out to someone I haven’t seen since December? To someone who made a decision to block me on all social media? Because someone has to. I reached out because I’m not sure anyone else will start the conversation.

So I sent along some details about my experience with depression this year. I discussed how I realised I had been depressed all through our relationship (and even in the years before that), and offered guidance as to how to navigate the treatment process, should there be a willingness pursue it. I talked about my suicidal thoughts and about learning more about extended family members who also suffered from mental illnesses.

Will I get a response? I doubt it. Does that matter? No. But perhaps there will come a time when it will make sense, perhaps later it will switch a lightbulb on, when the time is right. It doesn’t have to be today, tomorrow or even next year. Until then, the conversation continues, and I’d like to believe that doing the right thing – even when it’s not necessarily an easy thing to do – is the way to go. Sometimes showing up for someone – regardless of your history or any baggage – can make all the difference.

Conrad was here.

Being diagnosed with depression – how it happened.

It had been a long time coming. I have been feeling out of sorts, disconnected and isolated for an extended period of time. I had been covering it up as a “dip” for far too long, and this past weekend it all came crashing down.

I woke up on Sunday morning with that usual dread in my stomach. Is it a weekday? Do I need to go to work? Do I need to take a shower? Can I even get up to take a shower? How do I get out of work?. It’s a bit of a mental mind maze, where you talk yourself out of wanting to do anything, even before the day has even started. Thing is, usually when I get up, and get going, I get into “military mode” – I show up, I get the job done, I do it with a smile on my face, hell, I even make a couple of people laugh. I genuinely enjoy my work, and that’s what makes the depression diagnosis so difficult to understand. Surely it shouldn’t be so hard to get up to go see people you enjoy spending time with, in an environment that is supportive and understanding? It’s not that simple. Depression does incredible things to your mind, and it take a hold of you in a way that is nothing short of paralysing and utterly debilitating.

When I got up on Sunday, I had a temporary moment of relief, where I realised that all I would need to do today would be to walk the five steps over to my landlord’s house (I stay in the garden cottage on a big property) to throw my washing into the washing machine, as I do each week. Problem is, this week I was trying to talk myself out of it. I was trying to find every excuse possible not to get out of bed. And we’re not talking, oh, I’m tired, I’d like to just lay in bed and watch TV all day. Or even just going through a wobble. This eventually became a two hour battle in my head, about not wanting to get up, and throw the fucking washing in a machine. I consider myself to be an ambitious, high achieving go-getter, who works full-time, plus runs his own company on the side, but on this day, I just couldn’t talk myself up out of bed. I decided to give over, and let the day pass, so I stayed in bed, until at about 5pm, I had the strength to get up out of bed to throw the laundry in. Please don’t let my landlord be home, I thought to myself. I can’t face anyone right now, I can’t have a conversation. My landlord and her husband are incredible, kind people, who have opened their hearts and home to me since I moved to Cape Town about nine months ago, yet my mind is telling me that I wouldn’t even be able to cope with a simple “Hello, how are you?” today, as I fear they’ll see through me. Of course I ran into both of them in the five steps it took to get to the machine, and of course they could spot that something was off, but I had become very good at hiding my illness, and somehow managed to carry a short conversation and to get the job done.

Back to bed I went. My mother had sent me a message and I replied with the most generic response ever, hoping she wouldn’t see through my message. She would later tell me that she had been worried about me for a very long time. I got back in bed, and so carried on spending the rest of the day there, going into the night, falling asleep and waking up, my mind racing with a million thoughts, unable to process why I was so comfortable and happy to essentially spend what became 41 hours where I only got up to go to the bathroom and throw in the bloody laundry.

On Monday morning I got up with the usual dread, though I was also struck with the realisation that I had spent Saturday afternoon and all of Sunday in bed. Something had changed when I go up though, as I knew that the time had come for me to face the fact that things were off, and in a very big way. I had gone through weekends like this all throughout the year, scheduling social commitments for the Friday evening to make it seem like I was still managing a healthy social life, while then having the absolute relief of being able to clear my schedule for the rest of the weekend, only to lock myself away in my apartment, shut the curtains and hope that I would miraculously feel better the following day. It hasn’t worked for a very long time.

I woke up Monday and I grabbed a notebook and pen from a nearby drawer. I scribbled “Prioritise Your Mental Health” in big, bold letters. And it just flowed from me.

  1. Get GP appointment. Get anti-depressant.
  2. Contact [insert therapist name here], set up appointment.
  3. Call [line manager at work].
  4. Call mom, [best friend], [sister], [sister], [brother], [other best friend].

I didn’t quite do everything in that particular order, but before I knew it I had gotten myself off’ work for two days, set up an appointment with a GP for 12h45, plus written a letter to my mom about how I had been unable to see past my 30th birthday (June 29th) and had been living with suicidal thoughts for a while now. I managed to reach out to the rest of the list throughout the course of the day, asking that everyone give me some time to got to the doctor to get things checked out first.

On my way out to the appointment, I bumped into my landlord again, and knew that she should have been the fifth point on the list. “Can we have a cup of tea when I get back?” I asked. “I need to talk to you about something”. I knew what my diagnosis would be, and I also knew that she would be a crucial part of a new support system I would need to build as I navigate this new chapter in my life. Little did I know how interesting her reaction would be when I sat down and told her – more on that in a post to follow.

Off I went to the doctor, with the biggest fear that she was about to tell me that I was “making it all up” and that I should just get on with it.

Conrad was here.