How I shared my depression diagnosis with 600 people.

In my early twenties, I went through the same social media mania all millennials went through when it first became a thing. As the years went on and my depression started to take a firm hold on my life, I slowly moved away from sharing updates, to the point where people would ask me “where are you?” when they bump into me in real life, as if my social media silence implied I wasn’t standing right in front of them right now. I had to hold back the urge to say “I’m standing right in front of you, dumbass!” a couple of times.

Yesterday I felt a compelling pull to open up to my Facebook circle about my depression diagnosis, especially as it was one of the better days and I had the strength to interact with others. This blog is in itself a platform for me to share my journey, but opening up and breaking down the stigma is something that starts at home. While I’ve had conversations with my family and core friends, I felt compelled to reach out and find out if there are others who have been suffering in silence, and the response was rather overwhelming. I’m still processing the reaction and taking in as much as I can from people sharing their stories of their own struggles, or the struggles of someone close to them. One friend messaged me to say “While I don’t know what it’s like myself, I can sympathise as a family member has suffered with depression for years, and I’ve seen what it can do to a person”. This kind of self-awareness and compassion is what anybody suffering with something major wants to hear and I felt a lot of love hearing that.

So here’s how I did it. If you’re reading this from somewhere around the world and it strikes a nerve with you, you can reach out to me directly via this page on the blog.

At the start of this week I was diagnosed with depression, something I knew was a long time coming, and something I’m now aware will be an obstacle I’ll have to deal with on a day-to-day basis moving forward. I’ve taken a couple of proactive steps in the right direction this week, including taking a break from work, seeking treatment with a GP, getting in touch with a therapist and joining a local depression support group in my area.

 

Over the past two weeks, I’ve had multiple conversations with people who are in a similar boat and are simply not coping with the pressures of modern life. In fact, just from a few small conversations, I have a list of nearly 20 people in my direct circle who suffer from anxiety and depression related problems, and pretty silently and secretly so. I’m sure there are many more. My message today is simple and clear. PLEASE REACH OUT. If you’re suffering, talk to someone about it. It took me a paralysing 40 hour stint in bed to realise that I needed to put my pride aside, have some honest conversations with colleagues, clients, friends and family, and to do something to get help before it’s too late.

 

As part of my recovery and as a therapeutic practice, I’ve created a blog which will detail my journey of living with, opening up about and breaking down the stigma attached to depression. If you’d like to read it and find out more about my story, pop me a private message and I’ll send you a link. If you’d just like to talk to someone about the disease or ask questions about the help I’m getting and how I went about it, then DM me too. I’m not an expert, but I’m learning and am happy to be an ear to anyone willing to reach out. Depression is a serious disease, and suicide is never an option. Let’s start having some real conversations about it.

Conrad was here.

Depression makes you believe nobody cares about you – which is total BS.

Having been formally diagnosed with depression, prescribed medications and following a full blown sob fest on the phone to mom, I walked back to my apartment and remembered I had promised my landlady a cup of tea and a chat. I opened my WhatsApp and she was busy typing already, she must have heard me come in, but I quickly interrupted and messaged “Ready for tea?” to which she sent her usual emoji’s. A few minutes later, after I had swallowed my first anti-depressant and didn’t know how I was going to feel in five minutes, she arrived with a tray containing Rooibos and a rather anxious look on her face.

“I need to tell you something,” I started, having poured us both a cup. She was avoiding my gaze somewhat and I realised I just had to come out and say it, like ripping off a band aid. “I’ve been prescribed anti-depressants” I started, not sure if “I have depression” would be the best way to go. Come to think of it, I’m not even sure I said it out loud until I was sitting talking to my sister a couple of days later. Her eyes lit up for a second, and there was a change in her demeanour. The air was immediately lighter, and I wasn’t sure why. She said she was sorry to hear that, and her eyes filled with tears.

“We thought you were moving out. I talked to [insert husband name here] while you were at the appointment and found myself crying about the thought of you leaving. It has just been such a pleasure having you living here.”

Not one day prior – just a few steps away from their house – I had been contemplating taking my own life before my 30th birthday, in their apartment of all places, because my depression had genuinely made me believe that I was unloved, unwanted and that nobody cared about me. What absolute bullshit. We talked for about 30 minutes, where she shared about how difficult it was for her to get mental health assistance after her brother passed away many years ago (“the only shrink in the town was known to be someone who ran her mouth”) and I realised that this is a cross-generational problem. Better than that, I realised that I was loved and my company cherished, even just by someone I would have the odd five minute conversation with as I got back from a day at work. Your depression will try fool you, and it will not get the better of you.

Conrad was here.

Talking myself out of my depression while sitting in the doctor’s office.

I was already talking myself out of going when I got in the car, but off I went to the doctor’s office. I had opted to go for a female GP, as it felt like it may be easier to open up to a woman about my depression. Not sure why, but it is what it is.

After I had paid for my consultation upfront, I sat down in a crowded waiting room and thought I would only need to wait for a few minutes. The doctor was running very late, though nobody was keeping me updated, and I hesitated to get up, because I worried that if I got up, I would walk out and not come back. Here I had decided to be brave, to be vulnerable, and to share what I was going through with a complete stranger with the hopes that I would be able to get some help, and I had to sit for an hour, questioning the decision, looking for ways to get out of there, even considering making a scene and telling the receptionist to go fuck herself.

At long last, I was moved to another waiting area, and a short while and a few forced smiles to people walking past later, I was sitting in front of a young doctor who had trustworthy eyes. “I’m so so so so sorry to have kept you waiting” she started, after which she rambled something about old people taking forever during consultations. I was too anxious to care or even listen, I just wanted to get talking. I had made it this far, and I just wanted to hear some sort of feedback for how I had been feeling. I had practiced over and over how I would start the conversation. How do you start the conversation? This is a great source of anxiety in itself. “Hi doctor, I’m depressed.” – too forward. “Hi doctor, my mental health is low” – low? What does that mean? I didn’t know how to do it.

I can’t recall what I said or what she asked, but a minute later I was rambling off about the last six months of my life, talking about how I had started to isolate myself from everyone for the past few years, mentioning the breakdown of my engagement last year, discussing how it had affected my work performance, how I had always been able to “put on a show” at work, and how I had somehow managed to make it here. “Suicidal thoughts?” she asked. I paused. I mentioned that I was unable to see past June. As in, unable to see past 13 days from now, when it would be July 1st. “So no plan of action yet then?” she continued, adding what I interpreted as humour. Time and place, lady.

Now this is where I need to give her some serious props. Following this and acknowledging my depression diagnosis, she started talking to me about mental health, the stigma around it and how by 2030 it will be the leading cause of death in the world.

She called it a disease, which automatically made me feel more scared, yet more validated. I had expected to be told that it was something “you just get over” but she really stressed the severity of the situation. I am thankful to her for doing so, because had she not, I may have walked out of there feeling worse about this illness, perhaps also thinking that it wasn’t serious and that my suicidal thoughts would go away. She told me that she was going to try me on an antidepressant called Nuzak for 1 month, but that I would need to commit to 6 months as a minimum if I wanted to see any long term changes. She told me it wasn’t a magic pill, and that I would need to make some serious lifestyle changes. We talked about marijuana, which I don’t use anyway, but funny enough she didn’t mention alcohol at all – something I do consume, pretty regularly. I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t mentioned as a go-to.

Regardless, and still feeling more assured and like a weight had been lifted off my chest, I left her consulting room and went to the dispensary in the same building, handing my prescription (which also contained some anti-anxiety medication – apparently anxiety is a side effect once you start taking anti-depressants for the first time) to a nice old lady who I felt was probably going to judge me for needing to get these medications, but I couldn’t dwell. All part of the stigma, all part of the fear that you’re somehow “broken” by suffering from a physical imbalance over which you have absolutely no say or control. She came back a little while later, I paid for both medications, happy that they were more affordable than I thought they would be (in your mind you also tell yourself that they will be ridiculously expensive to deter you from going), and I was on my way.

As I got into the car, it started raining and I sat for a minute staring at the boxes. I opened them frantically and started reading through the leaflets for information on anything I could expect to feel over the next few days. The doctor has simply mentioned headaches, but had not given me an indication as to what to expect. She didn’t give me an indication as to whether the dose would be low, or if it was high. I really was going in blind, which is something that is definitely also a part of the hurdle of getting treatment. I wish there was a simple way – a checklist of sorts – to help people get the information they want. If people had more of an idea of what they were in for – regardless of the fact that I know everyone responds differently and there is no ‘one size fits all solution’ – perhaps more people would reach out and seek treatment for depression.

After digging through the leaflets, still not satisfied but keen to get going with my treatment, I decided to head home, but not before calling my mom from the driveway, sobbing, and finally acknowledging that I had been diagnosed with that dreaded, never-to-be-spoken of disease called depression.

Conrad was here.