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.

 

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.

 

 

Having a friend visit and stay with me for the first time since my depression diagnosis.

My best friend, who lives a two hour flight away from me, was supposed to come visit me the weekend of my 30th birthday, but we postponed the trip, considering my breakdown ten days prior and because I really wasn’t sure whether I would be good company to anyone at that time. I had just started taking medication and my body was (and is) still adjusting, so I’m really glad we made that decision, as hard as it was at the time and as much as it would have been great to have her around for a celebration. As my mom put it: my recovery was supposed to take centre stage at that time and I’m glad it did.

Two nights ago she let me know that she was travelling to my city for work next weekend, and that she was hoping to stay with me for a night or two. Usually, it would be a quick and easy YES and under “normal” circumstances it wouldn’t be something I would have to think twice about, but since my depression diagnosis, there are a couple of considerations to make and a few things that I had to consider before committing.

Firstly, I know she’s going to want to see other people who live in this area, and there will likely be networking commitments for her over the weekend as well. As I’m living day-to-day, it’s really hard to judge how I’m going to feel when I wake up and as I navigate my recovery, so I wouldn’t be able to just “up and go” and take part in spontaneous plans as in the past. Setting personal boundaries means I need the people in my life to understand that I can’t just be the “yes guy” jumping at each and every plan. As a result of this, there is definitely a bit of anxiety around navigating plans with someone who is more flexible and in fact has just started a new job, so also needs to still impress and show up to plans made by the MD of the company. Just last night she let me know that he had invited us to dinner on Friday night, which I am open to going to but still unsure of how I’ll be around a bunch of new people, but I figured committing to it would be good, as it would mean we have Saturday to spend some quiet (alone) time together. We’ve only seen each other for 4 days in pretty much the last 10 months and we used to live together and see each other all day, so it would be awesome to get a bit more dead time in, but I’m also aware that life is very different than it was a year ago for the both of us and our friendship has to readjust in certain ways as well.

The other consideration with regards to someone coming to stay with me is that it can be quite disruptive to the new routine I’m trying to establish. I’ve tried to systematically work in a healthier routine, which I’d like to carry all the way through to the end of the year and beyond, which will hopefully make it easier for me to get off’ the meds and help me to place some good coping mechanisms in place to deal with life’s upcoming ebbs and flows. Having someone come to stay is not an issue per se, but there is also a consideration to be made for the fact that this friend will have certain expectations and an understanding of how things usually were before my diagnosis. We usually enjoyed a glass of wine or three together when we saw each other and now that I’m off the booze it will be a different dynamic. It will be an adjustment and a test of some sorts to maintain my sobriety over the weekend too – something she would never make a fuss about – but something that I know will be a bit of an adjustment. Being out in town last weekend and staying sober was a big test and it showed I can do it and still have a good time, but I really can’t let anything – not even my best friend visiting – derail my efforts and get me back into that “self medicating” space which landed my mental health in hot water in the first place. Simply put, depression truly is disruptive in the simple and complicated aspects of your life, and you have to make constant considerations and rethink your old ways, if you’re looking to propel yourself into a new direction.

I think it’s going to be key for me to communicate my fears, to talk about the new lifestyle changes I’ve been making (for one – getting healthy groceries on a Saturday morning, followed by a delicious cappuccino at the place across the store, which I don’t think should fall away just because I have someone staying with me). She has to essentially fall in with my plans and my routine, and I have to navigate it so it’s as enjoyable as possible, without disrupting any personal progress. Feels a bit selfish but it’s what needs to happen. The upside? When she comes, I will have been on the anti-depressants for 6 weeks, which is when they are supposed to start “levelling out” (according to my doctor) and when the serotonin levels in my brain should be at their highest. This means my mood should be pretty decent and hopefully we’ll just have our usual fun, late night chats and we can speak openly and freely about what we’ve both been going through for the last while. I’m excited, a little anxious and generally aware that it will be a bit of a test, but life is going to keep throwing things at me, and I’ll need to learn to navigate, and what better way to pull off the bandaid than with someone who knows me inside out, and will be understanding regardless of what I do. Let’s see how it goes.

 Conrad was here.

Reaching out to one of my colleagues about depression and realising we’re going through exactly the same thing.

I’ve talked extensively about how the support group I attended wasn’t 100% a right fit, for a variety of reasons, and how I wanted to find a group, or even just someone else, who could relate to what I was going through and who I could talk to about what I’m going through. To be clear, I’ve had major support from the team at work in general, and have spoken to a bunch of people (mostly women) about what I’m going through, but what I’m talking about here is finding another male who is willing to talk about depression and to share tips for how he’s doing and coping, given the various day-to-day pressures at work.

In passing, I heard that a guy in one of the other departments was recently booked off following a depression diagnosis, but I wasn’t 100% sure as he hadn’t said anything outright and for all I knew this was just a rumour and he had simply been off with the flu. I decided to reach out to him over Skype two weeks ago, sharing what I had been through, and mentioning what I heard, not really knowing if he would come back denying it, or how he would approach it. There is definitely an even stronger stigma around a male talking about their feelings, or even admitting ‘weakness’ so to speak, so it was a bit of a roll of the dice. I have overcome these thoughts but I had no idea where he was at and whether he even wanted to have a conversation about things.

What transpired was a message from him thanking me for reaching out, and sharing his journey so far, which was shockingly similar to what I was going through. We planned to get together that week to chat about it all and rather spontaneously found ourselves sitting next to each other in the rec room the following day over lunch, starting the conversation about it, in front of some other colleagues, in fact. We weren’t shouting about it really, but another guy at the office heard us talking, and mentioned to me later how great it was to see two men connecting over depression and treatment and talking about their experiences. Baby steps. It’s not something that’s going to happen naturally or too easily (so to speak), so I’m trying to be proactive and to check in with him where I can, especially if I see he may be a bit more down than usual, with the hopes that the support helps him generate some momentum, but also because I’d love to share tips around how we can both cope a bit better with the pressures we have to tackle each day. I checked in with him again this morning and we agreed to go for a walk tomorrow over lunch, which will be nice, so we can trade some stories and see if there are other ways in which we can continue to support each other through recovery.

The biggest learning from all of this was that reaching out really helps, and the worst that could happen is the person could deny your request, and you will know where you stand with them. Even just asking someone how they are really doing (not just “how are you?” like a robot, when you get in in the morning) can make all the difference. Reach out if you see a change in behaviour with someone, if you happen to hear something, and the process could be very rewarding to your own recovery as well.

Conrad was here.

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.

Summarising the changes in my life since starting with treatment for my depression 20 days ago.

I’m almost three weeks into starting treatment for my depression, which has included consulting with a GP, being put on an anti-depressant and anxiety medication, telling my colleagues, friends and family, as well as attending two therapy sessions and joining a local support group in my area. This morning I woke up feeling better than before, like a weight had been lifted in a way, and I wonder if it means the medication is starting to yield some positive effects at long last. I was told it would take four to six weeks, but everybody is different and I’d like to believe that the lifestyle changes I have made (in terms of eating healthily and cutting out alcohol completely) have also contributed to me feeling a lot better than I did a few weeks ago.

I wanted to utilise this positive momentum this morning, by reflecting on some of the changes in my life since I came to terms with my depression, got a formal diagnosis and started what I know will be a long road to recovery. There have been a few interesting changes in these last few weeks, which I’d like to summarise for you quickly.

  • The first major change has been a change in appetite and subsequent weight loss. The medication has really hit my system hard in a way, and the nausea doesn’t allow for you to be hungry too much, which means sometimes eating half a meal, or cooking something and putting it back in the fridge for the next day. I have been making an effort to include more fruit and vegetables in my diet and as I mentioned I’ve cut alcohol out of my diet completely for the six months that I have committed to the anti-depressants. What has resulted, is more than one person mentioning that I’ve lost some weight, which I double checked on the scale, and interestingly enough I am down about 3.5kg’s already. I have been a little bit overweight for a while as a result of self medication (unhealthy eating and binge drinking) and while I want to manage how quickly the weight is coming off, I also am happy that my body is returning back to a level where I am confident and will soon feel like my ‘old’ (renewed) self.
  • This week was my first week back at work, and there have been some real struggles with concentration and motivation to get to work tasks. I showed up for four out of five workdays this week, which is a victory in itself, and found that the medication not only makes it difficult to concentrate, but also causes blurry vision at times. This doesn’t help when your work requires you to stare at a computer screen most of the day. I tried to cut myself some slack and the focus was really just on getting through the first week. Next week, I will try and add more tasks to my to do list, and go from there. Thankfully my employer is happy for me to take it a day at a time.
  • One of the interesting changes that I had very little control over was a definite increase in support from colleagues, friends and family. After playing open cards about my diagnosis, my inner circle has really stepped it up, checking in and opening up to me about some of the struggles they have been going through too. For me, this has been major not only because it’s brought me closer to people I had isolated for so long, but because it also helps my recovery and to bring back that feeling that I can connect with people again. This has always been one of the core gifts of my personality and is something I am making an active effort to start nurturing again, even if that means a quick heart emoji to my best friend at the start of the day. Less can truly be more in certain situations.
  • I’ve started a new phase of exploring, rather than active decision making. This is in part due to advice from my therapist and working through some professional hurdles in my life, but it is worth mentioning nevertheless. I’m usually someone who makes decisions quite quickly, or is able to change course in life rather spontaneously and based on a hunch or an impulse. Usually it means I write a lot of notes and in essence make myself more anxious in the process. The beauty of the recovery journey with depression is that you can start exploring again. What do I like to do? Is this job offering me what I want? Am I someone who attracts selfish energy? Am I too harsh with my family? and other questions have started to come up, and it’s given me a chance to really “dream” a little about the things I like and dislike in my life. I don’t need to make any decisions about my career, or any big plans at this stage, I simply have to take time to explore and continue on what is a new chapter in my journey of self discovery.
  • The biggest change so far, has been truly starting to live life day-by-day. It’s an old cliche for a reason, because it’s true. I’ve mentioned previously that depression recovery does not happen in a straight line. While today might be a good day, tomorrow I could be stuck in bed again until noon. You learn to appreciate the small and simple tasks in your day, and to acknowledge when you’ve had a victory in your day. This morning, my plan was simply to go buy banana’s at the grocery store when I got up. I ended up buying a bunch of groceries, and in fact spending a little less than I anticipated, so I decided to treat myself to a cappuccino at the local coffee shop nearby. When I sat down, I felt an urge to call my mom, and we “had coffee” so to speak (the power of modern technology), reflecting a bit on the week and on the latest happenings at Wimbledon. On the way home, I decided to take a detour and go for a walk on the beach, something I have been avoiding for weeks and something I haven’t had the energy to do. When I got home, my landlady was reading the newspaper on the verandah and we had a nice fifteen minute chat. What started out as a morning of just buying banana’s, turned into one where I had so many great blessings and ultimately built up the strength to sit down and share this post. If you give over control and start to live in the moment, things slowly start to move in another direction. Who knows what tomorrow will bring, but I will deal with it when I get there. For now, I am happy to have had a wonderful morning.

Conrad was here.

Why I took more time off from work after being back at the office for two days.

Simply put, it’s because depression recovery doesn’t happen in a straight line. You can be juggling a bunch of recovery “tools” of sorts, (therapy, meditation, antidepressants, etc.) with the expectation that things will get better quickly, and still wake up on any given morning in a state of total apathy.

This is something I had been told by friends who also suffer with depression, and by people who had gone on anti-depressants and anxiety medication, but I wanted to believe that taking two weeks off from work would be enough, and that by eating right and resting enough, I would start to feel strong enough for things to return “to normal” (so to speak) sooner rather than later.

This is not the case. With depression, there are good days and there are bad days and these continue all through the recovery process. Yesterday was one of those bad days, where I didn’t sleep much the night before, as the meds were wreaking havoc on my system. I was umm-ing and ahh-ing about going in for a while after I woke up, but luckily my manager at work advised me that it was best to rest and to remember that I had made a lot of good progress in the space of a short time. I’m aware that not many people will be as lucky, especially after already being off for two weeks, but I’m appreciative to have an open relationship with the team at work and for the ability to speak freely about what I’m going through. It certainly makes it easier to cope, especially on a days when its a little harder than usual to get up.

So why didn’t I go to my GP yesterday if my system was acting up? Firstly, because apparently it is one of the side effects of the medication. I’ve found that the symptoms are amplified when I mix the anti-depressant and the anxiety medication so I’m being overly cautious about that. It usually results in an instant headache and a loss of appetite, which I’m trying to get used to, but it isn’t easy. The second reason I didn’t go to my GP right away, was because she is on leave for two weeks. I can hear your thoughts already – why not just go to someone else? – but it is another one of the effects of depression, where the stigma attached to the disease makes you believe it’s simply too exhausting to have to explain it to another GP. I know there are good doctors out there, but when it comes to mental health issues, I’ve only encountered a handful that make it a priority and even speak to you about it openly and willingly. I simply didn’t have the strength to go to someone new yesterday, and opted to rather focus on resting and getting through the day in the best way possible. I ended up taking two meetings and sleeping for a majority of the day, which isn’t ideal, but it is what it is.

I’m back at the office today, attempting to get back into the swing of things. I had a session yesterday with my business coach, which was very effective, and she’s helping me find some new techniques to better manage how I respond to stressful day-to-day situations and I hope I can apply these tools to my workdays moving forward. I’ve also got another therapy session this afternoon, which work is happy for me to leave early for. Baby steps, as I’ve said before. One day at a time.

Conrad was here.

First day back at work: check.

My first day back at work since I was diagnosed with depression was both wonderful and incredibly weird.

It was wonderful because of being back around the positive energy at work and I felt the love from both the direct team I work with and the extended company team as well. Lots of people came in for a quick hug and to say they were happy to have me back, but very few people discussed my diagnosis with me, which I think is testament to the fact that there is still so much stigma attached to opening up about depression. Nobody knows how to approach the topic and it was evident that some people were uncomfortable discussing it, especially in an open plan environment. I did have a few private conversations with people, and quite frankly thought I would be able to speak more freely about it, but in many ways the victory for the day was showing up, and not necessarily starting a conversation about mental health just quite yet. It’s something I’d like to get to once I’m back in a better routine as it is something that is a part of my journey now, though I didn’t want to rush anything on a day that I felt a little out of sorts.

The weird part of the day was not ploughing through e-mails or sitting in a few meetings, it was how much I struggled to concentrate as a result of the anti-depressants. I found myself zoning out quite a bit, unable to really apply myself to a single task, rather being a bit frazzled and frantic and trying to get to a bunch of different things at the same time. I had a small stint of anxiety in the middle of the day but I managed it without having to involve anyone else. For day two, the approach is to tackle a few specific tasks but not to push myself too much. While my anxiety levels have been manageable over the last day or so, I can definitely feel it kicking up a gear when I start to think about also managing my work contracts as part of my business (which I run on a part-time basis) and throwing more only my plate at this stage. I’ve got to find a way to better manage my time and also not jump straight back into 150% like I had been operating at previously, as I’ve got to start showing more kindness to myself and being more strict about my limitations.

Another learning from yesterday was that I’ll need to take care with how I manage my meals back at the office. I didn’t pack a particularly big lunch, anticipating that my appetite would be low as it has been in the days prior, but I ended up being rather ravenous by lunch time, which was a first since I started taking medication two weeks ago. It resulted in me buying a muffin and drinking a second cappuccino, which was a big mistake. The caffeine really did not do well with my system, and I was up very late and quite ill and nauseous both last night and this morning. I can only take it as a lesson and a learning and adjust how I operate moving forward. This morning I packed a sandwich, three pieces of fruit and will only be drinking Rooibos tea today. Managing recovery from depression, especially when you’re on medication, definitely requires some lifestyle changes and adjusting on a day-to-day basis. Certain foods are just not going to agree with the medication, and it is up to you to do your research, try a few things, and see what works for you. I’m still figuring it out but am very aware of how an excess of sugar and caffeine wreaks havoc on my system now.

The good news is that I showed up for day two of work and am taking today as it comes. It’s the best I can do for now.

Conrad was here.

Going back to work two weeks after I was diagnosed with depression.

Or so I hope. I’m doing everything I can today to get myself into the right headspace before my alarm goes off tomorrow. I did my best to set aside two hours today to get to some life admin, including going out to buy groceries, buying a few overdue birthday presents (I had three friends celebrate their birthdays in the last two weeks while I was out of action) and throwing in the washing. I guess a major plus is that two weeks ago today I was in such a bad state that I spent the whole day in bed, weighed down by my depression, unable to even do something as simple as a load of washing. Getting to it today has got to count for some kind of progress over and above every now and then feeling lighter and laughing a bit more spontaneously than usual over the last couple of days. There are definitely some baby steps in the right direction.

Let me clarify that there is no outside pressure for me to return to work tomorrow, it’s simply that I feel guilt and pressure for already being away from ongoing projects for two weeks. The friends who visited me on my birthday on Friday all reiterated that I should take as much time as I need and I’m being stubborn and finding it hard to listen to them. Friday was a euphoric day of sorts, turning a new leaf and starting a new chapter as I kicked off my 30’s. In a way my mind tricked me into thinking I was further along than I was as a result of the amazing day, and I did feel a bit of a dip yesterday once all the fuss was over.

Full disclosure – this morning, as much as I did all the tasks I mentioned at the start of the post, it took me until noon to get up from bed. Noon. Sure, the win for the day is that I got up at all, but it’s still a little daunting to realise that recovery from depression really is a day-to-day process and it is something you have very little (if any) control over. This is not just something I can take a few pills for and hope for the best. As I’ve mentioned previously, it’s a lifestyle change, it’s making smarter decisions about what I’m putting into my body and constantly checking in with myself about where my mental health is at. I’m now at the 14 day mark in terms of being on medication, so apparently I’m meant to feel better by now, and in a way I do, but I must say it was also extremely exhausting being back out in public and I struggled to enjoy what I was doing – I had to go into militant get it done mode just to get through my errands, earphones in and not really wanting to talk to anyone.

So how am I feeling about going back to work tomorrow? Scared. It will be the first time I’m facing everyone after admitting my diagnosis publicly and I’m sure people have been talking about it. I’m not worried about how anyone will react towards me, I’m more worried about how I’ll react being around everyone again. As you can tell, I still find it very overwhelming being in loud and busy spaces and I worry that it may all be a little bit overwhelming. I think the approach has to be different. I can’t go back and expect to perform at the same level of intensity and efficiency as I’m used to. I have to adjust my thinking. By operating at 150% I got to breaking point in the first place. I’ll need to start prioritising tasks based on a slower schedule and working my way back into what can be quite a high pressure (high performing) team environment. At least this time around I’m armed with the knowledge that nothing trumps my mental health, and I’ll slowly start practicing saying no to meetings and projects that I know will be too taxing in that sense.

That said, there’s also no better time than the present to pull the bandaid off. I have to be open to fact that recovery from depression is not a linear process and doesn’t slowly go from bad to good to great in a straight line. There are good days and there are bad days. I’ll have a lot more of both and it’s something I’ll have to get used to living with. All I can do is try my best, and as a good friend of mine told me, “just show up”. Gonna do my best. 

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.