An Update on the Road to my Recovery

I’ve been tasked at work with something creative:  (Digital) Visual (Mood) boards.  They take some time to do, but I’ve found them to be a form of therapy.  What’s more is that I got “Good work!” from my boss.

There’s often the question during an interview: “What do you value more? Money? Or recognition?”  In the few times I’ve been asked this (it’s come up in about 80% of the job interviews I’ve had), I’ve wanted to reply, “Technically, that’s three questions” but have always opted for “there’s no right or wrong answer to this question.  Both money and recognition have their merits; it depends on you as a person, your value system and how you personally measure your worth.  Sure, money can make life easier, but recognition makes a person better.  I’m on the fence really.  Some days I would love a raise, other days I’d prefer acknowledgment of a job well done.”

Whether my diplomacy has been the reason I’ve landed the jobs I’ve had, I’m not sure.  What I do know is that of late (since my relapse) hearing “You did well”, “Nice work!”, “Our agent is so impressed with the mood boards you’ve done”, “Well done on bettering your skills” is worth more than any amount of money, regardless of the currency.

I am trying hard to get back into some kind of routine which entails (in no particular order of priority):

  1. Doing something creative
  2. Doing something non-creative, but that’s still relaxing
  3. Exercising
  4. Socialising
  5. Eating & drinking water
  6. Seeing my parents
  7. Less screen-time
  8. Sleeping
  9. Setting goals
  10. Doing something for “me”

On a scale of 1-10, I’m averaging about a 7, maybe a 7.5, which isn’t bad at all considering everything that’s happened, happening and possibly going to happen [I’m not overthinking things like I used to (but I am still aware of reality)].

Creativity is important to me because I’m predominantly right-brained. I am trying to blog more (granted it’s not necessarily creative per sé, but it can be), and I am doing the mood boards for work and I’m doing the adult-colouring-in thing too.

Self-awarded grade: 6.8/10

f9505e33a4540d8ed19cb87786fe50c5Doing something non-creative, but that’s still relaxing: For the most part I’m trying to read more.  Nothing too emotional, although The Tattooist of Auschwitz is on my TBR pile.  I’m busy with Queen Mum by Kate Long at the moment and when I’m finished, I’m going to read The Woman who went to Bed for a Year by Sue Townsend next.  Besides the fact that the title sounds like something I sometimes feel I could do, her Adrian Mole books got me through my teenage years.  I also try to do a home-spa Sunday at least every fortnight.

Self- awarded grade: 7.3/10

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Exercising: Personal training with Steve twice a week is gruelling, but the burn is so worth it!  Last night I managed heavier weights with an additional set of reps which means I’m already a bit stronger than I was last week.  Steve told me a few times, “Well done!” which made me feel good about my achievements (as small as they are). My abs are stubborn though; they still don’t want to make an appearance, and that after I did 80 sit-ups and 80 crunches.

Self-awarded grade: 7/10

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Socialising: When I’m in remission, I’m quite the social butterfly – always up for a get-together of some sort, and no need to mentally prepare myself. Now it’s different: I have to logically consider the impact a social engagement is going to have on my energy levels, both physical and emotional, and if there is a polite exit strategy should I need to use it.  If I look back at the last six weeks, I’ve been out to various gatherings.  All of them have gone well, even those where I’ve been amongst crowds of people.

Self-awarded grade: 7/10

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Eating: The theory behind my getting back into the gym is that it would accelerate my appetite. I’m eating, but not as frequently as I should.  On the flipside, when I do eat, I opt for healthy, protein-rich foods that aid muscle recovery.  Drinking water:  It’s getting colder now, so I am consuming less water, but a lot of rooibos tea, which is loaded with antioxidants and health benefits.

Self-awarded grade:  7/10

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Seeing my parents:  I used to spend a portion of every weekend staying over at my folks, on the couch, with half my body in the kitchen and the other half in the lounge.  Since my stint in the hospital, I have been to visit them, but not stayed over.  It felt strange in the beginning to be in The Cave on a weekend, but it has proved to be good for me because I rest as and when needed.  It has also allowed for me to be able to treat my folks to some time out, even if only for a cup of tea.

Self-awarded grade:  6.5/10

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Less screen-time: Blue-light addiction is a real thing.  One of my favourite things to do is binge-watch a series on a rainy day, or a Sunday, so when the doctor told me I’d have to refrain from this pastime for a while, I was disappointed.  He explained his reasoning and medically, it makes sense.

It also allows for more time to read, take a walk or do something else that’s relaxing.  I also no longer have my phone next to my bed at night.  I often used to wake up during the night, to “check the time” on my phone and end up scrolling through Facebook, reading a Kindle book, chatting to one of my night-owl friends or playing some mindless game for hours.

My phone is still close, in the kitchen, and only set for certain important people to be able to get hold of me during the night in case of an emergency.  I’m pleased to report that what I though was going to be one of the most difficult tasks on the list is the one I’ve fared most well at.

Self-awarded grade:  8.5/10

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Sleeping: One of the signs of depression is either sleeping too much, or not sleeping at all.  Before my episode I suffered both these afflictions.  About a month before I finally cracked, I spent as much time as I was able to be awake during the day, asleep and vice versa.

I told Elena one evening while having my nails done that I’d turned into the proverbial dormouse and she said, “It’s not healthy. And you’re getting so thin. Something is wrong.”  I knew there was truth to what she’d said, but rather than admit something was amiss, I waved my hand and said, “It’s nothing, I’m just tired.  This too shall pass.”

I’ve learned that there is nothing wrong in admitting that I’m not strong all the time.  I’m sleeping a lot better – at least 8 hours a night.  Granted, the sleep meds help, but I am slowly weaning myself off them, because less screen-time, more exercise, healthier eating habits and relaxation hobbies are aiding rest too.

Self-awarded grade: 8.2/10

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Setting goals: This is one thing I’ve always abhorred, because I feel like I’ve failed if I don’t reach a goal by the deadline I’ve set.

Sure, I got my Internationally Accredited Qualification in International Trade, but it took me 12 years to finish a course that should have taken only three.

I had a goal to be driving a Mercedes or a Lexus by my fortieth birthday, so unless something miraculous happens, that will be another thing that will be on the “crashed” list.

I had a goal that by the time I was thirty I’d have travelled to London (because I have a weird fascination with the Union flag – and before anyone stones me, it’s only the Union Jack when hoisted at sea (Thank you Dr Who!).

The Steel Magnolia and I also had a goal to go to Verona in Italy before she turned sixty.  Neither of these goals has been reached because life happened.  I’ve become so used to virtually everything not going as planned, that setting goals is something I try to avoid as far as possible.

Therapy dictates though that I must set goals, so I have a list of daily, weekly, fortnightly, monthly, quarterly, bi-annual and annual ones.  I feel disappointed in myself when I don’t achieve the really short-term ones, but I have to look at the bigger picture.

It’s easily said, but it’s a struggle, so I decided to do a digital visual “goal” board.  I’ll post it when it’s finished – that way I’ll be accountable to not only myself and my doctor, but to you, my loyal followers as well.

Self-awarded goal:  6/10

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Doing something for “me”: I’ve always joked that I’m high maintenance.  I’m probably one of the most low-maintenance women God ever created.  I’m not big on make-up, my hair is long, but hardly ever gets close to a hairdryer, not to mention a straightener, and I wear whatever I feel comfortable in.  Some days it’s a dress, some days it’s shorts, some days it’s sweats and sneakers.

Part of it stems from having never been seen as pretty.  This is something that I’ve finally admitted with the help of therapy; that I attach my worth to how people have seen me in the past.

As an elementary school child, I always wore my hair short and I hated wearing a dress.  As a teenager I had bad skin (so much so that Shayla-Rae bought me acne concealer cream for my 16th birthday) and the worst overbite imaginable which earned me the horrible name of Cliffhanger.  I was brainy too, which didn’t help matters.  Suffice to say, nerdy, pockmarked, haasbekke are not popular. I will say this though, when I do have to “clean up”, I do it well and I am a right stunner, but part of me feels a little false.

Again, this is something that will be dealt with in detail as psychoanalysis continues.

Forgive me, my brain went off the rails for a while there…

Something I do for “me”:  Every fortnight I have my nails done, and twice a year I have my hair properly tinted, highlighted and trimmed.  On the odd occasion I treat myself to peanut butter in some form or another.  And cheesecake.  And ice-cream.  And every year, I buy a book.  I don’t necessarily read it, but I will – one day!  Maybe I should put the title of a book on my goals list, and set a date to have finished reading it?  Yes, I think I’ll do that 😊

Self-awarded goal:  7.8/10

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Depression: The Storm that Rages Within

* Note:  This post is a jumble, because my mind is mishmash of emotions, but if it can help one person to know they’re not alone, then my making myself vulnerable on such a public forum will not be in vain*

Something I haven’t talked to anyone about for almost a decade if my disease; the one I’ve been in remission from for almost as long. Without meds or any kind of treatment.  I bet almost of you made the leap to the Big C, but no, I’m not talking about cancer.  I’m talking about depression.  I know that I shouldn’t be ashamed of it,  but there is still a stigma attached because you don’t look ill, or if you just think positive thoughts, everything will be easier, or there’s nothing wrong with you or you really need to just learn to cope better, or I listened to a motivational podcast which said you only really find true strength when you’re alone.  I can list hundreds more of these snap out of it! things people say because they’re either plain ignorant, or  think they’re being supportive. In the case of the latter, I get that they mean well, but the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

Looking back, the signs have been there, all through the remissive period.  I just did well to hide them from everyone, even those closest to me.  For a long while my blog entries have leaned towards something being off, but I never thought it could be that I was spiralling downward into a relapse.  It had been almost ten years, for goodness’ sake!

When I was diagnosed, I didn’t have psych therapy – I was merely given anti-depressants for six months (told I’d drink them for at least three years) and left to my own devices.  I grew to a whopping almost 80 Kg’s and I didn’t care.

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The photo on the left was taken in April 2012 and the one on the right was August 2018.  I’ve subsequently lost about another 9 Kg’s since then as a result of my illness.

I was a happy, fat person (and I mean no disrespect to anyone that is overweight), until one day I was brushing my hair and I saw my mom’s reflection in the mirror.  She had tears in her eyes because her daughter was gone.  The girl in front of her had a smile, but it was empty and she her size was exacerbating other health issues.  In that moment, my brain dropped a gear and I made a change.  I started gymming (which I am now able to admit became an addiction) because the endorphins replaced the meds which I cut cold-turkey shortly after.  For reference, this is not the right thing to do, because it can have immediate, dire effects.  It may also give the prescribing physician a heart attack.  In my case it didn’t, but it could have.

This round I’m seeing a psych (along with taking meds – different ones than before), but will have to stretch the consultations out due to constraints on my medical aid benefits.  I have an amazing support structure, so I should manage.  If I can’t, I will seek help; that is one promise I have made to myself, and I will keep it. I can’t speak for all people suffering from this silent, often invisible disease, I can only speak for myself.  I want to be heard, I need to be heard – with understanding, empathy and no judgement and the psych is helping in a way my well-meaning friends are not equipped to.  He gives objective advice, with practical tools that I am learning to apply in my life.  Some days I win, some days I lose, but I’m trying.  Friends sometimes offer ill-informed-although-well-intended-advice, but sometimes I just want to say please don’t, because I’m confused enough already.  Platitudes have their place, but for me in a fragile state of mind, hearing something in the line of life is a metamorphosis, or nobody determines your happiness except you or you have a life some people could only dream of, you should be grateful is enough to send flames flaring out of my nostrils because I didn’t choose this!  I would give anything to be the person I know is somewhere inside this shell that comes to work every day.  It’s not like I want to be on this emotional rollercoaster, but I am, and for now, the machine operator doesn’t seem to be slowing this (not)funfair down any time soon.  I have to just ride it out.

I’ve been told by many people that my personality and sunny disposition are my best traits; that people gravitate towards me because I’m open.  Truth be told, I don’t make friends easily; If you are my friend, then as arrogant as it may sound, you can count yourself lucky.  As Harriet so rightfully pointed out the other night over a cup of jasmine-infused-rooibos, (my) friendliness costs nothing, but (my) friendship is an expensive gift.  Once I’ve let you close, I am probably the most loyal person you will ever meet, often to my own detriment, because I often allow people to get away with murder, but I’m working on saying “No!”  Despite what many people see as a friendly, outgoing person,  I’m awkward and shy and I either hide behind humour when I’m nervous, or I sit at a vantage point where I can merely observe, until a polite amount of time has passed and an “out” presents itself.

I’ve never thought of myself as attractive, and after being told by my first ex-boyfriend, “You’ll never be a pretty woman”, the picture I had of myself was cast in stone.  It’s been extremely hard for me to accept compliments about my appearance and it’s been going on twenty years since those words stung my soul.  Last year at Sarah’s wedding (my first time ever as a bridesmaid) I was told you look beautiful and I had to fight the noise in my head telling me anyone can look beautiful with professional make-up and hair and an expensive dress, but it’s only for a few hours.  I’ve come to realize that the debilitating voice of depression is always there, even when I think it’s packed its bags and buggered off to the Bermuda Triangle.

I’ll admit, for a very long time, I was the proverbial ray of sunshine, living in my oblivious little bubble – I refused to watch- or listen to the news because it affects me negatively and sometimes I hear things that trigger bad memories for me.  I am extremely sensitive too, with the memory of an elephant.  It’s a blessing and a curse.  As far as I’ve been able to, I have tried as far as possible to have the mindsets of be grateful, count your blessings, live and let live and everything happens for a reason or everything that is happening to me is taking me to a higher level of consciousness.  It is only now, for the first time ever that I am seeing a therapist that is helping me understand that through almost the entire time I thought I was fine and over it (because that’s what people expect of you), the depression was still there, just well hidden.

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At this stage, I am not going to go into what triggered my relapse, or just how deep the degeneration is, partly because I’m scared of being perceived as weak and because I feel like I have failed myself and others.  These are things that I must work through (and my support network is being amazingly patient and caring) but until I have, the story of my setback will remain mine.   Maybe down the line I will, maybe I won’t.  I’m not going to make promises, unsure if I’ll be able to keep them.

Someone I know through work, Ida (or as she’s known Awesome Ida) popped in today.  She has a debilitating disease of her own, so understands what I’m going through.  I haven’t shared much with her, but somehow, she’s always touched base with me when I’ve needed it most.  She said to me this morning, “You need love now girl, and you need to love yourself.  If you have a good day, celebrate it!  If you have a bad one, remember that it’s okay not to be okay.  You have to have the same love and patience with yourself that you do with others. Some days will be easier than others.  If you need to take things ten minutes at a time, do it.  And remember that you are loved.”

Last night I went to have my nails done; something many people question because it’s a luxury or it’s expensive or surely you can just paint your own nails.  Not that I need to explain myself, but it is something I do for me.  For my self-care.  It makes me feel good about myself and the art is representative of what I’m feeling.  And I’m supporting a friend’s business, which on some level makes me feel like I’m contributing to a bigger picture.

Once Elena’s previous client left, she took one look at me, having last seen me before I was admitted to hospital following the Major Depressive Episode that resulted in my relapse and my resolve crumbled. Completely. I spoke, she listened. I cried, she squeezed my hand.  She asked me if I have suicidal tendencies, because I told her I don’t want to be awake, but I was honest that while I’ve thought about it, there is still a sane part of me that knows I have a purpose (even when it feels like I don’t); I explained that the reason I don’t want to be awake is because when I’m asleep, it’s the only time my thoughts are silent.  She was awash with relief and I was comforted to know that she had the courage to call me out on something potentially fatal.  In that moment, her care touched me very deeply.

I already had an idea of what I wanted to do with my nails, a thunderous sea-storm because I feel like I am in a storm being tossed by the waves.  This was the final result.

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I’m glad I opted for the lighthouse, because even though I’m up and down most days, when I look at my nails, I will be reminded (for the next fortnight at least), that there are steadfast beacons in my life that will guide me to safer shores.

As is custom I sent the photo of my nails to a number of my friends, and Carmen replied with this zoomed-in screenshot, caption with “Do you see the face, Misfit?”

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I did see the face (on the finger next to the lighthouse) and I sent it to Elena.  It wasn’t planned, it just happened.  I like that it looks distorted, almost alien-like, because it’s how I feel – a foreign creature in a familiar pod, a lost Misfit in her bodily shell. On some level I think maybe God, or The Universe or Some Other Higher Power is telling me that the storm is indeed raging within, but that light will drive out the darkness eventually. I just have to keep taking things as they come, even if it is just ten minutes at a time like Ida said.  Time, it’s said, is a healer.  I know this to be true.  I just need to have grace with myself and remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day.  Will you look at that?  I just platituded myself  😀