Recently, someone said to me, “Cam, you are so brave”. I said at the time, “That is so interesting, because I don’t feel brave”.
The person who said this is actually the new owner of the business I founded, MooMoo Kids, and she was referring to the risk I took buying towelling from a supplier in India, that I had never dealt with up until that point. At the time, I didn’t feel brave, but rather, determined- determined to develop a reliable source of beach towelling and thereby secure the business’ ability to dependably fulfil the demand for our best-selling kid’s beach gowns.
But her comment made me think. Perhaps I am brave. That was a risky, brave thing to do. Joining Toastmasters was a brave thing that all of us have done. Being up here speaking is another brave thing.
So, in preparing for this speech, I thought, what the heck! Let’s do another brave thing today. This shouldn’t have to be brave. But there is a stigma relating to disclosing this. A stigma, I am hoping to reduce a TINY bit, today.
I want to announce to you all, that I suffer ………………..from depression. And anxiety, too.
According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group, or SADAG (love that it has the word SAD in it!) and the latest data I could find- released in 2013- as many as one in six South Africans suffer from anxiety and/or depression (and this statistic does not include other mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.).
That means that there are probably 2 other people in this room who relate to my struggle. And yet, I hesitate to disclose this about myself. I fear it will affect how you all treat me, what you think I am capable of. That you will write me off as weak, or worse still, a complete loony-tune.
What suffering from depression- or having depressed tendencies means is that life is a bit harder for me. If anything, I have to be stronger, and braver, rather than weaker.
In my world, it feels a bit like I am dragging a heavy load along with me in my life. A load that tugs on me- holding me back, dragging me down. On any one day, in any particular situation, I need to use more energy to do the same amount as someone else, because of this weight. The weight is the depression.
And then there is the anxiety. The smallest thing can happen- something really insignificant- like an email from someone who I suspect may be angry with something I did- and I can feel this rising panic, like a big wave rising up and crashing over me… it is scary. I don’t get panic attacks, which is known as a panic disorder, but I have what is called generalised anxiety disorder.
Through the day, I oscillate between struggling to carry the heavy weight of depression and trying to steady my nerves and calm myself down with deep breaths as a wave of anxiety crashes over me. And not all days are quite this bad. Hormonal fluctuations definitely play a big role. At some times of the month I feel pretty good. Positive, full of energy. And then at other times it feels like my world is crashing down around me and it would be best to hide in bed.
According to Dr Nichols from Stanford University, my chances of having depression were always going to be high. Two times as many women as men are depressed. Children of people with recurrent depression – and both my parents were clinically depressed throughout their lives- are up to 5 times more likely to develop depression. Sure enough, of my parents 3 children, 2 of us (the girls!) are on treatment for depression.
Strategies I use to cope range from anti-depressants- which I accept I will probably need to take for the rest of my life- I am definitely not functional without them- to sessions with a psychologist (most recently, a cognitive behavioural therapist, which I can recommend)- to exercise (a great one)- to meditation and yoga.
Right now, my new strategy is not to ignore the weight of depression, but to acknowledge it. I read a book in the holidays about creative living beyond fear by Elizabeth Gilbert, in which she describes fear and creativity as conjoined twins. She says- and I quote- “I allow my fear to live and breathe and stretch out its legs comfortably. It seems to me that the less I fight my fear, the less it fights back”.
I am trying that approach with depression at the moment. Depression and my life go hand in hand. I have stopped fighting it and we are conversing a bit like this:
“Ok, depression, I feel you. You want me to stay in bed. You feel tired and scared. That is OK. I am going to do what I need to do anyway. You can come along with me, I acknowledge your existence, but you can’t ruin my day by taking over”.
I am hoping this open acknowledgement of my mental challenges, will mean I learn to carry that extra weight, and swim through those wild waves of panic, more skilfully. I am also hoping that by sharing this shameful label with all of you today, I make the label of depression less shameful.