Heavy weights and wild waves

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.

What a week!

This week:

  • I did a NIA dance class on Monday. I have been doing NIA for years, so that is not newsworthy in and of itself.  It is just that this particular Monday class is taken by the teacher that I started doing NIA with and I have been longing to do one of her classes for ages (but it happens during work hours, so have not been able to do it up until now).  I had perhaps put too much anticipatory pressure on this, because it was nice, but not amazing.
  • On Wednesday, I did a yoga class for essentially the very first time (I did one or two yoga classes at the gym in my 20’s, but didn’t really “get it” then). Now, this, was amazing.  The yoga teacher was recommended (here is a link to her site) to me and I came away from it feeling simply incredible.  Calm, centred, positive.  On filling in the health-check form, I hesitated, but then inputted depression, anxiety and being on anti-depressants.
  • I took open disclosure to a whole new level on Thursday, when I did a speech at my Toastmasters club  about depression, anxiety and me.  This took guts to do, but was just SO rewarding.  More about that later.
  • On Friday, I faced my demons and tackled clearing up my office space. It is not finished, by no means perfect, but an important start has been made.  The clearer surfaces reflect the calmer mental space I am feeling.
  • I dealt fairly well with a tantrum on Saturday morning, but there is a lot of work still needed here. A topic for another day.

Wow, looking at all of that, it feels like I achieved many things!

Back to the speech on Thursday.  For a written version , please click on this link.  What is just so uplifting and powerful about having stood up and done this speech, is the overwhelming support, love and sense of not being alone with this battle that I came away with.  Not only that, I came away with hope.

At our Toastmasters club (and at many others, but not all), everyone has the opportunity to write a “woohoo” note to any of the speakers.  I got sent many beautiful notes (see pic of some of them above).  Some people were identifying with depression and/or anxiety themselves, and offering advice on what worked for them; one mentioning their husband is battling and how hard it is for the rest of the family because he is so irritable; others simply supportive.   It all confirmed that this is a condition that is far more prevalent than I think even the statistics suggest.  To give you an idea of the prevalence, my GP has mentioned (quite a few years ago, and to my mom, not me) that he prescribes more anti-depressants than antibiotics these days.

A little aside:

I only realised when I didn’t get “best speaker” and felt a bit tearful, how much I had wanted to be acknowledged as such!  I guess that is my competitive streak coming through.  The person who was awarded best speaker was admittedly far better prepared than I was, and her speech better fulfilled the criteria of the project (that of researching your topic) we were both completing .  She is probably also just simply a more talented speaker.  Get over it, Cam!

Things that came out of this speech:

  • People who are now the most inspiringly centred and successful among us have often had turbulent times in their past, where they battled depression. There is hope.  This condition can be overcome.
  • I want to try TRE- Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises.
  • I am considering doing “The Journey”. Highly recommended as a turning point for another depression sufferer
  • While at the moment, I am in acceptance mode about my mental health, I am daring to have hope that I can heal. This is almost too scary to contemplate.  Is it possible for me to move through this and out the other side?  Neither of my parents have been able to do this.  Can I?


To blog or not to blog?

Blogging is such an odd thing to do.  It feels rather egotistical to think that others may be interested in what one, not-at-all extraordinary, human is thinking.  And even weirder, is the fact that I am wary of just writing private journal entries- in case they get read- and yet I am contemplating putting those self-same journal entries out into the public domain.  Why would I want to do that?  It feels crazy.  I am filled with self-doubt and uncertainty.

And yet, I am sitting here writing what I expect to be the first entry.  Being the cautious type, and not wanting to over-commit and then let myself down, my plan is to write quite a few entries before actually starting the blog.  Just to see how it feels.  To test the waters.

The reasons I am drawn to blogging are as follows:

  • I am at a crossroads (read mid-life crisis!) in my life. At the end of last year I sold the business I started 10 years ago and I am starting this year without a job .  I want to document these exciting and scary times.
  • To make sense of the ideas and concepts that whirl around my head all the time- if I write them down I hope to catch them on the screen and stop the whirling, one idea at a time!
  • To open a window on my world- specifically related to my mental state- I suffer from what I think is probably high-functioning depression. I hope to add more insight into what it is like to live with depression, the things that help, the things that make it harder, but, most importantly, I want to de-stigmatise mental health issues like depression by being open and honest about this battle.

I aim to cover a variety of topics relating to parenting, cooking and food, public speaking, and mental health.  The everyday and the extraordinary.