- Clive Vanderwagen
I don't want to live anymore...
"I just don't want to live anymore," I sobbed, as the lovely lady with a psychology degree nodded while handing me a tissue.
I had reached what felt like the end. Years of anxiety and depression seemed to have culminated until I reached a place where I could no longer get out of bed and was driven to a psychiatric hospital to get some help. I never asked for help. I was taken for help.
I had crawled into a well too dark and deep for me to climb out of on my own.
There is a history of clinical depression in our family, and I can definitely recognise that I've had anxiety issues from an early age. I'd normally dealt with my dark times, probably unhealthily, but this time I was too far gone.
I have written before about being in a job I felt wasn't a good fit for me and felt like it was consuming my mental health. I remember a particularly difficult day when I had to tell around 20 people that we were starting the process of retrenching them. I stared at their distraught, terrified faces, and felt like I had betrayed them. This was not a high-earning department, and was mostly single mothers who were the sole providers of their families. I had spent time training and connecting with them, but now my role meant that I had to coldly announce Section 189s and processes to remove them from the business.
I left work early that day, and experienced my first real panic attack. I ripped my shirt off in my car. I couldn't bear the fabric rubbing against my skin as I drove through the manic streets of the Johannesburg CBD. I was struggling to catch my breath and everything felt like it was speeding up. I was wearing a collared shirt and by the time I reached my house, about a 15-minute drive from work, I was topless, had shredded it into tatters, and was hyperventilating.
Anyone driving past me must have thought I was mad, but I was too consumed in my own panic to notice passers-by.
After this things spiralled until I was eventually unable to function optimally.
After three weeks in hospital, I decided to leave my job and work on my mental health.
This was just over two years ago. As I start the new year I will be entering my third year of entrepreneurship and feeling the happiest ever. I have been reflecting on what I have done in the last two years to improve my mental health and thought I would share some thoughts with you.
So here are a couple of things I did to make sure I climbed out of that well, and plan to keep doing to stay healthy.
I got help
I was so caught in my head, thinking I had to be strong, I never once thought to ask for help. It wasn't until I was forced to get help.
Thereafter I chose to continue therapy. I chose to keep talking about how I was feeling and how I wanted to get out of it. My therapist suggested I get a coach. Now as a coach, why hadn't I thought about that?
You see, therapists focus on what has happened in our lives and help us to reflect on patterns of behaviour that may have developed in our childhood years and manifest in our adult present. Coaching is future-focused. It looks ahead, and sets goals and intentions so you can see what you want to become.
The game changer was coaching. I stopped wallowing in my past and took active steps with a coach to design and plan my future, which ultimately culminated in ReadyPeople and the work I do today. Choosing to look forward and plan my life gave me back the control I felt I had lost. And I couldn't have done it on my own. The guidance of the coach kept me in check and led me to a place of self-worth and stepping into a space I had never before considered.
I hit the gym and started running
By the time I left the organisation I was about 10 kilograms overweight. I was eating (and drinking) my feelings. I just didn't care what I looked and felt like and I realised I needed to start taking care of myself. With the help of a personal trainer (who got to train me at home during Covid) I started working out more. Because of Covid and my fear of getting the virus at the gym I started running around the streets of my suburb. I started off small but was eventually doing 10kms every weekend, with shorter runs during the week. Starting to take care of myself also felt like I took control, when I had felt so out of control. And the world was out of control with a pandemic sweeping through countries with speed. Hitting the road and doing a few more push ups than I did before was a small step to putting me first.
I stopped drinking alcohol
Okay, so this may want to make you stop reading if you love your booze, but I'm speaking from my experience. By the time I resigned I was drinking a bottle of wine (or more) a night to numb the day. I would come home and pour my first glass and be surprised when I went back to the fridge to find that I had finished the bottle in less than an hour. The second one would usually follow. I was blotting out my pain, and using wine to self-medicate.
In the morning I woke up feeling like shit. I was hungover, with a splitting headache, thirsty, and feeling deep regret for not being able to control myself the night before. Added to this, I felt more depressed and anxious because of my hangover. My mornings were even more dread-filled as I drove to the office feeling like crap, and wishing I could disappear. I would count down to heading home to get plastered so I could escape the dreariness of corporate life.
I found a group called Tribe Sober and signed up for the year, and with the help of their community and wisdom managed to stop drinking. I wasn't an alcoholic (yet), but I definitely had an unhealthy relationship with alcohol and was psychologically addicted to the ritual of pouring my wine at the end of the day. I started slowing down the drinking, and eventually just decided to quit.
I have been sober for 15 months exactly at the time of writing, and feel all the better for it. I couldn't moderate so best not to add a depressant into my system when I was struggling with depression.
With working out and stopping drinking, I have lost the extra weight I was carrying, and feel in great shape (hey, I could lose a love handle or two), but I don't feel depressed about the way I look.
I decided to connect
Depression makes you withdraw. I kept my husband, my family, and my friends at arm's length. I would decline social invitations or just not pitch. I had people end their friendships with me because I just was not showing up.
As I felt stronger I made the decision to connect with one person weekly, outside of work, for a coffee. During Covid, this became a zoom call (some of which I recorded and created a YouTube channel). I chose to meet with either a friend I loved, a person who I respected in business or online, an old colleague, or a family member. Anyone who I felt would make me walk away feeling like it was an hour well-spent.
I forced myself to show up in relationships more and initiate, which I hadn't done for years. I asked people to lunch and made sure that at least once a week I had seen a face of someone I was glad to see.
I could write more, but this is enough. I had to choose to get happy and these were some of the decisions I made. I hope they resonate with you. The most important thing is to fight for you and your value in this world. I felt valueless and let it almost kill me.
Fighting for me, and choosing to be a person of value, has changed how I see the world, how I do business, how I show up in relationships, and made me a better husband.
Fight for you. You have value to add. Make decisions to move forward, even though they may feel like baby steps. Force yourself to step away from being the victim and start commanding a voice. You deserve a life that's full and abundant, whatever that means for you. How badly do you want it?