Turning Corners

For nine weeks now, since I wrote that first blog, people have been asking me, “How are you doing?” And I couldn’t tell them anything new. It was the same. Nothing had changed. I was doing miserably.

The week following my last blog, I felt it trying to move. Things still felt the same, but in tiny, incremental fragments, it was changing. Like when you rev the engine and turn the wheel in just the right way, and the car moves a tiny bit further than before. Still stuck, but a shift. I was still unable to do anything, but now getting frustrated at that inability, instead of just morosely accepting. A tiny thing to take encouragement from, but that frustration meant a part of me at least had had enough of this.

A nap crept in. I used to sleep a lot, and nap most days after work as well. For three and a half months this year, I slept no more than four hours a night. Sometimes two. Often not at all. After I started taking pills, over the course of a fortnight that gradually crept up to six. Not much, but a Godsend after so long in serious sleep deficit. And suddenly, I’d slept for an hour in the afternoon again.

My weight increased. I started the year at 90.4kg. Actually quite a bit overweight, for me. After she left, I barely ate at all for the first fortnight of the year. I couldn’t. I’m a big eater. I’m renowned for it – I tell people it’s my superpower. I was the guy who would eat a whole pizza, and then go to rugby training. And probably smash a family pack of fish and chips after. At family gatherings there was a simple expectation that I’d take care of leftovers. So to completely lose my appetite altogether was a huge shock.

I tried. For the first 10 days or so, while I didn’t understand what was going on, I’d cook dinner every night, stare at it for a few minutes, and then throw it away. Then I gave up even trying. By the end of the first week of February, I was under 80kg. I got as low as 76.2, at which I stabilised. My body had nothing left to lose. But still, I wasn’t hungry. I could eat now, but I still didn’t want to, didn’t feel like it. And then last week, over 78kg. Another change. Things were moving.

Monday just gone. Headlines proudly announcing it would be the coldest morning of the year. I don’t know – I didn’t see it. I’d already arranged with Dad to take the day off, and I stayed in bed. Until after lunchtime. I slept most of that time. I got up and lit the fire, and promptly took a nap in front of it. Suddenly I realised what had happened. I’d slept over ten hours. And then napped as well. Not just a tiny, almost unnoticeable shift anymore. This was serious. A big change. I took another nap to celebrate. Oh my God, I can SLEEP again.

Fast forward two days, to Wednesday night. I wandered into town, looking for food, not really interested but knowing I should eat. Fresh rolls at the Four Square. A big selection of deli chickens at New World, and I picked one that looked nice and juicy. I got home and smothered the rolls with butter, filled them with fresh, greasy chicken. And suddenly, I ate dinner because I wanted to. I ate that whole bloody chicken. It was delicious. And I was ecstatic. Not just that I could eat again, but that I wanted to. It was the first thing I had wanted all year. I had traction.

Dad left on Thursday, for a golf trip. It’s been well earned. He’s run this place virtually without me for months. I’ve been very fortunate to have that autonomy, to be able to just take open-ended leave, get myself right, come back when I felt like it and manage my own hours and workload on return. Someone working a 9-5 job without that ability, without an understanding boss, would have had a tougher time of dealing with this. I had plenty of time off accrued – I’d only taken one proper holiday in the last ten years. In hindsight, I’d prefer to have taken a break every year, even if I spent it wishing I was at work, rather than push myself to the point where I broke and had to take it, and never wanted to be at work again.

I’m also lucky I know myself very well. I’ve spent most of my adult life a single man living alone. My self-awareness and understanding is incredibly acute. I know myself, I know what I need, and I know when I’m pushing it too far right now. And I’m prepared to prioritise myself over that. It’s been really good for me to be minimally involved for so long, and see that actually, it can cope without me. The place is still standing. The farm is running ok. We maybe didn’t maximise a few things we otherwise would have, but it’s not the end of the world. And so I’ll walk away now when I feel the stress start building, the head start to tighten, and leave a job until the next day. It can wait. I’m not getting worked up for this.

And so I’ve got two weeks on my own. Nothing urgent, we made sure to take care of that before he left. But I can just take things at my own pace. I can eat. I can sleep. Hopefully, more and more, I can want. It’s not an instant cure. I’m not fixed of depression. The wheels will still spin from time to time, I’ll still need to stop and reassess the path forward from time to time, let the engine cool. It’s full of mud still. But maybe, just maybe, I’m gaining some control of my depression now, getting on top of it. And that feels very good indeed.

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Complicating Factors

Another fortnight gone, another blog due. So where am I at? My mood has stabilised, but at a low level. Both my psychologist and my naturopath are concerned about the slow pace of my recovery, which surprises me. I didn’t know there was an expected timeframe, and wasn’t sure it was going to be straightforward anyway. There are factors at play that I thought would be holding me back – I was living in expectation of it taking a long time, which was probably becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. And whilst the trigger of my depression isn’t going away any time soon, the depression itself is made up of more factors than just the trigger.

My psychologist has diagnosed burnout and adrenal fatigue going on behind the scenes, feeding the fire. It makes things tricky – what’s good for my recovery from depression is bad for the burnout, and vice versa. I’m left trying to walk a knife edge between the two. It’s not really that surprising. The way I was living my life before I met her wasn’t healthy. And I knew that, but I could cope with it. We’re running a big farm, about three times the size of the average sheep and beef farm. And we’re good at it, consistently producing results that place us in the top one or two percentiles in the country. I’m an intelligent man and used to being a high achiever, and those sorts of results were satisfying. But they come at a cost.

From the start of summer in December through til when the rams go out in Easter, usually two weekends in three end up requiring being at work to some degree. Similarly, from the start of calving in mid-August I work every day, carrying on through docking in October and finally getting a break at Labour Weekend. It’s draining, and I usually need a week or two of recovery time in November, although in recent seasons with climate change bringing more extreme weather events, November is often full of unscheduled maintenance work now.

Farming is meant to be about the lifestyle, and maybe for the guys running smaller blocks to lower levels, it still is. But I’d lost sight of that. I was told recently that the farm should be there for me, rather than me being there for the farm, and that was quite eye-opening for me. I live constantly on the edge of stress and pressure, and that’s partly just because the job requires it, and partly by choice, because I need that challenge to keep me focused, or else I get bored and a bit destructive. It also suited my style and made me a better farmer. I’m very intuitive in the way I do things, going by feel, and by being constantly in touch with it and having my finger always on the pulse, I knew what was going on. Ironically I’d decided when I met her that this year would be different, I needed to step back and stop living like that. Finally I wanted to, finally I had found something I wanted to dedicate my time and myself to more than this place.

And then she left. She had her reasons, which aren’t mine to tell and I’m not going to share here. I understand and accept those, and almost perversely, am actually supportive of her in what she did. I can see the need. It just left me personally in a shitty place which I struggled – and failed – to deal with. And suddenly everything else in my life that I had been doing wrong crashed home, and I buckled. I hadn’t taken those couple of weeks last November. I hadn’t felt I needed to. I was almost high from being with her, and the effects of that had masked the need. But it turns out, it was still there, just waiting for an opportunity.

I barely functioned through the first three months of the year, getting up every day a zombie. The one friend to whom I had in absolute distress told the whole story, I leaned on so heavily she virtually carried me that whole time. With the whole range of my articulate and extensive vocabulary, there aren’t words to express the gratitude I have for that. Thank you. I’m back operating now, but the reduction in both capacity and ability to work has me quite shocked. I’d put myself at the level of a part-time, mid-level shepherd. A level I left behind ten years ago and more.

But even worse is that the desire is gone. I used to love my job. I’ve lived and breathed it every day for 15 years. Now I’m unenthused. Disinterested. Half-hearted. I farm right now because I can, and because I need to do something with my days. No longer because I want to. My psychologist assures me that will come back. It’s hard to share her certainty. There’s no fear of me going back to living how I was before, because I simply can’t perform to that level right now, and won’t be able to for a long time yet.

And that, really, is what depression is. A complete loss of desire, enthusiasm and enjoyment. I learnt after the first episode that I need to ask myself every now and then, what do I WANT to do? There’s always a list of jobs I need to do, but what do I want to do? And a major sign of depression is that I don’t have an answer. I haven’t had an answer all year. There isn’t anything. I’m getting up every day with no goal, no purpose, just marking time. Ticking off another pointless day. It’s a soulless way of life. And yet, I’d convinced myself that that was just how it was going to be, when according to the people around me, that’s not necessarily the case. So I’ll make the recommended adjustments, and keep trying. It’s not like I have anything else to do.