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'Depression doesn't define me:' says radio announcer Petra Mei of Langebaan. HA99YHOLS7 NOT FOR Do you battle with depression over the festive season? You're not alone. Here's advice and a story of recovery and hope By PIETER VAN ZYL Pictures: MISHA JORDAAN THERE'S a rock on the beach at Langebaan in the Western Cape where Pattra "Petra" Mei used to sit nearly every day at the beginning of her recovery from chronic depression. It's her rock. "Here on the West Coast we have unpredictable weather. I used to watch the sea from my rock. I saw how one wave rose up after the other, like a tumble dryer. First there's foam, then there's calm. It was like my life with depression:' It's nearly Christmas, a time of year when she could easily be overwhelmed by dark thoughts. The 30-year-old grew up here with her grandparents. Her grandpa "Pappa" Andries Papier died of an enlarged heart and asthma on 14 May last year aged 74. "It's difficult. On the anniversary of his death this year I cried on air so much I couldn't see but I continued with the broadcast: says Petra, a popular an48 118 DECEMBER 2014 you.co.za nouncer on Radio Weskus. Until four years ago hers was a familiar voice on Radio Sonder Grense (RSG) but she had to resign because of the "black monster". Petra says those suffering from depression should ensure they have a good support network come the end of the year. "Don't be alone during the festive season: she says. "I'm going to surround myself with friends and family. "Keep your family informed about how you're feeling and what you're going through. Talk, talk, talk. The more you talk, the lighter your spirit, heart and mood: Christo van der Westhuizen, a Johannesburg psychologist, agrees. "For people who've recently lost a loved one or are spending their first Christmas alone, this time of year or family gatherings could be stressful': he says. "The holiday season often highlights what's changed in your life. If these changes are good ones — a great new job, a marriage, a new baby — they cause stress but it's a good kind of stress. But if you've experienced traumatic change in the past year, such as a divorce or a death in the family, these changes can unsettle you and your holiday gathering: It can be difficult to deal with these emotions and memories, particularly over the festive season. "Keeping things bottled up is a very bad idea and can make matters so much worse: Van der Westhuizen says. For Petra the holiday season is a time of sadness. When she looks out of the lounge door she can see the apple tree Andries planted. She was at her most depressed when her grandfather pointed out how the brown leaves fall in autumn. "That apple tree is you: he said. "It's an ugly tree: she hit back. "Just wait until spring — the tree will look different with its blossoms: he told her comfortingly. That summer the tree bore five red apples. This year her grandmother Aletta Papier (84) wanted to chop down the tree because it was in her way. "You can't chop down Pappa Andries' apple tree; you'd be chopping me down: Petra said. "That tree is like my life. It loses its leaves and it's a painful process, but then it bears fruit better and the roots get stronger: LIFESTYLE HEALTH Petra and her grandma Aletta Papier in front of the apple tree her grandpa Andries Papier planted, and which reminds Petra of how she's overcome depression. CHRONIC depression exhausted her. "I slept through whole weekends. I would close the curtains and everything had to be quiet; even the TV's sound would be turned off. If the microwave took too long to warm up my food I would cry as if someone had hit me:' Her mother left school in Standard 6 (now Grade 8) and was pregnant with Petra aged 21. Her father left them. Petra was a year old when Aletta brought her from Hopefield to Langebaan for the holidays and 29 years later it's still her home. At the age of nine she used to watch the Afrikaans children's show Haas Das Se Nuuskas - which was in the format of a news programme - on TV with her gran. She knew even then that this was what she wanted to do one day. Later it was Afrikaans news reader Riaan Cruywagen. She told herself she wanted to be next to that man inside the box telling stories. "Petra, we don't have the money for you to do what that man does," Aletta would tell her. But that didn't put her off. Petra studied journalism, media studies and later radio broadcasting part time with a distancelearning college. To supplement Aletta's pension Petra worked at a daycare centre. At night she did babysitting and on Saturdays she worked at Langebaan Tourism. In April 2007 she started work at RSG in Sea Point, Cape Town. In December that year she received a call from her cousin about her father, with whom she'd never had a relationship. His mother had died and Petra's cousin let her know he wanted her to attend the funeral. "I'd seen him at the ages of nine, 18 and then two years previously. Why did he want to acknowledge me now? I was furious with my father. He'd missed all my birthdays and other important days. I became more and more conscious of the rejection," Petra says. Her problems began at the start of 2008. "I was a Nemo [ from the movie Finding Nemo], a very small fish in a large tank with many sharks. "One morning I woke up and couldn't get up': she says. "I began to hate radio; I arrived at work late and stopped caring how I dressed. Just talking felt like a waste of breath: Only in May that year did she consult a doctor, who told her she was suffering from depression. "I'd worked so hard to realise my dream and work for RSG:' she recalls sadly. "I wanted to stay but my psychological condition didn't allow me to:' The doctor booked her off for three weeks and she returned to Langebaan to rest. She recalls climbing Table Mountain ear Cassey Chambers, operations director of the South African Depression & Anxiety Group (Sadag), has this advice for depression sufferers during the festive season: Ask for help and be specific. Ask your sister to help you cook; invite a friend along on a shopping trip. People are usually happy to help if you tell them what you need. Don't stay longer than you want to. Going to a party doesn't oblige you to stay until the end. Drop by for a few minutes, say hello and explain you have other engagements. Knowing you have a plan to leave could ease your anxiety. Forget about the perfect gift. Don't stress about finding the absolute best gift ever. Stick to a budget. Draw up a budget before you start your Christmas shopping and stick to it. Stay on schedule. Try to stick to your usual routine during the holidays. Disrupting your schedule and losing out on sleep could make your mood deteriorate. Don't drink too much. Remember, alcohol is a depressant and abusing it leaves you feeling worse. Be particularly careful if you take medication. If you take medication, don't skip doses. In the hustle and bustle of the holidays it's easy to slack off and miss taking your medication. Do something spiritual, family-oriented or nonmaterialistic. If you cut spending on gifts by 10 percent 1 her and having suicidal thoughts. "What if I jump? How many people will be at my funeral?" she thought. She says she'll keep praising the Lord even if she has to take medication until the day she dies. "And if He wants to heal me I'll praise Him too:' In September last year she began to work for Radio Weskus. "It's difficult to express how great it feels to know that about 91000 people are listening to you:' she says. and donate that money to a good cause you'll be amazed at how good you feel. Take a break from family arguments, simmering feuds and unhappy relationships. In the spirit of the giving season, give something that's priceless - your compassion and forgiveness to those you feel have wronged you. Plan your schedule sooner rather than later. Too many people get into trouble by accepting lastminute invitations to visit a lot of people during the holidays. Leave your guilt at the door. If you find yourself being overwhelmed by guilt about anything during this time, tell yourself, "There will be time enough to feel guilty next week!" You're allowed to say no. We get ourselves into a lot of trouble because we don't know when to say, "Thanks, but no thanks': Call the South African Depression & Anxiety Group (Sadag) on 0800-33-33-77 or the toll-free suicide line on 0800-12-13-14. Or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. 'I was a Nemo, a very small fish in a large tank with many sharks' INTERESTING FACTS Recent studies have shown a combined treatment of medication and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) work better and faster than only medication for people with severe depression, says Professor Stefan Hofmann, a psychologist at Boston University in America. The British government recently deployed 8 000 therapists specialising in cognitive behavioural therapy to treat those suffering from depression among other things. This should save the country £700 million (R12,25 billion) in healthcare expenses. you.co.za 18 DECEMBER 2014

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