"I just realized that depression is knocking again."

Portrait series "The universe in me" with Martin Fankhauser | 5th May 2023

Something settled over Martin like a shadow and slowed him down, although he was "actually not doing badly". Phases of much reflection and certain fears are simply part of life, he reassured himself. When a hectic professional phase occurred in 2017, the fear that had previously accompanied him as a shadow became a monster: "I had the feeling that I now had to perform better so that people would be satisfied with me. And if I didn't, I'd lose my job, my apartment, my friends, and end up on the street." A vortex of thoughts typical of stress disorders. The pressure led to sleep problems and a heaviness that weighed on him every morning.

"For weeks, I started the day with a deep sense of panic that I was going to screw something up today."

That's when he realized that the constant brooding that had accompanied him since childhood had taken on a new dimension.

Even as a child, Martin was one of those who was said to worry a lot. Exams caused him sleepless nights and negative news triggered such a deep sense of world-weariness that his mother often had to comfort him. During his youth and time in vocational training, this subsided a bit - but around 30, worrying and the resulting fears caught up with him again.

He decided to take better care of himself through sports and nutrition. However, regular training improved neither his mental nor his physical well-being. According to the family doctor, everything was in the green.

"I was almost hypochondriacal at times. If I woke up with a headache twice in a row, I would Google it and then get lost in the depths of the Internet. I really got into it."

Eventually, it was determined that Martin's stress hormone cortisol was very high, which made him realize he wanted to seek therapeutic help.

You just have to brood less!

Where he used to blame himself, he now knew that it wasn't up to him: during an initial consultation with a psychiatrist in the outpatient clinic of the nearest hospital, it was confirmed to him that therapy was the right path for him. From then on, Martin spoke with his psychiatrist every two weeks, and in the course of that, he was confirmed to have moderate depression and generalized anxiety disorder. "In my case, that kind of diagnosis was a relief." For him, this finally explained the constant brooding regarding health issues or existential fears. Previously, Martin had also become increasingly insecure in his professional life and entered a downward spiral of demoralizing thoughts. Knowing that it was a serious burden, but one that could be treated, helped him to approach the therapy with awareness and motivation.

With his psychiatrist, he focused on imprints and beliefs:

"We dug into my childhood, where I became extremely defensive at times. But I then realized that it didn't necessarily put my parents in a bad light if I developed certain beliefs because of them."

Martin describes his parents as "frugal," modest and always strong on safety. "When I wanted to learn judo or save money for a stereo as a teenager, they often put the brakes on my flights of fancy." Basically cultivating questions like "are you sure?", "can you do that?" or "is that really in the cards?" manifested a lingering insecurity in Martin that to this day causes him to often question himself and his decisions.

A new therapy place put new issues on Martin's radar.

Because there was only room for acute therapy at the outpatient centre, he had to find a new appropriate psychologist in a group practice a few months later. "I had a better handle on the acute challenges by then". As an empathetic man who's also had sensitive sides and does not conform to the macho image, Martin often felt he had to justify himself as a "softie." "Therapy helped me to accept myself more for who I am and also to find motivation to tackle the things I can change." After six months, Martin stopped therapy again for the time being in order to implement what he had learned on his own.

In the fall of 2017, Martin talked about his depression on the podcast "S.O.S. Sick of Silence" with Robin Rehmann. "It was then that I realized I was having a really hard time hiding my depression. Talking about it openly was liberating." That experience laid the foundation for Martin's later commitment to destigmatizing mental stress disorder.

Breakthrough with role-playing and logosynthesis at third therapy session.

When the next difficult phase rolled around, he again started talk therapy with a new therapist. She confronted Martin with methods that were new to him: role-playing, working with pictures and re-enacting situations helped him to look at himself from the outside.

"At first I found this ultra-weird and I resisted it. It took a lot of overcoming on my part and patience on their part."

Looking back, however, it's those initially awkward exercises that have stuck with Martin the most. "With these exercises, I learned to set boundaries and to say no sometimes. To cancel something when I didn't feel like it."

The therapist challenged Martin more than others before, which wasn't always comfortable for him: "Sometimes, for example, she told me to approach a stranger while shopping." In this way, she helped Martin not to withdraw from society, but to continue participating in life. One sentence in particular has stayed with Martin:

"Therapy is not about making me a different person, but I can learn to deal with my challenges differently. For example, my sensitivity: it's part of me, and it's what makes me me, and it definitely has good sides."

Another method that worked well for Martin was Logosynthesis. The therapist identified beliefs, such as his conviction that he makes too many mistakes at work, which is why everyone in the business would think he was stupid. Together, they did relaxation and breathing exercises, followed by verbal phrases that reinforced the opposite of what he believed. "Repeating these phrases was very difficult for me at first, but it challenged me well. Over time, there was something very meditative about it for me, and I realized how I could gently influence my subconscious with this technique."

As he started a new chapter with a move to Solothurn, he felt the need to expose himself to the techniques he had learned and not just rely on therapy. "I didn't want to always think 'I'll go tomorrow, we'll solve this then'."

On the road to recovery with creative resources and talk therapy.

It has now been over a year since Martin was last in therapy. An attempt to start over failed because the chemistry wasn't right, as well as the challenge of finding an available therapy spot in the first place. "I just realized that Depression is knocking again." Many new projects, a new job, less routine - too many changes at once bring an imbalance. "Thanks to therapy, however, I now recognize the warning signs much earlier and can therefore act sooner. I now know what's good for me. I know therapy will now give me more ground again."

Through his depression, Martin found himself. He was forced to try out new hobbies and found new interests that gave him joy.

"You can't romanticize it, but equally you can't devalue the good that comes out of depression."

What does Martin good, is more space and time for himself. Hiking, for example. Another source of energy and well-being are creative resources such as photography or writing, which he discovered for himself during his first difficult phase. "It helps not to keep my situation quiet, but to talk openly about it with those around me. Even cancel something sometimes and be honest about the reason. In doing so, I notice that most people actually take it very well and don't hold it against me." Hobbies like photography have now become a real passion. "My photo project #ganzabNORMAL came out of conversations with great people with whom I can talk about fears and insecurities." In addition to a new place in therapy, it's this balance between being passionate about photography and self-care that Martin is now trying to find.

_This conversation took place in August 2022. In the meantime, Martin has found another therapy place that fits him.


About Martin

Martin is 42, HR professional, photographer, text writer and DJ. Affected by mental stress disorders himself, it is important to him to be open about it and instead of keeping quiet about it, to exchange with other affected people as well as to dare the step into the public. He is active on various levels around the topic of mental health. As a blogger, peer, at public events and in projects in collaboration with various institutions. With his photo project #quiteabnormal he blurs boundaries between the positive and the negative, between diagnosis and the individual personality of the people portrayed. The project is intended to contribute to destigmatization in society, but also to raise awareness in the closest, personal environment.

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