Here’s How This Physio Overcame His Struggles With Mental Health
Nick Pereira can’t remember the exact moment he knew he needed help. What he does recall is bawling his eyes out in his psychologist’s office. In 2015, the physiotherapist was diagnosed with clinical depression. Although he’s contemplated speaking about it before about his mental health, something always held him back. “The fact that I hesitated to do it, underlines the stigma and fear of judgement I have around this,” he says.
“There’s this idea that men are meant to be strong. That having mental issues means you’re weak and you can’t handle the pressure,” he explains. “But I think that suffering in silence is what actually makes the overall experience of dealing with mental health issues worse for men,”
As we live through this global pandemic, it’s important to take care of our mental health. One of the ways to do that is by asking for help when we’re struggling. By sharing his story, Nick hopes that more men will open up and reach for help when they need it.
Growing up, Nick’s parents instilled in him the importance of working hard. Both his parents were educators who sacrificed a great deal to provide for their children. “My drive and work ethic was rooted in making them proud and validating their sacrifices for us,” he explains.
After graduating from Stellenbosch University, the Cape Town native couldn’t find work in his home province. As a result, he moved to KwaZulu-Natal to pursue a career in his field. But living in a new city with no friends and family meant that all he had was his job. “It was easier to put all my energy into work than to try and settle in and socialise,” he admits. “My job involved working office hours as well as travelling and being involved with professional and national sporting teams.”
View this post on Instagram
The young physio found himself saying yes to every opportunity. It led to him working long hours with no time off. “[At the time] there was no safety switch to stop me from doing too much or working too hard,” he says. But as he climbed the career ladder, he neglected other facets of his life. Nick spent less time exercising and socialising with friends. Balance was a word that didn’t exist in his vocabulary.
Towards the end of his first year of working in a private practice, Nick kept getting minor upper respiratory illnesses. He had difficulty sleeping and became irritable quickly. “My mood began to deteriorate and I just felt an overwhelming feeling of malaise in my body,” he explains. The physio was experiencing the typical symptoms of burnout. But back then he just brushed off his symptoms as ‘end of year work fatigue’. He thought that after his Christmas break he would feel better.
Everything that used to bring him joy previously did nothing to improve his mood. “I just saw the world through an overwhelming grey filter with no feelings other than this heavy sad and numb indifference,” he recalls.
But the new year, didn’t bring with it a revival of his mood. Instead, he continued to feel burnt out and his mental health deteriorated even further. “I had no willingness to do anything,” he says. “I didn’t want to go to work. I didn’t want to see any of my friends. I didn’t want to exercise.” Everything that used to bring him joy previously did nothing to improve his mood. “I just saw the world through an overwhelming grey filter with no feelings other than this heavy sad and numb indifference,” he recalls.
As Nick withdrew further into himself, no-one around him realised that he was struggling. His closest friends lived in different cities and he didn’t foster many personal relationships in his new town. At work he pretended that everything was fine. But when he found himself apathetic to his job, he knew it was time to seek help. “I do what I do, because I care about people and I want to help. Not caring is completely against my nature.”
When Nick was first diagnosed with Clinical Depression, he rejected the idea. His psychologist recommend that he continue with therapy and prescribed medication to help him feel better. “I thought depression happened to people who were mentally weak. Not to young men like myself who are in the prime of their life and career,” he explains.
But after talking it through with his psychologist he realised that following through with the prescribed treatment plan would enable him to turn his life around. “I wanted to be happier, have better relationships and start to enjoy work again,” Nick says.
The more sessions that Nick attended, the more he understood that healing was not a quick process. It required him to dig deep and ask himself some hard questions about his life. “The process was uncomfortable, but necessary,” he explains. “[It’s been] five years on from that experience and I’m still learning about myself, my moods and my feelings.”
The physio still grapples with anxiety occasionally, but now he has a better grasp of how to handle it. “Dealing with your mental health is a journey, not a singular destination,” he says. At the start of his journey Nick started journaling. On bad days he looks at these early entries as a reminder of how far he’s come.
As Nick started getting a solid grasp of his mental health, he decided to make some more changes in his life. “I think my mental health battle was both a blessing and a catalyst for so many good things in my life,” he says.
In 2016, the physio opened his own business practice. He spent the first year learning the ins and outs of owning your own company, seeking advice from mentors and found his target audience. “Four years later and we’re an exercise and sports focused physiotherapy practice that services a professional football team, two of the biggest sporting schools in KZN and a public practice. The values we’ve developed have been heavily influenced by the experiences in my early career.”
View this post on Instagram
To ensure his employees don’t burn out like he did, he’s incorporated a few fail-safe mechanisms. He ensures that his employees take half days when necessary as well as taking recovery days when they need to rest. “We also encourage working from home with our admin staff and when the physios need to complete admin tasks.”
Over the years, Nick has found that sharing his struggle with those closest to him has been beneficial. In the beginning it was hard for him to open up, but it was a step in the right direction. “For me it felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders and the burden wasn’t wholly on me.
“It took a long time to wrap my head around this experience and honestly life doesn’t stop in the meantime,” he says. Along with opening and expanding a new business, Nick completed a Master’s degree, moved houses and got engaged to the love of his life. “My fiancé keeps me accountable to my practices and habits and she’s had to learn in the process as well.” Being accountable to someone has helped Nick ensure that he doesn’t push himself too far.
And although he’s shared his struggles with those closest to him, sharing his experience with Men’s Health is the first time he’s spoken to anyone outside his inner circle. By speaking out he hopes more people will know that it’s okay to not be okay. “Seeking help is nothing to be ashamed of,” he says. “You have one life, and you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to look after your mental, physical and spiritual health.”
Burnout is a disorder that can affect men working in any industry. Pick up a copy of our May issue (on shelves now) or buy a digital copy to read the hard lessons five men learnt about burnout.