A little while ago, some of you may remember, I had a major freak out and quit my job. It wasn’t heroic, it was something that I simply had to do for my mental health. I’m not saying that my job was the sole reason for my breakdown, but the industry I worked in didn’t help. The years of sporadic super highs followed by regular rejections had fostered the perfect conditions for my gargantuan burn out.
My dream was to be the next Sara Cox. I chased that dream throughout my school days and for the best part of my 20’s. I was positively neurotic, and it all seemed to be going remarkably well. Over the years I tirelessly produced my own radio shows on different internet stations, I set up my own club night and I started playing out at other peoples club nights too. I had mentors and producers helping me craft demo’s, and after being nominated for a Student Radio Award and a Sony Award (the now defunct Oscars of radio) I even nearly had an agent. The key word there is nearly. I nearly got my dream.
It was on a rainy summers day that it all came unceremoniously crashing down. On the side of my fledgling DJ career I made radio documentaries for the BBC. This is something I had fallen in love with, but that couldn’t sustain me financially. (For a 60 minute feature I would earn enough for around 2 months rent and maybe a much needed yet small trip to the Tesco wine department. With each documentary taking me at least 3 months to perfect, let’s just say – the London Living Wage it was not.) On this fateful day I had been pitching my documentary ideas to the then Executive Producer of Radio 1’s daytime output. Pitching days were my least favourite of days. I could write a perfect proposal in the sanctuary of my own bedroom, but trying to articulate these opposite the dino-esque exec whilst suffering severe anxiety and low self esteem was petrifying. He had very sharp teeth. It’s a wonder I ever got anything commissioned. After said pitch, Mr. Exec (I won’t name names) asked to have ‘a word’ with me alone. He had listened to my demo, the one we had been sending back and forth for months, in between me spending days meticulously making all the changes he’d asked for because this really was it! I was in there! My palms began to sweat. My heart jumped into my throat. The conversation went something like this:
Mr. Exec: I’ve heard your latest demo – and you really are a very, very good broadcaster.
Me: (bright red, couldn’t speak.)
Mr. Exec: I just don’t think that you’re suitable for the station.
Me: Oh, (went redder, tried not to cry) um…
Mr. Exec: Do you think I’m right? Have I made the right decision?
Me: *eyes widen in disbelief/shock/anger that he is asking ME to tell HIM if he has made the right decision about ME*
In hindsight I could have been more of a brazen ox, a bit more bolshie. More forthcoming. But I wasn’t. Anxiety wouldn’t let me. The assertive part of me evacuated and I became a small tiny fluffy rabbit in the headlights of a massive fucking truck.
I just sank into the sunken feeling and smoked a whole packet of Marlboro Menthol’s out of the window of my basement flat whilst looking at a brick wall and listening to Bob Dylan, wishing I was born in the 60’s when real talent mattered. For someone with an apocalyptic view of the world and who hadn’t discovered mindfulness yet, it felt like an entire life’s work had just been set alight and thrown off a cliff. It was really, really shit.
My mistake was, that I had chosen to do something that EVERYONE ELSE wanted to do too. I had banked on it, I had been so focused / deluded that I actually thought this could be my career in life. No matter how hard I worked, or how good I was – the world just didn’t NEED another jovial female radio DJ. Furthermore, whether or not I was going to have my ‘Big Break’ was in the claws of one sharp-toothed shiny-headed dino-esque executive producer and he wasn’t going to take a risk on someone who wasn’t already famous on YouTube. It just didn’t make economic sense. *Soul slowly dies.*
I carried on in radio for a while, because that was all I knew. This I had decided was my vocation, what the hell else was I going to do? I ended up getting a full time job helping younger people get into radio and the arts, those who hadn’t yet been broken. I could finally pay my rent AND pay for dinner but in hindsight, it wasn’t a very good idea at all. It was like sending someone with severe claustrophobia to fix a tiny, tiny lift. You get my gist.
Shit got really real. I finally had a whopping great break down. (See previous post.)
I had to do a lot of ‘getting real’ with myself to find my next move. I knew I had to make money, but I also needed to feel passion for something again. Whatever I did next needed to be a job I could actually realistically obtain without offering up my heart on a platter to a dinosaur or working for free basically forever. Never again did I want to work so hard for a career that just didn’t really exist. I saw something recently that sums up this sentiment perfectly…
It was quite simple in the end. I had to learn to be honest. I just had to do things that felt real and natural to me. After my breakdown all I wanted was to be in the woods as far away from radio / media / audio editing software / dinosaurs as possible. So with my new found freedom I went to live with a couple of hippies in the woods on the Welsh borders; I found myself in rural Sri Lanka being propositioned by a large hairy naked Australian man in the dead of night whilst sleeping in a mud hut with no door, I rode up the West coast of India on night trains, I lived in a huge pink Ashram existing on watery rice and then spectacularly failed at veganism by eating my entire body weight in chicken curry. I also lost and then gained 12 pounds. Most importantly though, I didn’t think about my career or what I should do with my life. For one year I gave up those thoughts. I’m not saying I was never a tornado of emotion over what was going to happen to me. But I tried my best just to live as fully as possible, to make decisions based on what I wanted to do next and not what I thought I should because-it-would-be-good-for-my-career. It was part of my healing process and it was the beginning of a new mentality.
I stopped worrying about the future and I focused on today.
To cut a long story short, the things that I got into over the subsequent year naturally led me to my next career goal. From living in the hippy woods I found out about Thrive – a horticultural therapy charity. From volunteering at Thrive I discovered I had empathy and was good at supporting people which opened up a volunteer opportunity at Better Health Bakery – a social enterprise providing training to adults recovering from mental ill-health. Working there lead me to the realisation that I could be actually be paid to work in mental health and BOOM there it was. The penny dropped and things began to make sense.
What I’m saying is, switching careers for me didn’t involve making mood boards or spider diagrams, it didn’t involve getting careers advice (frankly it doesn’t exist for people over 16) and it certainly didn’t involve sitting around and thinking about it. I had to LIVE first. I had to try new things without the ulterior motive of getting a job at the end of it. Yes, I was beyond broke, beyond-the-bottom-of-the-overdrafts style broke, that was scary I’m not going to lie. I did have to work some bar shifts and I also took a job promoting the most putrid perfume ever made to disinterested cinema goers. It wasn’t my highest of points.
When I told people I was ditching the heady heights of media to become a mental health nurse, the reactions I got fell into two categories. In the first category, people’s reactions went something like “oh wow that’s amazing, good for you'” and the second category sounded more like “um, are you sure you want to do that?? You will have to look after dangerous crazies.” I didn’t let the latter category put me off. They stand for a small section of people who think that all people who suffer with mental health problems go round wielding knives in hospitals and thus shouldn’t be helped. Nobody likes a quitter, they didn’t like the idea I was ‘giving up on my exciting dream’ but it was in doing this that I saved my sanity. I have subsequently been accepted to study at Kings College London in September and until then I am a recovery worker for older adults living with mental ill-health.
The switch from a creative industry into the NHS is a very disorientating one, and this itself warrants a whole other blog post. Yes I do miss the buzz of winning a commission to make the story of Mariah Carey, or interviewing my radio idol at Bestival (although when that happened she looked at me disgruntled and said “urgh, you’re annoyingly young” which made it all very underwhelming.) The world I had so tirelessly worked to crack hadn’t lived up to my expectations and the faux glamour of it all really did stink.
I had to re-evaluate what makes me want to get out of bed, and this is it. Yes it is tough, and no there aren’t any after work piss-ups, or freebie festivals, or glitzy award ceremonies. People just do their jobs and go home to their lives. No messing. When I finish work I feel exhausted yes, often emotionally drained. But I feel valued. It’s real. Life is about what I know and doesn’t rely on who I’ve just met at a party. It’s exciting in a very different way, and I haven’t even been attacked by any of those pesky knife wielders yet, funnily enough.