My self-identity has been constructed around my work ethic – I’m the one who works too hard; the one who has to consult my work calendar before planning social events; the accomplished one; the ambitious one. My name is Lou and I’m a recovering workaholic. It’s been eight months since I last worked. Actually – that’s a lie. I’ve done two days of consultancy and responsibly undertaking my duties as a Trustee.
What have I been doing in all that time? Honestly – there’s been a whole lot of Skyrim, a tonne of Magic: The Gathering, learning to paint miniatures, and a lot of podcasts. There’s also been a lot of tears, numbness, negative spirals, trips to the doctors and panic attacks. So many panic attacks! After six months of not checking in with myself, my old, old friend, the Black Dog, returned and this time, like every time, it felt like it was going to stay.
From a young age, I suffered from depression, anxiety and suicidal tendencies. From an even younger age, I was a dreamer, an adventurer and ambitious. I was bought up on stories of mythical proportions, of legendary superheroes and of life- and galaxy-changing events.
I didn’t want to be a princess when I asked what I wanted to do when I grow up – I wanted to work in a city, maybe in advertising (it was the 90s ok!) It wasn’t until I was an adult that I had the shocking realisation that I was ill-equipped to take on the world, with all its baddies and villains around every corner.
I didn’t pay enough attention to the parts of the stories where I had a partner, sidekick or an ensemble to help me on the journey; or why it was so important to risk everything to find that vital weapon, equipment or artefact; or where there’s was respite, a chance for the hero to rest and recuperate. My heroic journey looked a lot like the Hulk, bare-fist fighting through life – except it’s not the Hulk with his gamma-ray based superpowers, it’s Bruce Banner, his human alter-ego.
Unsurprisingly, it left me battered and bruised at times. Surprisingly, I managed to defeat a few bosses through sheer will and, later, accepted some help along the way. I was the first person in my immediate family to go to university. I was accepted onto a postgraduate research degree straight from my undergraduate. I was a Director by the time I was 32 and a Trustee at 33. As I turned 34, I was tired: burnt out and exhausted. At 34! Despite working with 16- to 22-year olds most of my life, I know that’s not old. I know I shouldn’t feel like I’m ready to retire at 34!
So, in the past eight months, I’ve taken a career break and recovering from ill mental health. I’ve been thinking about my journey and talking to others about their own. Above is what it looked like from the outside. On the inside, it was every bit the epic challenge akin to the heroic stories I grew up with. It was messy, visceral, glorious and rewarding. And it’s not over yet – but more about that later. Within that time, this has been brewing in the background: a blog for me to commit to my recovery and well-being. From different conversations I have had, I know that I’m not the only one who struggles to be both ambitious and anxious – or ambitious to overcome my anxiety. I’m publishing my musings in case it can help someone else who’s facing off against their own super-boss.