I read a piece on The Guardian the other day about how just one day a week of work can improve mental health, and it struck a cord with me instantly. It was almost as if the past 6 years of struggles had suddenly made sense – that perhaps where I was going slipping up the whole time was the fact that I was in the completely the wrong work place.
It says, ”Unemployment has previously been linked to poorer mental health, with experts suggesting part of the reason could be that work offers benefits including time structure, social contacts and a sense of identity.”
Now how’s about that for a big fat slice of I can relate cake?
For as long as I can remember, I have had such an intense – even at times overwhelming – longing for job satisfaction. And trust me, the path to achieving it has been far from linear. Let me think how I can describe this as simply as possible. *clicks fingers* OKAY!
You know when you’re sat at your desk with a rumbling stomach calling out for some food? You’re ravenous. You’re ready for a GOOD feed. But for some reason, you just don’t know what you’re craving? And then you spontaneously make this really great sandwich, you take a bite and…. and…. ‘YES! THAT WAS IT!’ A sweet, salty, crunchy, creamy variety. Much how life should be – and for a while I had been eating a cold, lifeless salad with absolutely no love, fulfillment or substance to it. So yes, I suppose this is me sharing my great sandwich moment.
Sandwiches aside, writing this post is something I have been thinking about sharing for a long time, but have not been quite sure about my direction. It is only now that I am starting to see things a little clearer, and it feels incredibly cathartic to be able to share something I have been feeling so deeply for so long. Believe me when I say that I could go on forever about the obstacles I’ve been tripping over, and my struggles have been caused by than more than just being unemployed, but I’ll try wrap it up in a *relatively* brief before breaking each hurdle down for future entries. Sound good? Cool. So let’s go.
When I was 18, I fell in to a horribly tangled net (highly uncomfortable, wouldn’t recommend) – and since then I have been desperately trying to climb out to a blissful place of health and happiness; a state where I am unstoppable and I can do whatever I like. Oh, don’t get me wrong – there have been phases where I have been on a good run, feeling strong, doing big things.
And then there have been other times where I have been out of work and so stressed I have ended up spending weeks in hospital with wires coming in and out of me just to keep me safe… So quite the contrast, you understand.
I want to share my biggest insecurities here because I think that there is something wildly empowering about making something from what I go through, if it helps others feel okay about sharing too. My motive from writing this is to do just that, because we are seeing and hearing of more and more people, millennials in particular, who’s mental health is suffering because they feel alone and have no clue where to begin with moving forward.
It is only now as I sit here writing this post after 10 months discharged from hospital that I feel like I can talk about about what has actually been going on since, because it has been an uncertain period of drifting along in limbo; waiting for help, waiting for answers. But for me – the turning point (or ‘great sandwich moment’, if you will) came to me when I found that my job as a food blogger, which might have looked enviably fun and glamorous on the grid, was not in any way serving my mental or physical health.
These are the three main factors I *really* needed to address:
1. To sort out my relationship with food. (We’ll touch on that soon, in another post).
2. To manage my stress levels.
3. To get the fuck out of my job and find a new one that enriches me.
Let’s go back to start. My childhood was peachy – I had a very happy upbringing in a stable family and I genuinely liked going to school. If I could, I would go back and relive it all again. And then again. Things started changing when I was in the last year for sixth form; whilst before it was always blue skies, suddenly dark clouds of real life slowly drifted in to the picture. It made me feel unsettled. I decided I did not like sixth form anymore. The large friendship group I once had had dispersed in to little cliches depending on what course you were doing – and I felt a strong loss of belonging. A-Levels were stressful (but you don’t need me to tell you that). My grandpa passed away. There was terrible news in the family. And as everyone finished their exams and scattered around the country to go and do big and amazing things – I felt left behind in York, with little idea about what I wanted to do; alone and completely lost. Admittedly feeling a bit sorry for myself. This was the first time I had experienced weight loss and at the time I was not aware how much this would impact me for the years to come.
Alas – this is where the blog started! Now, this… This was great! It gave me a refreshing escapism and each day I would look forward to getting my camera out, writing about what I have created and generally just feeling productive – even though it was only for my own pleasure. I also took a liking to cooking, and because back in those days growing your Instagram organically was easy as hell, my following grew rapidly. I no longer felt that heaviness in my eyes despite sleeping for 10 hours, or that weight on my shoulders that I couldn’t seem to shift.
With the new found confidence, I managed to find a full time job doing social media for an independent restaurant to support myself, and back then I felt I was thriving for the first time in a while. The weight I had lost whilst stressed with school started to go back on – and I was never bored, meaning I didn’t have that feeling restless feeling of discontent lingering on my mind.
Then I made the decision to go freelance. Was this the point where it all started to go downwards? Perhaps. But at first, it was the best move I could have done. At least, it felt like it. I took up some amazing opportunities to work with high profile figures, did some traveling around America and for the next year or so, was doing pretty good. Through out all of this time though, my digestion just wasn’t feeling right, and my weight was gradually dropping again. My family and I just couldn’t understand that even though I was eating regular meals and snacks, I just couldn’t seem to keep the pounds on.
This is the part where I had a whole lot of health issues to deal with. The trauma this caused meant it was nicely followed by some very challenging mental issues. Yes, why have one when you can have both?
And aside from the odd paid campaign, I had no work on during this time. My lowest point.
Then two years on, I was admitted in to hospital. First day of summer 2018 – the hottest Britain has had in a while. WONDERFUL. However, it did give me a chance to parade around the ward (when I was eventually allowed to get up from being on bed rest) in my eclectic array of pajamas, which me and my new ward friends agreed were far too nice to be kept just for my own eyes. Carol, a 70 year old absolute gem of a woman whom I became rather close to, said, ”Oooo, today you are wearing your oriental pair! Yesterday it was your Hawaiian, and the day before that it was your English garden. Do you think they’ll do the tropical pair in my size?”
After I fortnight of delighting over the fact our room was given the only fan on the ward for one hour each day, I was transferred to another specialist ward in Leeds. I’ll talk about this on a separate post as there is much more to say in how I ended up there – and it was incredibly scary for me, at first. But then I started to see it as a retreat.
I filled my days with reading, scrap booking and consuming the shows on Netflix I never had to a chance to watch. Really, I reconnected with what makes me feel genuinely joyful; my inner child. And when I realised that I could tolerate all of the foods and they can help me gain weight – my mindset towards food completely shifted. It was honestly the most freeing, delicious feeling in the world. I started to trust my body again and as I slowly saw it change each week, kilo after kilo, my confidence – and hope – and boobs – grew.
After 5 successful weeks on the unit – I was discharged. I had gained a much needed 10kg and was therefore stable to go out in to ‘the outside world’ again, with the view of receiving input from the general hospital dieticians.
I learned a hell of a lot. But in a nutshell:
- My job was seriously affecting my mental health
- Freelance is shit (for me, anyway)
- Food blogging is a dangerous game. Do not ever let yourself get sucked in to the look of your meals or what other people are creating, as it can drastically manipulate your mindset towards food without you even realising.
- There is more to life than social media (the hiatus I had during the summer was the most refreshing thing I have ever done)
- Scrapbooking is FUN!
- I need to be in a job where I work with people. The reason I enjoyed my time on the ward so much was because I was surrounding my lovely humans.
- Weetabix and Bran Flakes are under rated. Coronation chicken jacket potatoes, too.
I continued to gain healthy weight once leaving hospital, simply by eating a lot and not moving too much. I had a new appreciation for life; the lovely home I live in and the amazingly supportive people around me – but also the small things, like being able to go out for coffee or heading to flicks without having to be back for dinner at 5pm.
Boredom kicked in soon enough though – and I applied for a part time job in a restaurant as a receptionist which was absolutely perfect for me at the time. However, after 6 months, I decided enough was enough – my weight had dropped again significantly due to my raised activity levels and less time to eat frequent meals. All I am going to say is, always be nice to people who serve you in a restaurant, because it is by no means a breeze. I do not regret taking up that job, because I met some great people and gained a whole lot of experience in a short space of time. But I also had no routine as my hours were so sporadic, and having that structure is a crucial key to recovery. I worked all weekends so my social life was non existent. I found it impossible to eat enough to make up for what I was burning because my reserves are so much lower than a ‘healthy’ person. For this reason my anxiety was creeping back up and I found myself in quite a dark place again and knew I had to get out before things really took a turn for the worse. I tried it, but no. Not quite right.
After a ‘drifty’ phase of job hunting with the help of a great recruitment agency, I got a job as Content Marketing Assistant at a leading audio visual company based just 10 minutes from my house. I just completed my fourth week and I cannot tell you how happy I feel. Already my mental and physical health has improved drastically; my energy is so much higher, I sleep well, and I have gained 4 pounds. Remarkably, my blood sugars have improved – a very big relief for me. I think I’m also a much nicer person simply because I am happier in myself.
The other thing is that as my appetite for life has come back, so has my appetite for food. It is amazing how I am sat a desk for 8.5 hours a day and my stomach is still constantly saying, ‘FEED ME!’, and I bloody well listen to it. Perhaps it is because I am giving my body rest, or maybe it is because I am being mentally exercised? It feels to me it is a combination of both. I like it. A lot.
I get a high from *finally* having my purpose served – and I no longer feel like I’m wasting my life’s potential just drifting my way though the days. I think it goes to show just how powerful that satisfaction you get from productivity really is.
I have come to know new things about myself that I can gladly take with me for the future; whenever I am around people who uplift me, I thrive. When I am alone, I feel completely lost. It seems that whenever I have been unemployed, my mental and physical health fall behind miserably, with their tail between their legs. But when I am in a job I enjoy? It’s as though everything falls in to place, just like that.
Of course, that’s not to say my life is absolutely perfect and I never experience the odd wobble or anxiety. Is there such a thing? I still have a long way to go in more ways than one, and that’s alright. Because I never want to stop learning, and I know have all of the motivation in me to do what I need to do, and no shame in me to ask for help if ever I feel I need it.
I’m going to leave this with the final message that if you are feeling lost, isolated, anxious or stressed – the best thing you can do for yourself right now is to talk to someone. There is no parameter on mental health where you’re either completely chill or riddled with mental issues. Mental health affects us all differently, on different levels. Talk to a friend if you’re down, talk to a recruiter if you’re in the wrong job and talk to a doctor if you’re feeling completely off whack. You may have to go through an endless obstacle, but you’ll be alright. I can certainly vouch for that one.