I’m a highly neurotic person and when I reached my late twenties, a real and palpable anxiety set in. I had arrived home from my first steady job at 25, when a crushing sense of dread leapt onto my shoulders and set up home there. I feared I was going to reach 30 way short of the achievements that I’d promised myself.
I abandoned the book I was writing as the anxiety really took hold, but instead of examining why this was happening to me, I tried my own solution. I was going to do even more. It was the obvious solution. Little did I know that my solution actually cost much more than seeing a mental health professional would and that it would take years before I had counselling and CBT for my anxiety and OCD.
Some people spunk money up the wall on sex, drugs and rock and roll which can be part of people’s life process but my hedonistic days were cheap. Cider and a park bench is a bargainous way to while away an evening. Unfortunately, my second rebellion was much less thrilling and a lot more expensive.
It started off when I paid to do the journalism diploma course, which was something I’d planned to do anyway. I was working for a TV broadcaster but I wanted to be a bona fide journalist. It cost me over £3,000 and took me 9 months of evenings and weekends but that was just the beginning.
I worked full time but my job was for an educational website that was migrating its content onto another website. I hadn’t realised this and to say that it bred apathy and boredom in its staff was an understatement. I was disappointed as I had changed from a job in scheduling to this one in the hope that this would be the excitement I needed to drive the anxiety away.
I had a year’s contract which seemed like a lifetime, and I decided to stay in order to get something on my CV and to enjoy the stability while I did my NCTJ exams. Once I’d got my qualifications, my friend asked me if I wanted to go to a sewing class, so I jumped at the chance as it wasn’t something that I’d ever done before.
So I started sewing classes, I learnt quilting, dressmaking, repairing, toy making and overlocking. I spent over £3,000 as being an accomplished seamstress soon wasn’t enough. I then picked up several other crafts, including felting, basket making, weaving, jewellery making, silk painting, knitting and crochet. Once a new craft course was on the market, I snapped it up until I had spent £5,000.
After the crafting, I took up different types of painting and life drawing before moving onto performance. My nights of the week starting filling up, because as soon as I completed one course, I would begin another. I live in Manchester so there were enough to choose from and my boyfriend started to think I was mad.
I used to love acting so I started that again as I started to focus on performance art. Maybe I was always meant to be an actor and I just didn’t realise? I tried several acting classes as well as puppetry but I just didn’t know anymore.
I’m not musically-minded but I decided to try and learn not one, not two but three different instruments. This added further to my budget as I bought a keyboard, a guitar and ukulele. I only to went to lessons for the guitar and the ukulele and I’ve never played the keyboard.
I decided to strengthen that side of my mind further with weekly Italian lessons and an intensive Portuguese weekend. I also went to a fitness boot camp, upholstered a chair and learnt Roman mosaic making.
As if it wasn’t enough that I paid to do all these courses I also bought the paraphernalia to do them at home. I filled a whole room full of craft stuff and how-to books turning it into some sort of folksy capitalist nightmare. The whole point of craft is to avoid buying unnecessary stuff but I kidded myself that I would be making things in the 2 hours a week I had free at this point. It’s amazing that I only spent £10,000.
In the meantime I got myself a slightly more interesting job in the same department before being made redundant but without the benefits. I hadn’t had a contract for long enough to get any financial reward which is part of the reason why they got rid of me as I was a hard worker for all my faults.
The sewing couldn’t save me now, but luckily after a few weeks, my employer called me to offer me a job in another department. It wasn’t something that I wanted to do but beggars cannot be choosers so I took it. At this point I was nearly £10,000 in debt and while I hoped that the job would help to clear it, I was put on emergency tax.
I stopped my spending and started to pay off the debts at £100 at a time as the inland revenue started to owe me more and more. I got a job in Leeds working as a journalist and the pay was so low and travel costs from Manchester so high that I just about kept my head above water. I still paid off incremental amounts of my debt, but I was owed £4,000 from HMRC and my tax return was sent back several times as I had no idea how to do it.
My job in the news gallery was so stressful that I spent my weekends in the house. The thought of doing anything was overwhelming to me and all the books and materials in the craft room gathered dust. My anxiety and OCD took away my desire to do anything, even the desire for obsessive busyness.
I ticked off each day of my journalism contract like I counted the seconds aloud during the live broadcasts throughout the day. I spent every weekend in my room, only venturing out to see a CBT psychologist who told me everything was going to be fine.
I finished my contract in Leeds and turned down their request to renew due to my health and the commute. I didn’t tell them what was wrong and I didn’t look back.
I went on holiday for a week but anxiety followed me to the beach and had its swimming trunks on. I’d managed to line up a contract in Manchester for a radio station for the day I got back and chasing contracts and doing shadow shifts became my new obsession. Luckily, my live news experience meant I was in demand. I even worked the snooker night shift in Sheffield while doing interviews in the day when I was supposed to be asleep.
I still needed to pay off £7,000 of debt so I managed to find a contract back in the Children’s department where I’d worked before but unlike the other work I’d had, the job was actually fun. It wasn’t perfect but I made friends, I had a laugh and I did creative things. I got back my tax after my boyfriend’s accountant felt sorry for me and submitted my return for free. I continued to go to therapy where my psychologist gave me my modules to complete and told me everything would be fine.
I discovered that I actually loved sewing and I would occasionally go to sewing club to make something pretty with other sewing enthusiasts. They complimented my work and I praised theirs in return.
The children’s show finished its run where I’d finally earned the respect of colleagues and made friends in my department. I had less than £3,000 to pay off and I’d nearly finished therapy.
I started working on my book again, I got a vaguely interesting contract in news with nice people over Christmas before returning to the children’s show the next year with my friends.
While on the show, I paid off my debt, I redistributed some of my craft supplies to people who would use them, I finished my book, I got a promotion, I made myself dresses for work and I came to the end of therapy.
My next job was a stressful early morning TV show but it didn’t sink me like before, I’d found a precarious balance in my life.
Things were far from perfect, but they were no longer desperate. I didn’t have to do anything, I only had to try to be content. I was able to expose myself more and more until I could handle the things I couldn’t manage before. That was a few years ago and I’ve improved and suffered incrementally in that time.
Nowadays, I’m travelling and in many ways this lends itself well to my obsessiveness. I’ve backpacked on and off since I was 18 and I’ve never let go of that desire to see everything and do everything.
The travel alone isn’t enough, so I write – I write and I write and I write. I love it and I think writing is beautiful, especially when you actually have the time to do it. I overload myself with 30 articles to write and then give myself 30 more when I’ve finished. I am much more demanding of myself than any editor could ever be.
Mental health is all about balance and whether you do too much or too little they can both bring you down. Many people dislike their jobs but find fulfilment elsewhere and I do believe in experimenting to find something that you love, just not to the extreme that I did.
As much as I let my obsessiveness take over, I have learnt a lot of skills and I narrowly avoided losing my mind. I harmed myself and healed all at once by placing too much pressure on myself yet doing things that were inherently good for me.
It sounds overly simplistic to tell someone to find their balance, but if you’re like me and you have suffered with anxiety, OCD, depression, self-harm, panic and anxiety attacks then it’s worth trying to find.
For me it’s been a massive journey and I’ve described to you three years of my life, people didn’t know I was suffering and I did the best that I could.
It’s hard to believe in your own power, and when I finished my book I cried as I never thought that I would be able to have the mental clarity to do that. Be kind, be patient and see what works for you. We’re all navigating life without a map and it’s both exciting and challenging to find your own way. Just don’t use your entire overdraft limit to find it.