Personally speaking, I think that was my first ‘real’ experience of loss. It was the first time I’d lost someone close while being old enough to truly understand what it meant – and certainly my first experience of loss that wasn’t natural. I volunteered to phone another colleague from the marketing team who’d been made redundant to deliver the news. On the call we both broke down in tears. That was probably the only time I properly showed any emotion about it.
Following the news, my reaction was strangely to ‘work harder’. Guilt probably played a part – both from that phone call and in not being made redundant myself. So too did the frustration I felt with some of the company’s leaders. It felt like communication was lacking at a time where it was needed more than ever. Most of all though, I wanted things to ‘go back to normal’. The mood change that arrived with the redundancies was horrible. I saw pretty much all of the people I worked with as pals, and I wanted to do anything I could to get us all back on track, back to normal, pulling in the same direction.
I quickly found myself voluntarily working stupid hours. Normal hours were for marketing work, extra hours were anything I could possibly think of to drive and improve communication. I think a few other mates felt similarly, and on more than one occasion you could still find us in the office at 2:00am before being back in again the next morning.
What I was doing might have been helping keep my mind off of things, but it certainly wasn’t helping. I was rapidly burning myself out. I was focusing on changing things that I had no real control over, and I was probably in denial about the death of a friend. Mentally, I was all over the place. Towards the end of my time with the company, I’d laugh about how I’d cried in every single meeting room. I used to live a 2 minute walk from work, and would have to retreat there to gather myself on numerous occasions. On the way there and back, I’d think about throwing myself in front of one of a car.
I’ve never been great at hiding my feelings, hence the hiding spots. But when you have a face as miserable as mine no hiding spot is good enough. I knew people were noticing, and I could tell many didn’t really know how to approach it. The one person who did was Rhi, who has a knack for all things people and continued to press me to access counselling. Eventually after one particular breakdown over nothing, I gave in and asked for a referral.
Counselling definitely helped me to understand my feelings, frustrations, denial and my coping mechanisms. I can’t say it’s something I particularly enjoyed – some weeks feel like you’d made progress but often you’d exit more confused than when you arrived, and the cups of tea were always memorably grim. But overall, it’s something I’m glad I did. I felt like my counsellor said a total of 12 words across all of our sessions, and that’s an introvert’s worst nightmare when each session is an hour long.
And although counselling definitely helped, I think the damage was done by that point. I had completely burnt myself out and my quality of work was nowhere near what it once was. I actually ended up shifting roles to be a dedicated internal communication officer some time after. I was chuffed with that – I thought if justified my additional efforts. But whether it did or not, I wasn’t there mentally anymore. Dozens of mates had left, and it felt like fighting a losing battle. Amongst my first couple of major projects were another round of redundancies and a comms review. Strangely, they were a good experience, but their outputs were both naturally quite negative, and I was also now in a team where being mates with those I worked with was often counterintuitive. I still wasn’t anywhere near the headspace I needed to be to deal with the kind of work I was on with, and I began losing friendships with those who were still about too.
Fast-forwarding towards the end of my time with the company, I was told financial pressures meant I needed to return to marketing. I had zero interest in it. After years of doing anything and everything for the company, I found myself doing the bare minimum. I was absolutely spent. If furlough was a relief, it felt like a blessing when I was eventually made redundant myself in 2021. Redundancy would have destroyed me back in 2017, and it led to the unthinkable with a colleague. Yet when I eventually experienced it at the place I’d put so much into, it felt like a weight off my shoulders.