"On paper, my life was perfect. But I felt hopeless and alone."
I never know how to start my story. ‘Once upon a time’ doesn't quite cut it. Maybe it would be best if I just jumped right in.
When you're bursting into tears multiple times a day for no apparent reason, I think it's safe to say that there's probably a problem. Well, that was me. I'd been working as a pharmacist down in Devon for nearly three years.
Being a pharmacist is an incredibly high-pressure job. If I made a mistake I could, potentially, kill someone. If any of you watched the recent exposé on Boots pharmacists and the pressures they face daily, then maybe you'll understand. I loved working with the patients, solving their problems and generally helping them to improve their health. But the understaffing and corporate pressures to hit targets took their toll.
To be fair, I can't blame the job entirely. I wasn't happy with my life as a whole. I had this deep-rooted feeling that I wasn't working towards anything. Oh sure, I was smashing targets in work and a promotion was offered, but it wasn't what I wanted. What was I doing with my life? Meanwhile, every week I made up prescriptions for my fellow pharmacists and co-workers who were all on anti-depressants. It seemed like there was a common link. I saw my future before me and I wanted to change it.
But I should have been happy, right? I had a "great" job. I made a very good wage. I had a pretty good relationship. I loved my co-workers. I lived in a gorgeous apartment by the sea. On paper, my life was perfect. But I felt hopeless, alone and full of despair.
It was like there was a darkness following me that I could only just see out of the corner of my eye. But, if I stood still for a second, it would devour me.
I cried every day at work. It could be a rude customer, a high-pressure prescription or a cross word from a colleague. Absolutely anything would set me off. I'd come home from a day at work and sit in the shower howling, crying until I was hoarse. I went to bed too early and had to drag myself out of bed in the mornings.
One day after work I needed to go to the local shop to get some bread. It was about a three-minute walk from my apartment. I was already crying as I started walking. I was absolutely exhausted. My legs felt like sandbags. As I passed a coffee shop a tidal wave of despair rolled over me and all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball on the street and sleep forever. I never ever thought about killing myself but, at that point, I wanted to sleep and never wake up. That scared me.
I sat on a bench nearby, sobbing. And I never made it to the shop.
My family had no idea what was going on. My mother first noticed when she came to visit me in Devon and I burst into tears when she was about to leave. I've never been the homesick type. But I was so scared of being alone that I ran out after her as she was about to pull away in her car. I was in hysterics.
That's when she realised that I was having problems and we started to talk about a solution. Originally she kept trying to "fix" me, suggesting different jobs and re-training. But eventually, she just stood by me as I made my own decision about how I was going to save myself.
One morning, my manager took me to one side and asked me if I had spoken to my doctor. But, at that point, I had already started to form a plan. I couldn't stay there. I needed to change everything, to overhaul my life. I was worried that my life might depend on it. So I handed in my notice, broke up with my boyfriend, bought a round the world ticket and started to get rid of pretty much everything I owned.
It didn't fix anything at the time. I didn't suddenly feel hopeful. I was still crying daily. But I felt more in control. I felt like I was moving towards something - like I was changing my life.
So now, three years on, here I am. I run a successful travel blog which I can comfortably live off. I've been to over 50 countries. I've ice-climbed in Finland, surfed in the Philippines, swam with turtles in Hawaii, worked with airlines, tourism boards and travel brands across the world and more. I can't tell you exactly when I felt myself become lighter and the sadness started trickling away. It was gradual.
I felt better and better the more I progressed along this new life path. But even now, I still have days where everything is negative and I despair and cry and want to stay in bed all day. I think I've just learnt to recognise the signs of an impending episode and how to deal with them. Exercise has been key for me. It just physically gives me the endorphins I need at times. I've also learnt to give myself that one bad day and to have faith that the next day will be OK. I can confidently say now that the good days massively outweigh the bad ones.
People often tell me that I was brave to do what I did. But I don't really see it like that. I was just desperate. Desperate to help myself. Desperate to change my life. I did what I had to do. In my mind, there was no other option.
When I first shared this story I didn't really know what would happen. But, since I did, I've received messages from pharmacists and healthcare professionals around the world telling me their own, very similar story. It breaks my heart and raises it all at once. I'm so sad that so many people out there are experiencing what I did. But I'm so honoured that they feel inspired by my story and take the time to reach out to me.
If anything, I hope that this story inspires people to make the changes in their lives that they have always dreamed of.