Monday, January 20, 2014

Confession: Depression by way of Firing

My sister-in-law shared a beautiful and honest post about mental health and how every one of us suffers a mental tumble in life and it's nothing to be ashamed of. My descent into depression was brought about by being fired. I find it hard to put this in writing, but I'm hoping that by the time I hit publish I'll feel a little bit relieved and more free. 

I used to work in fashion pr and I was very ambitious in my twenties. I started out in a boutique agency, but when I applied and was offered a job at a world renowned agency I jumped for joy. Literally. I remember the day I got the call and Hub and I jumped and hugged in his scruffy little flat on Broadway Market. My boss warned me that this agency would be hard core, but I really wanted a challenge, I wanted to grow and I knew I could handle it. 

I should have known that this place was cut throat when on my first day, I unknowingly informed the girl who was training me that I was her replacement and presumably she would be fired soon. Our line manager had a reputation for being a nutter, but she was extremely efficient and had been at the agency longer than anyone else. She came across as "most senior" and although she was difficult, I believed she would teach me to be a great manager. Everything was different at this agency and it was a wonderful learning curve at first. Editors that I'd been dying to reach for two years at my previous agency, immediately replied to my pitches because of my clients and my signature and that felt good.

That was until the long hours and the stress sank in. I had half the amount of clients than my previous job, but their demands and that of my line manager were more than I could mentally and physically cope with. My initial 9-hour work day quickly changed to 12-hour work days and I became constantly preoccupied and anxious. Emails started pouring in early and I would start prioritizing tasks at 6am from my couch. Then at work I would buckle down always aiming to leave at 7pm, which never happened and then get sucked into last minute follow ups for things happening in NY or LA. I was so burnt out that I started making "mistakes" like not following up a phone call with an email to confirm a paper trail or "failing" to get clothing samples to a celebrity shoot when the stylist forgot to collect the package from the hotel porter.

And then I had my first and final appraisal. I confessed to my line manager and directors that I really wanted to progress within the company, but that I was overwhelmed by the workload and emails. And although I appreciated my line manager's micro management skills, I felt that I would do better if I had more control over my time. That didn't go down so well and within a few days my director decided to count the number of emails all junior executives received and do a little comparison. One week later I was given a verbal warning for an innocent mistake I did make and then 3 days following that I received a goodbye letter and a severance pay for my troubles. The reasoning for my dismissal was "I don't think you are suited for this."

And the penny dropped. Nothing could have ever prepared me for the ramifications of that day on my self-esteem. I was ashamed, embarrassed and severely depressed. I worked so hard and gave that job everything I had and more, so why did I not succeed? Why was I not good enough? I saw myself as a failure and self-doubt sank in deep. Later I learned that my dismissal was illegal, but it's still taken me over two years to build back my confidence. There are still times when I look back with regret and feelings of insecurity and tearfulness overcome me. And that's okay.

The other day I had a conversation with cousin Dan and he inquisitively pointed out "that must have been the most stressful thing that has ever happened to you?" It really was and it felt devastating, but his comment made me feel a little bit better. If I think of it that way, I guess being fired isn't so bad.

Thanks for reading and I want to say a big thank you my sister Bulelwa for inspiring me to speak out. And if you ever been canned, here's an uplifting article on successful people who really bounced back. 

Photos: drawings by moi and pink slip by
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