The last five years have been a real journey for me with so many challenges and triumphs, and a spiritual awakening to boot. Right now, I feel as though I am literally starting my life again. It may sound corny, but I don’t care! I feel reborn.
It started with me leaving what seemed like a perfect career in the north of England (as a journal publisher for a rapidly expanding academic publishing company), and a lovely rented apartment in a sought after area, to take a career break in Canada. I was 30 years old at the time. Working in academic publishing had been a great experience for me; I got to travel around the world, I faced down my fear of doing public presentations, I was networking with some of the world’s smartest academics, I was frequently pushed outside my comfort zone and intellectually stimulated, I had some fantastic friends where I worked, I was well-paid…but somehow things had gotten stale. Although I had enjoyed my role, I’d always had the uncomfortable feeling that I was an imposter in my work environment and that I was in the wrong job. I just didn’t quite fit. I felt at odds with the environment which was predominantly white, middle class and conservative. I am a mixed race woman of black Nigerian, Jamaican and white British heritage. I’m from a working class background. I’ve always tended to take the road least travelled as opposed to traditional paths. Sometimes I didn’t feel confident enough to keep up with all the tasks of my role either, which now I know was partly due to insecurities stemming from my identity as a mixed race woman (because I had faced a lot of racial and gender oppression in my life which had negatively affected my self-worth). Also underneath my interest in publishing was a dream for me to be a published writer myself.
As I looked around me, all of my female friends from work (and many from outside of work), were settling down and having children. Those who deviated from this norm tended to be eyed with confusion and suspicion. Even though I was dating, I was having no success whatsoever in meeting a man I wanted to start a relationship with, which was making me feel like a failure. I began to feel more and more like the anomaly in my work environment and in my life in general, and eventually I was gasping to get out. I had no idea what was next for me however, so I decided to take some time out and travel. Travel had helped me in the past when I was stuck and confused about which direction to take. I swore by it as a means of positive transformation (and still do for the record!). I started saving and planning a trip to Canada, which would start in Vancouver. I was hoping to work and travel in Canada, and have some space to suss out my next move. I remember my mother and various other people in my life either warning me not to go, or making it clear they didn’t support my little adventure. We were still in the throes of the financial crisis after all. Although I had serious misgivings about the trip all along, I felt like I was dying where I was, so I was ready to do pretty much anything to shake things up a bit.
It wasn’t long before my Canadian dream turned into a Canadian nightmare! Vancouver was very expensive and even though I’d saved a decent amount of money for the trip, it quickly dwindled away on day to day living costs. It was hard to find work, and the work I did find was either not enough hours or poorly paid. I decided to just stay in Canada a few months, enjoy it and then return home, as I realised I wouldn’t realistically be able to fund a long trip and didn’t want to return home penniless. My overall experience in Canada was a mixed bag and I considered my choice to travel there a colossal error.
After returning from Canada, I stayed in London with a friend of a friend for a while, searching for further employment in publishing but with no success. I was told I missed one job opportunity only because another candidate had more ‘enthusiasm’. I took this as the sign that I really needed to change my career, as it was obvious I was missing the required passion for academic publishing.
Finally I had to return home to Yorkshire to face the music and move in with my mother. I had no idea what to do next. I was broke and unemployed. I had to admit that my trip to Canada had destroyed my life as I knew it. The stage was then officially set for my rebirth. Little did I know it at the time, but the fact my life had just spectacularly imploded was the best thing that ever could have happened to me.
I took the opportunity of unemployment to learn more about career paths that interested me, one of which was training to be a counsellor. After quite a few months of dithering I signed up to a counselling skills course, joined the UK organisation Samaritans as a phone volunteer to support people in distress, and signed up for some counselling myself to help me sort my life out. I managed to find a new job in banking (one of the worst jobs I’ve ever had by the way and a difficult learning experience), so things started to look up financially too.
I really struggled with my mental health during this time. Living in a small apartment with my mother was tough for both of us, my new boss was a bully and I didn’t seem to click with anyone at my new place of work. I was self-critical and had a hard time forgiving myself for ruining my finances and leaving my career prospects in chaos. This made it hard for me to see old friends. I also felt that due to may age (I was 31 at the time), my life should be settled and ordered.
When I did finally make some new friends at work, my life was turned upside down when one of them committed suicide, which forced me to face the unresolved loss of a close family member in my childhood. I was also painfully dumped by a guy I started dating which forced me to confront my issues in relationships with men.
Having counselling and examining my past and present was raw and painful. It brought up stuff that would take me the next few years to work through properly. It helped enormously however and confirmed for me that I was on the right track training to be a counsellor myself.
Counsellor training itself was tough. It’s another predominantly white, middle class occupation and the training pushed me to stand up for myself and own my own voice. It also significantly enhanced my interest in social justice issues and started my interest in blogging on social justice topics. Working as a counsellor with sexual abuse survivors and more recently with bereaved clients, has helped me to face difficulties from my own past, to have greater awareness of my own thoughts and feelings, and to empathise and connect with people from all walks of life. I am so privileged to have had these experiences and to have seen some of my clients go through amazing changes whilst having counselling.
Three years on from starting a counselling course and I am now a new, fully qualified counsellor. I’m hoping to start an MA in psychotherapy in the New Year and expand my skills. I’m keen to do research into counselling and mixed race issues, as this is a neglected area in the field, as are racial issues in general. I’ve also started writing for publication (a long held dream), and although my financial situation still needs some improvement, I’m at least well on my way with reversing the damage that was done.
There is so much more that I could have written here about my journey. This is an extremely edited version of what felt like an epic saga, but the main point I wanted to make is that what looks like your undoing can sometimes be a much needed alarm call to develop a better understanding of yourself, and to change your life to how you really want it to be. Although it’s a cliché going through difficult experiences really can be the making of you. Counselling, training to be a counsellor and my experiences in general over the last few years have helped me to accept life isn’t a race and my story, no matter what happens in it, doesn’t need to be compared to anyone else’s or even understood by others. The uniqueness of all lives is beautiful. We all have our own cycles, transitions and destiny. When things go wrong now it’s easier for me to trust a higher power and believe my life is unfolding as it should. Also making mistakes is human, and for perfectionists (which is what I used to be), it can be the key to liberation and a new way of looking at life.
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