She is now training as a Psychotherapist and is working with 6ft From The Spotlight to help others in the industry to overcome addiction and the associated mental health issues. This is her story.
The other night I went to bed and had a horrible feeling of unease. I journal every night and wondered why I was feeling so uncomfortable and anxious. Then I realized, I had been binge watching the Amazon series ‘Unreal’ from 2015. The scripted drama follows the unscrupulous producer of a reality TV show as she manipulates the cast and other production team members, blurring the boundaries of her own morality and sanity. It’s a fascinating watch and as extreme as the scenarios are, they’re not completely divorced from the truth, and it took me back into a difficult time in my career and was a little close to the bone. A good few years ago I was fired from a show, because I did something out of hours, when drunk, that was deemed a sackable offence. At that time, drinking was a big part of my life and I had absolutely no way of controlling myself once I started, this meant that consequences were frequent and shame was never far away. I take full responsibility for my part in that episode, but I was also quite fragile at the time, and was never supported after I was let go, nor really asked why I did it or what happened at the time. I felt very much on my own, and I think that is a really common thread in the screen industries. Especially for freelancers.
My career in TV goes back over 25 years, and I have worked in many different environments, and some where the work hard, party hard ethic was strong.
The lines were always difficult to navigate and some behaviours are fine and others not. I often drank to decompress from a stressful day, which there were many. I also drank to celebrate, commiserate – you get the idea! Production is a stressful job, I have cried myself to sleep on many an occasion and I remember very early in my career being aware that I was in such a disregulated state of overwhelm, that I wondered how it was possible to operate in this way for an extended period of time. I assumed I would get used to it.
Maybe I did get used to it. I have had some truly amazing times working in this field, but I have also had some truly appalling times. Watching Unreal reminded me of the attitude of getting a result by any means possible, and that could mean crazy hours, dubious morals, bending truths etc. When I started retraining as a therapist, it was noted that I had a ‘sense of urgency’ about me and wasn’t someone who accepted rules. I would argue I wouldn’t have gotten very far in Production without these traits, but then it is very hard to switch off and operate in a grounded way and in ‘normal life’.
In 2016, I felt completely miserable and burned out and went to see a therapist to find out what was wrong with me, why I was so unhappy. On their advice, I reluctantly entered recovery through 12 step programmes, AA and NA. I am now over 4 years clean and sober and am due to qualify as an integrative counsellor this year. I can see now that many of the attitudes and behaviours that can be present in the screen skills industry are not okay. There is an incredible amount of pressure on all levels to perform and when the heat is on, people can fall back on their default defences or coping strategies and this can be catastrophic. Each person handles stress in a different way to another, and it can be a really difficult environment for all. It can become very Lord of the Flies, very quickly.
Being freelance can also be a really scary and lonely place, even outside of these pandemic times. It can seem like everyone is against you, yet the industry created the freelance set up. I felt devastated when I was let go from that job with one week’s notice. It was my own behaviour that led to that, but I remember being so scared about how I would cope financially and nobody seemed to care. I felt incredibly harshly punished.
I am really excited to be working with 6ft from the Spotlight, because I can feel and see a huge shift in attitudes is coming. It’s not acceptable to be a bully anymore, what used to be the norm is now being called out. There is a long way to go, but change is happening. Mental Health and the wellbeing of ourselves and our colleagues has to be taken seriously. I am excited to be part of that movement and I really hope my experience in the industry and my therapeutic skills will be useful for helping others to navigate their way in the industry, but also have the support to say no to unacceptable working practices.
Change is coming and change is good!