I wish I could remember my twenties. It was only five years ago but there is a haze over that decade which I don’t think will ever come into focus. I remember my university years vividly, those first years away from home, the surge of independence, finally getting to know yourself as a woman not a girl and making grand plans for what to do with your life. However, as soon as I left those safe confines and entered the real world, everything I thought I knew was turned upside down.
I wanted to be a writer, but when I got to London the competition and a lack of confidence in my own ability meant I took the first job I was offered, a Production Secretary role on a popular daytime TV show. I’m a grafter so I quickly moved up and became a Production Manager. As a PM you are in charge of the budget, schedule and therefore, the happiness of the crew and no matter how well you manage these things there is always the old stereotype that you are the one who limits the artistic vision of the director, or ‘the bitch’.
A nagging voice in my head kept telling me that this wasn’t the career I wanted, but I kept telling that voice to shut up – after all, so many people would kill to work in television that I should count myself lucky. To balance my unhappiness at work I made sure I had an outstanding social life. This might be the reason for the haze surrounding my twenties – I drank heavily and started taking cocaine socially too. I liked to get high. I did a lot of things I’m not proud of – such as flashing a boob in exchange for a line of coke and many other (worse) things I can hardly remember. These shenanigans make for amusing stories nowadays but at the time they made me feel not just cheap and ashamed, but completely lost – who the hell was I? I’d lost myself and I didn’t write a word in 12 years.
Towards the end of my twenties I started to behave. I was diagnosed with high blood pressure so needed to be careful, plus it just wasn’t fun any more. But by then, after years of numbing them, I had given up on my writing dreams and accepted that I would be a Production Manager forever. I was working on a good series, but suddenly it relocated and I had to make a decision; move with it, find another job or do something radical.
Doing something radical was the best decision I’ve ever made. I booked myself on a screenwriting course in New York and planned to go travelling afterwards. In the weeks before I left, I have never been more filled with fear and self-doubt. I hammered the booze and had a few coke-fuelled nights to avoid the questions ringing in my head. How was I going to write anything after 12 years of nothing? Was I going to have any ideas? I had no imagination! I desperately wanted to run away from the decision I’d made and return to my safe (but frustrating) existence. When I boarded the plane at Heathrow, these fears finally started to drop away and by the time I landed at JFK, I was already evolving and finally pursuing my dream. The best thing was I hadn’t forgotten how to write and even had some good ideas – my amazing tutor and classmates taught me so much in those two months.
The travelling part of my sabbatical was equally insightful. Driving across the States with my (26 year old) niece, we had no guidebook and no route mapped out. We would drive somewhere we liked the sound of, set up our tent, meet local people and ask them where we should go the next day. All we knew was that we had to end up in California.
Landing back in London, after 7 months on the road, was tough. I was in debt and moved in with my Dad. I get migraines so sometimes use an over the counter painkiller called Solpadeine which is essentially a (very) poor man’s Vicodin. It has just enough codeine in to de-sensitise you from the world, to get you high then make you numb. I started taking it every day. I stopped writing again, my old life started to re-appear.
In those seven months away I had finally started to know who I was, I had found confidence in me, just like Fraulein Maria and I wasn’t going to let it go to waste. I forced myself to stop relying on the Solpadeine and accepted that if I had to continue working as a Production Manager to pay the bills, I wouldn’t let it define me and I would keep writing. By changing my perspective I am now able to manage a day job and am writing three spec scripts – if I don’t write for a day I feel lost. I’m lucky that I don’t have an addictive personality, but using anything to escape from yourself too often can’t be good – drugs kill ambition – simple as that.
So the only way to truly be ‘you’ is to follow your dreams. Friends who have made similar decisions agree. One has gone from TV to mid-wifery, one from dancer to comedian, others have left high flying jobs to pursue social enterprise, but none of them have ever looked back.
I left for New York 15 months ago and I don’t recognise the old me – cowardly self-medicating to hide from myself. Following my dream has changed my life. There are still many bricks in the wall before I break all the way through to me, but that’s how it should be. After all, life’s about the journey, not the destination and I am certainly enjoying the trip so far – on a natural high from now on, of course.