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Rachel Baillie: On Learning To Put Mental Health First

Why you shouldn’t become obsessed with your job and, I don’t know, just be a person instead – an anecdotal advocation of learning to put my mental health first.

Trigger warning: this article describes mental health challenges including depression, anxiety and burnout.

By Rachel Baillie.

There are so many things I love about advertising: the creative minds, the beautiful work, the chance to make an ad that’ll make someone smile. I have been drawn to marketing and brands since my part-time checkout chick job at age 16. I would watch people pick between Colgate and Oral-B and think to myself – ‘this is the most fascinating thing I’ve ever seen.’ And maybe that’s not a very common thought for a 16-year-old but I’m grateful, because from that age, I knew what industry I wanted to be in.

In my final year of university, my Advertising & Promotions class went on a tour of the Saatchi & Saatchi office in Southbank. I saw the rooftop pool, neon lights in the boardroom telling me ‘Impossible Is Nothing’, but most importantly – I saw a room full of people who felt like ‘me’. I can’t really explain it, but when I saw the agency staff I felt a spiritual pull. These were my people.

And yet, almost a year later (now I am one of these people in the industry), I begin to question the ‘pull’. I wonder if advertising appealed to the darker parts of myself, and allowed that darkness to flourish, dancing around my brain like mad devils.

I have not changed much from my 16-year-old self who loved her job. My friends and family joke about how much working at supermarkets had become part of my identity. And I always thought this was a good thing; it made me a good worker. When your identity is your job, the highs feel so high.

A successful project validates your existence. The praise is not just ‘good job’ but ‘good Rachel.’

But of course, the lows are low.

Working at an agency demands a lot. The hours are long and the standards are high. You can’t switch off. Every waking hour, you’re looking for solutions to your clients’ problems. Your work must be perfect. Perfect. There’s no time for mistakes. Especially when your deadline was five minutes ago.

For me, working from home exacerbates this. The boundary between me and my job title becomes non-existent. My phone lights up constantly with texts and missed calls. Sometimes from friends but those names tend to get lost in the sea of people asking me to call them back ASAP, urgently.

For a long time, I didn’t realise that maybe something was wrong. When you work from home, it’s quite easy to forget to eat and work through tears. You just turn your camera off in meetings.

There’s an expression about making sure your cup is filled before filling others. I’ve always found this expression very abstract, but it makes sense now. Your client’s cup can seem so large and foreboding, and maybe there’s holes poked around the sides so it never really fills. Your own little plastic takeaway cup can so easily be knocked off the desk and roll around with the cords on the floor, forgotten like toilet breaks, lunch and dinner.

When there was stress at work, I took on that stress. I wanted to give myself 100% to my work. But it turns out that you can’t give from nothing.

I want anyone who’s ever felt this way – or deals with these dark thoughts sneering that you are nothing more than your productivity – to realise that this isn’t the case. You weren’t hired for that reason. You were hired because you’re smart. Because you’re caring. Because you have qualities intrinsic to you that also make you a good friend, a good parent, a good skateboarder, whoever you may be outside of work. Don’t let that person fade away.

There’re also ways to cope with agency life if you are struggling mentally. You can take time off. You can say no.

You’re not a bad person if you dispatch the wrong OOH execution.

You are still the exact same person and you can very easily just send another email. If you need to take a break to quieten the devils snapping in your head, take it. Work can wait.

I still love my job. I still feel that pull to rooftop pools and Friday afternoon (morning) drinks once we’re all back in the agency. But I am learning to feel that pull, gently, and not let it take me over the edge. Not let it take me to a place where my LinkedIn receives more attention than my Instagram.

I’m not the first to say my mental health has struggled working from home, and I won’t be the last. But that’s a good thing – if we keep having these conversations and reminding people in the industry that they are more than their job title, I think there’s hope to create an industry less prone to burnout.

We need to remind people in the industry that they are more than their job title.

Conversations where we talk about our weekend. Remind each other of the world outside your inbox. Conversations about how stress isn’t a competition but something really shitty we all experience. Conversations where we can actively work towards alleviating that weird guilt I feel closing my laptop at 5:30pm when I don’t have anything due.

My attitude towards work balances a fine line between my best quality and my worst enemy. I thought that I wanted to push myself to the limit but turns out I don’t. It’s not worth it. I don’t get my best work done. Being in the business of advertising, of speaking to consumers, maybe there’s something in turning off the computer and buying something frivolous that makes me feel good, for no reason at all. Having the chance to not just be my job title, but being a consumer myself. That, and many other things.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health in Australia, call Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.


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