This was partly due to the constant battle to secure temporary contracts, which is an exhausting and soul-destroying reality of the media industry and workforce casualisation. But I was also dealing with the reality that I was not living that greater dream of travelling the world or making a difference, and when I looked up the ladder I was fighting to climb, I could not see where it was going.
And I didn’t know what to do about it, which was so frustrating. It seemed a little crazy to consider leaving an organisation like the BBC and altogether impossible to finance it. So for a long time I didn’t do anything, just kept fighting for contracts.
It reached a point though where I knew I had to leave or I never would. That point was one normal June day, sitting at my desk in the Politics Portakabin of BBC Northern Ireland with the latest contract application form sitting in front of me and I just decided ‘no, I’m not doing this anymore’. I stood up, went to my editor and told her. No turning back.
My bosses and colleagues at BBC were brilliant, very supportive, and I felt wonderful. Liberated. Like standing at the top of a mountain, looking at a world with no limits once again. I started to see ways around obstacles where previously I could see none and the details just started to fall into place.
Through various ways I got the money together. I got a visa for Australia and I booked my flights and I had enough time left in work to savour it and to say goodbye to the many fabulous colleagues I had. Then I had enough time with friends and family to savour that and to say goodbye to them. And then I was off.
And that sounds easy but the goodbyes most certainly were not. They broke my heart so much that I still feel like crying when I remember them. Saying goodbye to my parents…now I am crying. But I didn’t at the time because I forced myself into emotional lock-down, focusing on the practicalities of the situation and refusing to be sentimental.
That may seem a little dramatic to many but I’m very close to my family. Home, to me, is an absolute haven. I love it. When I think about the people that have surrounded me all my life – friends and family – I’m kind of incredulous that one person could be so lucky. Not to be corny but I genuinely feel very blessed by the people I have in my life. People that have your back. And are warm and kind and really fun to be around.
Anyway, it suffices to say that at the point of saying goodbye to these people, I didn’t exactly feel like I was standing at the top of a mountain anymore.
But I got on the plane. Destination, Australia (via Bali). And I’ve had a few flights since then. Sydney, Melbourne, Darwin, Thailand. Eighteen months later and I am currently sitting in a little studio apartment in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I’ve rented it for a month but I don’t know how long I’ll be here. Maybe just the one month. Maybe two…
I’ve had so many happy moments in those eighteen months. Fabulously drunken, fun moments; so many delicious food moments and some profound moments in which I knew, by the sheer beauty of what I was seeing, that the world really is a place of infinite possibilities (some of those moments were even sober! Sunrise as viewed from the top of a volcano in Bali; sunset as viewed from Darwin’s Mindil Beach Markets).
I met people that I can only describe as inspirational: a 40-year-old American woman who was fighting terminal cancer linked to her military service in the Gulf War; a 19-year-old German girl who had just driven half-way across Australia, through the outback, on her own. Brave, crazy and wonderful people who I’ll probably never see again.
I met people that I now count in my circle of loved ones, that I miss so much when I’m not with them and that I am so grateful to have in my life.
And I had loads of shitty days. Grey-skies days when you’re trying to keep your head above water and the thought that life is full of potential is something that doesn’t even enter your mind. Days when those career dreams seem to have fallen back into the realm of the impossible. Days when you’re a little lonely, a little scared, a little tired of worrying about money and just tired of trying.
But I am still trying to build the life I believed possible when I was 21. That’s why I left home.