Editors are expert curators. They bring together words and imagery that shape your ideas around certain subjects. As a Magazine Editor, Rosemary Slade inspired countless readers through perfectly put-together pages of glossy magazines. What she didn’t realise was that she was also ruthlessly editing herself.
“Most people think of me (and used to describe me as) ‘polished’ and ‘in control’ and ‘calm’, but that’s pretty much the exact opposite of how it was inside my body and my head!” Says Rosemary.
The truth was, Rosemary felt things deeply but thought that expressing emotion would make her look weak. Instead of voicing her concerns, anger or sadness she would turn inward and question herself. “I used to spend a lot of time worrying about what other people thought and stressing about making sure I presented a perfectly cool and collected exterior. I used to legitimately almost freeze if I’d done something awkward or weird. I’d start to panic and then become super anxious, and play that moment over and over for hours,” explains Rosemary.
Masking her inner turmoil and working excessively to meet her own extremely high standards took a toll on her mental health. “I was diagnosed with anxiety and I saw a doctor who prescribed me some Diazepam (Valium) to help deal with it… Over the space of, about 6 or 7 years, I went from taking the lower dose, to the medium, then high dose, then suddenly I was taking more than I was supposed to. I just didn’t notice the shift. I didn’t notice when it went from optional to necessary.”
The medication allowed Rosemary to feel like she was in control, but it masked the destructive effect that her commitment to her career was having on her health. It was only a matter of time before something had to give.
“I was in the office at 6.40 am just like every other morning… I’d leave early, beat the rush and do most of my makeup there before anyone else arrived. Also, I liked the feeling of being there before anyone else,” says Rosemary.
“Suddenly I got this burning pain in my stomach. And then it got worse. And worse. And worse. I kept thinking: this will go away; this will go away. But it didn’t. It was like being stabbed in the gut. Repeatedly.”
The exact details of what happened after are a blur, but one thing that Rosemary does remember clearly is that she decided it was important not to be found on the bathroom floor. Maintaining somewhat of a semblance of control gave her the strength to get back to her desk and tell a co-worker that she needed to go to the hospital.
For Rosemary to say that she was in pain meant that she was in real, life-or-death pain. But even this wasn’t enough for her to give voice to herself. She waited in ER for an agonizing five hours until it was her turn to be seen, and as soon as she was tested, she was their number one priority.
The doctors told her that she had a Perforated Gastric Ulcer (a hole in her stomach about the size of a 20c piece) and that it needed to be operated on. The survival rate for a perforated ulcer that hadn’t been operated on within 12 hours is about 50% – she’d sat quietly waiting for almost half that time.
“It was approaching 5 or 6 pm by that stage, so it was getting close to the 12-hour mark… if that’s not the push you need to always double-check, complain, speak up, and be your own healthcare advocate, I don’t know what is!” Says Rosemary.
Going through the shock of an unexpected surgery, was one thing. Waking up with a scar was another. “It was a huge deal to me to have such a giant scar at first,” says Rosemary, “I was scared that if I pulled the bandages back, it would open up again. I think there’s something very destabilizing about having your core cut into.”
The destabilization of her polished life was a blessing in disguise. Her recovery in hospital was the beginning of a healthier life, but also her return to self, starting with an undiluted mental state.
She describes living with sedative medication as ‘walking around behind a sheet of frosted glass’. “When you’re anxious, it’s fantastic,” admits Rosemary, “But you can’t live your life like that. It sucks the soul out of you.”
Doctors controlled all of Rosemary’s medication in the hospital, so by the time she was discharged, she was through the worst of the detox. She worked with a GP to create a plan that would slowly wean her off without intense withdrawal.
For the first time in many years, she felt full of emotion – good and bad – but she also felt brave enough to see her real self. “I saw a grizzled, cranky, tired, very UN-FUN woman who worked all the time, who had barely any friends, who was so tired on the weekend that she couldn’t have a life. Who had become addicted to benzos after taking them for years to calm herself down and deal with anxiety and help her sleep,” says Rosemary.
She knew she didn’t want to be this person, so she devoted herself to getting healthy. She ate well and exercised to try and get better. Rosemary got healthier, but she felt like she hadn’t completely healed.
“It took me a little bit to find the next mindset shift. I think also going through that detox, made my recovery longer… I just didn’t really have the headspace for too much more,” she says.
What helped her take the next step was a return to writing. “I was so anxious from not being able to take any benzos that I needed something to distract me! Writing poetry and prose was a wonderful distraction and a way to kind of… get my anger at myself out. It was a place to direct my feelings,” says Rosemary.
Writing and self-expression through her alter ego Some Stylish Chick rekindled her creative spark and energised Rosemary with excitement. Her world didn’t just become about achievement – achieving at work, or achieving health – it opened up with possibility.
“I started looking for books. Looking for ways to learn and grow,” says Rosemary. The first book she read was ‘You Are A Badass’ by Jen Sincero, and it opened her up to the concepts of source energy, manifestation, mindfulness and gratitude. She created new habits, such as journaling, meditation, and making time for passion projects. She also opened herself up to a new relationship with herself. One that was kind and unedited.
She decided that she would be honest about who she truly was, own it, and love it. “I cannot tell you how much more relaxed I feel now that I’ve decided to just own the fact that I’m a very awkward human being,” she explains, “I’m an awkward weirdo… that’s way more interesting than being a perfect, polished, in control mannequin who doesn’t ever show emotion or get excited by anything.”
She hopes that working women will pay attention to the signs of burnout that she ignored: feeling so anxious on Sundays that it would often lead to tears; being in pain or feeling regularly ill and ignoring it, and putting everything into your job and nothing else.
What this experience has taught Rosemary is that life in its entirety is a blessing: “I wasted six or seven years sitting back, behind frosted glass, holding the world at arm’s length. I’m done with that.” She sees the full potential of life and herself in and out of the office.
New Rosemary – real Rosemary – still kicks goals, but now she celebrates them too, which is why her chosen affirmation is ‘I am BLESSED.’
“Not in a religious kind of way, but in a ‘the universe decided I needed to stick around a little longer’ way… It’s a very simple way to remind yourself of how blessed you are to be alive, but also a very gentle reminder to be present. Here and now.”