Monday, 20 July 2009

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger

This job is seriously stressful.
Deadlines, bosses, the pressure of having to do well, dealing with extraordinary situations, death knocks, over work, bad pay.
Everything adds up into a big bubble of chest tightening, stomach churning, jaw grinding, headache inducing, STRESS!
Stress can destroy you, if you let it. Some of the very best, strongest, hardcore hacks have crumbled under its relenting pressure.
Men have killed their wives through mental illness. Drink and drugs are connected with our industry like pastry in a pie company.
Nervous breakdowns and early death are a common trait. It's a business fraught with fuck ups, freaks and failures.
I have been there.
Sleeping tablets to get over insomnia; group therapy to combat panic attacks; betablockers for hypertension; alopecia; paranoia and anger issues.
All down to stress of the job.
To survive stress, you have to harness it.
As journalists, you have to learn to love it.
As a reporter, I used to feel physically sick when a tale my boss had earmarked for the splash bit the bullet.
I would dread conference when my news list was a collection of press releases, follow ups and lies.
Door knocks would often leave me in a state of utter terror at the unknown.
Who hasn't frozen while writing an intro, knowing full well it was needed five minutes ago; who can remember the times when you have a stand up row over the most minor thing as the pressure mounts ; or pretended to phone a particularly abrasive press officer/councillor with a sticky question then claiming they were out.
As a new boss I often awoke, slightly sweaty, at 4am on deadline day after a dream that my entire paper has come out with its pages blank. That particular nightmare comes, almost like clockwork, on a crap news week.
My other favourite is going to bed the night before deadline day and having a vivid minute-by-minute dream that it all went brilliantly, only to wake up at 6am with everything yet to come.
I have often wanted to scream out loud when stories fall flat on pages that subs need right now and sometimes, on very bad days, the thought of walking out and leaving it all to someone else
becomes so tempting I can taste it.
But I haven't cracked, choked or crumbled (yet) I use the stress to my advantage. Harness the energy it gives me to ask the questions or make the calls. Spend the day barking orders or fighting fires and relax when I get home - with a glass or two of wine.
Experience helps immensely, situations become more normal. Writing becomes easier and second guessing your boss and covering your arse becomes second nature.
But the stress will always be there.
Start learning to make it your friend, before it becomes your worst enemy.

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