It’s been a while since my last post. Time for an update so I can get on with the rest of the story. I’ve been immersed in my master’s program, so all good, just busy here.
This part is especially hard to write about. I love Torino as I’ve learned this year, where my school is based. I prefer the native term, Torino, to the English ‘Turin’ just because it sounds so much better to the ear. To my ear anyway.
I shall try to recall the previous years as best as I can here since I’ve experienced Torino in an entirely different way this time around (2017).
Now, it’s easy to see that my collapse really began in the spring of 2011 in Torino. I certainly felt the extent of what happened in London that spring pushing through these years nearly killing myself with over-exhaustion and chronic stress which finally culminated at my resignation in 2013. Then the collapse.
During the spring of 2011, before my departure from the BBC, at my suggestion, I met with a director of a tech firm I had hired. Maybe a week after I submitted my final documentation to the BBC, I left to meet in the firms’ Torino HQ for introductory meetings and never left.
My heart and intentions were 100%. I had strong feelings that I could contribute and help this organisation with regards to UX and design. No doubts. And, with pleasure.
I carried on consulting and working with this firm for 2.5 years. Everyone was very respectful, no nasty bullshit like before. Lots of polemics for sure (lol) but par for the course in Italy. My colleagues would argue loudly in each others faces, full of emotion, and moments later act as if nothing happened. Just a cultural difference, nothing more. As I quickly learned, ignore and carry on.
More importantly, my colleagues felt like family. Clearly, we all had each others backs, no matter what. The design group was immensely talented and the firm was developing cutting edge, real time, video technologies. I’m very grateful to have worked with such a team. This made it so much the harder to leave when I had to.
During these years we lived a block from Gran Madre and only a 5 minute stroll to Piazza Vittorio in Torino. The Po River was half a block from our flat for walks with our boyz. It was more than idyllic. I was too far gone in burnout land to appreciate it.
Joel worked at getting Souciant off the ground and went for long walks with the boyz along the river and in the centre. On weekends I’d go for short walks with them but had long lost any stamina. I couldn’t walk far, not even a ‘normal’ distance for people whatever that is. I was so exhausted, I spent most of my non-work time in the flat or walking the boyz a couple blocks along the river. I could do nothing more though I wished to hang out with some colleagues. Even occasionally. A horrible struggle and as much as I wanted to, the anticipation of any planning was torturous.
So I worked. I came home. I enjoyed the company of my partner and our furry children. As time passed, I couldn’t even stand having dinner out with Joel. My body was in pain from sitting for work for so many hours, for so many years the thought of going out for dinner in some horrible upright chair was untenable.
There are many reasons I’ve worked hard, even harder than most, in my career.
My work role model was my stepfather, a child of the Great Depression. His own work ethic was ingrained in me from the start. Don’t take your job for granted. Prove yourself early on and you won’t have to worry later, etc. I’m not entirely convinced this ethic is not useful in today’s environment. But self esteem, for me, plays a role too.
After a tumultuous early childhood and shitty educational experience, I had little self esteem. The educational experience, I should say, was not the schools I attended. The public ones I was educated at were among the best in the country at the time. My high school was academically rigorous (for many) and a high percentage went on to the ivy leagues and their equivalents. So, it wasn’t the schools themselves.
Instead, it was the whole educational approach, at a systemic level, that I couldn’t seem to jive with. Thus, I was never engaged, disinterested, and got horrible marks. The bad grades led to low self esteem and so the cycle in high school went on.
Later, I understood the way I learn and am engaged, intellectually, is in a much more interactive and visual way. I wouldn’t get this until my experience at art school in Chicago and also, learning different languages in my 40s.
Education in the US is a whole other thing and I didn’t mean to go on a tangent. Maybe another post some other time. Point being between the Great Depression survivor instinct + low self-esteem = perfectionist-style, relentless hard work. These work attributes I had in spades.
A large contributing factor in my mental health, stress and burnout came later in my career. A bit in the US, but mostly in Europe. That is gender harassment and discrimination. The harassment by men worsened, the more experienced, and thus vocal, I was. From 2008-2010+ I’ve been on a European adventure I could have never imagined in my worst nightmares.
The burnout I already felt in SF as far back as 2004. Though, only shortly after mononucleosis (glandular fever) and during the first extreme experience of harassment at Yahoo. I recovered, for the most part, carried on and then experienced it again only in much more stressful life circumstances. (work visas, moving house across multiple countries, breadwinner, etc).
So it all came home to roost while I was in Torino. Perhaps because my colleagues were so nice and accommodating it gave me some room to think, subconsciously, on a personal level. And see how my life had collapsed all around.
I had a “home” in Berlin for 3 years at that stage but had never lived in it. I lived in temporary apartments for 5 years until then, in 3 different countries. I understand the localisation efforts of Ikea in the cuisine differentiation of their restaurants between England, Italy and Germany all too well.
Home for me is critical. I am a homebody. Sick or not, I’d prefer staying home rather than going out most of the time. Losing the feeling of a solid home is devastating. It also harkens back to my early childhood tumult.
All said, I couldn’t keep on keeping on. Full stop. At least in Torino with a major leadership role and client work ahead, I knew I just couldn’t. So we returned to Germany.