**Get Real is a blog series and is also a print zine you can buy here. The series covers a time in my life where some heavy shit went down and i needed to GET REAL. This is the first in the series and begins well, at the beginning of what felt like the end. Sometimes, it feels like all is lost, i’m here to share my story of no matter how hard things can feel, the only way really is up. You got this.**
I had been living on my own now for 6 months. I had originally moved into this house and fell in love with it 2 years earlier, living at the time with my now ex. The house was beautiful, a little mini den almost, sandwiched in between two others, a strange tetris block matching no others in a ‘mews’ which made me feel posh.
I saw a listing of the house online and didn’t even physically see it until the day we moved in. I instantly knew this was where i needed to be as soon as i saw the pictures of the garden and the light coming through the huge windows. It was a done deal. We moved in around 2 weeks later and began making it our own. It was the most modern house i had ever lived in, built in 2003 (!) and was situated in a tiny quiet cul-de-sac just off from a sprawling estate surrounded by green spacious land and 20 mins drive from the city. It ticked all my boxes and i was so chuffed.
Six months before we moved in, i’d set up my own business, an online store called Getbusy. I’d been working full time alongside running the business to get it off the ground and i was really excited for the future it could open up for me. I’d grown up in a working class family, taught a strong work ethic and always dreamt of a future where i didn’t have to struggle, a future where i could travel, achieve and create the life i wanted. I never thought i’d set up my own business, i never saw myself in that position. I always get a feeling on job interviews as i look around, do i see myself staring at this wall on a long shift, can i see myself stood at this bus stop each night, will i be getting my dinner out that fridge? The whole time i was going through the long process of making my business dream happen, i felt like i was on some kind of a wind up show. This couldn’t be my life, this couldn’t be happening to me – this couldn’t be within reach. But there i was six months later, moving into this awesome new house, filled with optimism, my brain spilling with ideas and motivation.
Eventually i would go on to run the business full time from that house, the spare bedroom first becoming an office and then transforming into a jenga style storage room of box upon box – filling every available space with new season’s stock – ever growing with the success of this small yet feisty business. I started the business with nothing but a bevy of ideas and a mountain of enthusiasm and drive. I’ve always been that kind of person, i always wanted to do something with my life. I wanted to see everything, go everywhere, be everything i could ever be while i had the chance. As the business grew, things started to change, i quit my other job, met lots of inspiring and encouraging new people who helped bring welcome change and the business became my life. My friends and family became involved as models, stylists, photographers, editors, order packers and more. Namely customers, trotting round in their new fineries, us all having access to dreamworthy outfits, accessories and a new exciting lifestyle we never thought we’d have.
The truth in the matter though, was that i was struggling. A bunch of my mates knew, but i managed to convince them and to a degree, myself, that i was functioning at a much higher level than i truly was. I had been diagnosed in 2007 with agoraphobia, yet another manifestation in my brain and behaviour, looking to cope with the difficulties i had experienced in my life, hand in hand with the OCD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder i had been showing signs of since a very early age. As i’ve experienced this side of myself for a long time now, over 20 years and several therapists, counsellors and pills later, i’m fairly open about it – the basics anyway – an entry level to a crazy person, keeping the rest of it entirely hidden though, shockingly even to myself. My OCD kicked in around age 8 when i started paperclipping my curtains together, pinning the edges to the walls and sellotaping the underside to the windowsill so not even a speck of light could get into my room – i did this every night before bed or else i COULD NOT sleep – it quickly spread to other things too, sneaking downstairs and switching off all electrical appliances, refusing to wash due to the ‘cameras’ hidden in the walls and ceiling and writing ‘wills’ and letters to my friends as i was certain i was going to die on that particular night, sharing out my favourite cds and Argos rings to my besties.
My ex left after we’d been living in the house for a year and a half, we’d been together for 2. Things hadn’t been right for a long time and by the time they eventually moved out, we had been living together as pretty much strangers. The house felt weird, there was no comfort zone, just an air of resentment and confusion filling what was once an airy and generous warmth. Their departure opened up a new chapter, the space felt anew and i was desperate for a burst of new energy, my hopes were clambering for something to aspire to and aim for. The business was thriving but not without an intense input from me daily, wiping myself out trying to run this now huge empire literally from my spare bedroom. The ‘stockroom’ was bursting, my ‘office’ was the settee and surrounding units crammed full of office stationery and the packing station was my living room, the ‘dispatch team’ were raring to go every morning (me and my two cats and a bunch of my closest friends popping by to assist).
With every venture that presents an opportunity to push things to a new exciting level, perhaps somewhere you never envisioned or thought was possible – there are worries, doubts, fears of what could happen and things suddenly going wrong. My imposter syndrome began creeping in more and more as the business grew and as my mental health began to worsen and i couldn’t hide the fact i hadn’t left the house often 3 weeks at a time to my friends any longer, it’s almost like i knew what was around the corner and it wasn’t going to be pretty.
When my ex left, i re-decorated the house and it became mine. Well actually more like a part of me. With my agoraphobia being worse than ever, we were a team. My safety net made other difficult things bearable, i had my den, my reassuring space to create in, give my brain the room it needed, the calm and quiet of the neighbourhood and the silence i needed between my ears sometimes to focus on staying positive and keeping productive. I found a cut out of a quote from Blue Jasmine and framed it, adding it to bathroom wall, something to ponder when i was in the shower each day.
As i sit and write this, i have the frame hanging opposite me now, in prime writing position. I unpacked all of my things and spread them across the whole house, settling in and truly making the space mine. I’ve always needed that in my life, i need to feel my roots, create my den and feel safe no matter where i’m at or how i’m feeling, it’s just part of my core.
Living alone was great for me in that i had many realisations, i reached new conclusions and viewpoints on past circumstances, friendships and relationships and found a new creativity and drive for the future. It was also terrible for me in that i went further and further into my head, deluding myself that this was a good idea, that living along wasn’t going to further distance me from the outside world with nobody to even pretend to that i was doing ok. I fell into a much deeper and darker place than i was willing to admit and only me and the house knew it.
In October that year, 2013, i received a brown letter, as i often did as a business owner, from HMRC. Except this letter wasn’t one i was used to. It was alerting me that i was to be audited. When people use the expression, ‘it felt like the world beneath me crumbled and swallowed me up‘ that doesn’t even begin to cover the feeling i had. I had been fighting for this life, the opportunity to be my own boss, to reach those hopes and dreams i had, to transcend the odds i had against me as a working class woman especially one with the struggles i had faced. I feel like i knew this was the beginning of the end, even if my brain didn’t quite yet, my heart and the fibre of my being certainly did. At this stage, audits are total nightmares but they’re dealable, if you know you’ve done nothing wrong, you know you’ll come out on top. I knew that i had followed everything correctly but something was just off, i felt horrible and sick and panicked and as if something had come into my safe place and had a hold of me i couldn’t shake.
Turns out my heart was right. Five months later i had to make the heartbreaking decision to close the shop. Except there wasn’t much choice in it. I had fought for 5 long months and i was broken, i couldn’t take any more and had to admit defeat, one of the hardest things for me, a person who clings on to fight against any feeling of vulnerability, my main fear. The audit picked up tax issues from people i had been buying from and the mistakes made resulted in a wave across the network, wiping out small businesses who couldn’t deal with the time taken out to re-do years of tax work and then couldn’t afford the hefty bills from HMRC required to turn around the deficit they had caused. My little business and my little self couldn’t handle it and one by one the foundations started to give way until i had next to nothing left, i had no choice but to keep my head up, do what needed to be done to make this right and walk away.
With my feelings carefully guarded away and my boss bitch head on, i announced the closure of the store to a shocked following. We had created a community, a huge sprawling girl gang who were as devastated as we were. I had to keep going and ignore the incessant phone calls of hassling debt collectors and red letters while i desperately sold the remaining stock i had to try and save for the court costs for bankruptcy.
I walked into the same building that once issued me the all important funding to set the business up at the very start. I sat in the same chair, awaiting the receptionist’s call of my name and felt like a ghost from the future, looking at my former self sat here previously, full of hope and excitement. My feelings were intense but i had to keep battling them back, just gotta get through this patch and then i can deal, but for now i needed to get everything wrapped up and the serious shit out the way. Turns out closing a business is even harder than setting one up. All the language was scary, all the threats were very real and at a time when i needed reassurance, i needed certainty and support – it felt like everything was closing in on me. I was fucked. Well and truly fucked.
On April 2014, the shop closed. I managed to scramble the money together from remaining stock and booked my day in court. Bankruptcy was imminent and this chapter of my life was over. It was time to get real and it wasn’t going to be pretty.
Up Next: ‘Get Real (2): Just Hold On We’re Going Home‘
Cover artwork for each entry of the series is by the awesome Becki Clark