Stories you won't tell forever: What happens when all your plans change direction.


In 2014, through a truly unique combination of luck, sheer audacity, and being in exactly the right place at the right time, I was hired for a job so dreamy I had never even thought to dream it. I was in my mid-20s and working with a living legend in my field. It looked from the outside, so I'm told, that I had sprung from nowhere and slotted right in to an industry where 26 year old girls don't get hired for major productions with only one other musical under their belts. It just doesn't happen and yet it did, very quickly and with no real fanfare.  It just... suddenly was. I was lucky. I was happy.

Turns out those things rarely last forever. 25 months after it began, I withdrew unexpectedly from the project. It broke my damn heart, and it almost definitely saved it too.

If you came for the story, you're out of luck. I made a promise I intend to keep, and besides, it's a love story. Nobody comes out clean. But I've realised since then that for all the tea and sympathy (except replace tea with Gin) and the kindness of good people, nobody really talks about what happens next. What you actually learn, when all your plans fall if not apart then in a completely different direction. What can we actually take from this? Well I can't speak for anyone else, so let's do a case study.

Test subject: Me.


1. You have to feel it.
I read this amazing quote which I'm about to paraphrase the hell out of, because it was a while ago and I can't remember where I saw it. It went something along these lines: "Recovery takes as long as it takes. Don't borrow from the beginning, because you'll only pay for it at the end". It's true. I wish somebody had told me that. Pretending you're alright on the second day will only mean that one Friday morning in the third month you'll have to do your makeup twice, because you cried it all off the first time. Sometimes it feels never-ending, and trying to force the end only makes that gremlin of self-pity stronger. Not a cute Gremlin, either. I'm talking once the water touches them and they turn slimey and mean.

And the thing is, you do get to recover. It's an ending just like any other; a breakup of sorts, except instead of a person you're breaking up with a part of your identity (and in this case a British institution. Sort of. So that's intense). You know when you've been sick, and spent a few days wrapped up on the sofa, then finally you're brave enough to go back outside? You put your foot on the hard ground, and you're walking just like you always do, but somehow the soles of your feet feel different? It's like that. Like something has changed, and you're feeling it physically. Everything seems loud and shocking and for the first few steps it's like you're walking on air. Then the headache creeps back in. Your energy starts to wane. Your footsteps are just footsteps again, and you know you did the right thing but it's time to accept now that for a little while, at least, it's going to hurt. Let it. The satisfaction when you're finally feeling real peace instead of fake surface level contentment is worth it.

2. Recovery looks different every day.
It was Christmas, so luckily I could get away with being somewhere on the way to Champagne drunk at pretty much all times without any raised eyebrows. At first, my sadness looked pretty typical in that respect: carbs and wine for dinner, then a full face of makeup and off to a party where I would smile vaguely and answer with anecdotes that happened months before. Everything's fine. Yeah I think 2017 is going to be great. It was exhausting. That transformed, luckily, in to a monogamous relationship with a hot yoga studio, where I would go as often as my legs would let me to sweat it out, bend unexpectedly like in that song from Beauty and the Beast, and make some attempt at getting back my waist (lost to the afore mentioned carbs and wine). That was far healthier in almost every way, and the exhaustion that came with it was endlessly more satisfying. The thing they don't tell you though, when they say "Leave it all on the mat"? If you're 'on the mat' 5 times a week, eventually you'll just be surrounded by all the demons you left there the night before. I return to point 1. Don't leave it all anywhere. Feel it. Then notice how much easier it is to do a half-pigeon, or whatever, once it's all gone. What you need to do to get through it might change on a daily basis. It's like they say you cant step in the same river twice (and yes, by "they" I mean Pocahontas); it's an ebb and flow kind of thing, and some days you'll need the wine and some days you'll need the hardest variations of the hardest stretches. Don't waste your time trying to predict how you're going to feel tomorrow. You can't. You will be blindsided, 'cause that's what happens when you fall out of love.

3. People will crawl out of the woodwork.
People you haven't spoken to in years, who want to be the ones to tell the story. (You can usually spot them by the way they don't even pretend they're here for anything but the details. Which to be fair is at least honest). You don't owe them anything. Please don't tell them anything because you're looking for cheap sympathy. Trust me, you don't need cheap sympathy.

4. People will crawl out of the woodwork.
Does woodwork... work when the people crawling out are wonderful? Old friends just wanting to check in, who never (ever) ask for the story. Sort-of-strangers who become new friends 'cause there was an immediate understanding that the basis of so many good friendships is looking after each other. Just making sure the other is alright. For that, social media was an unexpected silver lining. I said very little and what came back was a lot of warmth, and virtual hand-holding, and love. This is where the good comes in. These people? When all the hard stuff stops mattering, you get to keep them. This is not a clutching-at-straws kind of blue sky. It's a real life sunny Sunday's by the river one. The best kind.

5. And people will disappear.
Maybe the people you thought were your friends are not your friends. That's ok. Better to know, right? You'll understand that they don't know what to say, 'cause you don't either. You'll forgive them, but they don't get to come back when things get good again. I didn't really remember, before, that some people only want to be around when things are going well. I choose to see that as lucky rather than naive. Lucky that things had been good enough for long enough that I managed to forget. Lucky that for the most part, the kind of people I surround myself with are the kind who stay.

6. But the ones you know are gonna be there?
They will be. there.
(When I think back on all of this, the first thing I'll remember, always, is how close it made me to those people. I deserve nice things, and they are the nicest things).

7. You will remember who you are.
Ugh. Cheesy. True. In the weeks and months that followed Day Zero (thats a thing I decided to start calling it just now), things started happening that hadn't for a while. I found myself singing Disney songs while I was washing up. It wasn't until I gave my neighbours a gala concert performance through the walls of Tapestry (album, not song. Twice. Back to back) that I realised it had been a while since I really sang. I remembered I love running, and started doing it daily. I remembered I hate running and sometimes endorphins are misleading. I stopped. I felt more physically liberated and alive than I had in ages. (Kind of glowing too, actually. A friend said to me "heartbreak chic is really working for you" and y'know what? It was). I hadn't really written anything else for two years. Short story ideas came to me on the Victoria line platform at Highbury & Islington. I wrote about nine very short plays. (I wrote a ninety minute one too).

I still sometimes find myself seeking creative permission for things that are all mine, 'cause for such a long time everything that came out of my brain and hit a page was subject to constant scrutiny. But I don't need to seek permission. I never did. (Also nobody is giving it to me 'cause that's not how the world works. For people to listen, artistically anyway, you have to be saying something. You can't afford to wait for their approval). Most of the time now, I remember that. I was fierce before circumstance made me doubt myself. It's how I came upon said circumstance in the first place. I had very few self-imposed limits, and I had to remember (am still having to remember) how to get that back; that those walls that keep me from going after what I want aren't solid. It's like a paper house. Just blow on it and it'll come crashing down. It's like a looking glass. You can walk right through.

8. Things to note.
You're gonna love something more than you ever loved this. There are so many happy moments coming; there are so many happy moments even in the hard ones. You will succeed in ways you haven't thought to dream yet. (I will probably write another musical).

9. There are some stories you will tell forever.
The kind that define you. That you keep coming back to as a reference point for who you are, and the things that made you. I think it's pretty cool to be shaped by these stories. To let them sharpen the edges (or soften them). To show you what you can do next, and teach you that you get to decide. Do you know the coolest thing, though? These reference points; character shapers; stories you'll tell forever? You get to choose what they are. And it may not feel like it now, but I promise you. This doesn't have to be one of them.

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