At 24, life was good for Georgie Dent. After graduating with top marks she landed her dream job at a prestigious Sydney law form and moved in with a boyfriend she adored. She had the world at her feet, and no obvious reason to break. But she did. Badly.
Within a year Georgie was unemployed, back living with her parents and suffering such crippling anxiety that she ended up in a psychiatric hospital.
Breaking Badly is Georgie's story of a nervous breakdown in slow motion. It sheds stark light on just how easily anyone, at any stratum in society, can come undone by anxiety and the extreme pressures we put on ourselves for success – at work, in studies, in relationships, and in life.
Now the contributing editor of popular website Women's Agenda, Georgie sets a fine example for her three daughters by maintaining perspective and by speaking up for gender equality. Not one to shy away from writing about weighty issues, in Breaking Badly Georgie keeps nothing back when revealing the all-encompassing anxiety, shame and fear that brought her to the brink – and how she fought her way back.
A former lawyer, Georgie Dent is a journalist, an editor, and a passionate advocate for gender equality. She is a regular media commentator, public speaker, MC and is the contributing editor of Women's Agenda. Breaking Badly is her first book.
Author: Georgie Dent
Question: What inspired you to write Breaking Badly?
Georgie Dent: A few years after I fell apart I wrote an anonymous article about the experience and sent it off to a popular women's blog. I wasn't sure I'd even hear back from the editor but she loved it. Even without my name attached, sharing my story with the online world felt scary.
Within a day of the piece being published there were more than 100 reader comments – it was an incredibly affirming response. It made me realise just how many other people could relate to what I had been through. When I was at my lowest ebb, I felt so desperately alone because I really did believe no one had ever experienced what I was facing. Every single comment on that piece made me realise how far from alone I had been.
A few years later I wrote about my nervous breakdown again but this time with my name attached, and again the response was mind blowing. It clarified in my mind that perhaps my whole story would be worth writing.
Not everyone will end up in a psychiatric unit like I did, but lots of people will be touched by anxiety or endometriosis or chronic illness or perfectionism or burn out or career dissonance. I hope that my story will provide some hope and even guidance of anyone grappling with any of those issues.
Question: Was it difficult to relive certain times, in your life, when writing Breaking Badly?
Georgie Dent: Yes and no. The upside to writing a book while also holding down a day job and raising three children was that on the days or sessions that I set aside for writing the book, I didn't have time to wallow. I just had to write. I think that time pressure meant that while it was emotional terrain to revisit I didn't find it too confronting. The fact I knew there was a happy ending helped too. What I went through was awful at the time but soon afterwards I was genuinely grateful it happened because it forced me to make changes that vastly improved the quality of my life.
Having said that I actually found the process of editing the book quite heartbreaking, simply because it required me to delve quite deeply back into some dark days without an urgent need to finish a chapter.
Question: What self-care practices do you have in place to look after yourself now?
Georgie Dent: There is a quote from Brianna West that I love that sums it up perfectly. She says: "Self-care is not bubble baths and chocolate cake…it's making the choice to create a life you don't need to escape from."
That is what my nervous breakdown forced me to do. I had to prioritise my physical and mental health to the extent that they were the headline acts, not tangents I never considered. This was a seismic shift that continues today.
Back then, it meant recognising that corporate law wasn't going to be the right workplace for me – which was hugely scary because of how long I had studied and worked towards that goal. But I knew to get better I had to take steps to remove stress from my life.
I still check in with my physical and mental state often: if things are feeling out of whack, or I'm feeling stressed more often than not, I reach out for help. I've stayed on medication for anxiety. Where ever it's possible I exercise regularly. It's all the little things we all know but together they add up to something fundamental.
Question: What message do you hope Breaking Badly spreads, to readers?
Georgie Dent: That even when life feels diabolically difficult, as though things will never ever get better, they can.
The good is far better than perfect.
That change is possible.
That anxiety is treatable.
That you can break, badly, and recover.
Interview by Brooke Hunter
Author: Georgie Dent