When work and wellbeing didn’t mix

When work and wellbeing didn’t mix

This is the first time I have written anything for the blog since April. It was round about the Spring when I knew something definitely wasn’t right.

Since then, I’ve been right down to the bottom of the ocean and back up again. Not the exotic, pretty parts of the seabed, bursting with rainbow corals and shimmering shoals. Where I went, it was dark. Murky. Where you can’t see your hand in front of your face and you don’t know what’s coming up behind you next. But you know it’s a long way back up to the surface, if you can find it.

There was a time when I thought that negotiating the smoke and mirrors of the education and social care systems for Orange would call time on my sanity. This is the brutal truth for more SEND parents than I wished I knew. So far, for me, it hasn’t. But since I’ve had the weather eye of a hawk on that front, sharing the load with family and my band of SEND sisters, I missed the hurricane as it snuck up from the other side.

When Orange arrived, he changed my outlook on life, and work. I wanted to do something that mattered. Which isn’t always easy when you’ve built your career in public relations in the City and Soho. So getting a senior role at a NHS and social care provider finally felt like I could make a difference. A job where my personal values could come to life through my work. A career coach’s dream, right?

For the first year it felt amazing. I was good at this. Using my skills for something real and important. Engaging my brain in a way that became a wonderful distraction from dealing with the 5,674 ways the local authority was trying to make Orange’s home adaptations and school transport into a sticky quagmire.

When the storm clouds started to gather at work, I thought I could bat them away by listening to audiobooks about ‘how to be brilliant’ and blaring Tim Ferriss podcasts that would show me how to tackle any sort of work crisis that might come my way.

I thought that because I’ve had to tackle challenges so far out of the ordinary, like resuscitating my own child, that I could tolerate pretty much anything and come out of it unscathed.

But I couldn’t.

No amount of inspirational podcasts and books about creative brilliance and productivity could relieve me of the uncomfortable fact that being in my job was beginning to compromise my sanity.

A sorry but familiar tale of resource and people-power deficits that I thought I could overcome by just working myself harder. For longer.

A broken corporate culture that I thought I could overcome by imagining I was wearing a coat of armour at my desk, deflecting arrows as they flew.

The stuff of fantasy. But not the marshmallow kind.

None of this is news to anyone who has picked up a newspaper or switched on the tv in recent months. It’s health and social care. It’s the UK. There’s not enough money. Not enough people. And what happens then? People have a crap time at work and do a worse job.

I held on too long.


Because it matters to me that I work. That I have a career. That what I do makes a difference.

That as a mother of a disabled child I will cling on by my fingernails to the opportunity for financial independence and career development. Because I know others want that too.

I have campaigned about the rights of mothers of disabled children to have careers, too hard to just give it up. So walking out the door on an intolerable situation was out of the question.

In the end, my brain and body did it for me. Pushing too hard for too long eventually saw me unable to get out of bed bar a visit to the GP to find out why I felt like I was dying. Why I thought I was having heart attacks in the middle of the night. Why I couldn’t sleep. Why I spent two weeks on leave from work in the summer that I don’t remember a minute of.

It was a wake up call.

Months on and I have resigned from my job, with shiny new consultancy work waiting for me on the other side. I have started boxing again. Seen friends I haven’t seen in months. Taken up a new writing hobby as a theatre critic. And opened up this blog again to find a raft of messages from readers I didn’t know were reading but have given me a refreshed sense of why I write.

Because this matters. And I can make change happen on the outside. I don’t need to work inside the system to do it.



  1. Tiffany John 17/11/2017 / 10:06 pm

    Kate, you are a total inspiration and i love you to bits. Onwards and upwards gorgeous lady! Can’t wait to catch up soon. Tiff xxx

    • KatherineKowalski
      18/11/2017 / 3:21 pm

      Thank you so much Tiff, you are a wonderful friend and I wish we could catch up more often. December! xx

  2. A Wheelie Great Adventure 17/11/2017 / 10:48 pm

    Sending love and hugs, and wishing you the best of luck for your future career xx

    • KatherineKowalski
      18/11/2017 / 3:21 pm

      Thank you so much! xx

  3. Paul Arvo 18/11/2017 / 8:47 am

    Awesome writing. We missed you@

    • KatherineKowalski
      18/11/2017 / 3:20 pm

      Thanks so much Paul it’s great to be back! x

  4. Robert Stander 18/11/2017 / 2:50 pm

    Wow Katherine, well said and well done!!!…. I have missed your blogs a lot, you have a real talent at writing…. somehow I feel there’s something you haven’t said though, about why you jacked it in, or is that too finger pointing or private?…. whatever it doesn’t matter, you guys are amazing parents, so the decision must come from a place of strength!…

    There’s always some other door to open for you!!…. no promises, but I may have a freelance bit of work for you come Feb/March….. lets talk!!

    • KatherineKowalski
      18/11/2017 / 3:20 pm

      Thank you Rob 🙂 There is more behind the words as you can imagine. All I can say is that I found myself increasingly too often in situations that directly conflicted my personal values. And I couldn’t reconcile my own views with the political direction of the system at the moment, which is (in my opinion) financially and ideologically driven in a direction I feel is morally wrong. I didn’t realise what a toll this was taking on me. Anyway, like you say, when you close one door another one opens. I will be very busy come January! Would love to talk re any future freelance opps 🙂

  5. Rachel George, Ordinary Hopes 22/11/2017 / 10:01 am

    Living with the constraints and frustrations of many systems every day, I know that I could not also work within them. Glad you have taken time to do things which are just for you. That is a reminder to me.

    • KatherineKowalski
      23/11/2017 / 1:24 pm

      It’s so important to take time for yourself isn’t it? Hard to find it but absolutely essential xx

  6. Nikhil Chavan 26/11/2018 / 4:55 am

    Great article I totally agree with you, I went through all the content which you shared seems like really interesting to read and understand. keep it up great quality content you have shared which I really appreciated.

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