Capital DJ Vick Hope reveals how a relentless drive for success and ‘doing’ drove her to the point of collapse – and how she finally learned to be still
I’ve just smacked Lee Ryan from Blue in the face. He doesn’t deserve to be smacked in the face, I like him a lot. But the road to perfect my cha-cha technique is long, and it’s a road upon which (this was day one of Strictly Come Dancing 2018 rehearsals) I’d just taken my first, tentative footsteps.
Fast forward a few months, and I never did achieve a perfect cha-cha. Far from it, in fact; my cha cha technique (or lack thereof) was exactly what brought my Strictly journey to an end. A journey I began on the cusp of my 30th year, thinking – like so many of my friends – it would be a good idea to learn something new. I’d thought that was going to be dancing, but in reality I learned a whole lot more. Of course, I was devastated when the dance lessons were cut short, but that was merely a catalyst for the breakdown that followed.
I’d recently found myself single after a decade of being in two long-term relationships. I’d moved into my own place and, for the first time in my life, I was alone. I threw myself into 15-hour working days, taking only three days holiday over the course of 12 months. I plugged any gaps in my week with boys who didn’t care about me, because adulting means you’re supposed to start a family soon, right? I guess, learning to dance was another wonderful way to fill the silence, so when that bubble burst, when I’d hung up my sequins and peeled off my eyelashes, the silence was deafening. I’d worked myself to the point of burnout.
For so many of us, it is not just our limbs that are flailing. New research suggests women are more likely to suffer work burnout than men. Dr Nancy Beauregard, professor of population health at Montreal University believes a key factor is that women ‘are less likely to be given positions of power, causing them to become overwhelmed with frustration, emotional exhaustion and cynicism’. I believe we work twice as hard as men, we’re constantly moving for fear that if we stop it will all fall apart. As I found out, if we go too fast, it can all fall apart anyway.
Dr Beauregard also cites ‘balancing work and family life’ as a trigger. Those of us who are single know all too well the feeling of desperate inadequacy often forced upon us by societal pressures to beat the biological clock. Breaking up with a long-term boyfriend and ‘going back to square one’ in my thirties was seen as madness. While on the one hand, I know many women who feel guilty for working too hard to make time for starting a family, on the other hand I have friends who feel judged for putting family first at the cost of their career. Whatever our choices, we are conditioned to believe we are never doing enough.
So what happens when we can physically do no more? I will never forget my mum’s words when she travelled from Newcastle to London to be with me for a weekend. I lay, so excruciatingly exhausted in her arms, as she told me: ‘You don’t need to chase anything any more, darling. You need to be still and you need to learn to be on your own.’ Mama knows best. I’d never really thought about solitude, and certainly never chosen to revel in it. It took a burnout to force me to stop, pull back, breathe and swap my relentless pursuit of external stimulus and companionship for a period of much-needed self-reflection.
I took my first week off in a year and flew solo to Malaysia for my first-ever yoga retreat. I’ll admit I had previously thought this kind of holiday entirely pretentious and cliched. But it changed everything.
As well as balance and perspective, yoga and meditation helped train my mind to focus inwards without distraction, to finally be alone with my own thoughts, which was painful at first. I’d never stopped to properly consider a number of things: how my relationship break-up had affected me or taken stock of my achievements. I was paying extortionate London rent on my flat but spending little time in my own space. I’d forgotten what I was working so hard for, what I stood for.
Travelling alone gave me time and space, free of the pressures of trying to verbalise experiences, so I could simply feel the joy of my own existence. This was an extremely powerful realisation: I didn’t just find strength and solace in being alone, but I learned to love it. I began to feel comfortable with myself and confident in my choices, which in turn reignited my motivation and creativity. I realised I didn’t have to drive myself into the ground seeking other people’s approval to feel I was achieving something.
And so many women are realising the very same – contrary to what we’re often encouraged to feel – what is inside of us, being on our own, is enough. Research conducted by Hitwise revealed a 143% increase in solo travel over the last three years, with a staggering 84% of solo travel searches in the UK made by women. Whether seeking adventure or peace (or both), enjoying our own company is galvanising and liberating.
Whether we explore solitude through meditation, a solo trip, making time and space for ourselves at home, or owning being single and proud rather than ‘making do’ for the sake of having a partner, let us be women who find strength, kindness, peace, joy inside ourselves, instead of endlessly looking for some external source of happiness. As one lovely Strictly make-up artist wisely told me, as I lamented that I wanted to love and be loved: ‘You need to be the whole cake before anyone can be the cherry on top’.
Now, armed with ingredients for a next-level Victoria sponge, my burnout and subsequent self-reflection has taught me not only to deal with the silence that once deafened and frightened me, but to love the silence. Because here’s the thing: there’ll always be silence. The madness will come and go, and what you have left every time is only you. You need to be enough. You are enough. We can endure much more than we think we can, but that doesn’t mean we should.