On losing my dream, and finding it again.

When I started college in 2001, I had no idea what I “wanted to be when I grew up”. By chance I enrolled in a Media class, because I thought it would be fun to talk about movies, and make them. It was more than fun; it was the awakening of my life’s greatest passion.

I did a major in Media over my two years at college, focusing on cinema studies and the art of making films. I wrote and directed three short films, and I bloody loved it. I was so keen and such an over achiever – I was the one teaching our teachers how to use the new editing software. I also loved the art of storytelling and the way that that came through a film, so I took a particular interest in both screenwriting and editing – the way stories were pieced together.

At the end of 2001, when I realised that this was what I wanted to do with my life, I also decided that I wanted to attend the University of Canberra and do a Bachelor of Communications for Media/Multimedia Production and then follow that up by attending the Australian Film Television and Radio School in Sydney. I worked my ass of in Year 12 to get the required grade, I got the commitment award for Media due to my hard work and dedication, and I was the winner of our “most likely to win an Oscar” award in the year book (and not just because I made all my friends vote for me). I was the Media Darling of my college.

On the day I found out I had made the score to get in to the University course of my desire, I jumped for joy and cried – I thought that that was going to be the beginning of some fairy-tale life.

My parents said they would pay for my Uni degree if I went straight into it after I finished College, which meant I didn’t take a gap year to go work in a pub in England like I wanted to. My parents said if I went to England I probably wouldn’t want to go to school when I got back, having tasted freedom. And they were probably right, I’d always hated school and study (thanks to my ADD!).

I got in to the Bachelor of Communications for Media/Multimedia at the University of Canberra and started school in February 2003. I hated it right from the get go. I remember sitting in a class talking about Marxism and thinking “what the hell does this have to do with film”? It had nothing to do with film – three quarters of my classes had nothing to do with film. As part of a Bachelor of Communications at UC, you are required to do two Communications based classes, one class based on your chosen discipline and one minor.

For example, the Communications classes I did were Communication Fundamentals, Internet and new Media, advertising and other bollocks. The one class that was supposed to be for me – Media/Multimedia Production – was three quarters multimedia and 3D animation. Of the 17 classes I did at Uni, only did two classes were actually focused on film, one was on editing and the other was about colours.

I chose literature as my Minor because I thought it would be fun, and thankfully I was right – it was the only class I looked forward to. In fact, towards the end, it was the only class I actually went to. Literature became my love and my crutch – the classes were interesting, the people were great, but best of all, we were talking about stories and story-telling.

Going in to University I was so full of hope, but as soon as I had started all that I felt was confusion, disappointment and doubt. I doubted the very thing I had been so sure about; that this was what I wanted to do. I also doubted my talents – every kid at University was the Media Darling of their college too but they were all just more ambitions than I was. Once my friend said to me that I was the least ambitious and competitive person she’d ever met, and she is totally correct.

Within 6 months of starting University I was suffering from depression. I didn’t know what it was at the time, but I withdrew from my friends, I became quieter, I stayed up all night and slept through most of my lectures during the day. I watched a ridiculous amount of Gilmore Girls. I also sat in my bedroom by myself, eating chips and chocolate – I put on 30 kilos over a year. MY job was seasonal, and I usually only worked at night, so that never really got it the way of me not going to school, it was everything else.

I made no friends at Uni – everyone in my class was self-absorbed, as so many creative types are on the surface, and I was barely there to really get to know anyone on a deeper level.

I failed semester two of year one, and by failed I should say “non-completed”, because I didn’t even participate to cause any failures. I just didn’t care anymore. I hated the expectations I perceived to be on me – I thought if I dropped out I would disappoint my family, especially my parents who had paid for the two semesters. All my friends had started Uni too, I didn’t want to be the failure.

I took the break between semesters two and three to regroup and then start again. Around this time I also approached my mother about my depression. When I revealed to her that I thought I was suffering from depression, her response – word for word because it is seared in to my brain – was: “You don’t have depression, there’s no such thing as depression. How do you think I feel? My life is worse than yours”. AKA,” how not to talk to a depressed person 101”. I don’t blame my Mum for this though, her generation thought they were tougher and no one really spoke about depression openly. My Dad was diagnosed with depression by multiple doctors, but my Mum wouldn’t accept it.

And so I kept going. I suffered through my depression for another 18 months. I was beyond miserable and my life was falling apart. Somehow, I only just passed semester three and then had to repeat semester two again in the second half of the year, rather than going straight to semester four (thanks to semester four courses having pre-requisites). Unsurprisingly, I ran out of steam in the second half of the year and failed semester two again. And that was that. I was only allowed to fail twice – so technically I couldn’t complete my degree. But I was too scared to tell my parents that I’d practically forced myself out of University. So, for some crazy reason, I went back for my third year but I only did my fifth semester of Literature. I only did one course for the whole semester, and it was the best semester I did at Uni – I didn’t have the pressure or the straight up confusion I felt with the Media/Comms subjects.

When fifth semester finished in mid-2005, I finally admitted to myself that I’d failed University. My dream of graduating University and going to the Australian Film Television and Radio School as a post-grad was dead.

I got a full time job working for Sheridan Australia (sheets, towels, manchester) and slowly but surely I worked on conquering my depression. I was out in the world – forcing yourself to go to work every day makes it hard to stay in bed and sleep the day away. I was talking to people again and I felt like I was actually achieving things. By 2006 I was working two jobs, one still with Sheridan and one at QBD The Bookshop. In 2007 I quit Sheridan and worked at the bookstore only – and it was a fantastic job. I was surrounded by amazing people, and I was selling – and best of all talking about – books! The bookstore job, and the travel I did in 2007, was the nail in my depression’s coffin. I did it. I got through it. That whole “it gets better” stuff – it’s true.

But my dream of working in film was gone. I had burnt myself out and convinced myself it was never going to happen. Instead, in 2008, I joined the Public Service – because I needed the money and because that’s what people in Canberra do. I continued to work at the bookstore on weekends for a year, because I couldn’t quite let go of the people and being surrounded by books. I also didn’t want to admit to myself that I was a public servant – something I swore I’d never become.

Fast forward six years and a lot has happened, I’m now a mid-level public servant (APS6) and make a shit load of money (which is nice). I’ve been in a lot of monetary debt over the last ten years, so most of that money has gone to paying off debts. But, for the first time since I got a credit card, I am currently debt free. I have bought an apartment off-plan and am waiting for it to be completed, while I save the money for my deposit. I’ve had stomach surgery and lost 20 kilos – I’m about to turn thirty and I am getting my mojo back.

I had a pretty stressful job for most of my public service working life, leaving work quite late at night and exhausted. I also have a pretty active social life (key to keeping my depression at bay), so I haven’t been doing much writing or keeping up to date with my studies. I just couldn’t be bothered. I have kept up to date with writing, but only in the form of this blog.

I did, however, keep up with my love of film. I go to the movies 2-3 (sometimes more) times a week and try and see everything at the cinema. It’s quite an expensive hobby, but I really love getting out of the house and the whole experience of being in a cinema – plus the dimmed lights and minimal distractions help me actually concentrate on the film (thanks, ADD). Most of the time I got to the movies by myself, I like to see all sorts of films and my friends aren’t always interested.

Last year I was staying at a friend’s place in Sydney and another one of her friend’s was staying for the weekend too – he was there to attend the Australian Film Television and Radio School’s (AFTRS) ‘Introduction to screenwriting course’ two day course. I wasn’t aware that they were doing weekend courses, and once I knew I was excited. Sadly, I was too late for last year’s intake and put it to the back of my mind.

Thanks to my mid-two-thirds life “getting my shit together”, I’ve started to realise how much I really hate working in the public service. I am not made for the bureaucracy and I have no brain for policy or legislature. I need to be more creative, I need to be doing a multitude of different things to keep my ADD happy… but more than anything I don’t want to be doing a job I have no passion for. I know that sounds like a daydream, but I had a job working in a bookstore that I loved and I really did enjoy one of my Public Service jobs –I don’t think you need to be a hobo artist to have a job you love.

So, after thinking about what I wanted to do with my life – the same as I had 12 years ago – I enrolled in the ‘Introduction to screenwriting course’ a few months ago and the course was held at the AFTRS last Saturday and Sunday. The AFTRS are located at the Entertainment Quarter of Moore Park, where Fox Studios used to stand.

It was surreal to be standing in the foyer at AFTRS and I will admit to getting a little teary – this was where I was supposed to be 8 years ago (although 8 years ago they were in Ryde). Just stepping inside the building resulted in a rush of excitement and pure joy, but also a lot of regret. I decided to look forward, not back, and I was enthusiastic for the first time in a loooong time.

The course was a great re-introduction to the art of storytelling and crafting a screenplay. There wasn’t too much focus on the technical know-how of writing a script, but that’s good because I already know that stuff. Instead, we focused on structure and how to get a point across visually. The teacher, Steve Vidler, was great – very enthusiastic and knowledgeable, but also very approachable.

Returning back to work after the course was hard – I just wanted to be at home writing! There are so many ideas floating around my head and I’m feeling much more dedicated and determined than I have in a long time. It’s a nice feeling.

I’ve decided to apply for the Advanced Diploma in Screenwriting for Film the AFTRS are doing next year via correspondence (with one or two weekends in Sydney). It’s the first year they’ve done non post-graduate courses, so I am no longer blocked from attending by my dropout status. I have no idea whether I’ll get in, as it seems to be quite competitive, but it’s worth a try – I’d like to hone my skills and really give this a shot.

I have no delusions that this will be a quick step to money and happiness. I am going to be studying and writing after hours, but still work (probably still in the public service – because damn that money is good). I will have a hobby I enjoy and that will hopefully make my day job more bearable.

I have an idea for a screenplay already, actually I have 5 solid ideas…it’s an uplifting feeling to be so excited and enthusiastic – I’m not  used to it.

If you’re reading this and you’re depressed or you know someone who might be, I highly recommend seeing someone as soon as you can – get on the meds, talk it through. I was never allowed that opportunity and wasn’t able to help myself, and I regret it all the time. Who knows where I’d be now if I had been able to conquer (or at least deal with) my depression earlier.

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