Burnt out and single — I gave up London life and found love
'I sat on my bed in my flat in Islington, crying into my pyjamas wondering how on earth had I ended up here.'
‘I would often work for 24 hours straight,’ says Katherine Baldwin. A political journalist for Reuters, in her early 30s, Katherine lived to work.
‘But mostly, I worked all the time. I would ride into Westminster on my scooter and would work non-stop all day. It was the time of the Iraq War and because I worked for a global news agency, the news desks never closed.’
And soon, her work took a toll on her health. ‘It was difficult to switch off,’ she says. ‘I found myself finding very unhealthy ways to destress – I drank too much after work and would binge eat on cereal and sugary snacks when I got home.
‘I was binge eating, binge drinking, compulsively exercising, over-working, and pursuing unhealthy relationships that hurt me and others.
‘I went out with unavailable men who didn’t want a committed relationship, it was messy.
‘I looked like I was functioning but behind the scenes, I was slowly burning out.’
Eventually, Katherine was signed off work. Shortly afterwards, her father sadly passed away, and her relationship ended. Already struggling, she couldn’t take anymore.
‘I sat on my bed in my flat in Islington, crying into my pyjamas wondering how on earth had I ended up here. I was 36, single, no children and had been signed off work with stress.’
Therapy helped Katherine cope with her grief, and she returned to work on a phased return. But pretty much instantly. I thought I can’t do this,’ she says. ‘But I had a huge mortgage, I was living on my own, I had no family support and no partner. I knew I had to create a new life for myself but didn’t know how.’
Eventually, when she was 37, Katherine took voluntary redundancy – but says she ‘didn’t have a clue’ what to do next. So, she continued to work as a freelancer in the media industry in the years that followed, working with Reuters, as well as training other journalists.
‘I was terrified of not having a job,’ she says. ‘And I have a deep ingrained financial insecurity – no matter how much money I had, I was terrified of ending up on the streets.’
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Katherine took to the internet to share her feelings in a blog. ‘I started to write about my situation. By then, I was 40 and moving in circles of other women my age, who were single and childless who had unhealthy relationships.
‘I started to do a lot of research and psychotherapy training, to learn about my own behaviours.’
Katherine sought out professional support for what she realised was an eating disorder. With help, she was eventually able to eat three meals a day, avoided alcohol and sugar, and exercised in a healthy way every day.
‘I learned to take care of myself. This is what I teach now –self-care. It starts with taking a lunch break, a walk around the park, it starts with leaving work on time to get to your yoga class, it starts with realising that you need to create space for loving yourself so you can love someone else. You have to be really courageous.’
Katherine’s next step was to start dating again. ‘I started dating in different ways,’ she says. ‘I refused to date men who were flaky or were not going to show up or not going to treat me well.’
While still on the London dating scene, Katherine met Bill through mutual friends while on a weekend away in Cornwall. The pair were just friends, with Katherine initially thinking he wasn’t her type: ‘He lived in Poole in Dorset and I was still in London. I thought I needed to be with a high-flying ambitious type.’
But over the years – with the pair meeting up at festivals and on camping trips – a realisation slowly dawned on her.
‘When I was with Bill, I felt happy, content and at peace. We were both trying to date other people and circling each other but then one day we were talking on the phone and I asked him what he wanted, and he was very straightforward and said “I want to be with you.” He was so clear. I felt my whole body relax and thought, “I want to be with you too”.’
Katherine took the bold step to leave her London life and move to a friend’s house in Poole, to see if a relationship with Bill could work.
She says: ‘I rented my London flat out, initially for six months as a trial. My London friends were sad to see me go but I think they’d seen it coming for a while. They also liked Bill and supported us making a go of it.
‘My family were happy that I was finally in a relationship with a nice man.
‘We took it slowly, living in the same town but I fully committed to my husband when I was 43 and allowed myself to fall in love. I married him in 2019, aged 48.’
Her journey inspired Katherine to write a book How to Fall in Love: 10-Step Journey to the Heart. ‘It’s about not just about finding a partner, but also falling in love with yourself – it’s about learning how to treat yourself with love and compassion.
‘It’s about gently coming out of denial and even though it feels impossible to stop, to slow down and start feeling and dealing with trauma from your past,’ she says. ‘If you don’t, you hit the wall, as I did, and it will hurt, you will burn out, you will break down, and then you will have nothing left to rebuild. And it will take a lot longer than if you had just slowed down a little bit. Or taken half a day off work to start building a healthier life.
‘It does take courage to start the journey but I’m glad I did. Transformation is possible. It requires courage, determination and the right kind of support, but it is possible.’
Katherine, now 53, lives happily by the sea with her husband and dog in Dorset. ‘I swim in the sea in the morning, walk the dog and work on my novel.
‘Later, I’ll coach other women who’ve hit a similar wall to me: women who are in or approaching midlife, who have fallen out of love with the high-flying careers that have kept them so busy that they haven’t had time to find a partner or have kids, and who are looking for someone to fall in love with.’
But, Katherine points out that self-love was key in her transformation.
‘My marriage has brought joy and healing but the most important part of my journey is the healthy relationship I have formed with myself and this is the message I take to others.
‘When we learn to truly love ourselves, value ourselves and take care of ourselves, everything else flows. Self-love and healthy self-esteem are the keys to a happy life.
‘I went on a journey of recovery and self-discovery and I transformed myself, from the inside out. I know it’s possible.’
Explore Katherine’s relationship coaching and midlife mentoring on her website.
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