A Queen's Reign,  Blog,  Business,  Health

My #SSDGM Month: Working in TV Almost Killed Me

Once I decided I wanted to become a T.V. news producer, it made me feel so good to have a focus. I discovered my love of journalism in high school, but I knew I didn’t want to work for a newspaper. No one in the business had anything good to say about it and made it seem very un-glamorous. When I got to college and discovered T.V. news, I was hooked. It was fast-paced, glamorous (at least to me!) and seemed to fit my personality perfectly.

Getting my first job easily out of college solidified my decision to be a news producer. Being a journalist was very important to me. I was telling people what was going on in their backyards. It was a job and I took it very seriously. Quickly moving up the ranks to a bigger station and winning an Emmy (that’s right! I’m an Emmy award-winning news producer, baby!!!) were wonderful accolades, but came at a price: my mental health.

My Emmy!! For months I left it in the box. I didn’t want anyone touching it! I’m still kind of weird about it. LOL It now sits in my home office.

Problem #1 – Do It All, Do It Now

This problem is likely not T.V. news specific, but I’ve never experienced anything like it anywhere else, so I’m totally blaming it on T.V. news. We would have breaking news on any given day and it was typically when we were short staffed. It’s like the news gods just knew. So great, they expected me to now do the jobs of 10 other people and do it perfectly. Errors were unacceptable.

I was considered a website “super user” because this was back when we were still getting our feet wet posting news stories online. We’d only share about a third of what we covered in a day unlike now when you can basically find any story discussed on air. So while being responsible for an hour of producing T.V. news (and maybe even two hours as we may have been short staffed) and writing up the breaking news script with all the bells and whistles of swipes and bugs required with breaking news branded graphics, I was expected to update the website AND send out a breaking news email to our subscribers. All at the same time.

Without fail, I’d be working on one thing while being yelled at by my bosses for not doing the other two. Then when a misspelling or a comma was out of place, it was the end of the world and they questioned why I would make a mistake during such important breaking news.

Well, crap. I’m but one person. I’m sorry, how is that relevant was basically the feedback I was presented.

I’ve read all the articles on CareerBuilder, etc about how to talk to your bosses when you’re overwhelmed, overworked and under appreciated. I’d speak to them diplomatically after the tensions died down from the breaking news, maybe even the next day, and my concerns were met with blank stares. “What’s the problem? This is your job!” Hmmm, what about the other people sitting in the room? Can’t they assist me? “Well, she’s employed by corporate, so she’s not allowed to update our website …” or “They are working on a special project and can’t be disturbed …” or “some other load of crap that totally doesn’t make sense to any reasonable person …”

The pressure cooker environment with people who are all sleep deprived from working a crazy schedule, or were called in the middle of the night to cover news, or stay longer after an already exceptionally long day on a regular basis created a lot of tension. I never knew how to best manage it. I often spoke with colleagues who shared similar concerns with no real answers. We were all in the same place.

Problem #2 – Working with Assholes

To be fair, not all were assholes. In fact, many of my current friends are from my T.V. news days. But despite trying not to let the bastards get me down, one person in particular used to make my life miserable on a daily basis.

Every single day I would call my husband crying at the end of my shift over something he had said or done to me. The phone calls were to help me from falling asleep at the wheel after working from midnight to 8 a.m. but were always sob fests.

As a type-A person who felt confident in her news judgment and writing ability, it was difficult to be around a person who consistently belittled me. In truth, it wasn’t just me, but I took it the most personally because of previously stated reasons. This anchor was always ranting and raving about how badly the show was written, shocked by the stories we producers deemed important and never had a kind word to say about anything we did. It was a constant landmine of accusations.

My favorite example to share with people about how he minced every word we wrote and defiled us for being disingenuous with our audience is a simple sentence. We had covered a car accident and the last sentence of my script read:

“Police believe speed and alcohol were factors in the crash.”

Seems pretty straightforward right? WRONG, according to him. He came down from the set after the show absolutely livid. Said we needed to elevate our writing and be honest with our viewers and he was sick of our writing style and it was embarrassing him to read what we wrote on T.V. Then he called upon this script. We three producers (there were three on our morning show) stood there in shocked silence. Finally, the lead producer asked what was wrong with the script and specifically the sentence he pulled out.

When I wrote “speed” did I mean miles per hour or did I mean drugs? Our viewers can’t be expected to discern what we actually mean. Completely dumbfounded and desperate to prove my worth, I spoke up (which was later discovered to be a mistake). I said, “If I were talking about drugs, I would have called them by their real name – methamphetamines – not the street name ‘speed.'” Well, stand back and prepare for a lashing because it was absolutely inconceivable anyone would understand the difference or my logic.

I was shaking by the end of his tirade. I will never ever forget that day. I’ve never ever been spoken to the way he spoke to me. Afterward, the lead producer pulled me aside to say the anchor was completely out of line, my script was fine and my writing is fine and he planned to speak to our executive producer and news director about what happened because it was not okay. This wasn’t the first time and it wouldn’t be the last he spoke to us that way.

Recently, my daughter’s Girl Scout troop took a tour of my former T.V. station and I did my best to stay out of his eyesight. I didn’t want him to see me, I didn’t want to have to interact or make fake pleasantries. I am still – nearly a decade later – suffering from the ramifications of his asshole ways.

Working in T.V. Almost Killed Me

So, to recap, I’m working in an environment filled with pressure, assholes and sleep deprivation – including my own. Problem #3 being my body did NOT easily switch to sleeping during the day and working all night. I would collapse into bed and then wake up a couple of hours later. My body thought I was simply taking a nap. I tried just about every sleeping pill known to man and eventually, they all stopped working. I tried sleep masks and even took a sleep study to try and help correct my sleep problems.

Finally, I was diagnosed with depression and an anxiety disorder. Talk about freaking difficult. I’m trying to stay awake during the day to go to see mental health professionals, suffer the side effects of these crazy meds while I’m up working all night and trying to balance my brain when everything in my body feels like it’s facing mass rejection. IT. WAS. A. NIGHTMARE.

All of this was taking a toll on my marriage and I felt I could collapse under the weight of it all.

That’s when my doctor told me, quite candidly, I needed to quit my job. She stared so seriously into my eyes, I burst into tears and told her I couldn’t. Being a journalist meant everything to me and I just needed to get through this and everything would be right again. She wasn’t convinced and wasn’t letting me leave her office until something changed. So I offered a compromise – I would take time off work to get my mental health in check and then resume my job. She agreed if my employer would allow me, it was an important step in my health.

It was so hard taking the time off. I was so ashamed. Only two people knew aside from my co-workers. But I felt so good being out of that environment. I had to seek talk therapy during my FMLA time in order to receive my full pay, but it was worth it. I was feeling stronger and more confident, but as time crept closer to go back to work, my anxiety flared. I only had six months left in my contract. I knew I could survive it and then leave the business.

One week after I returned to work, human resources told me my job was being eliminated and then my horrible boss said, “Given your recent mental health issues, and how this job contributed, we assume this is what you want.” I was stunned. How did she know that? Then she turned over the weekly reports my therapist submitted to keep up with my FLMA. She wrote everything I said in those sessions. It was a grave breach of confidence and privacy. All she had to do was write I was being seen for depression and anxiety and the date and time. I was livid. But this is a whole separate story for another day…

So, despite the end of my T.V. career not happening on my terms, it was a huge blessing. Sometimes I really miss it. I miss the fast-paced energy and working with people who understand deadlines are serious. That was the biggest shock when I transitioned to other jobs, people just acted like deadlines were mere suggestions. It absolutely boggled my brain! There’s a reason the word “DEAD” is in there. If you miss it, you die.

In the end, I realize all things do happen for a reason and while I’m so grateful for the time, (positive) experiences – there were a few – and friendships made during that period of my life, I’m in a much better place now. The place I was meant to be.