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  • Ellen O'Rourke

Isolation Lessons: 5

Lesson Five: Three words. (It's a long one. Sorry!)


I’ve spent my morning in floods of tears. Most likely hormones, but let’s pretend it’s existentialism for a minute. Work with me here.


Those of you who know me, understand that I am a control freak to the nth degree. I cannot sit still, I must plan. I must have a goal. I must always be one or ten steps ahead.

Rather selfishly, coronavirus has taken away each of the stepping stones I had meticulously curated over the past year. Summer placement in Euronews’ international newsroom? No chance. Wouldn’t risk it for a chocolate biscuit. A large stepping stone, placed to determine my dedication to journalism as a profession? Cancelled. No Lyon for you, Ellen. No summer spent strolling around a French city, glass of vino in one hand, a baguette in the other.


Graduation; a chance to say farewell to the last three years of blood, sweat and tears - cancelled. Our end of year piss-up awards ceremony? Postponed. Imagine social distancing, while being shit-faced on cheap red wine. It’s a rather comical thought.

In short, I had a plan. I had a fucking excellent plan. And now, I do not. I am plan-less.


This has completely thrown me; I haven’t been able to switch off for the past year. I’ve worked myself into a concoction of anxiety and an inability to stop. Stopping is a weakness. Do not look back, keep your eyes straight ahead. What’s the next thing you need to achieve?


What’s the lesson? It’s allowed me to breathe. I’ve stopped.


I’ve taken a step back, stopped churning out work for a fortnight, and scratched my (bald) head. It would seem that the past year, has in fact, not made me happy. It has filled my time, occupied me, but not brought me great joy. It’s turned me into one of those competitive assholes, who determines happiness by steps up on the almighty career ladder. I’ve fallen for the biggest facade of all; I genuinely believed that a career would fulfil me, sustain me. Working for the man, being a corporate dog, fetching and begging at his knees for the next opportunity, the next stepping stone.


Isolation gives you plenty of time to listen to your inner dialogue. And not just listen, but really hear. Now is the prime time to be a journalist; a global pandemic with stories popping up here, there and everywhere like whack-a-mole’s in a fairground. Human angles-galore. You’d think that I’d be rolling up my sleeves, grinning with glee, and simply, being a journalist. But I’ve refrained. I’ve opted out.


I’ve relished in this opportunity to simply, not be a journalist.

I believe I’ve forgotten how to be ‘Ellen’. When asked to sum up myself in three words, I’d say: “A journalist.” That’s all I’ve got. I’m lacking in words. Which is pretty rich, considering.


This existential acceptance that I do not like what I have become has caused some significant tremors. It’s asked me to rethink myself, my actions, the choices I have made. I do not wish to wind up alone in forty years time, having covered great conflicts or reported on political uprisings and that being my greatest achievement. Yes, I got the story. The story that will be buried by tomorrow morning’s papers. Yes, it’s crucial to bear witness, but to what? Humanities’ inability to learn? There is more to life than delivering the words and political messages of privileged people.


After covering multiple political rallies late last year, interviewing and filming the UK’s three party leaders, I felt underwhelmed. Journalism has become an adrenaline rush for me, I’m a journalism junkie, if you will. I got that hit, but then I craved more. Prime Minister interviewed, but what’s next? Trump? ISIS leaders? When is it going to be enough?


I realised that I needed to evaluate my life choices when I began to envy Marie Colvin. I relate to her heavily; endometriosis, a challenging father-daughter relationship, an intense desire to be the best. I envied her for her life experiences. Life experiences, that taught her no boundaries. Experiences that lead to her death in Syria in 2012. She was bombed for getting to the story. For bearing witness. When is enough going to be enough for me? She died, alone, with no next of kin. She was an alcoholic. She smoked like a chimney. She suffered with severe PTSD. Journalism was the death of her because she couldn’t walk away.


I think that this is my first step, walking away. Before I fully submerge myself into being a journalist, I need to understand who I am on my own. I need to find my three words.


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