When deciding how to write this post I came across a few harsh realities.
I found I battled between what I thought I should say versus the nitty-gritty truth of the matter.
You see, across my life I have prided myself on my ability to persist through storms and never back away from a challenge, be it in academia, sport, running events, recovering from a life threatening illness or running 12miles in charity obstacle course races.
This girl does not like quitting Ok.
And why should i throw in the towel?
On board I was great at what I did, I loved my team, the kids, the families, all gave me so much joy.
I had plans to further train to be Assistant Youth Director meaning I would’ve secured myself another contract on a ship after this one.
Believe me when I say boarding that plane from Curacao was filled with bitter sweet emotions.
So why the hell did I choose to fly home?
Endless pictures posted showing sandy beaches, crystal blue seas, sunny skies, nights out dancing underneath the stars, were all posted alongside the cringe hashtag #LivingMyBestLife.
And to some extent yes.
I was fully catered for, the gyms a few floors above, my time off can be spent outside in the sun (should I choose not to rest before my shift) and I have the fun job of running activities for kids; pirate parties, rock star nights, adorable 2-5 year olds waddling with balloons between their legs pretending to be Penguins.
What’s there to complain about?
Reality vs Social Media
Firstly, let me reiterate that social media is a highlight reel.
Yes, I had a lot of fun on board, I worked bloody hard, but I also partied hard, ate pizza hard, gymmed hard….
It was a full on and intense lifestyle and one that when I stood back and looked at things like the quality of my “time off”, how the increasing levels of exhaustion and hours of work on less than minimum wage were impacting my health things didn’t seem to match up.
Despite only one month into my second contract being lucky enough to be nominated for Team Member of the Month for the Youth Department, and with guest comments (known as TGMs) nearly every cruise mentioning how much they valued me in the Camp Ocean team, I remained feeling so unfulfilled.
Social media posts became more a way to convince myself this was me “living my best life” but in private my mood said otherwise.
But you got to travel?
Yes & No.
I did see some beautiful ports & explored parts of the world I would never have dreamed of visiting…mainly because I didn’t know they existed before I took this job…. and did some super cool excursions, again, none of which I would’ve dreamt of doing before getting this job.
I consider myself very lucky and 100% would recommend that everyone tries cruising at some point, either as guest or staff.
But as a worker you are working remember, and you don’t have the time or money to do super cool explorer expeditions every time.
Some times you won’t get off the ship for days.
Grabbing a couple of hours on a beach every other cruise, or hunting down the restaurant with free WiFi (and good food) so you can to tell your parents you’re still alive (no mother we have’t hit any icebergs yet we are in fact in the Caribbean) is not really travelling.
But What About Your Days Off?
Exsqueese me? Is it April fools day already?
Unless you are part of the the all singing dancing playlist, a musician, or comedian on board you have no days off.
Every day for the entire contract, that can last anywhere between 2-9 months, you work anywhere between 6-10 hours, I sometimes clocked up a day at 11 hours.
You can begin to see why workers like to drink and party…
With me I was also using “rest hours” to use the gym, my favourite de-stressor. I also would go to staff functions, see shows, call home, do washing…. the days get long.
Some lucky duckies do “win” 24 hours off in the team member awards, but even then I’ve heard some departments don’t let their staff cash those in….
There posed the question, do I really want to work somewhere were I have to prove myself worthy of time off? Even when hours off are scheduled off you have to decide whether socialising is worth risking the next shift being one you push yourself through fatigued.
Excelling in Work but Exhausted
Behind the scenes sleepless nights and low mood built up.
It got to the point where exhaustion took over.
Popping sleeping pills time and time again to get off to sleep, sometimes after drinking which I learnt quickly isn’t a good mix.
Sometimes they wouldn’t even work and I’d lie there until my alarm buzzed in some drowsy in-between doze.
Sleep deprivation increases anxiety & low mood anyway. Have this happen over and over again and it can screw with your mood in big ways.
But I would never let any of this show!
Partly out of fear because I didn’t think anyone would understand, and also professionalism, I didn’t want people to think this was an attention thing, that I was incompetent or weak.
I’ve had poor health in the past and bounced back.
I’d just tell myself to Get up.
Name tag on.
Put on that fresh face & bubbly smile & get back to it.
Once you leave the cabin you’re on show.
There’s no room for a bad day.
It was when I had an episode of panic attacks; something I’ve never experienced, scary enough let alone on a ship in the middle of the ocean miles away from family and friends, that I decided to take a step back.
Being Honest With Myself
Is this where I want to be? Is this helping me in anyway?
Back in August, when I flew out, I had made the decision to work instead of look at treatment for some health matters I needed sorted.
It was when the depression hit, and panic attacks set in, on the ship that I realised how foolish I had been to try and “outrun” problems.
At the time the idea of being stupidly busy every day of the week seemed like a great avoidance plan.
So silly an hypercritical I know, especially as I spend so much time helping others overcome similar issues. I am guilty as charged of prioritising everyone else’s needs over my own.
Time to step back and be honest.
What would I advice someone else in my position? Go see the Dr and your Manager, tell them what’s happening. Take a chill pill, decide where it is you want to be, here or home.
Is working on ships where I am going to be long term? Probably not unless they start recruiting Psychologists on board, up my pay and give me weekends off (and a single cabin with a port hole #CabinGoals)
Is this environment going to help me recover?
Achieving My Goals and Moving Forward
Knowing that “Camp Staff” isn’t my final career destination I still didn’t want to go in empty minded.
So on flying out August I had also written down a little list of what I wanted to achieve.
At the bottom of the list I had simply written:
Sickeningly cheesy I know right?!?
A friend to everyone, bending over backwards for guests (even when some showed little to no appreciation), positive comment cards, awards and many more cherished memories I have made over 7 months spent on 3 different ships this year.
I can proudly tick that goal off as 100% achieved.
I had the most amazing team on board who were so good about the whole situation. From the moment I disclosed to the team what was going on behind closed doors the transition from getting me off the ship, through immigration, and a really long but easy journey home, was incredible.
Now back I’ll be honest with you, days of “nothingness” terrify me.
But if life has taught me anything it is that we live in seasons.
Seasons of growth
Seasons of productivity
Seasons of rest and recuperation
Seasons of giving
Seasons of exploring
On coming home my mood has been low, & my IBS flared up big time, but I take comfort in knowing that this is just another season; this too will pass.
As hard as I find taking time to sit and focus on myself this may open up new doors I hadn’t even considered before.
There is no shame in trying, and no shame in admitting that something just wasn’t as good as you thought it was gonna be, especially if it impacts on your health.
Once A Mermaid, Always A Mermaid
I have had the most amazing time this year on ships.
I’ve accomplished everything I wanted and so much more.
My job on board was my life and my energy source.
My team incredible.
I’ve made cherished friendships, left footprints in the sand, jumped from waterfalls, danced under the stars, drank too many GnTs, had cocktails with the captain and been rocked to sleep by the ocean waves.
Nothing will ever compare to a sunset at sea; seeing the distant lights of far off tropical islands appear in the distance.
I love ships.
I love being at sea, and it has taken a whole new type of strength to walk away and start afresh.
Never say never again.
For now it’s goodbye but I will “sea” you later.