Or is it Dear Industry? Dear Business? Probably all of the above.
It’s me Amy Miranda. You may remember me from the integrated work I’ve produced over the last 20 years for brands from Red Bull to Pee-wee Herman, the awards I racked up, OR from hearing about my breakdown through the game of broken telephone that is this business.
I started my career in a newsroom. I couldn’t get out of school fast enough. When I lost my best friend Erin of 17 years in a car accident two days before my 19th birthday (only a year after I’d almost died in a car accident of my own) it was like a switch flipped inside of me. The only path forward was “success”.
It translated to the idea that I was living life for us both now. I’d gotten sober for the first time in my life after my own car accident, otherwise I’m sure I’d have overdosed when she died. The best way I knew how to make it count and make her proud of me was to work. It wasn’t therapy, or figuring out what had happened to me. It never occurred to me to dig any deeper on why I’d felt so awful for as long as I could remember. It was pure work. I was mainlining it. I set my sights on making something of myself which meant working myself to the bone.
I was sure this would heal my heart and my obvious defectiveness without me having to cry on some therapist’s couch or talk about it to anyone. Work: the antidote to feeling.
Starting my career in a 24/7 cable news channel set the tone for what I thought was expected of me. In a few weeks from the day I walked in, I sat at my desk watching live feeds of the horror at Columbine. Adding a sprinkle on top of my soon to be 7 layer trauma burrito.
I was running on fuel of unprocessed grief and now returning to Toronto from Atlanta I had a new nauseous feeling that just didn’t seem to go away. My solution was falling off the wagon. Hard. When I was working, I was like an automaton. Work, get wasted, go home, repeat. I worked on the bleeding edge of streaming media. Then for an entertainment conglomerate managing IT and online technology when I was barely 22 years old. Somehow I managed to survive the dotcom deadpool of the early 2000s. We all thought we were going to make a million dollars on stocks of the companies we worked for. Instead I got laid off 3 times in a row because the people who did have millions of dollars were just spending it. Suddenly we weren’t getting paid. I was already exhausted and rejected by the time I was 26. None of that seemed to break me though.
It was you, Advertising. It was you who finally brought me to my knees. The industry known for its excess. A place where the measure of people’s worth is efficiency, and utilization rates. How much can they do? How fast can they do it? The industry that mastered pushing people to work harder, faster and more often in order to squeeze already huge margins for even bigger profit. Advertising is like so many industries.
It’s unforgiving, no matter what you do or how much energy you give it, it’s never enough. There’s always someone better, younger, smarter or healthier — waiting. Waiting for your job. Waiting for the next brief, the next pitch, the next thing that keeps all of us working late again and again. The “emergency” deadlines never end. Eventually, no matter how healthy you are to start it makes you doubt your worth, and yourself. Wellness was a joke in the hallways. It was what made people weak. We talked in hush tones about the people on leaves of absence. We never talked about the drugs, the alcohol, or the food. The way companies brought services like meal prep, gyms and yoga classes to our office masqueraded as gifts. All because none of us had any free time. All we did was work.
This approach isn’t working. It’s not making better work, nor is it making work better.
It’s killing us. In the end it was a breakthrough not a breakdown and I survived it. I have to thank the pressure cookers I worked in for the gifts they’ve brought to me. In those places where I joined others, (or started the wave) as we looked down our noses at colleagues who had the AUDACITY to leave the office at 6pm to go spend time with their families. How dare they enjoy a life outside of this creative nirvana with free snacks? We were trained to see that as not being committed to the culture.
The breakthrough piece: advertising was the place where I finally recognized that something inside me felt terribly wrong. Maybe it was being measured by efficiency? Maybe it was the time sheets? Maybe it was being rewarded for putting the business before myself? Maybe it was being told to have less integrity and work the politics more? It was the place where I’d achieved more abundance, success, and awards than ever before. Yet, no matter how hard I worked, how many awards I won, how much I drank, how much money I made, how much I socialized I couldn’t stop feeling like I wanted to die. I felt defective and I was so afraid people might see it that I shut anyone out who may point it out. I didn’t even know who I was anymore. I was a walking ego holding a resume. My trauma had finally caught up to me. Finally I was paying for the fact that I hadn’t done the work on figuring out why I felt so terrible all the time. I didn’t know I could leave a situation that was hurting me. I didn’t know how to protect myself. Instead of recognizing that I could leave, it unravelled in front of me and I was ousted from my job like a pariah.
I knew something was wrong that morning. I felt it in my bones. I wasn’t listening to my intuition then. If I had, I’d have followed my lawyer’s advice and gotten out of there.
If I’d known what conversations had happened that weekend I wouldn’t have even gone into the office. I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop in my life and now it had and everyone watched it (and me) fall.
They didn’t even fire me at the office. I just sat frozen as they listed their criticisms and accusations. When my boss stood up from his desk, it felt like I was being given away. Like a prized overachieving child being shuffled out because she’d broken down. Burned out.
As he walked me down the long hall to HR, he mumbled something like, “You’re so stupid”.
It may as well have been the voice of my father. When I was dropped off, the drone of the HR Lady’s Charlie Brown teacher voice took over. She was telling me they were going to look into something, my poor judgement, my bla bla, blah blah blah. My ears were ringing. When I walked out with whatever it was she had handed me I could still taste the metal of shock. I was shaking. I called the closest person to me at that moment. My boyfriend who worked in another office in a city across the country.
When all you do is work, where else are you going to meet people?
He answered on the first ring.
“I just got walked out” I said as the heat burned in my throat from holding back tears, holding my breath.
“I know”. He said
The air left my body like I’d taken a punch. They hadn’t chosen me and he hadn’t chosen me either. He told me they’d called to tell him on the weekend. He knew I was going to be hit for days and he didn’t even bother to warn me so I could brace for impact.
I was alone in the parking lot and trying not to fall apart in view of my old office.
Their office, it was never mine.
In the hours and days that followed more people jumped off of my ship. People blocked me, deleted me on facebook, told me they couldn’t be friends with me anymore. I tried my best to do damage control to smooth out the edges, the truth. That I was having a breakdown. I couldn’t admit it. No one could know. So, I just kept going paddling down the river of denial.
It took weeks for them to finally get in touch and tell me that they wanted to meet with me. In those two weeks they’d already hung me from the rafters. It didn’t matter what the truth was, or what happened. It was me and a big corporation. I didn’t matter.
Here’s the thing, some people take a leave of absence, some people get fired, some people get packaged out. This isn’t unique to advertising or media, business is like this. It happens all the time. Worse, it’s as if somewhere along the way working for a corporation became a license to be an asshole and treat people like shit under the guise of it being for “business”. I know because I tried it for years. The results are bad. The idea that industry can take what it needs from people and leave them when they break down is systemic.
It’s not them, it’s you.
When I finally heard from the company, they gave me a date for a morning meeting at a hotel. Having grown up with a father who worked at an International hotel chain this felt somehow normal. That this is how it would be done. It didn’t occur to me that this was strange, but odds are they didn’t want me back in the building.
I called my lawyer who’d by now become my friend. I asked him if he would go with me to the hotel.
“I’m not coming to watch you get fired”. He said.
Fair enough. I went alone, which was cheaper.
As I walked over to the hotel where I’d only ever been because of it’s swanky bar I spotted their Henchman and the lady with the Charlie Brown teacher voice from HR. They were just finishing their continental breakfasts. As I arrived they looked up and casually asked me If I wanted anything?
I thought of the horror and humor of me saying “Yes please!” and imagined myself ordering breakfast and wondered if they’d sit there while I ate it? who’d pay? Would they have left? Or one last meal together?
I told them I was fine, thank you. I waited for them to continue. They handed me another envelope. This time I knew it was my walking papers. It was over. The whole thing took 30 seconds. For the record, I got nothing. Not from them, not from anyone else.
I walked home by myself, and this time I called someone better than my boyfriend. My lawyer. He told me to come by with the documents, so I did.
I didn’t have any other safe place to land then. I realized my whole life I’d been acting like I was going to be given some kind of medal for productivity, for how much I could do, how fast I could do it, how much I could juggle, and how much the people who worked for me could do. When I did get awards for my work, it didn’t matter. I was running on fumes of any validation I could glean. It had been like this ever since I could remember. I made a character out of it, and anyone who might be able to see through that I treated them how I felt. Like trash. I intimidated people to keep me safe. It felt like people could see what was going on inside of me. Even though I couldn’t.
One day the mask I’d been wearing my whole life, the one that hid the suicidal thoughts, the nausea, the fear, and the anxiety, finally fell off. I was at lunch with my Mum and she asked me how I was. I didn’t even get an answer out because I realized I was pretty fucking far from okay. I was in crisis. I was suicidal and I couldn’t keep the mask on for one more second, like part of me was suffocating. No wonder I felt so sick for so long. For maybe the first time in my life my Mum saw me. The real me. The concern in her eye, the recognition of the pain. My mask had shattered, finally.
“Oh No” She paused and leaned in “what is going on?”
I was like a caged animal and I leaned away at double the speed she’d moved toward me.
“I have to go” I said, standing up and already tucking in the chair from our in progress meal.
I’d been controlling how much people saw for so long it was usually easy for me to pretend nothing happened. This time she stood and started after me saying she was going to follow me home. She stood torn between the obligation of the unsettled bill. She was worried. I brushed her off and told her I was fine but I knew there was no escaping. She had seen. I couldn’t smooth out these edges.
As I drove home I thought about driving off of the overpass. I’m happy to tell you that was the last time I thought about taking my own life.
When I got home, my Mum was already calling. I finally admitted I needed some help. I knew I probably had depression. I knew I probably had anxiety. I knew that I probably needed medication. It was clear I coudn’t fuel myself off of work. I couldn’t pretend everything was fine. Everything was so far from fine and now everyone knew it. Advertising is a sewing circle and although most people didn’t know me personally, or know anything about my story I was ejected. People I thought were my friends abandoned me. All the hours and energy I’d put into companies as if they were going to love me back were gone. The promised glamour, travel, and notoriety of winning and working on big accounts didn’t matter. It was all gone.
I took another job at another company, this time one where I felt comfortable being honest. When I did my new boss shared with me that he was also on antidepressants. It felt safe enough. I knew I couldn’t work for anyone again who didn’t understand that wellness and mental health are integral to good work. I also wanted to work for someone who knew what I had already survived so I could feel safe instead of afraid.
That person turned out to be me. I founded Lunch in 2009. It was in the middle of a recession. I was coming out of a breakdown and I already told you what advertising thought of me. I had nothing to lose. I’d already lost everything. I got a line of credit. I quit my six figure job. I asked my people, creative people, to help me to create a place where we could make things in an environment where it was safe to be ourselves. Artists know how to do that. A place where we could admit when we were struggling and be honest about our lives instead so we could do better work. With their help I rebuilt my life. The last company I left became my first client. You know how people talk about being carried when they were too weak to walk on their own?
That’s what Lunch has been for me. Every single person I have collaborated with contributed to me rebuilding myself. Finally it was at Lunch that I felt safe enough to figure out why I’d felt so sick, and so afraid ever since I could remember. Although I was on medication and although I’d been diagnosed with depression all that had done was make enough room for me to unpack the backpack of shame I’d been carrying around my whole life. Inside of me was a nightmare. I’d always felt like a chapter had been ripped out of the book of my life, there were things that didn’t make sense, things I couldn’t quite remember. It was 2 years into Lunch I finally got that chapter back, at 33 years old.
The missing chapter was this: I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse by my father. I got diagnosed with PTSD. I confronted him and I went to the police. He was charged and there is a Canada-wide warrant for his arrest for what he did to me. He still lives in Atlanta. I don’t expect him to face justice, when he couldn’t even face me. The best part of my career hasn’t been the awards or success. It was starting a healing practice to work with other survivors of trauma like me. I kept making things but something about business as usual felt strange. I have always loved making magic and the energy of creativity, but producing work after so many years without acknowledging what happened felt weird, but some creative things need to incubate, so I left it there.
I set down most of my production and creative work for Lunch and I decided to take a break. That was 2020. I knew part of the next step was sharing my story to try to help others to understand they aren’t alone, and to demystify the mystical. My goal became helping people recognize that wellness and healing work isn’t woo-woo. It’s you-you. Woo-woo is a shitty 80’s term anyway and let’s be honest, the 80s was not known for it’s good judgement about anything. Here’s the thing about mental health, it impacts everything.
I’ve learned myself, both as a person and a business owner, that maintenance is better than breakdowns. I’ve learned how to fuel not only myself but creatives, clients, brands and businesses. It finally hit me during COVID as Lunch turned 12. I thought about everything I’ve made over the last 23 years, and the best things were at Lunch. The best things were there and it was because of our culture. I know how to light people up. I’ve been doing it my whole career. I finally realized it’s time to apply what I’ve applied to Lunch to the industry and business that gave me the gift of breakthrough.
I know how many people were on leave because of mental health issues at every single creative company I have worked at. I know how many people struggle. I know you struggle sometimes. I struggled too. I know how hard it is to keep cranking out good ideas, and how competitive it is. I remember how many people used to come into my office to tell me about how they were feeling, or to get energized and re-energized about their creative work. I’ve helped build careers of internationally renowned artists and helped them stay productive in their creativity. I’ve held standing room only events called Inter-action for years where people came to get inspired and meet like-minded communities.
Community is how I got well. Creativity is how I got well.
It finally hit me that I can be of service in the same way we’ve been to the industry for 12 years. I answered the call with Lunch because I knew the industry needed someone they could trust and call with a loot bag full of magic. Someone who could pull rabbits out of hats to make it happen, and to make better production. I’m answering the call again, this time it’s for making better people. We’ve always been the healthy alternative in this industry, that’s not changing. It’s still as easy as ordering Lunch. This time, you don’t have to tell me what you want to make. You just have to tell me when you stopped enjoying it.
It’s about bringing what I’ve learned not only in my career but in my life to reignite the passion of creating and doing it in balance — on the back of a pandemic. Workplace anxiety is real, burnout is real. Breakdowns are real, so why aren’t we investing in maintenance?
What is ignoring mental health in business really costing us?
The answer is: everything.
I’m here, and I got you.