Books were always my life, growing up. I knew I wanted to study literature at uni as soon as I learnt it was possible. It was all I ever wanted to do, read all day. Think about books and read about books and write about books. I was the spoddy one in a party city, earnestly working away.
When I left uni, I didn’t know what to do. A stint at a corporate mass recruitment centre left me certain that I was a not-for-profit girl. I looked for public sector work, and, oddly, I ended up in the sciences. Specifically, it was (and is) a specialist psychiatric research unit. I say oddly because I remember being stood outside reception before my interview and the shiny steel “genetic research” of the department’s name made me feel as though I was entering the real life ‘Gattaca’. I didn’t think I could work in such a place, but I needed a job and the three women who interviewed me were wonderful, so that was that.
School science had been rudimentary & binary. Multiple choice at best. People teaching who should have moved on. Now I learnt that real science is a passion for ideas, for exploration and questionning. That working on a question and finding you were wrong was still learning.
Here was compassion for people going through the hardest times of their lives and living with the stigma of poor mental health. Other people’s perceptions of that poor mental health. The damage that we do to each other. Real stories. And the researchers working to get the facts which will give others the power, hopefully, to help those in need.
There my colleagues worked out good ways to ask, to listen and gather information about people’s stories. So that we could hear our participants. Science and stories was not a combination I’d ever learnt before.
I left a couple of years ago, and honestly, the privilege of not thinking about severe mental health problems was a relief. But, the strangest thing happened. I missed the science. That doodle above was scrawled during an amazing talk about the hormonal and neurological links to obesity. I didn’t understand half of it, but enough and I loved the patterns, the desire to help people who are struggling. I missed the enquiry, the space to think about big questions.
Luckily for me, I can return to the white and chrome building, which is a little greyer round the edges now. I can read and am taught, reminded how to read data tables. And I can know my facts and my stats to try to make my small world a better place.