Friday 24 January 2020

'I had to take a step back, and take stock' - Mary Kennedy on maintaining her mental health

Karl Henry with this week's guest, Mary Kennedy
Karl Henry with this week's guest, Mary Kennedy
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

It's easy to confuse being out-the-door-busy with success.

Frenetic busyness is addictive but can often lead to stress, anxiety, and burn out.

That's something broadcaster Mary Kennedy knows all about.

In 2017, she felt she was heading towards burnout. So she took a step back and slowed down to reevaluate her work/ life balance.

"In the summer in 2017 I wasn't sleeping and I had shortness of breath and palpitations and I phoned my GP, and he said 'Are you stressed?' and I said "I don't think so"... [but] It hit me when I was listening to Ryan Tubridy and there was a 28 year old [talking about anxiety and burnout] ... [she was] describing my symptons. And I thought "Hang on here".'

Mary decided to cut back on work commitments, and reduced the amount of time she was spending on her phone.

"I learnt to take stock," she told Karl Henry on the Real Health Podcast. "I think it's all very fine to say 'I am a very high powered job and I am happy to stay in until 11 o'clock at night'. That's very impressive if you are charging up a career ladder but you pay for it. I really think you pay for it."

Mary believes being 'cash rich and time poor' is the worst case of scenario. She has huge respect for people who not only want to pay the mortgage, go on holiday, and pay for their children to go to art classes and ballet classes but place a priority on taking their children to said art and ballet classes.

"How many people have you met who are well known, wealthy and coming to the end of their careers and saying that they weren't there for the children?" she said.

"It's just so sad because at the end of the day life is about relationships, it's about connecting with people, the way you spend your time with people. It's not about racing to a meeting at 7am."

She acknowledges that this can be hard to accept because we live in a society where we are impressed by achievements and perceived career progression.

Mary may be in a reflective stage as she retired from RTE this month after forty years on air.

Originally from Clondalkin, she worked as a secondary school teacher before applying to work as a continuity announcer.

"I sent off an application thinking I wouldn't get a reply. At the time there was a belief that you had to know someone in RTE to work there, I didn't even know where RTE was."

After a career break following the birth of her third child, Mary returned to broadcasting. She realised she wanted to work exclusively in broadcasting when the opportunity to present the Eurovision rolled round.

"I had been a fan of the Eurovision since Dana had competed, we watched it as a family. In 1981 I was an understudy to present. Then it came back in 1993, and I auditioned and didn't get it. And in 1994 I auditioned and didn't get it. And then in 1995 I think they felt sorry for me."

Over the years she has fronted a range of programmes and special broadcasts such as Open House, and Nationwide. And soon she will be sashaying across the dance floor as a contestant on Dancing with The Stars.

Kennedy did not want to step down but had to as she was an RTE staff member.

"I didn't really have a choice in it," she said. "I wouldn't have chosen to retire from Nationwide [because] I absolutely love Nationwide, I love the ethos of it, I love going around the country and meeting people.

"I even love the sense of anticipation of meeting someone new. I like the welcome Nationwide gets everywhere we go, our job is not to trick people into anything our job is to report on things going well for a community. It's a nice job to have."

While she will miss the day job, she is looking forward to a change in pace.

"Retirement doesn't scare me. I don't mind change," she told Karl Henry.

"I don't stress much now," she added. "I don't have a 40 year pension [because she only became staff fifteen years ago]. And people say 'Oh god!' but I was brought up in Clondalkin and we never had much money so I don't stress about that."

She also recently became a grandmother to eight month old Paddy and wants to spend more time with her family.

"I have a grandson now and my priorities have changed... it puts everything in perspective."

Kennedy is a big advocate of talking about mental health and has been attending counselling for several years.

"Mental wellbeing is as important as physical wellbeing... Thankfully people are talking about it more. I go counselling once a month. I started at a point of turmoil but I continued and I go once a month and I find it so therapeutic.

"It is incredible the things you learn about yourself when you are not trying to deal with a crisis... When you explore your inner self and mental health you are able to have the confidence and courage to show vulnerability."

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