Loss, career meltdown, ageism

For mental Health Awareness Week Bloom’s Karen Karter on how “I survived the most vicious pile-on of my life.”

Karen Carter

COO Bloom UK


In 2019, I lost my mother quite suddenly. I’ve previously written about the mental health impact of such a loss. It’s different for everyone, but in my case, I lost one of my ‘board of directors’ - you know, those people who are there at your side throughout your career (and life) journey. They’re the ones you go to time and again when you want the really good advice - the ‘no bullshit, tell it like it is’ sort of stuff). They help you course-correct and figure out the right direction, and for me, Dr. Fran was always on the top of my list. 

In the midst of dealing with my grief, I had what can only be described as an epic work failure. That’s a story for another day, but within months of her death, I was suddenly out of the job I thought was my ‘one and done’ - that epic gig that you would smash so hard that you never had to work again, unless you really wanted to. 

Suddenly I was sat at home, missing one of my critical ‘go-tos’ and thrust into this no-man’s-land of figuring out how the f*** I was supposed to pay the bills. 

Sprinkle in the magic that is peri-menopause and I was in a heady mix of panic attacks, mood swings and, at times, full-on suicidal depression. At the risk of sounding like Ted Lasso’s Roy Kent (who is my spirit animal), thank F*** for HRT, as that helped keep me from jumping in front of an oncoming train. But I was still left with this incredible hole, where loss meets not having the one thing that for almost 30 years gave me an anchor: my gig, job, career, a reason to get out of bed. 

I was left with this incredible hole, where loss meets not having the one thing that for almost 30 years gave me an anchor: my gig, job, career, a reason to get out of bed.

Karen Carter, COO, Bloom UK

I know, I know, there are people with far more to worry about. But when you’re in the middle of the chaos, you can’t see any light. My husband, friends, family, in most cases, have no idea how dark it got and the loneliness within that dark place was vast. My Mum was a psychotherapist, and I knew that’s what I needed, but then the pandemic hit and I wasn’t one for therapy via Zoom. I’m my father’s daughter - that means you just get on with it. 

And I tried. Not gonna lie, some self-medication ruled the day. When my neighbour gave me that look as I dumped more empty wine bottles into the recycling than one person should on a given day, I realised I needed to get myself together.

So here I was, someone with 25+ years of marketing experience, looking the big 5-0 in the rearview mirror and going up against people ten years my junior for senior gigs. I saw lists of expectations that included ‘must be under 40’ and had more than my share of knowing glances when a tech founder clocked that maybe I wasn’t 35. Being ghosted by recruiters or just not getting the role after hours and hours of prep was soul-crushing, and the wear and tear on my mental health almost led me to check in somewhere to get my head on straight. 

Empathy and kindness are what got me through and gave me the help I needed to forge on

Karen Carter, COO, Bloom UK

It took over a year and I’m lucky that I had the resources to get through that time financially. I have an incredible support group of incredible friends and found people with similar challenges via organisations like Bloom. Empathy and kindness are what got me through and gave me the help I needed to forge on, eventually leading me to a business that, through my entire interview journey, never made me feel like my age was an issue. 

So what’s the point of this musing? I’m not done figuring it all out. In fact, in many ways I still haven’t dealt with my grief and anger. But I’ve learned a couple of things that I hope could help others who might be struggling with a vicious pile-on of situations all colliding at the same time.

At the top of this list, and I try to live this as best I can (I’m not perfect by any means) but it’s particularly front of mind this week: be kind, start with empathy - you have NO idea what ANYONE is going through. The best ‘fake it till you make it’ humans could be hiding the worst of issues. Don’t assume malice of intent and cancel someone for the simple act of perhaps not communicating in the way you thought they should. If I’ve learned anything in the past three years, it’s that.

I hope, as we all continue to find our way out of the pandemic and anything else that has smacked you upside your head, that you have people around ready to catch you - that you can find your way out of the darkness, either with a mental health professional, a coach, family or friends - and that you start from kindness. You never know when it will change someone’s day or even their life. 

The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness week is loneliness so I don’t want to forget to add the other big learning. Through all of this, while I felt as alone as I could ever feel, and sometimes still do, I’m reminded that I am not. If you don’t have a tribe, there are incredible services that will lend an ear (Mind, NABS to name just two). And if you sense someone might need that ear, take a moment and ask...It could change someone’s life. 

Guest Author

Karen Carter

COO Bloom UK


Karen is a lifelong marketer, Bloom COO, sometimes blogger, dog lover and confirmed extrovert.

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Mental Health