Neroli Jones*, a former corporate slave turned wellness facilitator, describes the journey to her reinvention and how she’s helping others who’ve hit the wall do the same.
I call this my paradigm switch – the story of a reformed corporate slave. I liken it to being a battery hen in a cage forced to lay eggs.
That was what it felt like to be a senior executive in one of the world’s largest media organisations.
Everything about me looked great on paper. I had an amazing job, earned a ridiculous salary, and there was a tall, clever Englishman by my side.
I lived in my absolute waterfront apartment on Sydney’s lower north shore, with a weekender we rented at Newport beach and a small yacht moored in Clareville to cruise around Pittwater on the weekend.
It sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? The truth is, it wasn’t. My job sucked the life out of me and as I grew more and more stressed. I grew more and more unwell.
My job was toxic, but here was the thing I told no one – so was my relationship.
My health declined to such a state that I was struggling just to get through a work day. I was beyond exhausted and just never felt well.
I got every virus going, I went up two dress sizes and I began to react to the most common of foods – a salad for lunch would send me into a food coma where it would be all I could do to stay awake at my desk while my body swelled up and exhaustion overtook me.
Of course I sought help. I saw GP’s and I had every blood test and basically I was told I was stressed. Well no shit. But surely lettuce shouldn’t induce a full body immune response?!
Finally, realising I had to try something radically different, I sent a heartfelt plea out on Facebook to see if anyone could recommend a brilliant naturopath or natural therapist. They could, and I began to get answers. The traditional medicine route had failed me dismally.
And from there I began to get better. My naturopath worked together with an awesome GP and I had every test they could think of and a chart began to emerge.
Classic executive burnout – adrenal collapse, underactive thyroid, immune system overload and the list goes on. And as I got better, I felt strong enough to start making some changes …
I knew I needed to be kind to myself, so I decided to start with the worst area – my job. f I could reduce the stress of my working life, perhaps my relationship may even improve too!
We’d been talking for some time about taking a sabbatical and doing a huge outback trip while we were still young and fit enough to do the 4WD adventure trip we really wanted to do. So it was that we started to plan making a reality.
In June 2012, with utter relief, I left my job, and we set off on our outback adventure; up along the coast in our rugged off-road glamper “The Taj” we travelled north.
We didn’t have a set plan as such. We decided at each place we stayed where we were heading to stay next, with a general charter of reaching Cape York, at the northern-most part of our continent, falling down the Cape, traipsing through the NT and into the Kimberly, the Pilbara, through the Centre to Uluru, across the deserts to Coober Pedy and then home somehow depending on the weather and how long it would take us to complete that part.
We wanted to be home to celebrate Christmas with our family was the only timeline we were working toward.
We had some key places we wanted to visit – The Daintree, Cooktown, Kakadu, Litchfield, The Kimberly, Broome, Cape Levique, Ningaloo Reef, Yulara, Uluru, Karijini and Coober Pedy were all on the list, along with many others. And everywhere we went, we’d meet other intrepid travellers who’d tell us of this awesome place they’d just been and we’d go there too.
Every day I hiked in gorges and swam in pristine springs, creeks, pools and waterfalls, saw the sun rise and set and enjoyed the nature and rhythm of the days.
There were many challenges, of course. In all, we did 27,000km around this amazing island continent and, while we saw crocs, snakes, had dingoes in the tent and all manner of things, the most challenging thing was the insects … ants, bees, flies, march flies, mosquitoes, midges, sand flies … swarms of them everywhere.
Cooking late at night wearing a headlamp in the middle of the desert was like sending out a beacon to every huge flying cricket to kamikaze right into my face and drop into the frying pan. Give me a snake any day!
Being out in the elements just took planning – lots of it. But the stars! The seas! The land! A storm in the Pilbara! The wildlife!
I grew strong and fit, brown and toned, and I felt amazing. I felt so at one with the natural wonders I was privileged to absorb every single day and my spirit soared. As it did, I could not ignore the truth about my relationship any longer.
We kept lurching in that pattern from a blow out to a quiet interlude and began to see it for what it was. Being happy is very different to being relieved in the spaces between. And being afraid in the bad times was not okay.
There were incidents on that trip that cleared my vision and because my heart was as open as the beautiful open spaces we were traversing, I was able to put all the difficult stuff in a box labelled later.
I wanted to finish the trip and I would deal with it then. I was strong, I was clear, I was focused and I was free!
Funnily enough, I began to think we might just make it as we drove into Sydney, but that romantic notion was quickly quashed and finally we moved home, 12 months after starting our trek. Within three weeks he was gone.
I was joyous! I’d done the trip of a lifetime and I was home with my family, where my roots were. I was strong and I was really happy.
You see, being as one with the spirit of my country, the privilege of seeing and experiencing so much grandeur and my resilience during the challenges; truly understanding how expansive and how unique and diverse our land and people are, I fell in love. With my country, nature and the natural rhythms. With myself again.
So essentially, I’d travelled pretty much 27,000km around Australia to find me and here I was, thrilled with what may come next.
But hang on … I needed a job and the idea of returning to the salt mines of media filled me with dread. What in heaven’s name was I to do at age 50 to reinvent a balanced and healthy lifestyle?
As I was pondering who I wanted to be when I grew up, I met another fellow traveller along the way; another corporate survivor with a story very similar to mine.
We talked about how hard it had been to find the right people to work with on finding our way to wellness, and how both of us had ended up finding someone awesome through Facebook.
That got us thinking … What if? Could we do something like that? And so we did.
Joyously using all my skills and training, I became the CEO of my own organisation called Paradigm Switch. And that’s what it’s about – changing patterns, finding a new and better groove. And I’ve lived it.
The simple truth is, the emotional toll of being in a toxic job and relationship was the pivotal thing that manifested in my physical health and had me at total collapse before I really started to listen to my body and do something about it.
For me, navigating that journey had been confusing, costly and frustrating and I wanted to help others avoid these things and find the best help that has integrity and offers easy access to experts in a way that is timely, authentic and supportive.
So that’s me. That’s us at Paradigm Switch. We find, try and test the very best health and wellbeing practitioners, therapists, healers, coaches, mentors and trainers and we make it easy for people to navigate their own wellbeing journey in accessing their own unique team of wellness supporters along the way.
Because, as I found, it’s often not one person that helps you get well but a team of people – not all at once, but for different parts of the pathway.
With our PS Compass portal, we start with our online survey checking how your rate across the wellbeing compass – the north (purpose), south (emotional), east (mental) and west (physical) of your wellness navigation system. We also have a corporate channel (PS Works) where we provide onsite health and wellbeing to organisations in their workplace.
* Neroli Jones is a former media marketing executive with whom SPA+CLINIC editor Jenni Gilbert worked in several companies. Jenni asked her to write this story after following her “glamping” blog and being introduced to Paradigm Switch.