By Petra Andersson
What is a human worth?
Like 2 million other Swedes I watched the documentary Avicii: True Stories after hearing about his unexpected death. The documentary follows Avicii from being an enthusiastic 19 year into a constantly stressed DJ sensation getting ready for his 813th show.
I’ve also dealt with anxiety and stress. And still do. Watching the documentary gave me some placebo symptoms. Like seeing Avicii in the gym lifting weights with his personal trainer. He says that weights are trigging his anxiety; the increased heartbeat is catalysing an anxiety attack.
When my anxiety was at it’s worst, I started running. When we’re anxious our body is in flight mode. And when we run, we get the same effect as we would when we start running away from a sabre-tooth tiger. After a while, the body thinks we’ve outrun the predator, and our adrenaline goes down.
However, I also remember running on a night when my anxiety was especially high. The increasing heartbeat got mixed up with the bodily symptoms of an anxiety attack, and the running turned into a trigger instead. It was an absolutely vile experience, and I could see it reflected in his eyes.
I also felt horrible watching a scene when Aviccii and his managers are going through his schedule. Avicii is slowly rocking back and forth in his chair, with a fist in his mouth to silence a scream. He keeps on repeating ‘I can’t do it, I can’t do it. I’ll never make it, I’ll die if we continue like this.’
The scene is absolutely heartbreaking because his managers show no compassion whatsoever:
‘Think about all the money you lose.’ ‘You don’t need to panic, there’s no rush.’
The problem is though, as Avicii later explains:
’It doesn’t help if anyone tells me not to stress, or that there’s no rush. The minute I get a task and a deadline, my body is in a constant state of stress. And it doesn’t leave me until that task is done. No matter how much time I’ve got.’
I was in a similar situation in an old job. I was told I was doing well, and because of that, they wanted me to do more. I worked over hours pretty much every week. And often weekends too. At it’s worst I worked 21 days in a row.
I was told that the company planned to increase the workload by 50%, while also cutting down my time spent doing it with the same amount.
I told them it was impossible, that I was already working overtime. I got told that I’d learn to be more efficient. Walking out from that meeting, it felt like my stomach had been replaced with a giant ball of lead.
After several unsuccessful meetings, I told them I would have to quit my job if we couldn’t change the workload. I left a month later, and I still haven’t fully recovered from that experience. When I get a little bit too much to handle, my stress levels can sometimes still go from 0 to 100 faster than any race car in the world.
The documentary left me feeling both hopeless and sad; why do we keep burning talented people like Avicii until they have nothing left to give? Why do we break them?
It seems like the capitalist mindset of rather buying something new rather than trying to make it last in the first place now includes people too.
And this is such a big issue in our industry. I remember reading about Swedish copywriter Nina Åkestam. She went from working in accounts to winning global awards in just a few years. She was a natural. One year after winning a Cannes lion she was standing in front of a pharmacy with a prescription for antidepressants in her hand, after being diagnosed with burnout.
At SCA, we talk a lot about mindfulness in term one, to make sure that we’ll last through the year. And that’s great.
But I can’t stop asking myself why we’re thought techniques to make it through 12-hour workdays when nothing is more dangerous for our mental wellbeing than working over 48 hours a week?
We know we get less creative if we don’t take the time for a break or go to an art show or seek inspiration in other ways. And that the best solution is to leave some time to be bored: it boosts our creativity with 15 %
But how would we ever have time for it when we all need to put in those hours? Why aren’t we doing anything? Why haven’t we said stop?
Call me young and naïve, but why on earth do creatives all over the world just accept this? What happened with unions and organisation? With rights and fighting spirit?
When did we all agree that sacrificing ourselves and our wellbeing was a reasonable price to pay in order to sell more cans of Coke and Nike shoes?
I guess the question we should all ask ourselves is why brands, ROI’s and profit are more valuable and important than our wellbeing, colleagues and friends?