To the outside world, Mel MacIntyre had it all. At only 36, the successful senior leader was earning a six-figure salary, had a gorgeous house in Edinburgh, would wine and dine at top restaurants and take several far-flung holidays a year. But inside, Mel felt she was falling apart.
"I’d always been someone who worked hard and played hard and I was having what I thought was a great time," says Mel, now 43. "But I always had this gnawing sensation that there was more to life and I kept trying to fill it with ‘stuff’ – shoes, clothes, holidays because I thought that would make me feel happy. I once bought a pot of really expensive face cream thinking this would be the ‘thing’ that made me fulfilled. But of course it didn’t."
Today, Mel’s life could not be more different. She and her partner Charlie, 43, a business owner escaped the rat race three years ago and live with their son Maximilian, three, on the island of Eriskay, in the Outer Hebrides.
Measuring only two-and-a-half miles by one-and-a-half miles, the island has only 140 inhabitants. Long gone are the days of dining out – there is only one pub, one fish and chip shop and a trip to a large supermarket in Glasgow would take eight hours.
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"There are more sheep than people and everyone knows everybody else but I’ve never been happier," says Mel. "Those moments of ‘pure joy’ that I used to search for in vain in my previous life happen every day now – whether it’s seeing an eagle fly overhead or spotting a dolphin in the sea or watching the Northern Lights from our garden, I feel more at peace and more fulfilled than ever."
It was May 2014, that Mel decided she could no longer keep climbing the corporate ladder. Having struggled with depression her whole life she woke one morning and decided something had to give.
"I’m quite a positive person and could always find a reason to get up, but that day I realised something had to change," says Mel. "I wanted a career that helped people and I wasn’t feeling rewarded.
"My father Ian had just been diagnosed with cancer and was living with me at the time. I had to take him for an operation so I dragged myself out of bed but couldn’t face work.
"I was so stressed and physically unwell. I was being investigated for a stomach ulcer and couldn’t even swallow water without my body reacting negatively. Next day I went to my GP hoping for some sympathy. Instead, he said I needed to have a conversation with my boss."
Within six months Mel had turned her back on her lucrative career and went travelling around Asia with Charlie, starting off in Nepal, trekking through the Himalayas and visiting Goa, Kerala, Bali, Hong Kong and Japan. She retrained as a business coach and set up her own business when she returned to Scotland but within a week of signing up her first client, she received devastating news
"My dad was told his cancer was terminal and I thought: ‘No! This can’t be happening now’ but everything I’d learned on my travels helped me cope. We cashed in his life insurance and went to Germany for three weeks for special medical treatment. It bought us a few more months. I’m so glad I was able to care for him in his last months in a house we’d bought together on Eriskay, the island where he’d been born.
"It’s the island featured in Whiskey Galore! and my grandad was one of the original islanders who sailed out to the shipwreck to raid the cargo of whiskey. I had many memories of visiting as a child but I never thought in a million years that one day it would be my home – it was too quiet and remote."
But weeks after their son was born, Mel and Charlie decided that island life should become permanent. They now live half a mile from where Mel’s father was born and Mel runs a successful coaching business, helping other women find a better work/life balance and empowering them to make changes.
"We are incredibly lucky to be able to live and work in such a beautiful place where you can experience four seasons in one day," she says. "We have mod cons like Wifi – although it can be a bit patchy - and we eat like kings. Only the other day a friend dropped by and left us a sink full of fresh lobster. Sometimes I miss the variety of the city but if we ever need a taste of our old life, we’ll go to an AirBnB in Edinburgh or Glasgow for a short break.
"Being so far away from everyone and everything and not having the luxuries on tap like restaurants or shops means that we never take anything for granted. It’s a place where I’ve healed and I’ll never look back."
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