Thursday, 17 May 2007

The reconstruction

My life/me, July last year: 44, overweight, mumsy, unfit, maybe a little bit too partial to a glass or two, unemployed and with a cv like mine (career gaps as wide as the Grand Canyon) almost unemployable. I was a stereotype: an unfulfilled housewife, mother of two, living in a semi-detached house in a provincial town. Thinking bitterly of what might have been - what should have been - I wondered how on earth had I let it get to this.

In a vaguely 'Eureka!' moment I realised that I was not really cross with my husband, I wasn't really angry with life in general or 'fate' which had brought me to this. I was furious with myself for not noticing where my life was headed sooner.

After wallowing and indulging in a healthy bout of self-pity, interspersed with periodic episodes of self chastisement, I finally got to the point of no return. Time was still ticking away and I knew that I had to start taking control. The years of maternal and wifely self-sacrifice were hard to cast off, but I had to start thinking of where I was going, before it was too late. Fired up with the enthusiasm which accompanies a new-found resolve, I stomped around proclaiming childishly, "It's my turn now! I'm going to do stuff for me!"

As I began to look at options, I suddenly felt a little bit like Wendy Craig in one of those 80s mid-life sitcoms when she enrols in a pottery class or something to feel more fulfilled and 'special' . But I knew I wanted to do something with slightly longer term prospects; something which would lead me to somewhere I wanted to be. But where was that? I hadn't a clue.

Sitting in bed, with a pen and paper and a stack of self-help books (a staple diet for lost souls like me) I started to write down my immediate goals.

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

The aftermath

I fully expected to feel better after my emotional free-fall. Isn't that what usually happens? You 'let it all out' - emotions which have bubbled under the surface get expunged, released and set joyously free? The issue gets air-time and you can start to move on? Isn't that how it works?

Apparently not. For days, weeks, months, my rage stayed with me; lingering, regrouping, clustering and huddling, just waiting for one look, one word, one action to justify another massive explosion. Fragility was written large all over my face. Friends tactfully probed, offering gentle support, the children wrote me comforting and uplifting messages hoping to bring me back to them, while my husband trod quietly and delicately around me, not knowing how to fix things - the ice cracking dangerously with every footfall. I hated being so weak, I hated being out of control and more to the point, I hated everyone noticing, which only stoked my anger more.

Right in the middle of all this, I was dealt a final blow. My first commission for a broadsheet paper suddenly came my way. It's what I had wanted of course, but not now, not just yet. With only one published article under my belt, the learning curve I had to take on would be almost Himalayan. I'd be thrust so far out of my comfort zone I wasn't sure I could find my way back. The timing couldn't have been worse.

Even so, I decided to give it a go. Relying heavily on the advice and guidance of those more experienced, I muddled my way through, making mistake after mistake, worrying and fretting about interviewees, quotes and word counts.
With self-confidence about as wobbly as a jellyfish, my stress levels started to rise, reaching a peak one morning, close to the deadline.

It had been a bad night and I'd barely slept. Dragging myself up to make the breakfast, my body suddenly decided it had had enough and started to take over - alien-like - quite beyond my control.
One minute I was filling the kettle, the next I was struggling for breath and sobbing in spasms. It was as if someone had punched me in the chest, winding me in the process. Was this what I thought it was? Was I really having a panic attack? Over one little article?

People rallied, as they always do. My husband took the kids to school; friends, relatives and mentors, talked to me for hours on the phone, piecing me back together little by little until at last I was back on track - limping and wounded - but back on track.

I finished the article and it was done, but I took no pride in it. Part of me - the part I know well, the 'me' of everyday - had been observing everything from afar, judging and analysing in a detached manner.
I was ashamed and embarrassed by the terrible fuss I had made over it all. Clearly, something big was going on: I needed some time to recover, to rest, to take stock, understand what had happened. In short, I needed to take a long hard look at my life.

Friday, 4 May 2007

The meltdown

I should have started this blog ages ago, when I first hit meltdown. That would have made entertaining reading, but I could barely speak to anyone at the time, let alone share my angst with the blogging public.

So I need to paste in a bit of background here: flashback to almost a year ago - our 15th wedding anniversary. I've been trundling along fairly happily in life. Recently returned from a spell as an expat wife in the Middle East and I've settled in back home fairly well, I think. The kids are doing Ok at school, I've just completed an online journalism course and I'm starting out as a freelance writer. Good, fine. Tra la la.

So, on to the day of the anniversary. For once we're making a bit of a fuss. I've got a nice meal all ready and waiting, the obligatory flowers are on the table and we're sitting down to a glass of wine. My husband tells me he's volunteered to take a trip abroad for a charity he belongs to and BANG! out it comes; a sudden explosion of rage - incandescent, vitriolic, seriously intense. I rant and rant and cry and rant, barely pausing for breath. Years and years of little resentments piled up and buried deep in my subconscious are now pouring out , lava-like, melting my brain. We are both completely blindsided; my husband's face a picture of shock and confusion, my own red, raw, puffed with the intensity of the emotional release.

The day after: with a humdinger of a headache and eyes like dumplings I walk the kids to school, trying to avoid looking at anyone while working out what it's all about. Actually, it's not difficult to understand. 20 years ago I was writing a PhD and applying for jobs in research. Wanting to work together, we both applied to VSO and got a posting in Indonesia - where I did my postgrad work. It was perfect - just what we wanted. We got married, got all the training, left our previous jobs, held a farewell barbie, then 5 days before we were due to leave, the whole thing fell through. I was devastated.

And that was the beginning of the end. A month later, new hubby got a post in the Middle East, I followed and from that moment any possibility of a career for me vanished as we moved about with his work, I had children and became what is gloriously known as a 'trailing spouse'. And there we have it: it wasn't meant to be this way. I once had promise, a future, potential for a fulfilling career - but instead I'm what I never thought I would be in a million years - a bored and frustrated housewife. And I'm really really angry about it. Though it's nobody's fault, I feel like a toddler having a tantrum and I want to shout down the street: 'IT JUST ISN'T FAIR!'.

Well, that was a year ago.