September 2006. The end of the summer holidays and the start of a new school year.
The pressure was on to start afresh and get 'active'. I desperately needed to do something about my unsatisfactory life. If not, I'd either be heading for another meltdown or I'd have to book in for an anger management course.
I looked back at the goals I'd scribbled down enthusiastically before the holidays conveniently prevented me from doing anything; I certainly had my work cut out for me.
1. Find a job/ earn some money
A job or income would help to increase my self-esteem and sense of worth, allow me to contribute to the family income and possibly enable us to move to a bigger house so my youngest child didn't have to sleep in a room the size of a shoebox. In my dreams, it would also set me up for a possible later-life career, but I had to act quick, because time was really running out.
I was looking for a part-time job which could fit in with school timings and (ideally) holidays as I have no family locally who have enough energy for childcare and my children have an almost pathological dislike of the thought of a childminder or after-school club.
Bearing this in mind, I had two main options:
*self-employment i.e. journalism/home business
*part-time post in an academic institution/charity/government organisation which offered the possibility of personal development and use of my existing skills and background.
* Local part-time, term-time jobs are at a premium where I live and competition is fierce.
* I have not had a regular job since I married 15 years ago and many of my referees have retired, died, moved on.
* My academic qualifications make me over-qualified for local admin jobs and the non-completion of the PhD means I am under-qualified for part-time research jobs at local universities.
I didn't hold out much hope. I'd already been applying for jobs since March and hadn't even got as much as an interview. I felt as though I'd fallen into some sort of holding area for the qualified yet unemployable - people who just don't seem to fit anymore - the 'white elephants' of the job market.
Though I was determinedly pessimistic ('I'll never get a job!' 'No-one in their right mind would hire me!') I set out to try a little harder, sending out speculative applications to likely employers, widening my search, expanding my job criteria and improving my CV either underplaying/overplaying my academic background. At the same time, I decided to persist with the journalism, to see if that got me anywhere, nervously working on a few ideas and pitches to get me back into it.
2. Get another qualification/retrain.
Even though I'd spent much of my life in one form of training or other and even though I'd just finished a journalism course, I could see the logic of getting a decent, vocationally-oriented qualification which would set me up for sure employment.
The problem: I didn't know quite what direction to take or what course to do. What's more, retraining would mean yet more time out of the job market and even less money coming in. It would also mean that my earlier education might be wasted - especially the PhD. I wondered what the point of doing a Master's was when I could always spend that time actually finishing what I started all of those years ago. The unfinished business of the PhD was still a gaping wound.
After some thought, I decided to enrol on an 'introduction to counselling' evening class. I rationalised that this would help with my listening and interviewing skills (valuable for my journalism and social research), but also allow me to see if this might be a direction I would like to take. I also resolved to look into ways in which the data from my postgrad research could be used, so I could reach some sense of 'closure' on that one.
3. LOSE WEIGHT
My body image was not good. On the few occasions when I was driven to look at myself in a full-length mirror, I was increasingly horrified by what I saw. I didn't look like me anymore. My tummy, stretched beyond all recognition by my last pregnancy looked like a deflated balloon, my breasts like dried out gourds hanging down to my waist, my legs and thighs huge, wobbling and riddled with new and expanding tracts of cellulite, my upper arms flappy and my elbows saggy. And now, after two weeks in the US over the summer I found myself the heaviest I had EVER been. In theory, losing weight and toning my body would help me feel better about myself and increase my confidence, but I knew it wouldn't be quite that simple.
The problem: My ever-increasing girth was quite frankly, an enigma to me. I didn't get it. I'd always eaten sensibly, I went to the gym three times a week, did lots of walking and swam regularly. I'd tried to 'think myself thin', I'd tried eating out of smaller bowls, chewing my food properly, I'd come off the pill, I'd had my thyroid checked and I'd even entertained the idea that I might be in the menopause, but it seemed that whatever I did, I never actually lost any weight.
Just before the summer holidays I'd joined a gym especially for women, called Curves, which originated in the US. So far, I hadn't been able to go to it much, but I planned to try it out for a few months to see if it helped at all. If not, I'd then take the drastic step of cutting down on food and drink.
So those were my goals for September last year. And I tried - I did - I tried hard to work on all of them, but in late November I hit an all-time low and this proved to be my turning point.