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Bobby MacLaughlin - Autobiography

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Bobby MacLaughlin - Autobiography:

I was born in Gmunden, Oberösterreich, father English, mother Austrian. They travelled extensively, and also entertained a lot, so I learned at a very early age which bits of cutlery to use on what food, and that guests were always to be addressed in their own language. My father spoke seven, I became fluent in four languages in as many years.

My schooling was varied and interesting, though mostly not enjoyable. I was often very unhappy, but gained useful knowledge in each establishment, of which very little formed part of the official curriculum.

Four years in the Cheltenham Ladies' College taught me how to be a perfect English lady, and that this is a lifestyle I hate, and would take great pains to avoid.

The next five years I attended the Convent High School, Herne Bay, Kent. And for about two of these years all my spare time was spent on reading theology. I was worried about God in those days, since my mother accused me of a lack of faith. I had a lot of questions the nuns couldn't answer, neither could the priest, so I joined all three libraries in town and read all I could get my hands on. I did this fairly indiscriminately, starting at one end of the shelf labelled theology and continuing until I reached the other. Since the borderlines seemed a bit blurry, I went on to include myths, legends, psychoanalysis, Jungian theory, anything remotely relevant and/or interesting. I read fast and remembered everything. At the end of my research, aged 14, I decided God is a useful concept for some people but not for me.

Shortly after this we went back to Austria. I was sent to high school, and enrolled officially as an atheist. The school was in a state of transition at the time, it had been for boys only ever since it was founded, but that year (reluctantly) girls were accepted for the first time. Most of the boys in my class were older than average, since they had missed some years fighting as very young conscripts in the war, and were at this stage, in their late teens, cynical, battle-hardened veterans. I had hardly seen any boys of any kind before that time (baby brother doesn't really count), and had no idea how to handle this challenge. I learned basic unarmed combat, how to survive when outnumbered in a brawl, and how to be macho. Eventually I was a sort of honorary male, and part of the gang. In a one-to-one fight I could beat eight of them, twelve beat me every time, results with the rest were variable. The first year was terrifying, but after that I had a lot of fun.

So, on to Trinity College, Dublin and study in Honours Experimental Science. I had really wanted to do chemistry only, since physics and maths didn't interest me that much so I dropped out after two years. And fell in love with an Irish man, got pregnant and got married. Time passed, we lived in Portugal for five years, came back to Ireland, had three children.

My husband had no talent for earning money, so I went jobhunting instead, while the babies were still quite small. I started off as a freelance interpreter and sometimes technical translator. Unfortunately this did not bring in enough for us to live on. I got a job as secretary for a small Irish company manufacturing electronic equipment, started scrabbling up the promotional ladder, and made it to sales executive in seven months.

A year later I was European Sales Manager for an American group, working mainly with cutting liquids and coolants for precision machine tools. This was fascinating, the huge range of different machineries and applications. My brief was to sell, market and provide on-site technical support to specific customer companies whose production engineers had little or no command of English. I used to enjoy arriving at some previously unvisited airport, and see this little cluster of German or Swedish men waiting for me, their eyes firmly fixed around the six-foot level. I'm just under five foot tall, and my appearance in no way matched their expectations.

However, the company started to get more and more involved with weapons manufacture, which I disliked. So when I got a headhunting offer from an Irish company, I jumped at the chance to move. It meant shifting from machinery to microorganisms, learning about biotechnology and doing even more frequent long- distance travel than before.

I lived like this for years, working 80 to 90 hours a week, often coming home to accumulated domestic problems instead of getting time out. I was on an adrenalin high, living on my reserves without enough time to recharge the batteries.

And then quite suddenly I burnt out. Total collapse, loss of memory, energy, intellectual function, excruciating continuous pain in my head, plus, not surprisingly, suicidal depression. Doctors thought I might have a brain tumour and sent me for tests. They wouldn't tell me what the results were, the surgeon just said "Go home, I can do nothing for you". Not terribly reassuring. I assumed there was a tumour, but in an inoperable site.

I asked my then husband for help and emotional support and got none. Which made me feel a lot worse that I would have done if I'd never asked. He was very angry with me for being ill. I felt I ought to stay alive, at least until my youngest son had reached eighteen. but this was very hard to do.

I had previously been attending workshops in massage and Deep Tissue therapy in between flights here and there. This kind of intensely physical, non-verbal activity was probably one of the main factors enabling me to go on working as long as I did, and I continued learning and practising after coming out of hospital and losing my job. The weekends helped me to forget for a while how awful everything else was. I also had a good friend to confide in. One day she suggested I try co-counselling. She also said that leaving my husband could be a reasonable alternative to suicide. I did both. Co-counselling first --- it gave me the courage to move out, though it still took me a year to get it together.

Since then life is glorious. I have good friends, and am in a wonderful, tremendously satisfying relationship. I enjoy the work I do, and get great pleasure from seeing its usefulness to my clientèle. Intellectually I'm brighter and more flexible than I was before the burnout. A lot of the earlier knowledge is gone, but I have acquired new information and new skills to fit my new life. The horizon is infinite.

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Click here for On Death and Loneliness

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"Bobby MacLaughlin - Autobiography" page last updated 5-July-2003