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
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
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