Being ill does not define who I am though for many of my readers that is all you know. You first came across me as that girl who writes about having M.E. You may have picked up titbits of information discernible through what I write – most will understand I’m Irish, married and a teacher.
Today I thought I would fill in my background a little. Enable you to see me as a rounded figure not just the sick girl!
I was born 36 years ago in Cork, Ireland. I grew up surrounded by the countryside, swimming in the River Lee which ran past my house. My neighbours had horses, dogs and cats and we had two cats so my childhood was filled with animals. My sister is two years older than me but as a child we always played together along with our neighbour, who being a year older than me fit neatly between us.
My sister was the academic with the photographic brain, I just worked very hard to do well. Nothing came easily for me, if I was going to do well academically, I had to study hard. Education initially was incredibly difficult. My mother was told I was ‘thick’ and she should stop trying to push me, that I would never achieve much in life! This was said by a teacher! Today, my career would be in jeopardy if I spoke this way to a parent, in those days it was more accepted.
It was not accepted by my mother! These comments coincided with an American special needs teacher staying with us. One day, watching me do my homework, she told my mum that I was dyslexic. This was not something widely recognised and certainly supported in schools in Ireland at the time. My parents endeavoured to find extra lessons for me that would help me develop the necessary strategies to cope. These I did and my reading age went from significantly below my chronological age to 16+ (as an 11 year old) within a very short period of time.
Dyslexia still gets me at times, especially if I am tired or stressed. As a teacher however I find it a fabulous motivating tool for children who also experience the frustration and anger of being dyslexic. I hope they get hope from the fact that their teacher, the Head of English, was once like them too.
In school and university I was a bit of a nerd. I always wanted to do well and in school struggled socially at times. I had a couple of very close friends but otherwise wafted between different groups. I was never on the outside but I was never on the inside. As a teenager I always wanted to be on the inside however today I realise to have been an insider I would have had to compromise myself morally and socially and I think even back then, I felt this was not something I wanted to do.
I did a degree in History and Geography in a University College Cork and from there moved to London where I did a Masters Degree in East Central European Studies at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies.
Moving to London was to ultimately change my life forever. It was during my Masters Degree that I made two of my three closest friends, 14 years on they are still my closest friends. Where during my Arts Degree I had been a bit nerdy, studying extremely hard, during my MA all of that went out the window. Socialising and learning through the incredible multi-cultural student cohort shaped me and widened my outlook significantly. I passed my MA but in the end that was only a cherry on top of the cake of what I had learnt over the course of a year through the people I had met.
When I first moved to London, I worked as a Recruitment Consultant – a career that did not last long. My boss did not like my advising 16 year olds to stay in school to give them the best chances in life nor did she like my sending a transvestite to a job interview, worse however I made very little placements and therefore very little money for the company!
I was fired before the end of the summer and managed to get a job at The Irish Post newspaper in Hammersmith. They allowed me to work part-time throughout my MA, selling advertising for the paper. I got a promotion and for a few months was the Classified Advertising Sales Manager! I don’t enjoy sales unfortunately but at least this time I made enough to keep my job. I also believe they very much wanted to support an Irish student in London therefore some flexibility in my sales was accepted!
After my MA, I got a job working for Bloomberg in the City. You may know its owner, Mike Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York. For Bloomberg I organised major events and parties. This job catered very nicely for my need to have control over everything! We organised parties costing millions. Bloomberg was known for their extravagant parties and nobody ever turned down an invitation. While this job was fun, overtime it morally began to grate on me. I felt that their philanthropy was only for those organisations that would provide them with suitable publicity. I felt that their carefree spending of money was so wrong when there was so much poverty in the world.
Much of this carefree spending came to an end the day the Twin Towers went down. We lost two members of staff and were first to broadcast about it. We had a TV studio in the towers and they broadcasted live from the studio until the moment somebody dramatically ran in telling them they had to get out of the building.
Suddenly, the company was faced with the fact that nearly every single major client in Europe and the United States had lost employees when the Twin towers came down, Michael Bloomberg was running for Mayor and so the extravagance we had gotten used to suddenly became crass and vulgar.
I couldn’t get away from the sense of moral discomfort however and so after three years I resigned. On resigning, I moved to Warsaw in Poland where I stayed for four and a half years. This was another moment that would have a fundamental impact on my life. I learnt Polish, I worked extremely hard teaching English, I became a TEFL teacher trainer, I published some teaching articles, I edited the displays for the Warsaw Jewish Museum and I worked for the Irish Government for three months at one point in rural Poland.
By living in Poland, I believe, I became a more rounded person. I got to live in worlds of extreme wealth and poverty, I put myself in positions that were terrifying due to lack of Polish and lack of cultural knowledge, I made friends for life and learnt how many friends are transient when you live abroad. I had to learn to grasp every opportunity as it came along because you never knew where it would lead you.
Eventually I reached the point of knowing that my career aspirations could never be met by staying. I was not at the top of my career but to get there required a major reduction in salary. You don’t have to be a foreigner to manage an English school so you can pay a Pole to do it for less.
I decided to move back to England and train to be a teacher. I spent a year training in Exeter in Devon. My first job was in a secondary school in Hampshire where I taught History. In my first year in this job I met my husband who, at the time, was a Captain in the Royal Tank Regiment. After two years he moved camp and I used it as an opportunity to get out of a very difficult work environment.
We now lived in Dorset and I got a job teaching English in a middle school – a very different subject and environment. It was a temporary job that I thought I would just give a go. I loved it and felt I was much better at teaching English than I had ever been teaching History. From there I was offered a permanent job as the Head of English.
I adored my job and felt that I was very good at it. Then of course the army, as it was prone to do, threw a spanner in the works. My husband was made redundant and had to leave the army after ten years of commitment. Once again we had to move.
He luckily got a great job but in Warwickshire! I, extremely luckily, managed to get a great job (again as Head of English) in a middle school nearby. Where we had assumed we would end up living in some awful dive of a town just so we could both work, we ended up living in Stratford upon Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace. It is a truly wonderful town and somewhere two years on we really love living.
I haven’t worked since November but I hope beyond hope that I will be able to stagger a return from September.
I am more than my illness. I have dreams and aspirations. I have lived in 36 years a life filled with excitement and adventure. Every experience changes the path you are on slightly or extremely therefore I have no doubt that the experience of M.E. will / has changed my life fundamentally. Where it will lead me to is as of yet unknown but somewhere it will definitely led me.
The photos below are of friends and family and are proof that I am more than my illness!