At the age of 36 my oh so carefully constructed life imploded. I remember clearly the day I knew it was officially a disaster. I sat on my stairs and sobbed and sobbed until there was nothing left in my eyes to spill out. I had received two phone calls that morning. The first to tell me that “Unfortunately your course of IVF has been unsuccessful”. My third attempt. My last. The second phonecall, from my boss, to confirm that my request for redundancy, from a job I had put my everything into for 6 years, had finally been accepted. Both experiences had brought me to my knees. When there were no tears left, and sitting on my stairs staring into space had become ridiculous, I walked into my dining room. Well, it was supposed to be my dining room. But all I could think was “Whose life is this anyway, and how did I end up in it?”. I didn’t recognise any of the books on the shelves; the many Prince CDs which I had tortured my husband with over the years; the photographs; the carefully chosen and much admired antique furniture. None of it was recognisable to me, and I didn’t feel a thing toward it. I wanted it all gone; I wanted to be gone from it.
So by August I was savagely cut loose from everything I had spent the last 14 years pulling around me. I had been a skilled professional, a girl with a plan and a 10-year marriage. Who was I now? I had no idea, and no earthly clue what the hell to do next. I thrashed about in a stormy sea for a number of months, spending little time at home, drinking too much, reacquainting myself with poisonous cigarettes, and hiding in the company of strangers. At a loss, and with no-one else to talk to who might understand what I was going through, (not that I could have explained what I didn’t understand myself), I began to talk to God. Well, when I say talked to, I should really say berate. What was he doing this to me for, what was I meant to be learning, what was all this unhelpful temptation supposed to be for?. “What, on earth, do you expect me to do now!?” Whether this was his intention or not, what I ended up doing was, on the advice of my husband, and with many very concerned friends looking on, I went to the doctors and was diagnosed with depression. Not long after, and with myself and my husband both bereft of ideas as to how to make the pain stop, I moved out of our family home (well marital home – since the whole family thing had failed).
I started writing, unhappy, unfulfilling, entirely necessary poetry. The angsty kind of lost, tortured verse I had written as a teenager (and subsequently burned in my mother’s Aga for fear someone might find it). But this time I wasn’t howling at the moon. I was howling at God, disemboweling myself of the whole sorry mess that my life had become. It had all promised so much when I was young. I had attitude, I had chutzpah, I had determination, drive and a stubborn streak. What had happened to that little person? Now I had only a bottle of white wine to share with myself and a blanket I never wanted to come out from under.
That was until an ex-boss of mine, who had coached me when I was still in gainful employment, got in touch to see how I was doing and insist I meet with her to have a catch up. I really didn’t want to see anyone, ever, but this lady was someone I couldn’t say no to, she had been so good to me in the past. Over tea and scones, which I could not eat, we discussed the pickle I found myself in and what I was going to do next. I had absolutely no clue. Thankfully she did. And in her very subtle, and gentle way, she told me about somebody she knew who was going off on a trip for 8 months (also having gone through quite a traumatic life event). This person wanted to see the world, and spend the money she had saved up for a wedding that had never happened. My ex-boss knew that travelling was something I had always regretted not doing when I was younger (because when I was younger I had met my husband, and he wasn’t the travelling kind). I remember thinking about this friend of hers who was off to see the world, “Well bully for her” I thought. It was not something I could raise myself to do. Right now I could barely raise myself off the sofa to get water. Of course, my ex-boss knowing this, and being a very clever coach indeed, never suggested I should go off on such a trip myself. All she said was, “Well, at some point, it might be interesting for you to have a chat with my friend, just to find out how she arranged it, in case you ever fancied doing something similar”.
Unable to work at this time because I was officially broken, I had little excuse not to meet with her friend. We discussed her trip, what she had planned and the events that had brought us both here. It wasn’t long before she uttered the sentence I knew was inevitable “You should come!”
When asking my parents, my friends and my husband their views about this opportunity that had arisen, travelling with somebody else who had also lost their tethers, it didn’t honestly feel like a question I needed their response to – it felt like an imperative. I had to get my ass up and get going. And so that is what I did. Over the course of the next year I saw a bit of the world, quite a bit in fact. I started off travelling with the friend of my ex-boss and then, when it was clear our time together was no longer serving either of us, I went off on my own. Unthinkable! Whose traveling dream was this anyway, and how did I end up in it?
I returned from my travels, having amazed myself at what I was capable of, the adventurous spirit I uncovered, the sheer joy of cycling through the Andes listening to Jimi Hendrix, showering in freezing mountain water overlooking a mist swaddled, banana rich Thai valley. And the joy of laughing down the phone with my husband about the fact I was about to jump off a mountain in Rio with only a stretched out handkerchief between me and certain death.
I came home. My husband and I had many serious conversations. We searched our souls to see if we could stitch back together a life without the children, without the dream ending we had both imagined. This is a work in progress. It may always be. Isn’t that life though?
In the meantime we have both discovered inner reserves of strength and resilience that neither of us knew we had or hoped we’d ever need. We have also discovered, and are busy exploring, parts of ourselves and passions for different activities that are shaping our futures. For me that is travel and adventure, and possibly writing a little about it, and maybe a few other things too.
In future posts I will write a lot more about my travels, the upsides and downsides of being a 40 something backpacker amongst people half my age, the difficult journey that any couple who discovers they can’t have children goes on, the upsides and downsides of depression (my experience of it anyway – it is a very personal thing, different for everyone, but there are upsides for sure), and share with you some useful resources I have collected along the way which have proved invaluable or inspiring to me, and I hope may prove useful to somebody else out there too.
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