A Love Letter to Anxiety 

Dear Anxiety, 

Should I name you something? Maybe it would make you a little less intimidating and a little more human. I used to picture you as a fuzzy black shapeless entity that I couldn’t quite make sense of, clinging to my body and pulling me back from moving forward. I’m seeing you more clearly now, though. I’m getting to know your idiosyncrasies day by day. You seem to know me very well. You know my weaknesses, my doubts, my fears and always the perfect time to strike. 

I should hate you, but I don’t. I fear you. I resent you sometimes. I regret you. But I don’t hate you. 

You see, you’ve taught me so much. Because of you, I truly know myself. I feel liberated because I can finally accept myself for who I really am. I am flawed. I make mistakes. Not everyone likes me. When I mess up, you’re there to remind me. You make me feel it. I cannot escape you. Your grip is too strong, your voice too loud inside my head. In those moments, I have to confront my reality. Instead of running away, blocking out all negative thoughts, you force me to accept. Of course, many of the thoughts you throw my way are completely irrational. That’s kinda your modus operandi, isn’t it? There was a time when I ran from them and from you. I denied negativity, I denied sadness, I denied you. I pretended that I was okay, all of the time. Of course, you lurked in the background, waiting for me to let my carefully constructed guard down. And when I did, boy did you hit me with everything you had. It was terrible; the worst experience of my life.  But at least it was real. It was my truth.  And you gave that to me, so I owe you thanks. Thank you for finally forcing me to confront and accept the person I really am: imperfect but actually quite resilient.  

You are now an integral part of my person, a part of me that I will never fully be free from. You will be there, for better or worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, ’till death do us part. I could try to pretend that you won’t be, but ignoring you seems to make you stronger, angrier and more determined. So I will embrace you. If we work together, we might just be able to live together in relative harmony. 
So what do I see you as now? Well, now I see you as a cat. You play with me sometimes, but most of the time you get bored and fall asleep. And then I get to feed you fried chicken, so everyone’s happy. 

I’m sure I’ll see you soon. I’ll be ready.

Love, 

Jane x

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Why I am Not Proud to be Irish Today 

Today, March 17, is St. Patrick’s Day; a day where Irish culture and heritage is celebrated in countries all around the world. Here in Ireland, we use it as a day to celebrate and explore our own relationship with our country. We partake in parades and wear shamrocks, a traditional symbol of Irish-ness and our relationship with Saint Patrick. We drink excessive amounts of alcohol, celebrate into the wee hours of the morning with our friends and regret our over-indulgence the following day. In recent years, I have found myself dancing in bars adorned with tricolour flags to traditional Irish music and drinking bad Guinness. But not this year. This year I don’t feel like celebrating. I don’t feel like drunkenly acquiescing with strangers that we do indeed have “a grand little country”. This year, when I think of our history and our relationship with Christianity (which, in essence, is what Saint Patrick’s is at least supposed to be about), I don’t feel a surging sense of pride. 
I feel shame and disgust. 

Our country has had a tortured and somewhat masochistic relationship with Catholicism. In the twentieth century, this relationship with the Catholic Church seemed to be at its zenith. Our most famous Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and later president, Éamon de Valera enshrined the ‘special position’ of the Catholic Church in our country’s constitution. In 1932, the 31st International Eucharistic Congress of the Catholic Church was held in Dublin and attracted hundreds of thousands of spectators. It is estimated that 25% of the country’s population attended a mass held in Dublin that day. This was truly the apex of the Church’s influence over both culture and politics. Church doctrine seeped its way into all aspects of Irish life. Our schools and hospitals maintained their intrinsic link with the Church. The twentieth century was when the marriage between church and state was really cemented. 

This influence wasn’t just evident in the political sphere, however. The people of Ireland aimed to live their lives according to what they were taught at school and mass by nuns, brothers and priests. An odious sense of piety and sanctimony permeated many societal groups. Sexuality morality among all people was something that bishops and nuns obsessed over. There was, as our current Taoiseach Enda Kenny notes, ‘a morbid fascination with respectability.’ 

Contraception was illegal in Ireland between 1935 and 1980 and families, despite widespread poverty, grew large in keeping with traditional Catholic teachings. Sex outside marriage was considered inherently sinful, however. Of course, it still happened and with contraception not being widely available, many women found themselves in the worst possible situation in a repressive, judgemental and unforgiving society. These women were treated as little better than criminals; shunned by their communities and often sent to Magdalene asylums and so-called “mother and baby homes”. Here, they gave birth to their babies, who were subsequently taken away from them, and often never seen again. In the Magdalene asylums, women were worked like virtual slaves to atone for their grievous sins. 

One such mother and baby home was established in Tuam, County Galway by the Bons Secours religious order. Here, unmarried mothers gave birth to their babies, who were then taken from them and raised in a separate part of the Home by the nuns. The children were often later given up for adoption, and often without the consent of their mothers. For their part, the mothers remained in the Home for a year, working unpaid hours to reimburse the nuns for their “services”. 

Tragically, that isn’t the most infuriating or heartbreaking part of the Home’s sadistic history. It was well-known in the local community that there was an undisclosed number of foetal remains close to the site of The Home, which had been abolished in 1972. It was unclear to many, however, just what a gut-wrenching and shameful story lay behind these remains. Thanks to the tireless work of local historian Catherine Corless, however, the story is public. And now, it cannot be silenced. 

Corless discovered that throughout the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s that 796 babies and young children died at the Home.

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Although infant mortality rates nationwide were indeed higher in the mid-twentieth century than they are today, this number is still considered abnormally high. The infants’ death certificates stated various medical reasons for their deaths, including tuberculosis, measles, whooping cough and influenza. One thing is evident: these children were not treated like human beings. They were treated as they were perceived: as a remnant of their mother’s sin and sexual immorality. And for that, they were punished. 

The nuns left these children in unmarked mass graves. The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes recently found that the remains were discovered in structure that seems to be “related to the treatment/containment of sewerage  and/or wastewater.” These babies were left to rot in a mass grave, buried without dignity or humanity. 

So today, I don’t celebrate. I don’t feel an overwhelming sense of pride in my nationality. I feel a measure of pride in the sense that justice is finally being sought for these babies, who were never before given a voice. I feel proud of the inimitable Catherine Corless, the woman who never gave up fighting for the defenceless. But I don’t feel proud of my country’s insidious past. I won’t wave a tricolour or drink a pint because I don’t feel like it. I am frankly too disillusioned, too ashamed and too heartbroken. Instead, I will think of the 796 babies lying in the cold ground in County Galway. Babies like Anne Heneghen, who died in 1954 aged 3 months. Or Dermot Gavin who died in 1956, aged 2 weeks. Or Baby Lyons, who died in 1949, aged 5 days. Or Kathleen Murray who died in 1947 aged 3 years. I could go on, but it would take some time. I ask that those of you who read this to please look at this full list of their names. They were invisible while they lived, forgotten and neglected by a society that deemed them an inconvenient truth. 

We cannot and will not ignore them now. 

The Perfect Response to Hatred

The following has been written by Antoine Leiris, a man whose wife died during the Paris attacks. I have taken the text from here. It is an incredibly moving and brave piece, and well worth a read.

On Friday night you stole away the life of an exceptional being, the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you will not have my hatred. I do not know who you are and I don’t want to know, you are dead souls.

If the God for whom you kill so blindly made us in His image, each bullet in my wife’s body would have been a wound in His heart.

We are only two, my son and I, but we are more powerful than all the world’s armies… every day of his life this little boy will insult you with his happiness and freedom.

Therefore I will not give you the gift of hating you. You have obviously sought it but responding to hatred with anger would be to give in to the same ignorance that that has made you what you are. You want me to be afraid, to cast a mistrustful eye on my fellow citizens, to sacrifice my freedom for security. Lost. Same player, same game.

I saw her this morning. Finally, after nights and days of waiting. She was just as beautiful as she was when she left on Friday evening, as beautiful as when I fell madly in love with her more than 12 years ago.

Of course I’m devasted with grief, I will give you that tiny victory, but this will be a short-term grief. I know that she will join us every day and that we will find each other again in a paradise of free souls which you will never have access to.

We are only two, my son and I, but we are more powerful than all the world’s armies. In any case, I have no more time to waste on you, I need to get back to Melvil who is waking up from his afternoon nap. He’s just 17 months old; he’ll eat his snack like every day, and then we’re going to play like we do every day; and every day of his life this little boy will insult you with his happiness and freedom. Because you don’t have his hatred either.

– ANTOINE LEIRIS

I was once really selfish…

….see? Even the title of this post is self-centred! It’s funny, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten a lot less self-centred (please discount the amount of times I’ve already written ‘I’…).

I was a selfish teenager. You might argue that many teenagers, by their very nature, are inherently more selfish than many adults. I’m not trying to insult teenagers, but I do think that with maturity comes a heightened sense of empathy. Of course there are very selfish adults, and very selfless teenagers but I feel that my own personal self-centredness was intrinsically linked with my youthfulness and lack of life experience.

Hint: I was the baby lion

Hint: I was the baby lion

I wasn’t necessarily a bad person. I suppose I just wanted to fit in with my peers. I was primarily motivated by self-interest- I wanted to be pretty, popular and all those meaningless things that society convinces you that you absolutely must be. In my search for almost complete vapidness, I hurt people. I hurt people and I didn’t really care.

Before you try to reach through your computer screen in the hope of throttling me, let me tell you, I was horribly insecure. I simply wanted to be liked. I had to attend every party, every sleepover, every binge drinking session with my friends. This meant missing family occasions, snapping at my weary and overwhelmed father and ignoring the needs of my siblings. I was the class clown in school, constantly cracking jokes and acting like I hadn’t a care in the world. It was fun, sure, and it made me popular among my classmates, but I never thought about my teachers. Now that I’m in their position, I see how utterly distracting a class clown is. I also see the effect they have on any students in the class who struggle with the onslaught of brand new information each and every day. Someone writing ‘boobs’ on a calculator definitely doesn’t help. *Sniggers*

I think worst of all, I was mean to my family. I put my friend’s needs ahead of theirs, and not necessarily because I was an amazing friend, but because I never wanted to miss out on a social occasion that might bolster my social status. Gah, I even feel like punching myself reading this. I lied to teachers, because when you’re trying to be Queen of Everything, who has time for homework? Even when I met my wonderful boyfriend, I didn’t really change in the beginning. Sure, he is probably the most selfless and kind person I’ve ever met, but it didn’t rub off on me for a while. I actually think, in the early days of our relationship, I became worse. My parents, like any good parent would, tried to get me to focus on my schoolwork and attempted to convince me that a serious and committed relationship probably shouldn’t be top of the agenda for a normal sixteen year old girl. From my perspective, THEY JUST DIDN’T UNDERSTAND OUR LOVE! I still can hear my bedroom door slam even as I write this, like it’s echoing through time. I expected a lot of people to drop everything to help facilitate our long-distance relationship, something I wouldn’t dream of doing now.

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Probably what my parents were thinking…

I think that most teenagers tend to have two emotions: complete and utter apathy (which I like to call the ‘meh’ feeling) or unbridled passion verging on fanaticism. I loved various boy bands with an intensity that should only be reserved for cheesecake. I loved my boyfriend so much that it brought me to the brink of insanity. I was blinded by the intensity of my emotions; I couldn’t see reason or rationality and I certainly couldn’t see that I was being a selfish git. Not everyone loves what you love. Celebrities shouldn’t define your reason for living. A relationship shouldn’t mean that you all your love and respect can only be directed at that one person. The older I’ve gotten, the more compassionate I’ve become. Don’t get me wrong, I was always compassionate. But it was like that compassion was weighed against self-interest, and losing out. I find myself thinking far more about how my actions affect other people, and far less about the way I look or whether or not people like me. I try to be good, kind and generous. I don’t always succeed, but at least I care enough to try.

So why the hell this post, eh? What made me suddenly reflect on my personal growth? The short answer is Twitter. If you ever give a cursory glance at worldwide trends, they are more often than not dominated by teenagers. They usually revolve around bands like One Direction or 5 Seconds of Summer, or YouTube stars that I’m not even nearly hip enough to know anything about. What has bothered me in the past is the sheer obsession and fanaticism these teens display on a regular basis. And woe betide anyone that disagrees with them, or expresses a dislike of their chosen bands. I don’t care what they post on their own timelines, that’s their business. But sometimes, something creeps into my vision that genuinely concerns me. Recently, One Direction cancelled a concert in Belfast after one of the members became suddenly ill. A local television presenter, seemingly innocuously, pointed out that the remainder of the band could have at least appeared on stage to apologise to the thousands of people who had come from miles away to see them perform. Bad move. He got absolutely slaughtered by the throngs of 1D fans who came online to defend their honour. Of course they have the right to do this, and some eloquently defended the band. The majority, however, spewed such vitriolic bile at him that it made me genuinely angry. After the fifth ‘go kill yourself’ Tweet, I logged out.

I sat in anger for a while. The tweets were disgusting, of course, but what was worse was the support from other fans they garnered. None of them seemed to see how utterly disgraceful it is to tell anyone to kill themselves. I know this kind of online hysteria gets stirred up on a daily basis, and horrific insults get thrown around willy-nilly. What really struck me as sad, though, is how desensitised Twitter users have become to it. I couldn’t be a hypocrite, though. I was once a teenager, and I know what it’s like to feel such inexplicable love and loyalty to something or someone you barely even know all that well. It’s irrational in many ways, yes, but it feels so real, so authentic, so personal. If One Direction and Twitter had existed when I was a teen, who’s to say I wouldn’t have been first in the queue to call Eamon Holmes (the TV presenter) ‘irrelevant’ or ‘ignorant’. I know for sure, no matter what, I would have drawn the line at telling him to kill himself. That’s just plain nasty.

This person was trying to convince Channel 4 that not all 1D fans are crazy. Great job.

This person was trying to convince Channel 4 that not all 1D fans are crazy. Great job.

In many ways, I was just like many teenagers are today. I was a self-centred (and hey, I’m still not perfect), passionate, insecure and all that other Marilyn Monroe crap. But there’s one very important difference: there was no social media. My actions rarely had an effect that extended beyond my immediate family, friends, or classmates. I don’t think many teens today grasp the fact that what they choose to post can potentially reach an audience of millions and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Ask any adult if they would have liked Facebook or Twitter around when they were a teenager and you’ll find that the answer would be a resounding NO. It just takes one ill-conceived tweet to be screenshot and re-tweeted or one expletive-laden Facebook status to be shared for you to be thrust into a very unfriendly limelight. Remember: the internet is forever. Once something is out there, it cannot be taken back. It’s a virus that you can’t prevent from spreading. Just be careful.

I don’t want any teenagers who may be reading this to think that I am generalising you all, or deliberately insulting you. I know you are not all raging 1D fans. Some of the best blogs that I read are written by teenagers. I have great respect for teens, that’s why I chose a career dealing with teenagers. I have taught some of the most inspiring and compassionate minds and I know what wonderful things teenagers are capable of. I have also seen plenty of teenagers with their priorities all screwed up. I was one of those teens, once upon a time. It caused me to act pretty horrendously at times, even if the pain I caused was unintentional. I look back now and I regret it, but I’ve grown from it, so I guess I do have something important and useful to take from it all. I just thank the universe on a daily basis that social media did not exist back then!

funny-pictures-success-kid-meme-stupid-opinions-teenager

It’s important for me to reflect on the way I acted during my formative years. I’m glad that I can now look back and realise that I hurt some people, and focus on making it up to them, as well as being a better person. That’s what’s most important to me.

What were you like as a teenager? What advice would you give the teenagers of today?

The Most Difficult Post to Write

Hello everyone. The following post has been sitting in my drafts since Christmas Day. I have been very reluctant to post it for a number of reasons: Firstly, I categorise my blog as a humour blog. This post is not going to be funny or light-hearted and I suppose I didn’t want my readers resenting or becoming confused by a sudden change in tone. I also don’t want any of you to think of me differently after reading this, and part of my has felt like that will be inevitable. Secondly, I saw a conversation on Facebook recently where somebody was complaining about the amount of people who blog about depression and anxiety. Their argument was that it has almost become trendy to claim that you are suffering from some kind of mental illness and while I don’t agree with what they were saying, I would hate to think anyone thinks I’m posting this to jump on some kind of bandwagon. I think it’s essential to talk about depression and to attempt to break the stigma surrounding mental health issues. Today, I just want to tell my story.

This is not going to be an easy post to write. Usually, I think of an idea for a blog and I draft it up pretty enthusiastically. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you will know that my posts tend to be quite silly and immature, because I have never been fully comfortable with embracing adulthood completely. We often write posts with a specific goal in mind; this goal is often to elicit maximum engagement from readers, or hoping that it will reach as wide an audience is possible. In short, we want our posts, and by extension our blogs, to be popular. This post is different. Personal posts are ten a penny on the Internet and I will admit this upfront: this post isn’t going to be brimming with philosophical or enlightening thought; there will be no moments of catharsis or life-changing epiphanies. I am sharing my experiences with depression because maybe there is one person out there who reads this and thinks “that sounds just like me.” Maybe one person will feel even a fraction less lonely and isolated after reading this. Maybe, just maybe, one person reading this will see that even those of us who others would refer to as funny or good-humoured experience dark and lonely times. And that it’s okay to feel like this. So let me begin.

I am lonely and I am sad. I’m not lonely all the time, but loneliness is a feeling I experience far more often than I would like. The most frustrating aspect of it is that I can’t quite pinpoint why I feel like this. I have the most supportive and kind boyfriend. He makes me laugh in a way no body else can. I have wonderful friends, even though the majority of them live far away. Sometimes I feel like I could have more friends, but I’ve never been one for maintaining several relationships at once. I prefer to keep a small, close knit group of friends. I’ve had the same friends for the majority of my life. I do make friends easily, but I’ve moved jobs quite often, and have moved away from where I attended school and college, so contact has naturally ceased with many people I had been close with. Over the years, I have found that I have been subconsciously isolating myself from many people in my life; it definitely has not been deliberate, but I do like to spend time alone. As the years have passed by, I think I’ve gotten used to living quite a solitary life. I spend the majority of my day with Jack, but I live far away from my family and childhood friends, so I do often find myself keeping myself company. I have great work colleagues, who frequently ask me to come for after work drinks. Years ago, I would have attended any social gathering without hesitation, but nowadays, I choose to stay at home more often. The thing is, I don’t think that this is the source of my loneliness. I have always been comfortable in my own company. What makes me feel really lonely is the fact that I feel like nobody really gets me. Doesn’t that sound woefully arrogant; as if everyone out there should care enough about me to attempt some kind of in depth study of my character. I don’t expect anyone in my life to spend copious amounts of time considering the complexity of my emotional state. I also do not want to sound like some teenage EMO, clutching a copy of The Catcher in the Rye and lamenting the fact that “no one understands me”. Of course no one really knows me, when I spend so much of my time making jokes and not taking life seriously. In school, I was the class clown. I’m the joker in my family. My friends know me as the funny one, always ready to crack a joke or laugh outrageously at the silliest things. This blog is a reflection of that side of my personality. Some would consider it my entire personality. And don’t get me wrong, I love it. I’m not going to pretend I don’t think I’m somewhat funny. This isn’t a time for false modesty. It’s a great trait to possess and I have embraced it wholeheartedly. The thing is, it has led people to erroneously assume that I’m immune to sadness or misery. I think people in my life think that because I smile a lot, or because my laugh is ridiculously jolly, I simply must be fulfilled and continually happy and gregarious. Do I blame people for making this assumption? Of course not. It’s nobody’s fault, but it’s frustrating when I’m in a bad mood and someone pipes up with “but you never get moody, Jane”. Of course I bloody do. I’m human. And it goes far beyond being moody. I sometimes fear that if people say the tears and the sobs that wrack my body and the days I spend lying in bed refusing to get up, I would have no friends left.

So is that just it? Do I just feel a little isolated by my sense of disconnection from my friends and family? I know it goes far beyond that.

As a child, I suffered incredible mood swings. When I was happy, I was positively jubilant. But when I was angry, or sad, I was hysterical. As is the story of my life, I did not make this known to anyone in my life. My parents would never have put up with it, as they loathed any kind of emotional outburst and would have branded anything resembling one as attention-seeking. I would lie in my room or sit on the edge of our bath tub, overcome with sadness and dejection. I felt at odds with the world around me; like I was crazy and no one else seemed to care.

As a teenager, my mood swings worsened. On the surface, I appeared carefree and happy. Most of the time, I was okay. I had lots of friends, I performed well in school and I had a lot of fun at weekends with my fun-loving companions. I drank too much alcohol, I stayed out too late and I wore really awful clothes. All in all, I was like a lot of other teenagers: full of angst and uncertainty about my surroundings. But there was something else. I felt a profound sense of loneliness and isolation, even when I was surrounded by dozens of people. I didn’t want to be out partying and drinking. I didn’t want to be talking to boys or dancing. I wanted to be alone. I felt this inexplicable sense of impending doom; I was always on edge, even when I appeared to be having fun. At home, I spent a lot of time purposefully detaching myself from my family. I was quite an introspective teenager and I could have happily spent hours lying on my back, overly-analysing issues that I perceived as major problems. 

It was in college that the problem started to get out of control. I skipped lectures, avoided social contact and spent days lying in bed with the curtains closed. I cried easily and I was extremely sensitive. I felt that my friends were ignoring me and that my boyfriend wasn’t as committed to our relationship as I was. I fought with my friends and my family. During one shouting match with my sister, she called me “unstable.” It hurt. It hurt because I knew that it was true. I had become completely unbalanced. You might assume that was the turning point; that I suddenly revealed all of the dark and anxiety-filled thoughts that I’d been having. But I didn’t. Even though my mother was a psychiatric nurse, I knew she wouldn’t react in the way I would have wanted. She was amazing at dealing with the problems of strangers. She viewed all her patients as exactly that: patients. She was a fantastic nurse but her job frustrated her. She didn’t want to see the problems that she encountered at work reveal themselves at home. My family have never been the most affectionate or open with each other, and my parents were only a few years away from their marriage breaking up. Our household was continuously tense and only added to my feelings of isolation and anxiety.

In 2009, I was diagnosed with epilepsy after suffering a major seizure and I was hospitalised. When I recovered, I was sent to a consultant neurologist. I brought my mother with me for support. I had a long conversation with him about my lifestyle and my medical history, and he discussed anti-seizure medication with me. I will never forget him looking up from his notepad and fixing me with a look of sympathy and understanding. His voice became softer, as he said “and this medication is also used to treat depression. So you’ll find that you’ll feel a little less…anxious.” I was flabbergasted. I hadn’t said anything to him about what I considered my carefully concealed secret. My mother stared at him, then at me. She shook her head. She didn’t want to hear this. He was still looking at me, and he seemed to be mentally saying to me it’s okay. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. He then continued “around a third of people with epilepsy experience depression. It’s very common. And-“

“Can she not drive, so?” My mother interrupted him, and we didn’t speak any more about depression. I don’t want anyone thinking that my mother is neglectful or selfish; it’s worth pointing out that her sister had just been diagnosed with cancer and her marriage was falling apart. 

After that, the situation continued to get worse. I began studying for a Master’s Degree and Jack and I moved into a beautiful apartment. I knew that I should have been happy, but I wasn’t. The pressure to appreciate what I had just served to make things worse. I pushed myself to appear okay; I painted a near constant smile on my face and continued partying and drinking to try and block out the emotional pain. There were a number of days where I sat alone in my bathroom, feeling that life would never be different and I would never be normal. I wondered what the point in carrying on would be. I was exhausted from pretending and from lying. I was not okay, and I felt like I never would be. That’s when I started to think about suicide. I realised that I didn’t have to feel this constant sense of dread. I didn’t have to lie awake every night, worrying about how abnormal I was compared to all my friends. I could just fade into blackness and everything would be gone. 

Although I want to be honest with you all, I don’t want to describe in too much detail what I attempted to do. Truth be told, I was never going to do it. I knew that deep down. While I did hurt myself, I didn’t cause any real harm and I just sat in my bathroom, cursing at myself for being so pathetic. I was a mess and I knew I needed help. 

The epilepsy medication did help somewhat. It stabilised my mood swings and the feelings of self-loathing and doom were never as extreme as they were before I’d been on the medication. I found out that a close family friend, who had been suffering with severe depression for most of her adult life, was on the same medication. Although mine was primarily used to treat my epilepsy, I began to fear what would happen if I stopped having seizures and would have to come off it. I knew that treating the problem went beyond medication. I needed to change my lifestyle and my attitude. I needed to talk to people and open up about my problems. 

Eventually, I did come off the epilepsy medication. I made the decision very carefully but I know that it was the right one. While I still have mild, infrequent seizures, they are never very debilitating. It was the feelings of dread and anxiety that I was afraid of. I still hadn’t properly or formally discussed my feelings with anyone, in the medical profession or otherwise. I didn’t want a formal diagnosis, because I dreaded a label. I had had health issues for a number of years, and I was tired of feeling like a victim. I know that sounds almost callous of me, but I just wanted to move on with my life. I was also afraid that my meantal health struggles would go on record and that I would find it difficult to secure a job. I tried to just ignore the feelings and convince myself that if I just didn’t live like I was depressed, then it would just disappear. Unfortunately, depression doesn’t release its grip when you want it to and pretending there wasn’t a problem only made it worse.

Since I moved around a bit, different GPs did notice that I seemed anxious and frequently recommended anti-anxiety medication, which I always turned down. I’m not anti-medication at all, but I had spent years on different medications and I had gotten a little fed up. I knew that tablets would help me, but I also knew that I could help myself without them. 

So I started to open up. I had long talks with my sister and my mother. My boyfriend was a huge help. I cut back on alcohol. I stopped staying in bed all day on weekends. I started to freely admit my struggles and my fears. I visited doctors and I discussed my feelings.

Did the depression go away?

Well, no.

And it never will. And that’s okay. I will never be completely free of these feelings of fear and dread but I can learn how to live with them. Somedays are good days. I get up out of bed and I go about my business and I feel fine. I can have a laugh with my friends and I can have fun. Conversely, some days are bad days. These days seem to be during periods where I don’t have much going on in my life; like school holidays. It is usually during the summer that I struggle most because I don’t have work as a distraction and I feel pressure to have a good time and enjoy myself. When I have bad days, I feel inexplicably exhausted. I’m hyper-sensitive and I cry. I feel anti-social and useless. I don’t like looking in the mirror. It feels like no matter what I do, or no matter what happenes, nothing can cheer me up. It could be sunny, I could have won the lottery and I would still feel anxious and sad. It feels like I’m wearing an invisible and heavy cloak around my neck, that only I notice and I have to drag it everywhere with me. I can’t take it off, I have to live with it. I guess there are just days where I notice it more.

But most importantly, I have hope. I know now that these dark days are inevitable, but they will pass. The darkness gives way to light and I have good days again. Hope has been the only thing that has helped me to get through all of this. I have a tattoo on my wrist (a place I need this tattoo) that simply states, in Latin, While I Breathe, I Hope. This is an important life motto for me. Every second I am alive, I have hope. Coincidentally, it also happens to be the motto on my family crest. 

I have come to embrace my struggles. I know what’s good for me and what isn’t. I try to keep a close circle of good friends that I can trust. I stay in touch with my family. I maintain a strong relationship with my partner. I spend time with my pets. And I blog. You guys have no idea how helpful this blog has been and how happy and appreciative your support and love had made me. I hope that you all realise that the humour and immaturity isn’t a front; it’s a part of who I am. But so is my depression. I will continue to be weird and awkward and all the things you guys expect, but I think it’s important to discuss this side of me too. It’s a side I used to conceal, but I don’t want to anymore. I’m not ashamed. 

Lastly, I want to thank anyone who read this far. I hope that this piece hasn’t come across too self-pitying or self-indulgent. I just wanted to be honest and open with you all and if I could reach anyone, then that’s a bonus. If you do find yourself struggling with feelings of depression or anxiety, it’s important that you don’t just close up and ignore these feelings. Confront them. Share them. Or, like me, embrace them. I spent so much time vainly attempting to appear happy and well-adjusted that it just became exhausting. When I finally realised that I could stop, that I could just become okay with not being okay, I felt relieved. In many ways, my struggles have helped me to become a more compassionate and empathetic person. I choose to see the good in my situation instead of the bad. I truly hope that this post has been even a little helpful to someone out there. Finally, here are some words to live by if you are struggling:

I will live with this.

I CAN live with this.

This post was inspired by a number of fantastic bloggers who encouraged me to find the courage to post this. I don’t want to link to anyone else because I feel that their stories are very personal and they may not want me to but I have to say thank you. This has really helped.

The Reality of Living with Your Partner

‘Why do you seem incapable of picking up the towel after your shower?’ I bend down and grab a damp towel from the floor of our bathroom, wincing as a pain shoots up my spine. I feel angry. I bunch up the towel and fling it across the landing, feeling tears spring in my eyes. This is stupid I tell myself, frantically running the back of my hand across my face. It’s just a towel. …..even if you spent all of your day off meticulously cleaning the entire house. I’m tired. I’m tired and sore from a long day at work and I don’t want to be picking up towels for other people.
My boyfriend doesn’t respond. He is in his office, working hard on his doctoral thesis and probably tutting at my nagging. He is tired too. I notice that his clothes are strewn across the landing and I feel like screaming. My mind goes back ten years, to our first night living together.

We had just come from the Irish version of prom. We were moving into a small house in Cork city, with two other people, to attend university together. We lay on a tiny single bed, in a grotty room, giddy and in love. We had looked forward to this moment for two years. We had lived hundreds of kilometres apart and now, finally, we would never be apart again. My head lay on his chest, and I listened to his heart beat. It was slow. He played with my hair.
‘I love you.’
‘I love you too.’
It felt simple. It was simple.
‘What do you think this will be like?’ he asked.
‘Perfect,’ I answered, without needing to think about it. ‘It will be perfect.’

And for a while, it came pretty close. Even though we had separate rooms, we couldn’t stand spending a night apart. We went to college and we watched TV with our roommates in the evening. We were young and in love and that seemed to be enough.

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After a year, we moved to a different house, alone for the first time in our lives. Like any couple, we argued. We argued about who’s turn it was to do the dishes, who should make dinner and whether to turn the heating on or not (I get cold easily, Jack does not). Sometimes these arguments descended into bitter fighting. Although we have never once in our twelve years together gone to sleep while still arguing, we have had some terrible verbal fights that neither of us are proud of.

After living together for a few years, I felt disillusioned. This hadn’t been part of the plan. When did Belle or Snow White have to worry about rent or bills or whether their other halves picked up their underwear off the floor? Of course I knew that life isn’t a fairytale, but I didn’t realise just how monotonous and frustrating living with the supposed love of your life could become. And I hated myself for feeling like that. I knew I loved Jack. I knew someday I wanted to marry him. I also knew that not living with him would feel infinitely worse for me. But knowing all of this didn’t stop the arguments.

And we still argue. We still argue over the dishes, the dinner, the heating. Jack leaves his clothes and towels strewn about and I inevitably end up picking them up for him. I leave food lying about in the kitchen and he ends up putting it back in the cupboards. Some days, we get angry and frustrated with one another and we talk it out. We’ve become much better at communicating with one another without the need for pettiness or passive aggressiveness. I’ve come to accept that this is what a real relationship is like. Most days, we are wonderful together. We laugh, we give each other space, we are affectionate and considerate. Some days we argue. Some days, we are selfish and irritable. I’ve learned that this is normal. We argue because we care. When we stop arguing, we stop caring.

Living with someone is tough. That’s something you don’t learn from Disney movies or romance novels. You are allowing someone to see you in a way that nobody outside your immediate family ever really has. I have flaws; I can be demanding, I’m overly-sensitive and I’m needy. I can also be ridiculously irrational. *cough* Like when we fight and I tell him to get out and then two second later, I’m all:

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*cough*

Jack has seen and dealt with these unattractive qualities first-hand. He has been patient, loving and kind to me. Although we’re not perfect, we seem to be right for each other. We fit. I would take a million arguments if it means that I’m lucky enough to have found the right person. It’s not always a bed of roses, but when it is, it makes everything else worthwhile:

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So living with Jack has been challenging. There are some days where I honestly have wanted to scream at him until I’m hoarse. Then there are days when I’ve come home from work, dejected and stressed, and all that I’ve needed is a cuddle and a cup of tea. I don’t even need to ask and Jack will fetch me a blanket and a hot water bottle and order me to lie on the sofa. We have our challenges, but we face them together. We haven’t idealised the future; we know that it will be tough at times. We will have to work together and to make compromises. We will fight, and we will hurt each other, but we will always come back and say we’re sorry.

This post has been partly inspired by one of my favourite poems by the wonderful Adrienne Rich called Living in Sin. The poem deals with the reality of living with a partner, as opposed to the idealised version we are often presented with in fiction. Have a read:

She had thought the studio would keep itself;
no dust upon the furniture of love.
Half heresy, to wish the taps less vocal,
the panes relieved of grime. A plate of pears,
a piano with a Persian shawl, a cat
stalking the picturesque amusing mouse
had risen at his urging.
Not that at five each separate stair would writhe
under the milkman’s tramp; that morning light
so coldly would delineate the scraps
of last night’s cheese and three sepulchral bottles;
that on the kitchen shelf among the saucers
a pair of beetle-eyes would fix her own—
envoy from some village in the moldings . . .
Meanwhile, he, with a yawn,
sounded a dozen notes upon the keyboard,
declared it out of tune, shrugged at the mirror,
rubbed at his beard, went out for cigarettes;
while she, jeered by the minor demons,
pulled back the sheets and made the bed and found
a towel to dust the table-top,
and let the coffee-pot boil over on the stove.
By evening she was back in love again,
though not so wholly but throughout the night
she woke sometimes to feel the daylight coming
like a relentless milkman up the stairs.

If anyone has some tips on how not to murder your partner, leave them in the comments!

Here

I see you suffer
Hiding behind the burnt skin and thinning hair
Smiling a little weakly
A feeble frail finger taps a hollow cheek to where my blood filled lips can touch
I fear a kiss may kill you

I see you moving
Crossing deserts in your kitchen
Glancing through your window at horizons you’ll never reach
The timer on the oven seems to be moving too quickly, too quickly
The dinner won’t be ready
The time will be up too soon

I see you folding children’s jumpers
Holding them close to your chest for seconds before you let them go
You’ll have to show them how to get creases out, so they will know
When the folding is done, and plans are made
You need to sit

I see you now, as you are, and I see you as you were
Vibrant, dancing, living,
Teaching, learning, yearning, dreaming
I see you now, hopeless, lost, frightened, blind…but at least

I see you

-JG

We live on a Pale Blue Dot

This is something I came across today in my nerdy astronomy reading but I think it is amazing. It has done me the world of good to read this, and no matter what you believe or feel at this moment in time, I think it would humble and amaze anyone.

The picture below is a photograph of planet Earth taken from a distance of about six billion kilometres by the Voyager 1 space probe. Just think about that for a second: six billion kilometres.

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If you are having trouble finding it, it is the tiny whiteish-blue dot in the brown band on the right.

Isn’t it amazing? That’s us. The photo is know as The Pale Blue Dot.

What I really think is great, however, is the late great Carl Sagan’s reflections on the photograph (he had requested that it be taken). Here is what he had to say about it:

“From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

-Taken from Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space by Carl Sagan

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The Hard Times

It’s Christmas Day 2010. Jack and I are living in the home my mother grew up in. It is -10 degrees Celsius outside. My parents have just gone through the world’s worst breakup and it’s the first Christmas my family won’t be celebrating together. My dog of fourteen years has died. I’ve been diagnosed with epilepsy. A family member has been diagnosed with cancer. We’re both completely broke, and in debt, from college loans. We can’t afford heating so we’re wearing layers of clothing.

I have been having seizures. I can’t travel to see anyone because the roads are too icy. Jack and I couldn’t afford gifts for each other so we make each other breakfast: a single piece of toast and jam. We’ve been living on jam for weeks. We know we could reach out to our families for help, but we’re too proud. We are both snowed under with college assignments. I am training to be a teacher, and therefore have no time for a part time job. Jack is doing a full time PhD. The stress is having a huge effect on our relationship. We argue all day long.

And then, on Christmas Day 2010, our water froze. We had no water, all the shops were closed, and we had no way to travel for it. We couldn’t cook, clean or wash.

I don’t actually remember much of that day, but to say it was miserable is an understatement. I lay in bed that night, wearing mittens and my coat, and began to cry. Jack put his arms around me and just let me cry in silence.

After I had begun to calm a little bit, he kissed my forehead. It’s a truth universally acknowledged that this will calm any woman.

“We have each other.” His voice cut through the silence, the darkness, the cold air.

“We have each other.” He repeated it.

“We have each other.” He said it again and again, while I nuzzled my face into his shoulder, in an attempt to absorb some of his strength.

A year later, I had a job. Jack was able to get some work experience. Our lives improved hugely, as did our financial status. I will, however, never forget that dark day, feeling utterly hopeless and lost.

About a month ago, I was making a four hour drive to attend a party with my friends. A song came on the radio. I had heard the song before, but I’d never really listened to it because it’s not exactly my style of music.

Have you ever had a moment where you think “this song was written for me”? The words were so apt that tears began flowing down my face. I smiled through my tears, as I thought of our struggles and how we has stuck together threw those dog days.

Here is a link to the song, “For the First Time” by Irish band The Script.

And here are the lyrics:

“For The First Time”

She’s all laid up in bed with a broken heart,
While I’m drinking jack all alone in my local bar,
And we don’t know how,
How we got into this mad situation,
Only doing things out of frustration

Trying to make it work but man these times are hard,

She needs me now but I can’t seem to find the time,
I’ve got a new job now on the unemployment line,
And we don’t know how,
How we got into this mess
Is it a God’s test?
Someone help us ’cause we’re doing our best,

Trying to make it work but man these times are hard

But we’re gonna start by
Drinking old cheap bottles of wine,
[Clean version:] Sit talking up all night,
[Explicit version:] Shit talking up all night,
Saying things we haven’t for a while
A while, yeah,
We’re smiling but we’re close to tears,
Even after all these years,
We just now got the feeling that we’re meeting for the first time

[x3:]
Oooooo

She’s in line at the DOLE*
With her head held high (high)
While I just lost my job but
Didn’t lose my pride

But we both know how,
How we’re gonna make it work when it hurts,
When you pick yourself up,
You get kicked to the dirt,

Trying to make it work but,
Man, these times are hard,

But we’re gonna start by
Drinking old cheap bottles of wine,
[Clean version:] Sit talking up all night,
[Explicit version:] Shit talking up all night,
Doing things we haven’t for a while,
A while yeah,
We’re smiling but we’re close to tears,
Even after all these years,
We just now got the feeling that we’re meeting for the first time.

Ooooo
[x3]

Yeah…
Drinking old cheap bottles of wine,
[Clean version:] Sit talking up all night,
[Explicit version:] Shit talking up all night,
Saying things we haven’t for a while,
We’re smiling but we’re close to tears,
Even after all these years,
We just now got the feeling that we’re meeting for the first time

Ooooo,.. yeah, for the first time
Ooooo,.. oh, for the first time,
Yeah for the first time,
(Just now got the feeling that we’re meeting for the first time)

[x4]
Oh these times are hard,
Yeah, they’re making us crazy
Don’t give up on me baby

[* DOLE is the unemployment line in Ireland]

I think most people can relate to this great song. Thanks for reading 🙂