All posts by Dan Higgins

A Social Friend

Social media is a hobby of mine. It’s an annoying, rewarding, draining and informative hobby of mine. It is many things and it has many purposes. The one underlying selling point behind any social media networking platform is that it is meant to make it easier for you to stay in touch with people. So my question this week…is a social media friend a real friend?

Unfortunately the answer is not as easy as a straightforward yes or no, it’s a kinda depends answer. It also depends on what you’re using. Twitter for instance is usually a no. I have 1,000 or so followers on twitter at the moment and I doubt I will ever get to meet 10% of them. Instagram, that’s another one. I interact with people purely based on photos and little else. LinkedIn is for business. I never LOL or LMAO on LinkedIn (in fact I haha, not LOL). There are many more and they all produce the same answer. Yes, it’s nice that you follow me and I appreciate it, but let’s not swap addresses just yet.

Facebook, now that’s the one that’s getting all too real. For some people their whole lives are lived out on Facebook so it would be just logical that their friends on that are their real friends, right? Wrong. Facebook is strange. It really has integrated itself into every part of our lives.

It’s an odd one really. Facebook allows us to show our best sides to the world. It turns the introverts into the extroverts and the passive into the militant. All without doing a thing. It allows us to feel connected when in reality we’re isolated. It also allows us to become the ultra creeps that reality and society wouldn’t tolerate. If you end a relationship, be it a partner, friend or just somebody you can no longer stand you are expected to move on. However, Facebook makes that impossible. Which in my eyes makes Facebook unhealthy. If you break up with someone you don’t stay outside the house waiting for them to do something, yet you’ll stay on Facebook waiting for them to check in or upload a photo, thus negating any positive action you had taken to move on. Remember, the person you see on Facebook is not the real person.

In recent months I’ve had people who are on my Facebook friends list completely blank me and not attempt to say hello. It’s not a nastiness in them, I don’t think they dislike me, I just don’t think we’re friends, and that’s ok, we don’t have to be. As I type this a lady within ear shot has taken someone off her wedding invite list because they’re not a Facebook friend and they never added them as a friend. But really, is a social friend a real friend? No, I don’t think so.

People who maintain social media friendships are fair weather friends. They choose when to interact with you and when not to interact. They make a conscious decision that they only want to be there for the good stuff. A real friend is there for the good and the bad. The tears and the laughs. The ups and the downs. A social friend is there exclusively when they want to be. That to me is counter productive to the human condition.

Facebook is dragging online issues into the offline world. It’s making us into an awfully anti social bunch altogether. Perhaps it would help us all if we cared less about who was liking our updates and cared more about who wanted to meet for coffee. Maybe it wouldn’t be a bad thing if we paid more attention to the people in front of us and less to the people stalking us online!

What do you think? Is social networking the most anti social thing to have happened to us? Do you type LOL more than you laugh with people? Let me know in the comments!

 

A Bad Week

So some weeks you have your good days and your bad days. The past week was a bad one for me. Unfortunately I did the one thing I told my (relatively new) wife I wouldn’t do and I kept it to myself. OK, so there are plenty of things I told her I wouldn’t do, but in terms of things to not tell her, that was a no no. Sure, I could go out and have the 10oz steak and tell her I had the side salad, but when it comes to mental health I think we’re both quite clear on the subject. Talk or it will eat you up.

I’m not saying we’re brilliant at the whole expressing ourselves thing, far from it really, but we are learning. We’re learning that keeping it inside often just makes the whole situation a hell of a lot worse. So it was a bad week.

In the grand scheme of things I don’t have it too bad. I have a wife who loves me and a child who lights up when she sees me. Somewhere along the line though I buried something and didn’t talk about it and then something else went in on top of that and then I piled in more on top of that. It was the second anniversary of my Fathers death last week and I guess that was the straw that broke the camels back. All I could hear was the doubt in the back of my head creeping in. All the negativity of the past year had just caved in on me and I was stuck under an avalanche of issues. Ya know, the usual worries and fears had come home to roost. Like a monkey on my back just tapping away at me:

Hey, why haven’t you gotten a career yet, loser? Still no sign of that house for your family, no? Ya know your daughter is going to be ashamed of you, right? You’re doing everything wrong, why are you bothering? That idea will never work, best to just give up! 

Some of those are actual questions (although phrased differently) that have been put to me over the past year. I’m not a weak guy, in fact, at one stage I could actually bench press more than my body weight (I’m also not a light guy). That doubt though, that monkey on my back, was like a weight on my chest, pushing me down into quicksand. I was sinking.

Eventually I cracked, it had to come out. Thankfully my wife was there for me and could help me and we hugged it through. So we settled on a few things:

  1. The negative voices are wrong!
  2. The negative people should be forgotten and be allowed to be miserable on their own time!
  3. My daughter will not care about what I do as long as I’m there for her.
  4. I need to revisit the idea of counselling.

That last one came as a sort of calming revelation. I had been to counselling during secondary school and briefly during my Masters and found it to be very beneficial. It’s not the kind of thing that you have to cling onto for life, but it certainly helps when you’re mentally hitting bottom. Talking things through always helps. At the very least I will not do this for me, but for my daughter. She needs a Dad and she needs one that can cope. Last week I was not coping. Admitting that was hard.

So, now I’ll go to counselling. Hopefully someone will read this and will maybe take a look at themselves and decide that f*** it, I could use a hand to get through this rough patch in my life right now. Counselling is like mountain climbing, you’ll only ever do it one step at a time. Strength does not lie in refusing help, but embracing it.

 

The 12 Pubs of Wreck the Head

Isn’t it time that we grew up a little bit? I don’t mean to be that old grumpy bastard, but to me this whole 12 pubs of Christmas thing is what’s wrong with Irish society.

I have a number of reasons for thinking about it like that. Here they are;

  1. What was wrong with pub crawls? Heading out with your mates, having a bit of craic and having some Christmas scoops. Is that too simple now? Are the rigorous rules and whistles really necessary?! Not to mention the groups which are comprised of half hard core drinkers and half people who are afraid to admit they can’t hold their booze so just get too drunk and fall into everyone or puke all over the place instead.
  2. We have a problem with alcoholism in Ireland. It’s not getting any better. We are sacrificing our futures for blurry nights and empty wallets. The 12 pubs to me clarifies that we know no other way. Wanna see your mates this festive season? Sure ya have to be blind drunk to really enjoy that, don’t ya? No.
  3. We don’t deal with our issues. How many times have you been out and one of your mates has lost it. They’ve broken down or their personality has switched completely. I know that has been me in the past and I know it has been some of my mates as well. We’re a fragile nation and we’re kind of starting to see that now. Things like the 12 pubs “tradition” endanger people, both physically and mentally, isn’t it time we copped on?!

I don’t want to seem like I’m holier than thou here. If anything I have made all the mistakes that will happen on a 12 pubs night. I certainly know I have drank more than 12 drinks in one sitting. What I do know is that I hit a low with my drinking. I got to a point where it wasn’t enjoyable and it was kinda like the monkey on my back, making things much harder than they had to be. I’m not saying I was an alcoholic, but I wasn’t far off.

Maybe it was becoming a father that made me really think about it. Is a drunken fool the role model that I really wanted to be to my daughter? Not really, no.

I’ll still have a couple of drinks. If anything I appreciate them a hell of a lot more now. I also enjoy the lack of hangovers that stretch into 2 or even 3 days.

So when you’re considering the 12 pubs maybe you should stop and think why first? Surely the unique thing to do would be to not get completely bladdered and maybe be able to remember your night.

Being Social has never been so Anti-Social

Social media. I love it. I use a lot of it. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Flickr, Foursquare and even Google Plus (for some reason). It’s a bit of a contradiction though, isn’t it? I mean, it’s not actually very social at all.

It’s worrying to see people out on nights out, having dinner, going for a walk, trying to relax and being slaves to their mobile phones. When did it suddenly become acceptable to ignore the real life people in front of you in order to engage with those who you may never actually encounter? I’ve witnessed this first hand, people who will actively like and follow your life online but who will blank you in real life. Is it that those people don’t like you? Possibly, but not necessarily. It may just be endemic of a bigger problem. A failure to stop and talk to people or to engage on a real level is making people anti social, while allowing them to perceive that they are in fact popular and fully involved.

I love social media for studying consumer and personal behaviours and development. It allows me to see what sort of profile people are trying to put out there. Are they the ultra social people checking in at every opportunity and throwing up the excited #selfies? No, but they would like you to think that. You have got to wonder that if someone was that much in the moment or if they were really enjoying themselves then would they have the time to whip out the overpriced smarty phone and tell the world about it? No, again, I’d imagine not.

Look, I’m guilty of it too, trying to show my best face in public. Sometimes you feel low and sometimes you want to reach out and sometimes the best way to do that is online. I’ll always believe that we need the tactile sensations that come with a hug, a kiss, a handshake, a laugh and not a LOL or ROFL in order to grow as people and to help us heal when we need to. You can get as many nice comments and likes as you want, but in my experience, they will never replace spending time with a close friend or a loved one.

So is it too late? Not yet, but it could be soon. It’s a well known fact that social media addiction is growing. So when you get that urge to reach out to a friend, don’t just poke them on Facebook or reach out for their handle on Twitter. Get your ass off the couch and go actually say hello. Ya never know, it could make the difference to someone someday. #LittleThings.

The Cat’s in The Cradle

No, not really. Although it was one of the things we were worried about when we found out that we were expecting. You never really know how animals will behave around children, especially newborns.

We rescued a kitten a year ago and to us he’s great craic, albeit a bit feisty at times. But yeah, he’s an animal at the end of the day, so we absolutely had to remember that. He’s our little Shadow. He’ll purr and rub, but you don’t really know what he’s thinking. It’s all fine and well us batting him off, but a baby can’t really do that.

So we were a little worried. If it came down to it and Shadow reacted badly towards the baby then unfortunately he’d be finding a new home. Yes, we love him, but we have to make the right choice for our little one.

So the big day came and it was time to bring home the baby. Which would also be the first day my new wife would be coming home, but that’s a whole different story. We were nervous and unsure of what would happen. We brought little Anna-Marie in, gave Shadow a treat and let him relax. Shadow reacts badly to noise by the way. Yeah, newborns, they make noise I hear (literally). She shrieked and he just looked at her and went back into his nap. So far so good.

Apparently cats can enter a loving and protective mode with kids. We were about to see that. We did everything slowly and didn’t force her on him. We were upstairs feeding her and he came up, looked at her, sniffed her and then turned his back and watched the door for us, remaining alert. He continues to do this now, he’ll sniff, have a look and then stay nearby. When she cries he comes and has a look, sees that we are there and then he’ll just standby. Brilliant, we get to keep our first kitten with our first child.

Things are working out great with him and I’m genuinely delighted. However, that doesn’t mean I’ll make him head babysitter. He’ll never be left alone with her and she’ll have to learn his limits too, when she’s old enough of course. As long as we don’t forget that he’s an animal and that animals have animal instincts then I think we’ll be fine.

Overall, animals and babies, yeah, it can work out fine. Just keep an eye on them.

Road Rage – When the Red Mist descends

I don’t know what it is really, but lately I’ve been more alert to the dangerous drivers on Irish roads. There seems to be a lot of them. Maybe it’s that I’ve been driving around with a pregnant lady for the last 8 months and now with a baby that’s making me notice all the other drivers.

I’m becoming quite sensitive to it too. To the tailgaters, to the drivers who decide to make me a part of their risky driving and to the people on the phones who aren’t paying attention. I’m sick of it now. Maybe it’s because I have something to really lose and because they would lose me if somebody got over confident and messed up. Drivers in Ireland mess up a lot and hundreds of people a year are still dying because of other peoples stupid behaviour.

So every time I get cut off by a hairs width, have somebody try and drive into the car or overtake me on a blind corner I stop and think of what I might lose by reacting to their stupidity. Nowadays I also think about what’s going on in the other car.

Yes, sometimes some people are just fools on the road, but sometimes there’s other stuff going on too. You never really know what’s happening with them. They may be drunk, stoned, have had a fight with a loved one, had a bad day at work or be upset about something. Whatever the reason it doesn’t excuse terrible driving, but it should make you think twice about letting road rage take over or putting others at risk. You see someone being an ass? Let them be, your responsibility lies in your safety and your passengers safety. If they’re that bad then phone the Gardaí and report the reg and your location and move on.

You’re not playing GTA, this is real life. Get home safe, keep yourself safe and keep your family safe. Road rage and the feelings associated with it are temporary. Breath, let it be, carry on. Feel like you’ll lose your pride by letting someone bully you on the road? Let it go or you may lose more than that.

An Eventful 2 Days

As some of you may or may not know I was due to marry my Love, Michelle, on Monday. If you know that then you will also be aware that she was 8 months pregnant at the time. Yes, it was risky to have a wedding that close, but feck it, we figured it would be ok.

So, the ceremony was short, sweet and lacking in babies (with the exception of my 3 year old nephew, but he is surely not a baby anymore). Everything was as it was supposed to be. We got married, signed the bits, took the photos and then headed for dinner in a classic Bentley! Beautiful! The day was going so well and we were delighted.

We made it to the venue, had the dinner, had the speeches, mingled and then Michelle headed up for a rest. This was at half 6 in the evening and we were enjoying our special day. Michelle had her usual aches and pains, or so we assumed. I got her wedding dress off so that she wouldn’t crease it while lying down and within 5 minutes her waters broke and her contractions started. 2 minutes apart and lasting 30 seconds each. Yeah, it was baby time. Turns out that the day was so good that our little bundle didn’t want to miss it, despite the fact there was still 4 weeks until her estimated check out time. Eager beaver indeed.

So, we got some clothes on the Mammy to be and headed for the car. I just had time to pay the DJ and apologise to him for having to leave abruptly on account of the waters breaking. He was shocked, I was shocked, Michelle was shocked, the baby was still cracking on.

Just to clarify, I had a couple of drinks (2) for dinner and did not want to risk driving. Michelle, with her 30 second contractions took the wheel. From Kippure estate in the Wicklow mountains to Dublin. She was a hero, this is why I married her.

Our birth plan went out the windows. The bags we prepared stayed at home. I made the call, straight to hospital. We arrived and a short 11 hours later little Anna-Marie Olivia Higgins came into the world with the sunrise. In a space of 18 hours we were catapulted from single people expecting a baby to a married couple with the most beautiful little girl in the world.

I fell in love with Michelle quite quickly. I fell in love with our little girl immediately!

One things for sure, it makes one hell of a story! One hell of a true story!

The Little Things

So Enda Kenny recently tweeted Twitter, it’s been a while… but it’s time to talk about the #littlethings“. Little Things, in case you don’t know, is the motto for the latest mental health PR campaign to hit Ireland and is run by the HSE. Ya know, the same organisation which manages our healthcare system.

So, Ireland and mental health. Yeah, we don’t even like saying mental health here, let alone do we like to talk about the issues surrounding it. It’s taboo, it’s worse than talking about anything else in the country. Mental Health issues? Nah, next topic please! The problems with these campaigns are that they never stick it out. The posters are left up for a while, the tweets flow for a little bit and the buzz words do the rounds on Kildare Street. We need a long term strategy to help the nation. We need to make our kids know that it’s ok to talk. That it’s ok to cry. That it’s ok to not feel strong all the time. Above all else we need to let them know that a permanent solution to a short term problem is not the answer.

What’s harder to ignore than mental health issues are the consequences of just presuming someone will be grand and ignoring the figures. For a moment I want you to think about how many funerals you’ve been to that were caused by suicides.

7. That’s how many I can recall right now. 7 funerals that were wholly avoidable if someone had just talked, or perhaps, if there was less of a stigma behind saying that you need help. 7 funerals. There were whispers at each one, whispers met with glances which clearly meant we don’t talk about that sort of thing. I heard an interview on the radio years ago and it has stuck with me ever since. A lady lost someone to suicide and she said something which has stuck with me ever since. As long as we keep whispering suicide we’ll still be dealing with suicide. As long as we keep denying that suicide exists we’ll still be dealing with suicide.

I am of the opinion that we are not a mental health friendly country. It’s all fine and well to show the public face on these things. It’s great, it definitely makes it look like we’re doing something. But are we making it more acceptable to stand up and say I need help? No, I don’t think so. We’re all supposed to grin and bear it and have our problems on our own. After all, we don’t want to make someone uncomfortable, do we?

It’s an unfortunate situation and it’s a high pressure one. For me the strain is starting to show. I’m getting married in less than a week, I’ll have my first baby in less than 5 weeks and I don’t have a steady income at the moment. It’s not that I don’t want to work, I have looked and applied and I have been rejected countless times. It’s killing the confidence, to be honest. So much so that I have a serious amount of doubt in myself at the moment. I find myself thinking;

Did I just waste all those years in college? What was the point in getting the masters? Why bother applying, you don’t have the experience, they won’t want you! It would probably be better if I wasn’t here!

It may sound crazy, but these are thoughts which flow through my head every time  I apply for jobs or even consider applying. These thoughts are made much better when it’s suggested I should just get a job (somehow I don’t think lack of applications is where I’m going wrong here).

I found myself at the recent open day for CarTrawler looking at jobs I was really interested in, but when I got in there I had a panic attack and I could not wait to get out. I put on a nice suit, brought copies of my CV, polished my shoes, had a haircut (Thanks to the lovely Michelle, without whom I would lose my freaking mind altogether) and even cleaned the car. As soon as I got in there I convinced myself I did not belong and thought about nothing but getting out. That was alarming. It felt like the weight of the world was on my chest and I could not breath. This has happened before so luckily I was fairly certain it wasn’t a heart attack. I just stayed in the car for 15 minutes, calmed myself down and kicked myself the entire way home, as you do.

The truth is that I’ve never really stopped kicking myself. It stops when it gets bad and everything just kind of comes to a head. Luckily I have Michelle and my Mother to read me like a book and help me through the rough patches. On the whole though, I’m a stubborn Irish man and I believe that I should be able to just get on with things. I should be strong and silent, but I’m afraid to talk about my mental health, that’s why I stay silent on the matter.

I’m afraid to talk about it because there is still a stigma in Ireland around the whole matter. Depressed? Nah, you’re just feeling down at the moment! Stressed? Nah, probably just a hangover! Suicidal? Sorry, eh, that’s my phone, see ya later!

I don’t know what’s crazier – Admitting I’ve thought about ending it all (I don’t anymore, I couldn’t do that to my wife-to-be or unborn child) or being afraid to ask for help for fear I might be shunned like a leper! 

Why would I be so open about this? Hopefully this might ring a bell with someone and make them feel less alone and less hopeless. Hopefully it will make someone look for The Little Things in their life which make them happy. So what do we need? We need to have a long term view on this. We need to be able to stand up and say “FUCK IT! I’m not alright!”. We need to teach the next generation that it’s ok to talk and that it’s ok not to be strong all the time. It’s ok to let someone else take a bit of the burden.

We need a change in thinking and to destigmatise mental health issues. But overall, we can only do this by changing little things as we go along. It’s easier to move rocks than it is to move mountains. Little steps, little things.

 

The Zombie Apocalypse

A lot of people spend a lot of time planning for the Zombie Apocalypse. What they’ll do, who they’ll save, where they’ll go. I’d be one of them, I think it’s quite important.

So what do you do? You plan for the occasion. You’ve got a world of nastiness trying to get in to feast on your ever so tasty flesh. Best to not let that happen really.

What do you plan for?

  • Make sure you know what’s going on first. Be an awful shame if you just went around the house swinging a bat and knocked your Mother clean out. Imagine discussing that over Christmas dinner for the rest of time. Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.
  • Do a roll check. Yeah, sounds a little bit like school, but it sure would be handy to know who’s still in the world of the living. Get people to sound off and if possible secure them in the one location. If it’s not possible then tell them to go to a predesignated safe spot, batten down the hatches and wait for help.
  • If the situation is truly dire and you have Zombie hands coming through the door then you need to bug out immediately. Have your escape route planned and make sure everyone knows the drill. If you live in your standard house then a jump out the window will probably not kill you. Don’t go head first. Feet first and try and roll when you hit the ground. Broken legs are far easier to recover from than a broken neck or the damage some house invading zombies will inflict on you.
  • Be prepared to defend yourself if you need to. If you absolutely have to fight the good fight then you do that. This should be used as simply a last resort. You’ve tried everything else. You can’t escape, you can’t account for your loved one’s, you’ll have to fight it out. Remember, you’re not there for the 15 rounds. Move quick and stay low. If you watch rugby then you’ll notice that the best and most effective tackles occur below the waist. This is the best way of taking someone to ground. Fighting is exhausting and you need your energy to live.
  • Know your escape routes. Know where the keys to the doors are. Know who’s in the house. Know where you agreed to meet when you get out. Remember to bring a phone, you’ll need to call for help.

So there ya have it. A quick guide to what to do if Zombies come knocking. It’s always a bit of craic to talk about that, especially with The Walking Dead coming back on our screens.

Now, I would like you to substitute “Zombies” for “Fire” and “Burglary”. When was the last time you planned for that?

Know your way out. Know your plan. Know who’s in the house. Know what to do. Know that your family’s safety is paramount above all else. Things can be replaced people can’t be.

Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.

So tell me your faults

The question in an interview that you always know you’re going to be asked, but you never quite know how to answer.

Realistically, what are you supposed to say to “tell me your faults”? They may as well say “tell me what’s wrong with you, c’mon, I dare ya!”.

It’s the impossible question to answer correctly. It is the Kobayashi Maru of the interview world.  So what do you say to it? Well, you think up your most endearing quirks:

  1. Oh, me? Oh yeah, I definitely work longer than the hours expected of me (this is unfortunately true, as my wife to be and previous 60 something hour a week job will attest to).
  2. I’m far too nice sometimes (Nope, not really! You eat my lunch, I will go all Ross Geller on you!).
  3. I sometimes find it hard to leave my work in the office (Sometimes true, but then again, only because some employers make it impossible for you to leave it at the door).
  4. I always try and please everybody (I don’t. You can’t. It’s impossible. All you can do is your best. You can please some of the people some of the time et cetera et cetera).
  5. I’m too much of a perfectionist (What! Really?! Every time I say this I feel like I’m screaming HIRE ME YOU F***ER, SURE I’M TELLING YOU I’M BRILLIANT).

Tell me your faults. To the interviewee it reads like an invitation to openly lie about how bleeding deadly you are.

Think about it, what if you were honest? Would they openly welcome you in as the pint swilling rugby fan with a penchant for Facebook stalking until 4 in the morning (Oops, I accidentally clicked like on a photo from 2009 on my cousins friends sisters friends bikini picture from Ibiza).

So what is the question all about? I think it may be a trick question. A question put there to try and identify just who the insane people are. When you think about it you end up spending more waking hours with the people you work with then your own family. You kind of want to be sure that the dude(tte) sitting on the opposite side of the table isn’t going to come in in a long trench coat someday muttering about the reckoning.

Is there a right answer? No, I don’t think so. However, I do think there are varying degrees of wrong answers. As long as you don’t leave the person on the other side of the desk screaming for the cops, then you probably did ok.

So what will I say the next time that question is put to me? My faults, you say? Well, I stay up too late, I watch far too many Zombie films, I have a slight obsession with Scarlett Johansson (especially in 3D), I don’t really exercise enough, I tend to undress across the bedroom floor leaving a minefield of clothes for the missus to contend with and yeah, that cup of tea without a coaster underneath? Yep, my work!

Actually, I might just tell them that I work outside of my designated hours, that I’m far too nice, I bring my work home with me, I try to please everyone and I’m absolutely a perfcetionist!