Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Anything and everything.

Dancing with your Shadow

Your shadow is always there, regardless of where you are. Even in a dark room you cast a shadow on something. It can be behind you, in front of you, beside you, under you and over you. It’s always there, casting itself, a constant companion.

A shadow is more than simply an area you darken; it’s something you carry with you for life. It got me thinking when I saw the (adorable) video of a little girl who was scared to death of her own shadow. A shadow for me is a reminder of what’s there. I have started to think of the whole area of mental health as a shadow of sorts. The shadow is the part you don’t pay much attention to most of the time.

A shadow for me symbolises our low points and our high points and being able to live with it and accept it is important, vitally important. Things will not always be sunny and the sun won’t always be in your face and that’s ok. Sometimes you’ll be gazing down at a long and enduring shadow as it refuses to leave you and sometimes it will be behind you and out of mind.
In my case my shadow is an anxious one. It shouts up ominous words at me and sometimes envelops me in its grip, stifling my every thought. It can be withdrawn, it can be out of sorts and it can be downright rude. On the flip side it can also be loving, happy and carefree. It can also be just ok, getting by and middling the road, nothing too fancy. It all happens and that’s ok.

When I saw that little girl I did briefly consider how ridiculous the whole concept was, I mean, scared of a shadow. But then I stopped being an ass and thought about it. We all have our shadows to fear. The hard part is realising that we control the shadow and what it thinks. Yes, ok, some people will try and get in on it, but you choose how to let them in. Some people will be nasty, they’ll try and bring you down and they’ll try and keep you down. You control their influence. You control how you much you let them interact with you in that manner. On the other side of it you have the people who will feed your shadow with healthy thoughts. They’ll hug it, they’ll embrace it and if you’re lucky enough they’ll even love it. Let the good people in, it’ll be worth it in the end.

The important thing is to not deny your shadow. Don’t pretend it’s not there. If you’re going to accept the laughing and dancing then you have to be willing to accept the crying and the curled up in a ball under a duvet pretending the world doesn’t exist. It exists and you do have to deal with it. Here’s the trick though. Your happy and laughing shadow will usually come with the help of others, but you’re muggy and head wrecking shadow may only go with the help of others.

So what do you do? Well, my advice would be to stop, breath and talk. Go to someone you trust. Go to your partner, go to a friend, go to a family member, go for a walk, go for a shower, go for a cycle, go for a hike, go to a counsellor, do something! It may not shake itself. It’s ok to need help every now and then. We all need a little TLC at times and accepting that can be the hardest thing to do. It’s not shameful or weak. It’s hard and it’s brave.

Accept it, own it and carry on.

I Don’t Believe it!

I don’t. It can be such a devastating phrase. I don’t do this and I definitely don’t do that. It can often define us in such a negative manner. I don’t is very much a character defining phrase, it makes up your beliefs and who you are. However, I would theorise that we can turn I don’t into an empowering phrase. Why just use it to show what we’re limited to? Why not use it to help us!
It’s a psychological thing though you see. It’s all in your head. It’s far easier and much firmer to say you don’t do something and to stick to it then saying you can’t do something or that you shouldn’t do something. For instance; “I shouldn’t have another beer” is usually followed by another beer. Similarly we have; “I can’t stay out too late” which usually leads to coming home in the early hours. Try it the other way now. I don’t drink more than 4 pints and I don’t stay out past half 11. It’s firm, it’s steady and it’s almost a certainty.
I don’t is a solid answer whereas the other answers are all susceptible to suggestion. It’s even easier to convince yourself of what you’re saying. I shouldn’t have dessert versus I don’t have dessert are two massively different answers. One is open to suggestion (the hungry fat voice at the back of your head) while the other is an end to an argument before it has even begun. It’s the difference between leaving with cheesecake and cream all over your face or with the dignity of knowing your pants will still fit in the morning.
So I’m going to give it a go. Here’s an example of some of the things I’m going to try and not do anymore:
I don’t eat dessert. A simple way to try and stop imitating the size of the equator with my waist line. This one should be ok since I’m not a massive dessert fan and the price of dessert is pretty hefty anyway. Besides, if you have Cheesecake as a starter it’s not a dessert, right? NO!
I don’t drink much. Again the wallet is being taken care of here. The hangover too, or rather, lack thereof.
I don’t dwell too much. What’s the point in wondering about what ifs and what could have been? Dwelling on something will only ever make sense if you have a time machine. Pick yourself up and move on. I did that today. Cycled in and forget my wallet and instead of dwelling on it I went to my wife (kind of like a little annoyed baby) and now we’re doing lunch.
I don’t do fizzy. No Coca-Cola. No Fanta. No Club Orange. No Red Bull. No Boost. No sugary carbonated drinks. They may taste nice but they ruin you, in many ways. Consider this: I use Coca Cola to unclog drains. Metal drains. Imagine what that does to your soft tissue.
I don’t curse. This is mostly for the benefit of my beautiful and wonderful daughter. It will be football boots this and cupid stunts that but I will endeavour to trap the words and my lips for fear of an embarrassing shopping trip full of expletives.
So there, there are 4 things I don’t do. It’s a paradigm shifting change. Give it a go. Find some things you don’t like and don’t do them. Everybody has them, the annoying habits and routines they don’t like. Empower yourself, don’t do it!

Hiking Tips

I like the auld bit of hiking. The whole thing of getting outdoors and pushing yourself. It’s a great mix of nature and exercise. When you’re doing it you’ll often see other hill-walkers and climbers and you’ll exchange a pleasant hello and maybe a bit of banter. Then you encounter the people who don’t do it as much and you’d almost have to pay them to talk to you.

The first group are grand. They’re friendly and welcoming and usually share the same interests. Mainly being the love of getting out. They’ll also have a common look about them. They’ve got the gear and they genuinely look happy about being out. If you’re planning on getting into hill-walking or climbing the bigger mountains there are a couple of things you should put on a checklist;

  • Clothing: Wear appropriate clothing for the conditions. Head to any of the many outdoors shops around Ireland and you’re sure to pick up proper pants, t-shirts, jumpers, jackets and socks. They’ll make a big difference to your morale and indeed your safety. In winter time and in cooler weather warm and appropriate clothing could be the difference between a successful climb and an accident. Hats, gloves, scarves should all be in your bag. Bring spares as well. Spare socks and tops are the big ones, but try fit some spare pants in there too.
  • Footwear: Invest in decent boots. Decent boots will pay dividends in protecting your feet and keeping you steady on the rocks. Don’t just buy the cheapest or indeed the most expensive pair. Try them on, see if they support your ankle and the sole of your foot. These two things will be most likely to bother you on a hike. Also, try and make sure they’re waterproof. Mountains and hills tend to have rivers, bogs, large ponds. Soggy socks will ruin your day. Gators are handy too.
  • Equipment: Walking poles are extremely handy. Especially on windy days and on longer hikes. They are very effective in helping you climb and keep your balance. Know how to use them. When you should keep them shorter and when they should be longer. They’ll also make for handy splints if you or one of your party hurts something in a fall or slip. Bring a compass and map and do your best to keep orientated on your hike. Electronic GPS devices are cool and all but can be absolutely useless. Try and do a bit of research on your route as well. Do not rely on your phone for anything but calling for help.
  • First Aid: Bring a basic first aid kit. Plasters, scissors, bandages, that kind of thing. You may not need them but somebody else who is injured may need them. They weigh very little so why not bring them.
  • Supplies: Food and water are the big ones, especially the liquids part. For the longer hikes you will sweat and need hydration so try bring between 1.5 and 3 litres of water. Some lucozade can also be a good pick me up. Soft drinks though are mostly useless and work against your energy levels and hydration. Brings snacks and a main snack for when you reach your peak. Fruit, sandwiches, tins of tuna are all good choices. A hot drink in a flask can also boost you on the trip. Toilet paper. Bring toilet paper. You never know when you’ll need it, but surely it’s one of those things you’d rather not miss having.
  • Talk: Tell people where you’re going and roughly how long you’ll be. That way if you get injured or stranded you shouldn’t be missing for too long. If you’re driving try not to hide your car when you park it, that way people will have a good indication as to where you started.
  • Bag: why bring all that nice dry stuff and then bring a bag that will soak up the water like a sponge. A good waterproof bag will cost you between €30-€50 and will come with a cover for when (WHEN) it rains. Try go for a 33/35 litre bag, they’re the perfect size. Lots of places to put all your stuff.
  • The Weather: The weather rules, you will not beat it. Look at the forecast. If it’s not too bad you’re good to go. If it’s to be particularly poor then maybe choose a different hike or less challenging route.
  • Plan: Have a plan (at least a rough one). Know where you’re going, what to expect, when the sun goes down, the basics really. Plan to bring what you need. Don’t go crazy though, there’s no point lugging a massive pack around if you’re only out for a relaxing hike.

The last time I went hiking with a small group there was a wind warning in effect and on a mountain or a hill you really feel that. I was fine. I was snug in my ski pants, jacket and 2 layers underneath with my hat, gloves and scarf. I was astounded and shocked by the people I saw coming up as I headed back down, the second group of people you encounter on days out. There was one group of ladies with no jacket between them all wearing a t-shirt and yoga pants with flat runners. It was a recipe for disaster and on the way down I could hear it in them.

One lady complained that she couldn’t feel her hands and nearly started crying. I don’t blame her. As she was saying that her friends where leaving her there. Which was in particularly poor form as the one lady with a small bottle of water had passed me already. They were clearly not prepared for the day that was in it and the climb ahead. I also once encountered two hikers who had relied on their GPS, which failed them. They went a long way in the wrong direction. Luckily for them it wasn’t too late to correct their mistake.

In not preparing in even the slightest way they were putting themselves at risk. In doing that they were putting others in harms way. If we’ve seen anything over the past few months it is that there is a network of brave volunteers out there who are prepared and ready to go rescue and help people who get stuck or injured. Yes, sometimes the shit just hits the fan and you need to get help. However, I can’t help but get the feeling that they wouldn’t have to go out so much if people just got the basics right.

So…KISS. Keep it simple stupid. Plan ahead and try avoid the hassle of making the news. Try not to go beyond your abilities. Over time you will be able to do more, but take it easy. Most importantly, get out there and enjoy yourself. Take in the fresh air, the sights and the relaxing feeling that comes with putting your boots on the ground.

Please do share your own tips in the comments below. What would you add in?

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.

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.

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.