Grieving and healing

‘They say time’s supposed to heal you, but I ain’t done much healing,’ are the lyrics that most struck me when I heard Adele’s new song ‘Hello’, for the first time. They certainly aptly describe how I feel about the fact that I, like so many other people across the country, didn’t manage to get tickets for her upcoming concerts in the O2 and in Belfast in spite of trying to phone Ticketmaster from 8.30am onwards on Friday 4th December (God loves a trier, right?) and reports later revealed that tickets had sold out within five minutes of going online. I won’t lie. I was gutted, but later made light of it when I offered my kidney in return for Adele tickets on Facebook (that offer’s still there, by the way. Message me here, on Facebook, on Twitter… whatever suits).

I’m just about over it now. If only real grief was so easy to deal with.

Today will be the seventh year I’ve marked mum’s birthday without her. Seven years. I’ve counted it up a few times because I still can’t believe she’s been dead for so long. She’s been dead for six and a half years. I haven’t had a proper conversation with her, touched her face or heard her voice in nearly seven years. Breaking it down like that fills me with panic, because when she first passed away I thought that I would be unable to function without her. I didn’t think I could. At the start, there were days when I would go to work in jeans and hoodies. There were other days when I couldn’t face going to work, or eating, or doing anything remotely productive. Then there were the constant thoughts. My last words to her were not ‘I love you’ or ‘Thank you’… (It annoys me that I can’t remember what they were, but I know they were nothing remarkable). If only I’d known how sick she was, I would’ve, could’ve, should’ve… What were her last thoughts, was she scared/happy/sad…? I was consumed by these pointless thoughts for nearly two years, and they nearly destroyed me. For my own wellbeing, I’ve learned to let them go.

In an attempt to ‘get my act together’, I reluctantly agreed after three months to go to the Parish Centre in Tullamore for counselling. Bless them, they were nice, but the lady I spoke to spent most of the time asking me about my disability. ‘Right, so, you feel guilty because you didn’t get to say goodbye to you mammy… here, tell me something, do you dress yourself in the morning? Aren’t you great?’ At the end of the session I lied and said that she had cured me of my grief and I didn’t need any more counselling sessions. In fairness, the bizarre experience did cheer me up for a while (purely because it was like it had happened in a parallel universe), but then I found myself facing my own feelings again, and I didn’t like that. So instead of dealing with them, or at least acknowledging that I had them, I decided it was my job to look after everyone else. (I genuinely love looking after others, don’t get me wrong). Is Laura okay? Is dad okay? Is Stephen okay? Is Alex okay? Is John Paul okay? Are the goldfish okay? I took on as much as I could in order to avoid coming face-to-face with the gut-wrenching pain that was losing my mother. This wasn’t their fault, and I was more than happy to do it, but my obsession with their well-being became a tad unhealthy to the point where I couldn’t decipher what I felt myself.

Even when it came to selling our family home, two years later, I remained steeled against falling into sentimentality. We had to sort through all of our mum’s stuff, which was the hardest thing I’ve ever done (you know, apart from losing those Adele tickets). I tried to be practical and sort everything into ‘valuable’ i.e. jewellery, handwritten books, her drawings and paintings, photos and ‘crap’ i.e. keyrings, pencilcases, receipts, empty notebooks. Us three girls did this together and Laura and Alex started reminiscing. ‘Aw, remember when mum wore this? And the day she bought that?’ I walked out on one particular occasion. I didn’t want to remember. As far as I was concerned, mum had been dead two years and grieving time was over. I had to move on with my life. I wasn’t going to get sucked into the past again. It was too painful. If I had to talk about mum in the past tense, it would mean that she was truly gone, and I wasn’t ready to acknowledge what that meant yet.

Fast-forward three years, to 2014. Much had changed. I had my own daughter. We lived in our own house. Everything was good, brilliant even, when suddenly I started to feel a grief so intense it felt like it was choking me. I’m not sure whether it was the passing of a family member in April 2014 that triggered my grief, but I felt the loss of my mother as strongly as the day she was buried. Every part of my body craved her, to see her, to hear her, to have her meet Alison. I felt lonely for her. I wanted to chat to her. This was nothing new, usually these feelings would pass as the days wore on. They didn’t this time; in fact they intensified. ‘To hell with this,’ I thought, annoyed, ‘I have a child to mind. Cop yourself on.’ But I couldn’t. Ignoring my grief wasn’t going to work, not this time. It got to a point where I could barely face getting out of bed. I forced myself to take time off work to recover and embrace these feelings. It was difficult but I learned so much about myself during this time. I learned that I tend to take on too much, that I become overwhelmed too easily, and that keeping things bottled up comes back to haunt you eventually. But equally I realised that I was stronger than I thought, that I had somehow managed to keep things together and that I would eventually regain the ability to do these things again once I took the time to take care of myself emotionally.

When I first read about the five stages of grief, I thought that the grieving process would be over once I’d entered and ‘completed’ each stage (the stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance). I imagined the ‘acceptance’ stage as some sort of finishing line where I would be able to think of my mother without bawling like an idiot. I thought that it would be like the ending of a Disney film – soppy and sentimental, but over. Some days I think I’ve conquered this grief, but in the last twenty-four hours I’ve heard ‘The Fairytale of New York’ twice and I’ve cried in public, twice. (Once was at an office party so hopefully my colleagues just thought I was pissed.) My mother once told me that ‘Fairytale’ was her favourite Christmas song, so every time I hear it my soul wells up with sadness that I try to suppress. Sometimes I can do it, other times I fail miserably.

I’m not an expert but from what I’ve experienced over the last six years, and from listening to others’ experiences of grief, it is a process that never ends. Although I’ve had to learn how to function without my mum, it doesn’t mean that I don’t miss her, and I still shed a tear or two at the most inappropriate times. And though it’s not convenient, it feels somehow liberating to acknowledge and embrace these feelings when they arise instead of trying to push them down all the time.

I guess what I’m trying to say is: mum, I love you. Some days I think of you more than others, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss you. I won’t be able to contain my grief all the time, but hey, I’m only human. All I can do is try my best to make you proud every day. Happy birthday. Big hugs. I’ll have a Knickerbocker Glory in your honour (I’ll do what I have to do).

 

PS Seriously lads – those Adele tickets – all prices considered. All unnecessary organs up for grabs.

A little bit of me.

My dad and I almost came to blows yesterday. He loves my blogs, but thinks that many of them are too disability-focused. ‘It’s not all there is to you,’ he said  while I sat there with my lips pursed tightly. What kind of armchair disability activist would I be if I didn’t write about the discrimination facing people with disabilities on a daily basis? I asked defensively. After the urge to have an Ali-style tantrum (she’s three, I’m thirty-one) subsided, I decided to select a few random facts to divulge about myself to you, dear  reader. You can thank my dad.

  1. I’m a Taurean, so by nature I’m a teeny weeny bit stubborn. I was also born in 1984, the Chinese year of the Rat. Incidentally, my biggest fear in the whole world is rats. I mean I would rather die than come face-to-face with a rat. The scariest book I’ve ever read is 1984 by George Orwell solely because Winston was tortured into submission by rats. (Freaky coincidence, no?) Mum fuelled my irrational fear of rats: one day she was taking me off the school bus and a rat darted across the garden, making mum scoop me up in her arms and sprint to the front door. We sat on the kitchen table until 10pm that night, when mum had installed the sonar system. But I’ve never felt safe since.
  2. I’ve always loved reading and writing. I started writing poetry when I was eight and decided that it was a sensible career choice. I imagined myself on the side of a mountain somewhere, hair blowing wildly in all directions, jotting furiously in a notebook. When I was ten I won a poetry competition for a poem I wrote called ‘The Conceited Man.’ I’d come across the word ‘conceited’ while trawling through the dictionary one day (as you do) and knew I had to use it somewhere special. On the night that I collected the award I had to read the poem aloud to an audience of four hundred odd people, and it included the line ‘My dad’s a boaster’. Neither of my parents had heard the poem before and I could see them in the audience with gritted teeth as I recited it. It’s unlikely that anyone else understood me, but the folks heard every word. I spent the next ten years fobbing off people who asked for copies of it.
  3. On a related note, I can often get away with cursing under my breath because people can’t make out my speech. Except with my husband. That man hears  like a bat. Well, I can’t get away with it anymore, now that I’ve told you all. Whoopsie.
  4. When you think ‘woman’, you might be inclined to automatically think ‘shoe shopping’. Not the case with me, shoe shopping is my worst nightmare. I can’t wear heels, pumps, uggs, open-toe or strappy sandals. Which means that I either have to buy really crappy shoes from Tesco or clumpy granny shoes #sexy. I wore heels to my school grad and everyone thought I was wasted. If only I had been but being supervised by teachers doesn’t really scream ‘relaxing drinking time’ to me.
  5. I have a large brown mole on my left shin which is a birthmark and the only time I remember it’s there is when we go on a sun holiday and I have to cover it up. I may get it removed…that’s what I’ve been saying for the last ten years. But if I ever get abducted, this birthmark could help to identify me and save my life.
  6. I’ve spent the last couple of months trying to establish a writing career, but I’ve decided if it doesn’t work out I am going to dedicate my life furthering my research into the long-term benefits of chocolate. Well, someone’s gotta do it, and I’m more than willing to volunteer. I’m selfless like that, me. And if there are clinical trials involved, well… count me in. Seriously, my addiction to chocolate is embarrassing. If there’s not at least two bars of it in the press I begin to hyperventilate.
  7. I got away with not buttoning the two top buttons on my school shirt for six years. Still, I’d rather do a hundred buttons than face a single rat.
  8. I don’t wear or own makeup. I tell people it’s a coordination thing, but actually I’m just  too lazy. Showering is effort enough. And time is a precious commodity, my friend. I’m so busy doing my high-powered job (writing) that being clean is more important. Plus there’s no point in expensive makeup when there’s a three year old in the house – this lesson was sorely learned when she got her hands on my expensive perfumes. She smelt like she was going on the pull to the Bridge House.
  9. I don’t drink anymore. All it does it make me sleepy. I’ve never done anything remotely funny when drunk, so what’s the point?
  10. When I was ten and in fourth class, I told everyone that I was going for a major, life-changing operation that  would possibly cure my Cerebral Palsy. Bless them, my classmates believed me and went to impressive efforts to make me a box of goodies to make sure that I wouldn’t get bored in the hospital when I was recovering. Of course, it wasn’t strictly true: I was booked in for a botox injection that would loosen the muscles in my right calf, thus helping me to walk better. The injection was administered within ten minutes and I was discharged on the same day and back in school two days later with no crutches, no wheelchair and no casts, not even a measly scar. And then I wonder why people think I’m overdramatic.
  11. When I was in Transition Year I wrote a play called ‘Waiting for Anna’ which was performed by my fellow classmates. I went to an all-girls school, so some girls were cast in male roles. They were not impressed but they managed to be true to their characters. When rehearsal began, most didn’t realise I’d written it which led to some interesting insights into what they really thought of it. To be fair, they were gentle, but it was then that I realised that having a fragile ego as a writer would work to my disadvantage.
  12. Every time I chide my beautiful daughter for not eating her dinner, I have to remember that I only ate sausages and Micro Chips for dinner for until I was ten. I refused spag bol, lasagne, pizza, potatoes, veg, boiled rice, sauces of any description and stews (except mum’s sausage stew). Now I can’t eat any dinner without veg. So any mummies with fussy eaters out there, don’t despair: there is hope. Your child will be  fine.
  13. Two foods that I will never ever eat are eggs and tomato ketchup. The egg aversion was the result of a dodgy breakfast when we were on holidays in Galway when I was about five and Laura was a baby. Dad had cooked eggs and you could smell the sulphur down the street, and the memory of the smell is still potent. I’m not sure why I hate ketchup, but the smell of it turns my stomach. So much so that on my communion day, when the waitress unwittingly lobbed it onto my plate, I had a shit fit in the middle of the Bridge House and refused to eat my dinner unless the hotel would provide me with a fresh dinner on a fresh plate, and a clean set of cutlery. Also crisps, of any description: I think it’s the fat and the saltiness. My parents are so proud of me.
  14. Finally, I’ve had stitches put into my head twice. The first time was when I was swinging around in the playroom with my friend Aoife and one of us let go and I whacked my head off the window ledge. The second time I was fourteen and in Lourdes singing with a group of people when I fell over and whacked my head. I barely remember being bundled into  a wheelchair and being brought back to the hotel. My poor mother back in Ireland was half-angry, half-hysterical. Actually I’ve taken a lot of whacks to the head. My poor, damaged brain.

So yeah, that’s me, warts and all – the face behind this blog. Please don’t unfollow this blog and I promise I will send you chocolate (you know, if I haven’t eaten it first).

Ten smartarse answers.

When I took time off work to write, I committed myself to writing an interesting blog three days a week. As you can see, I haven’t yet managed to deliver on this yet (but I have been writing behind the scenes, I swear-the results will be ready in twenty years’ time). When I’m not writing or doing laundry (seriously, there are only three people in this house – where does it all come from?!) I spend my time dossing around, window shopping or doing some errands. And it is rarely mundane, because invariably somebody comes over to me and asks questions that are inappropriate, strange or just plain rude. Recently I’ve started to wonder how people would react if I actually answered these questions with the first thing that popped into my head. I’m sure I would not be popular at all, at all, at all.

Question/statement 1: Are you on your own?
My answer: Yes
What I’d like to answer: No, I’m not on  my own. This is my friend Mary, behind me. Say hello to Mary. What do you mean you can’t see her? Mary, come on introduce yourself, don’t be shy.

Question/statement 2: Is that your daughter?
My answer: Yes. Isn’t she lovely?
What I’d like to answer: Oh my God did you not see us on the telly? What was the point? I’m mortally offended. And believe me, I’m just as shocked that I’ve managed to get her to three-and-a-half, you’re not alone there.

Question/statement 3: Will I get your purse  out of your bag for you?
My answer: Ah no, I can manage, thanks.
What I’d like to answer: Sorry I’m holding up the people behind me, I have misunderstood the definition of ‘queue’. Please feel free to rummage through my bag. Here, do you have a pen? I’ll write down my PIN code.

Question/statement 4: Do you ever wish you didn’t have a disability?
My answer: No, I’m happy the way I am.
What I’d like to answer: (?!@#’\) No, but I could do without these annoying questions. Now go away, I’m trying to eat my dinner.

Question/Statement 5: I think you’re great, a real inspiration.
My answer: Trust me there’s nothing great about me.
What I’d like to answer: Here is my dad’s number and my husband’s number. They’ve seen me at my laziest. They’ll soon set you straight

Question/Statement 6: It must be horrible, having to use a wheelchair all the time.
My answer: Ah it’s not all the time. It’s just for energy conservation purposes. I still walk sometimes.
What I’d like to answer: Nah, at least I can beat my toddler in a race. Ready, Steady, Go! WEEEEEEEE!

Question/Statement 7: So did you conceive naturally, or did you get help?
My answer: I was just lucky, thank God.
What I’d like to answer: Here is a forty-eight page questionnaire about your sex life. Don’t worry, your information will be kept private to myself only. I’m just curious, is all.

Question/Statement 8: Do you wash and dress yourself in the morning?
Me: I do indeed.
What I’d like to answer: Yes I do wash and dress myself,  do you? Oh yay, we both deserve medals! Because obviously the ability to wash and dress oneself is the most accurate way of measuring one’s value to society, and Stephen Hawking ain’t all that.

Question/Statement 9: Can you cook yourself?
Me: I can, and I’m a good cook.
What I’d like to answer: When I’m not running around with a fire extinguisher or nursing first degree burns, I make a mean microwave lasagne.

Question/Statement 10: Do you live alone?
Me: Well ..no… I live with my husband and child.
What I’d like to answer: Here is my address, and a map of how to get there. I’ll be out between the hours of nine and five.

I’m a pussycat  really. But sometimes I show my claws.

Embracing the world of writing

As some of you may know, I’m halfway through a six month career break, the purpose of which was to see if I could do a bit of writing. Initially the plan was to see if I could write a few articles, as well as more frequent blogs, and see where it takes me. As you can guess from the lack of blogs on here, things are not exactly going to plan. And I am starting to panic a bit because I am going to look like an ass if I go back to work in January with nothing to show for myself.

That’s not to say that I haven’t written anything at all. In fact I’m writing a story at the moment and I’ve actually written 30,000 words. This is nearly three times what I wrote for my thesis, so in a way I’m proud. In another way, I’m also thinking oh my God you dingbat, you took time out of a job that you are passionate  about to do this?! As I scroll through the pages, I think this is absolute drivel. No-one will read this, or if they do they will think you are a complete and utter twat.

Writing makes me happy. But does happy put bread on the table? I enjoy it. So do it in your spare time and see where you are in a year. I’m constantly being ripped apart by these voices who can never just agree with each other.

Then, of course, there’s the other voices. The mean voices, the ones who want to destroy your soul. This is shite. This is really shite. Who do you think you are, the next JK Rowling? Trust me, you ain’t.

–  I don’t wanna be the next JK Rowling, I just want to write some words on a page and have them mean something to someone.
– No, this is absolute rubbish. Best thing you can do is delete it and pretend it never happened.
– I think I can do this.
Yeah, well, you  can’t, okay? You’re wasting your time. Just go and watch Eastenders, don’t worry your little blonde head about it.

But, being a worrier by nature, it does take up a lot of my headspace, thinking about things to write. And as time goes on, I’ve learned a few things about my writing habits, namely:

  1. I need to start bringing some kind of writing device to the toilet/shower, because that’s where all the good stuff happens. Only rarely does it come when Ali is in bed, and my laptop is in front of me. (Incidentally, it doesn’t come when I’m looking on Facebook, either. Funny that).
  2. I’ve started to write as if no-one will ever see it, because if I imagined anyone (especially close friends and family) reading it, I don’t think i’d write anything.
  3. Banging my head against walls and cursing colourfully at my laptop does not make the task of writing any easier. Instead, it usually calls for  two Neurofen and a nap in a  dark place.
  4. When my brain dies, I usually want to sleep, which means that there  are unwritten words out there in the wilderness. Like now. It is ten to twelve and all I want to do is sleep.
  5. Even when I can’t seem to write another word, I still can’t bring myself to stop trying, even though the inability to do so makes me  feel stupid.

God, I love writing. It’s such a peaceful, worthwhile vocation.

It really, really is.

Or so I hear.

Schooldays

A couple of weeks ago, John Paul and I finally got around to dropping in the enrolment forms for Alison for primary school, which she is due to start next year. We’ve spoken to lots of parents about their opinions of what school might be best, and based on this we have nearly decided which school would be suitable. I’m not telling, but needless to say, standards and class sizes are factors in this important decision. As long as Alison is happy, I don’t really mind. Her happiness is everything to me.

Enrolling Alison in primary school has brought back memories that I thought I’d long forgotten. I started school in September 1989 at the age of five. I obviously don’t remember this myself, but I know that my mother had to beg the principal to let me into the school. There was a ‘special class’ on site in prefabs, which would’ve been suitable for accessibility reasons but stood separate from the main school building. My mother wanted me to be integrated as much as possible and finally, after much coercion, the principal agreed that I could join Junior Infants, specifically Mrs. Dowling’s class.

Mrs Dowling was so kindhearted and soft that I couldn’t believe my luck. On my first day of school I sat beside a girl called Emma, who remained a close friend all through primary and secondary school. I was a novelty, but school was the first time that I felt any different from my peers. I had to be wheeled about in a buggy for my first year in primary school. Children would be told, both by teachers and parents that ‘Sarah is very delicate and walks differently from other people.’ Delicate, my hole. I was clumsy, but sturdy. Yes, I was easily knocked over, but I could pick myself up just as easily. After a while, it was more like ‘Get up off the floor Sarah, you look like a tool.’

Indeed, I don’t remember primary school as being one of the most dignified times of my life. I remember in Junior Infants there was a box of old trousers and underpants under the teacher’s desk, in case somebody had an accident. If ever there was an incentive not to soil yourself that was it. God only knew who had been wearing those pants beforehand.

As if being wobbly and misshapen wasn’t quite enough to separate me from the pack, I was awarded an electric typewriter, possibly a state-of-the-art machine at the time, that sounded like it was coughing every time a letter was pressed, and a machine gun every time the eraser was activated. Because my speech was seemingly unintelligible, the typewriter doubled up as a communication device. I think I ended up costing a fortune in ink! There were no laptops at the time, but there were Acorn Computers which needed lots of complicated codes to access. These were only available in the Resource room at first, but soon there was a computer per classroom.

It was in primary school that I started to develop a lazy work ethic, and I think being sternly corrected for my antics have left me with a phobia of being lazy or not reaching my potential. In third class, I told the substitute teacher that my parents had decided that I shouldn’t have to do homework because they were afraid that it would tire me out. I got away with playing computer games for a whole month because I acted as if I was so stupid in class that the sub evidently thought that there was no point in teaching me. Needless to say, that when my parents were confronted about my antics, they were so mortified that they couldn’t summon up a punishment severe enough. Actually, this is untrue; until the day she died, my mother would casually bring up this particular incident in order to frighten me into achieving my potential.

I also went through a delightful phase (that only ended towards the end of first year of secondary school) of wanting to write down everything by hand. I wanted to be like everyone else, and if my disability wasn’t enough to stop me getting homework, then at least I should be able to write with a lovely fountain pen just like my classmates. Problem was, of course, that teachers are not trained to read Ancient Greek. By the end of first year, I succumbed to using a laptop and computer for classwork, but only because it was a modern Windows 95 and not the ‘abomination’ with the illuminous green screen that had been donated by Dad’s work colleagues. I would have nightmares about pressing the wrong button and breaking it. Even now, my parents don’t believe me.

I wasn’t really allowed partake in mainstream PE, but I was given a gym mat in the corner where I could do my physio while the others played games. Hmmm, fun. Not. However, I did enjoy a few sessions of Irish dancing in my older years, and I was allowed on the trampoline a couple of times. Needless to say, however, I was not chosen for the basketball teams. As I got older, I was allowed to bring my tricycle into sports day at school and I would spend all day cycling around the town park, cheering on my friends.

Indeed, primary school wasn’t all ‘doom and gloom’ and I remember crying for days when I left sixth class. It was in primary school that I decided, with some conviction, that I wanted to be a writer. Primary school taught me that with equality comes responsibility, and that if I wanted to be respected and treated with dignity and credibility, I would have to prove that I was worthy of this. I also learned that being outside the ‘popular’ circle was not a bad thing, and I never felt pressured to be anyone but the needy social misfit that I was (am!)

And now, as my precious daughter grows older and nears her own primary school adventure, I hope that she makes her own memories that she can look back on with fondness. I hope that she won’t get teased in the yard for having ‘wobbly’ parents. Most of all, I hope she has fun. Though if she could find fun in activities that didn’t involve manipulating her teachers like her mother did, I’d be grateful.

Why getting an English Degree was so absolutely Important

I am very proud to say that I have a degree in English Studies from Trinity College Dublin. One of the most prestigious colleges in the world. This degree has become my trump card when telling people I don’t know about myself, especially with people who tend to dismiss me because (a) I’m blonde (b) I’m a woman and (c) I have a disability. I chose to do English because I was really good at it in school. I didn’t want to do computers or any course that was perceived as being ‘suitable’ or ‘useful’ for people with disabilities. (This is what my husband did instead of doing the courses he really wanted to do, primary teaching or accountancy). I was top of my English class, so it seemed like a logical move.

However, my choice to study English in College has been the subject of some very awkward conversations that usually go like this:

Randomer: So, what do you do?

Me: Well, I’m a PRO for a disability organisation. (Pause. Then wanting to sound intelligent, I say) But I also have an English Degree from Trinity.

Randomer: Wow, Trinity College. Well done you. You must be very intelligent.

Me: (bashfully) Oh I don’t know.

Randomer: (Impressed pause) That’s truly amazing. (Another pause, during which I can see a look of confusion creeping onto my companion’s face). So, what does that qualify you to do?

Me: Well, technically I’m a literary critic.

Randomer: A what?

Me: A literary critic. You know, like, I can read a book or a poem and tell you about the language, the intent of the author, and most importantly, if there is underlying sexual connotations. (Note to the uninitiated: there are always underlying sexual connotations. If you can’t see it, you are obviously not looking hard enough).

Randomer: Thank God you were born.

If you’re thinking that I should have been awarded a degree from the National College of Bullshit, you would be right. Because the English Studies course I read was amazing, a real ‘must-do’ for any lover of literature or aspiring writer. I was taught, and constantly surrounded by, geniuses who had written volumes of books and papers on topics such as Shakespeare, Post-Colonialism, Poetry, Irish Women writers and many more diverse and interesting topics. These were truly intelligent people and I felt like a dumbass. Here’s some examples of how this idiocy manifested itself during my college days:

  • My first tutorial: We were introduced to each other and then asked to name the last book we’d read. I panicked and, unable to lie, I dutifully revealed that the last book I’d read was Life of Pi. The lecturer proceeded to ask me what struck me about the book, to which I replied ‘The striking relationship between animal and human and the theme of interdependency’. Agreeing, she asked me to elaborate, to which I replied ‘you know, your man, and the tiger, on the boat together, not killing each other.’
  • We took a course called Old English. Old English is not like ‘hear ye’ stuff, it’s like ancient Greek, and we had to translate texts such as Beowolf (can’t remember the others, sorry). I spent hours translating them word by word, but it annoyed me when I read out my word-for-word translation while my classmate read out his/her translation, grammar and syntax perfect. I felt stupid until I discovered that my classmates had got their hands on the already translated version by Seamus Heaney (or some other translation). Then I felt ridiculously stupid.
  • We also read Chaucer and Marlowe, with their use of ‘u’ for ‘v’, ‘y’ for ‘I’, double Fs and all that stuff. But those texts were much easier than the dreaded Piers Plowman. I went to the lecture on Piers Plowman for clarification on the meaning of the book, only to hear something about sheep eating mud. Useful. Not.
  • It took me two years to figure out that rhetoric and discourse are just fancy-schmancy words for language. When someone spoke about post-colonial/feminist ‘discourse’, I would write in the margin, for the hundredth time that week, ‘look up “discourse”.’ Thankfully, I grasped these difficult concepts just before my final exams (and before writing a thesis on the subject of female discourse in Shakespeare’s plays).
  • In fact, the only time I failed an essay or exam was in second year, when I  thought I would  get away with using the same text for two questions, even though it specifically stated on the paper not to do this: ‘You must not substantially repeat material’. Well, according  to Roland Barthes’ The Death of the Author, what matters most is what the reader interprets from the text, not what the author intended by writing it. I therefore read, ‘Go on. Use the same material for two questions. They’ll never notice. Plus you haven’t read any of the other texts so you don’t have much of a choice.’
  • I often bullshitted my way through tutorials using only the blurb on the back cover as a guide. Come on, where are you supposed to get time to read 6-8 novels a week in between one of your twelve one-hour lectures? The most memorable occasion was when I gave a presentation on H.G. Wells’ The Shape of Things to Come. I’d read the first 300 pages but didn’t have time (ah, elusive time) to read the ending. So I gave the presentation and I’d finished giving my general interpretations when the lecturer asked the class: ‘So who got to the end, apart from Sarah and I?’ Silence. ‘Okay Sarah, why don’t we enlighten them?’ ‘Of course! Er, why don’t you go first?’ Laughter. ‘Sarah, did you read the ending?’ ‘Er, not so much, no.’ Endings are apparently important in an apocalypse class. In my defence, I only had sixteen weeks to prepare for this presentation, in between these twelve one-hour lectures. Come on, I’m not Superwoman.

Laziness and fabrication aside, I’m glad I had the opportunity to go to Trinity and study English, which was taught some of the most intelligent and insightful academics in the field. And if nothing else, being able to say you have a degree from Trinity seems to be a significant achievement. Now that I’ve exposed my deepest secret, I’m off to hide my parchment somewhere before it is pried off me.

Feck off. It’s mine now. I’ve earned it.

Kind of. *This blog was inspired by a fellow classmate’s Facebook status today*

Just a date

It’s funny how the human mind can make associations, how a chill in the air or a familiar smell can wash over you and bring you back to a time and place that you thought you’d never have the good fortune/grave misfortune of experiencing again. For example, when I see my own breath fog up against the black sky for the first time every October, I know that Halloween is just around the corner, with Christmas nipping furiously at its heels. I know as I chomp on a contraband Easter egg after Alison has gone to bed at night that the slight red tinge in the sky is signalling the arrival of summer. I smell the barbecues, the freshly mown grass, the faint titter of laughter wafting gently through our windows.

And despite the improvement in the weather (well, normally. At the moment it is freeeeezing), I begin to feel cold, heavy, wary. Sometimes I feel sick with restlessness and anxiety as memories, good and bad, swoop in and strangle me until I can’t breathe. May used to be my favourite month of the year, and in many ways, it still is. For me, May signifies the beginning of the end of school and college. It reminds me of a photo that was taken of my brother and I when I was five, celebrating my brother’s ninth birthday on 18 May, just me and him, with an icecream log. Mum wasn’t there because she was recovering from her c-section; my sister had been born almost a fortnight beforehand, on 7 May 1989.

Exactly twenty years later mum closed her eyes for the last time.

I’m sure that it’s an absolute bitch for my sister to have to share her special day so selflessly. I’m sure that no-one wants to sit around moping on their birthday, getting all maudlin about the past. Birthdays should be happy days. Personally, though, I’ve always found birthdays to be a bit of an anti-climax (apart from my 21st when John Paul proposed in front of my family and friends. That was an awesome birthday), to the point where I would actually rather if the day came and went without being marked or acknowledged at all.

And for years I felt the same about my mum’s anniversary, which I try in vain to separate from my beloved sister’s birthday. Can the two be separated? It’s a struggle every year to experience such happiness and sadness at once. How have I managed it? Trying to pretend that the anniversary didn’t bother me, that’s how! Oh so it’s mum’s anniversary today? Well, she was dead yesterday and she’ll still be dead tomorrow, so what difference does a date make? It’s Laura’s birthday, let’s not forget that!

Trying to deny the sadness didn’t work for me in the long run, and last year five years of suppressed emotions hit me suddenly like a freight train. I had to take a considerable length of time off work to feel normal again. Note to the readers: don’t bottle up your emotions. They will come back when you least expect and bite you on the ass. Hard.

For the first couple of years after mum died, I went through the motions. For the first anniversary, I insisted on holding lunch in our house after the anniversary mass for all my relatives so that I didn’t have to face my emotions. It worked; I was so busy in the lead up to the event that I barely had time to think. The second anniversary, I stood beside the grave with my aunt, husband, sisters and brother, then proceeded to go out that night and get wasted (in the name of celebrating Laura’s birthday of course). By the third anniversary, I had an almost three month old baby with terrible reflux and I spent the whole day crying because I felt like an inadequate mother. I had been so hard on my mother and yet, she managed to raise four of us. At that stage, I was seriously debating whether I had it in me to raise one.

Yet somehow mum was there, guiding me. Some days, it just wasn’t enough. I needed to hear her voice. I longed for the opportunity to ridicule her childraising advice. I wanted her to tell me I was doing something wrong, nagging me to the point where I’d lose it and ban her from seeing her only grandchild. I needed her to remind me that I was not alone. And she did, in her own way. I managed to push past the fear and the preconceptions I had of myself, and do the very best for my child, the way my mum did for me.

This year, I will try to embrace the date and try not to suppress my emotions. I promise to allow myself to feel the dread, the sadness, the emptiness. I will grieve for what we lost, as well as what we could’ve had. Most importantly, I will remember that the 7 May is a day of happiness and celebration, and acknowledge that people enter and leave our lives in the strangest of ways. And even though this day is tough, simply because of a date on a calendar, I will be thankful for the fact that I had such a wonderful mother who gave us a sibling who is intelligent, beautiful and loving. (Laura, I can hear your head exploding from here).

For me personally, 7 May will always be a strong reminder that good things happen, and bad things happen, and after they do, all that is left are memories, both beautiful and terrifying.

Rest in peace Mum, and thank you for bringing Laura into all of our lives. I think of you and miss you every single day. And happy birthday sis, make sure you fill your special day with lots of wonderful memories. xxxx

Writing is torture. Where am I going wrong?

Six months ago, I had a sudden epiphany. I’m a PRO for a disability organisation, and I used to really enjoy writing. I wrote a play when I was sixteen, and studied English for four years in Trinity College. I think the notion to write more was inspired by the fact that two (awesome) people I went to college with, Louise O’Neill and Ken Mooney (check out their work, it’s fab) have both had their books published in the last two years. Feeling more than a pang of envy, I decide to knuckle down and take writing seriously. I have an English Degree, how hard can it be, right? And yet, every night, I sit at my laptop and somehow no work gets done.

I’ve decided I’m sick of this cycle of unproductivity and that it’s time to pin down where I’m going wrong, in the hope of having some miraculous breakthrough and becoming the best writer in the world. Let’s study my writing routine.

9.45pm: Little one’s in bed. Time to knuckle down and maybe finish the journalism assignment I started three months ago.

9.55pm: There’s some really good stuff on thejournal.ie. ‘Five ways to tell if you are truly Irish’ and ’20 expressions only  the Irish know about’ is riveting reading. I’m sure it will come in handy for my upcoming article/blog about International Women’s Day, which took place a week ago.

10.10pm: Okay, stop messing around now. Close off Internet Explorer  and open Microsoft Word. I write/freewrite for about ten minutes every night, to get the proverbial juices flowing. I look at what I wrote the night before and think, God, was I drunk or something? Type more random shit in the hope that the good stuff is yet to come.

10.35pm: The Eastenders theme tune thuds behind the closed kitchen door. Feeling smug because I don’t watch it any more. I just annoy my husband afterwards by asking a million questions about it before bedtime. I know, deep down, he doesn’t mind (much)

10.45pm: Do we have any chocolate? It might give me the energy to concentrate.

10.50pm: I have eaten too much chocolate. Think a toilet break may be in order. That way I can wash my face and regroup.

11.00pm: I seriously need to lie down, but I can’t. I will persevere, even if it kills me. I shall not be defeated. People with disabilities do ‘triumph over adversty’ best, right?

11.10pm: Look over the ramble I did an hour ago, in the hope that I can pull something out of it. Yes, there might be, if my audience skim-read, or are incredibly interested in my to-do list for the week.

11.20pm: Yay! I am actually doing my assignment now! I am in the zone, I am truly a genius. I am finally waking up. I will persevere until this assignment is done. I pulled all nighters in college and I’m still here. Sure I had a baby three years ago and was able to push through sleep deprivation and night feeds. And all I have to do is either finish my assignment, or write a blog: something, anything. It should be easy in comparison to what I’ve had to achieve in the past. (I take a moment to admire the many times I’ve triumphed over adversity. Gosh, I’m just great)

11.35pm: Is the dryer finished now? *checks* No. It’s okay though, it gives more time to do some work and finish things off. Time really is a gift, hidden in the least obvious of packages.

12.00am: Are the clothes dry now? *checks again*. Yup! Thank God. I am bloody exhausted. I can’t feel my arms, but that’s okay. I’m just shattered from all the great work I’ve been doing for the last two and a half hours. I’m pretty great, when I think about it. I wonder would they cast a genuine person with a disability in the cinematic depiction of my life story. If not, I think Cate Blanchett might be an adequate substitute. (ahem, I haven’t given this any thought, honest). Oh well, time for sleep. Ahhhh.

1.30am: *wakes in a sweaty panic* Aggghhh! My assignment is still overdue! I haven’t written anything at all! What was I doing for two and a half hours?!

JP: (beside me when I wake with a start and probably kick him): You okay? What’s wrong?

Me: (deciding my husband deals with enough crazy from me without adding to it) Er,  spasm…

So, people, this is my writing routine. Where am I going wrong? Answers on a postcard please.

A Marriage of Minds

Today, I will celebrate my thirteenth Valentine’s Day with the same person I spent my first Valentine’s Day with. I was eighteen and a complete introvert. I wasn’t in the ‘popular’ group in school, I kept very much to myself, and the only makeup I had was a stick of concealer I’d bought when I was sixteen (in fact, I think I may still have it somewhere). As I smeared it on my face in anticipation of my first ever Valentine’s date, I remember thinking that it would probably be my last, and crying silently in front of the mirror.

Why? Because I had done the unthinkable.

I had fallen in love. This made me feel extremely vulnerable.

I now know that it’s not a bad thing to fall in love with someone, but that wasn’t part of my original plan. When I was sixteen, I had no intention in getting involved in a long term relationship. My dream was, and still is, to become a writer, only I had envisioned a grottier existence with yellowing paperwork and a couple of cats thrown in for good measure. (Think crazy cat lady from The Simpsons). This is what I was working towards. A relationship would be nice, but probably unlikely, given that I was the biggest nerd/introvert in the world, ever. And believe it or not, the words ‘disability’ and ‘sexy’ are not together in the thesaurus.

The story of how JP and I met is embarrassingly cliché, in the disability world at least. I met my husband in a place called Clochan House. For those of you who don’t know where that is, it’s an uber-cool holiday centre with swimming pools, in the centre of Tullamore. (It is not, er, an extension of Tullamore hospital). When I walked in, there he was, quite simply the most handsome thing I had ever seen. He had the widest blue eyes and the gentlest features. And he was approachable, chatty and good-humoured. I knew then, that even if we did not get together, that my life would never be the same.­

It took nearly two years for me to gather the courage to ask him out. We were on a group holiday in another, more aesthetically pleasing respite centre. Having never asked someone out before, I poured my heart out to him like a gobshite. It was something like you’d see in a Disney movie if, after the princess declared her love for her prince, her beloved said ‘okay, let’s give that a go and see what happens’. Sooo romantic. I never wanted the ground to open up and swallow me as much as I did that day. But I’m still glad that I didn’t say something like ‘I want to get off with you’ as one friend suggested (though I’m pretty sure that’s what he heard).

The months that followed were awkward. On our fourth date to the cinema, my mum dropped me off. I had hoped she would stay in the car and do her embarrassing wave and then it’d be over, but no. Instead she walked up to JP outside the cinema, no hellos, no ‘I’m Sarah’s mum’, and said, ‘If you ever touch one hair on my daughter’s head I will hunt you down like a dog and kill you’ and walked off. JP had been holding my hand and he quickly withdrew it. Then we sat in the cinema, side by side, not touching or talking. We didn’t have a date again until before Christmas 2002. This was October. We didn’t even talk over the phone at this stage; all communication was via text. One Saturday, the toe-rag had the balls to come over from Laois to Tullamore after cancelling yet another date, and he later confessed by text! ‘I’m sorry, I’m nervous’, he said. My reaction did nothing to calm these nerves!

After Christmas 2002, the casual relationship turned serious very quickly. It was the year of my Leaving Cert, and from the outside it may seem like the worst time for a teenager to be in a super-serious relationship, but for me, it couldn’t have come at a better time. I was studying relentlessly, killing myself physically and emotionally, and were it not for JP coming down every weekend, I would have ended up in a hospital. We made each other laugh, we liked the same music, we would talk long into the night/morning (sometimes these were like Ross/Rachel style conversations, the ‘where are we?’ conversations). He told me in these early days that he could see us getting married. The closeted cat-lady in me was looking for the nearest exit. In the strangest of twists, he’s the loving, dedicated partner while I’m the commitaphobe.

JP and I did a lot of growing up together. We went out a lot, as young ones do, especially when in the company of mutual friends. My favourite memory is our first holiday alone together to Blackpool, where we stayed in a B and B around the corner from the beach. Of course we totally underestimated how much money we’d need (plus the bank robbed us for each ATM transaction), meaning that we had £10 by the Monday of our holiday. And we weren’t going home till the Wednesday. To my disappointment, I found kicking the wall beside the ATM didn’t help.

So, let me tell you about my husband. JP is quite possibly the most generous guy I’ve ever met, not just financially but in terms in thoughtfulness too. I remember for our first Christmas together, he got me a white gold chain, a beanie teddy and a couple of CDs. I had got him a digital alarm clock. I don’t think he was impressed.

JP is (well, was) a serious Garth Brooks fan. ‘Unanswered Prayers’ is his favourite song. He always wanted to see GB live in Dublin. I’m sure the irony that this particular song is his favourite did not escape him in July 2014.

JP is anal about two things. Firstly, the ‘Coffee-sugar-tea’ containers must be in that order and facing out. Secondly, the dining chairs must be pushed in neatly when not in use. Sometimes, I deliberately leave them out or swap the containers around to mess with his head.

Working sometimes late hours means that JP sometime ends up watching crap on telly to unwind, such as ‘Judge Judy’ and ‘Road Wars’. Well, that’s his excuse for watching them anyway.

JP is the romantic one in the relationship, and I’m the one who laughs at any clichéd attempts at romance.

I am very thankful that John Paul Fitzgerald came into my life and I know how lucky I am to have someone to share all of life’s adventures with. While I’m particularly grateful that he has given us our beautiful daughter, I will always love him for who he is and will always admire him for his blunt honesty and his dedication to me, our marriage and our family.

Happy Valentine’s Day, honey. Sorry about the embarrassing blog but I couldn’t fit all of this into a card XXXXXX

Just take it easy…!

I’ve been sitting here for the last half hour staring blankly at my laptop, opening website after website, reading dodgy articles on thejournal.ie. That’s not why I sat down. I sat down to finish off a journalism assignment that I started two months ago. This sounds like I’ve been dragging my heels, procrastinating this assignment. I have not. In fact, I have researched four thoroughly different articles, all half-written, because I couldn’t decide which one I wanted to write more. Don’t get me wrong: this information will undoubtedly come in handy on a later date. But this article was going to be amazing. I mean award-winning amazing. That’s not quite what I see when I read it back. I’m now afraid to open it in case I feel an uncontrollable urge to delete the whole lot (again). I’m a relentless perfectionist to the point of neuroticism: in other words, I think I am losing my sanity.

The first half of my life was dominated by people pushing me to achieve my potential. I’m not saying that this is a bad thing at all: if it wasn’t for these people (my parents, teachers, Occupational, physio and speech therapists, etc), there is no way that I would be sitting here in my own house writing this blog. Somewhere along the way, I took over, setting ridiculous standards for myself. I wrote a play in Transition Year and later helped to produce it when it was staged by my classmates, some of whom were less than thrilled when they landed male roles (it was an all-girls school). It took the best part of a month to recover from  the exhaustion and my mental health was in tatters. Did I take it easy that summer? Nah! I instead got a summer job with the Tullamore Tribune, where I worked until two weeks before fifth year started, putting aside the money for a holiday in a feckin respite centre in Roscommon (not Ibiza) a year later. I know what you’re thinking. I’m wild. Woo! Then fifth year saw me abandon all forms of human contact as I threw myself into studying for the Leaving Cert. Worried by the prospect of ending up permanently unemployed, I spent eight hours a night (4-12) studying in Fifth Year, much to the despair of my broken-hearted parents who were actually expecting me to collapse dead on the floor with exhaustion. I have  to do this, I would say to myself. I have to prove to everyone what I am capable of. I will not be defined by my disability.

Somehow, I managed to dodge a prolonged stay in a facility with padded walls and men in little white coats and I made it to Trinity College. Phew, I thought, I can relax now. And I did for the first two years, until my marks counted for something, and guess what? The  old Sarah  came back in third year, and so did that irritating voice. You got a scholarship to study here, for God’s sake. There’s no point in doing things by halves. And without the nagging of my parents and (then) fiancé (now husband) I was free to stay up  working till 2-3am on  essays, presentations and my dissertation. I lived off sugar and cereal like every other student. I would turn up for tutorials, bleary-eyed, wondering which book was being discussed today (I only read a selection of novels. Anyone on that course-and you know who you are- who read every prescribed novel/play please step forward for your gold medal). Although I let my hair down a little, I didn’t exactly have a roaring social life in college. I will admit that I did go on three foreign holidays during my college years with friends from home, but the details of those are a little hazy (though not nearly hazy enough)!!

Earlier this year, I was thirty. Like many, I looked back on the aims I  had set myself for when I reached the  big milestone: have a  Master’s degree in Journalism and be actively working in the field; maybe write a novel or a book of poetry;  do a Masters in Disability Studies. None of these were goals I ever reached, and sometimes I feel as if I’ve let myself slide into complacency. On the other hand, I have such a wonderful husband who supports everything I do and without whom I’d be lost, my daughter who makes me smile from the start of the  day to its end with her hilarious antics and a lovely place to call home. I am so lucky, and it wouldn’t hurt me to stand back and count my blessings every once in a while.

Ugh, look at this blog. Look at the dust on the mantelpiece. Look at the laundry piling up in the back hall. Maybe I’ll do some dusting. Maybe I should fold more clothes. Or maybe I’ll just … take it easy and watch some TV and deal with it all tomorrow. It will be still there tomorrow, along with my unfinished assignment.

Maybe, one day I’ll learn that everyone has their limitations.

That nobody is perfect.

Sometimes I  need to take it easy, and hopefully one day, I’ll be okay with this.