These last couple of weeks have been a time of stress, worry, self-hate, and anger. Sometimes, in life, there are things that happen that knock you down a couple of pegs, but you have to find the strength to pick yourself up and force yourself to get through the tough things. I had my first experience of post-traumatic stress, faced a final college assignment that really affected me and I had to once again, deal with my worst personal trait.
I was looking forward to getting the last hurdle of my Master’s degree finally finished. The last hurdle? A presentation defending my chosen topic and how I went about researching the dissertation. You would think that 80 pages and nearly 25,000 words of research would be enough but…. clearly not. I really did not want to do this presentation but we had no other choice. So, I had to spend one more week studying all of the work that I did for my dissertation, putting it all together into a presentation and explaining the topic that I’d studied. My presentation took place on the 9th of September and I was determined to make it the best.
A friend and I planned to work on our presentations together the week before. We arranged to meet at the Queen of Tarts cafe, somewhere I’d never been to before, but I’m always willing to try new places.
It wasn’t until I arrived that I realised that the cafe was located bang next door to a restaurant called the Piglet Wine Bar. I was horrified. This was the place where I had experience the worst allergic reaction of my entire life. It was the place where I honestly thought that I was going to die.
My hands started to shake. My breath was catching in my throat. A voice in my head was saying ‘Oh no, no, no.’ I felt worse when I entered the cafe. Its interior was exactly like the restaurant from that night, right down to the upstairs seating area.
Looking up the stairs, my mind kept thinking back to that night. I can remember stumbling to the bathroom, gasping for breath, barely able to stand. I remember looking at my reflection in the mirror and not recognising myself. My face was white, my eyes were bloodshot…I didn’t look like myself.
I looked like a monster.
I had to force myself to calm down, to bring myself back to the present. I told myself that I was being stupid, that I was overreacting. I sent a message to Mum, telling her about what happened, saying I was being silly. I expected her to agree but she actually said that what I’d experience was perfectly understandable.
I’d had my first experience with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I had just relived the worst moment of my life. I couldn’t believe it but looking back on it, it makes sense. Until that day, I hadn’t properly gone back to that area since the night of my severe reaction. I figured I was okay, I’d gotten over it. It had been nearly three years.
But clearly, I was mistaken. It took going back to that place for me to properly understand what happened to me. I think if the pandemic hadn’t have happen, I could have gotten over it sooner. Having said that, (and this is going to sound crazy) I am relieved to have experienced this now. Mum asked me if I would go back to the cafe again and I said yes. I cannot let this one bad experience put me off returning to that area. I’ve gone through the worst, all I can do now is move on with my life.
My friend and I were able to finish our presentations and on Friday 9th September, I travelled to the college campus to give my presentation. I had forced myself to practice relentlessly the night before. I didn’t want to stumble or make a fool of myself, I wanted to be clear and concise with what I had to say about the work that I’d done.
I arrived in good time and managed to get a last practice thrown in before I was called into the room where the presentation took place. There were two supervisors, one physical and one virtual via Zoom. I set my gear up and began my presentation. I managed to get through my presentation smoothly enough; I explained my chosen topic, how I went about my research, the films I had studied and the final conclusions that I reached. I thought that I had explained everything to the best of my ability.
Let’s just say that when it came to feedback… things took a bad turn.
Actually no, I wouldn’t call it a bad turn. I mean, I knew that my dissertation had been quite complex, I knew it was flawed, it wasn’t perfect. I didn’t want it to be perfect, I just wanted to show that I worked on it to the very best of my ability and I could create a good dissertation. It’s just, the feedback that the two supervisors gave me, convinced me otherwise. They liked how I presented my dissertation, it was clear that I had done a lot of research but they felt that my dissertation rambled a little bit, didn’t quite reach a proper conclusion, and could have been laid out better.
Looking back on it now, the criticism that I received that day, was fair. I knew deep down that I hadn’t done a dissertation that was completely perfect. But the criticism I got really made me feel that I had failed. It made me feel that I hadn’t done enough to pass. Maybe, the dissertation I had submitted, wasn’t good enough. I felt awful, I felt low, I felt like a failure.
I left the college campus, tears streaming down my face. I was bubbling up inside with sadness, and anger. Mainly towards myself. All I could hear in my head was ‘You stupid idiot. You should have done better. Now you’re going to fail and you should not have failed. How could you be so stupid? Stupid, stupid, stupid.’ That’s all I could hear.
I had to call my mother and explain what happened. By that point, all I wanted to do was forget, so her constant questioning and forcing me to go back over and over the presentation session did nothing to help me. I was upset and angry enough with myself as it was, I didn’t want Mum forcing me to drive the knife in deeper. I know she meant well, but I was an emotional wreck at that point.
Let me be honest and say that my worst critic is me. I am the sort of person who only really sees the worst in me. I am ambitious, but sometimes admittedly, I can be too ambitious for my own good. When I get a result that means, I have passed a module, I can’t help but think, ‘I could have done better.’ I am very very hard on myself and it is something that I know I need to work on.
I had to use these last couple of weekends to recuperate and find where my head is at. I needed to find myself, to go to that old cliche. Through it all, I was able to find support in my housemate Silvia and my fellow college friend, Adina Sarah. They listened to me and comforted me when I brought myself to tears and looked after me. I really appreciate all that they did for me. I’m so grateful to them.
Dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress, Anxiety and self-hatred, was certainly a lot to deal with, but I can say that I’m feeling better now after taking some time to recover. As to what happens with my dissertation, all I can do now is wait for my results. I’m really hoping that I’ve done enough to pass, but there’s nothing I can do now except wait and see what happens.
The worst thing that could happen is I could have to repeat the whole thing, but hopefully it won’t come to that!
My story of traveling abroad for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic and what I learned about myself.
Who could ever forget the start of the coronavirus pandemic of 2020? When it hit Ireland, I was just a couple of weeks away from my 24th birthday. I had plans to go out to a dance club with my friends but of course, that never happened. Instead, I spent the day with my family. They made my birthday as special as possible, even making a wonderful chocolate cake that tasted amazing. This occurred on my next birthday as well, as the virus showed no signs of going away.
By the time my 26th birthday came around, it looked like the virus was finally beginning to ease off. I wanted to make sure that this birthday would be different. I wanted to do something so after thinking for a while, I decided that I would go traveling in France. It wasn’t my first time traveling in France, but there were places in the country that I’d never been to before. A certain Netflix show called Emily in Paris also fuelled my desire to go back. I decided to take the chance and go to another country for the first time in two years. I booked my flights, and accommodation and prepared to go.
Preparations for flights nowadays never run smoothly. There always has to be proof that you have received your COVID vaccination and have not contracted the virus within two weeks. I had to have all of this ready by the time I touched down on French soil. There’s always the worry that you may have forgotten an important document or have the wrong content. But thankfully, I got through the customs with no problems. Once I was out of there, I knew I was going to be okay.
Another thing that I was nervous about was that I was making the trip to France alone. It’s very rare for me to travel by myself. I traveled to Germany by myself but that wasn’t for a holiday, that was for Erasmus. That was a bit nerve-wracking, but in life, you sometimes have to take the risk and do things that you never thought you’d be able to do. I never thought that I’d take a solo trip to France, but that is exactly what I did. My mother told me that it was a true sign of strength and independence.
I was staying in France for four days. My plans were as such; have a look around, travel to Versailles, and then go down to a small part of the country called Arcachon. I’d never heard of it, but when I messaged a friend named Gina, who I had met when I went on Erasmus in Germany, she suggested that we meet there and spend time together there. We’d stayed in touch throughout the years and she’d moved to France to work as a teacher. When she heard that I was coming over, we both knew that we had to see each other. So we arranged to meet in Bordeaux and travel down and stay in Arcachon. I was so excited to see her again.
My little holiday began at 4am in the morning on 31st March, trying to stay awake with coffee at Dublin Airport. I needed to stay awake until I boarded the plane. I managed to doze for a little while before the plane touched down on French soil. I had booked myself a seat on the coach to central Paris. After arriving, I spent some time browsing the different shops, allowing myself to indulge in makeup and jewelry. As my birthday had just passed, I had the right to spoil myself.
When I checked into my little hotel, I took some time to freshen up before grabbing my camera and going for a walk. As already mentioned, a certain Netflix show encouraged me to return to Paris, and I decided to try and find a few of the places where the show was filmed. I was very lucky in the places I did find.
It was amazing; to think that in these little side streets that a show like Emily In Paris was filmed and shown all over the world. I know people have their own opinions on the show but I enjoyed watching it. I actually thought Lily Collins was perfect for the role. She’s grown on me; in fairness, she’s definitely not the worst actress I’ve ever watched. (I am naming nobody, but all I will say is that one actress I despise is extremely overrated and very bland and another is notorious for being a diva.)
Another unexpected treasure I found was the Parc de Luxembourg. It was quite cold, the winter weather hadn’t completely gone away but it was still alright to have a walk around the place. People were milling about, taking pictures, admiring the ponds, the statues that gazed out at the view and enjoying themselves. It’s places such as these that capture my imagination and allow me to create stories in my head. I don’t know what it is exactly, but I’m always finding something in statues and ponds that serve as ideas. As I clicked the shutter on my camera, my mind was whirling with different ideas.
Eventually, as it started to get dark, I decided to call it a night and return to my hotel. The following day, I booked myself a ticket to visit the Palace of Versailles. My mother had been there herself, and she had warned me that she’d been disappointed with what she saw. I wanted to go anyway because of my fascination with the story of the last Queen of France, Marie Antoinette. She had commissioned a small secret garden that I was desperate to see, so I traveled to Versailles and see the Queen’s Hamlet.
It wasn’t too long a journey from Paris to Versailles, about half an hour on the tram. When I spotted the palace, I was in awe of how big it was. Only then did it hit me that this was a place where the kings and queens of France had lived for centuries until the French Revolution of the 18th century. When Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette and their family were forced to leave, they had to go out of the golden gates, leaving this palace behind. I don’t know if it was down to the cold or something else entirely, but I could feel a shiver down my spine as I entered through the gate.
Many rooms were filled with thousands of portraits of the kings and queens of old. I really didn’t believe that France could have such a fixation with art but the Palace of Versailles showed this to me. France uses art to tell their history and the battles of the past.
I was able to see the bed quarters of Marie Antoinette – to know that a queen had slept in here, gave birth to her children here and used this room to prepare for her day. During the French Revolution, a mob broke into the palace with the intent on killing the queen. This room was destroyed in the process but has since been restored to represent the feminine and artistic personality of the last queen of France.
There was also the Hall of Mirrors, a monument to Louis XIV. There are 357 mirrors (I’m not joking!) all down the hallway and it was here that the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919, which put an end to the First World War. People were milling about, taking pictures, and admiring the glittering chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.
I will be upfront and honest when I say that I can understand why Mum was disappointed in her visit to Versailles. With the size of the palace, you would expect quite a lot to be on display, but that was not the case. Don’t get me wrong, I was really happy with what I did see in the palace, but I feel that I could have seen more.
The weather didn’t help things either though, I will admit that. The whole time that I was in Versailles, I was constantly being attacked by sleet showers! It was freezing and I didn’t have the right type of protective clothing from the cold! I was determined though that I was going to see the Petit Trianon, rain or shine. As far as the gardens and the Petit Trianon were concerned, I was captivated by their beauty and was amazed at knowing that Marie Antoinette spent her days here before the French Revolution. But admittedly, I came at the wrong time of the year to see its full beauty. Maybe if it hadn’t been so cold and the weather had been better, it would have been different.
When I found the Queen’s Hamlet, I had a good walk around, staring up at all the little buildings. During her time as queen, Marie Antoinette had this little village created under her instruction. She wanted nothing more than to live a peaceful life in this little hidden village, having fun. As happy as I was to finally have an opportunity to see a queen’s lost dream, again I came at the wrong time of the year. The lakes had been completely drained for renovations and it was really, really cold! Still, I’m really glad that I managed to see this little hidden Versailles. Marie Antoinette is long dead but this hamlet is a reminder of the life that she desired had she never been a queen.
Another thing I didn’t expect about Versailles was how big the grounds actually were. Versailles is a very easy place to get lost; it took me ages to find my way out of the grounds. By the time I found my way out, at last, it was near 6 in the evening. I was freezing, and tired and my phone was on its last 5% of battery. But I wasn’t finished with Paris just yet.
After giving my phone a much-needed charge, I decided to challenge the cold weather further and view some more of the sights of Paris. From reading Google Maps, I discovered that there was a very famous landmark only a ten-minute walk away from my hotel; Notre Dame. Obviously, due to the terrible fire in 2019, the cathedral is closed to the public, but I didn’t get the chance to go there on my first visit so I decided to go now.
Had there not been a fire, I would have loved to have taken a tour of Notre Dame and see the interior. If you’re familiar with the famous Victor Hugo classic, it would been interesting to learn about the background of the hunchback. But given the circumstances, I’m happy to have at least seen the exterior of this beautiful cathedral. I’m grateful that not all of its beauty was lost in the horrific event. And when renovations are finally finished and it can reopen… I’ll be back.
When I returned to the hotel, I packed up everything because in the morning, I had to get up and get the train to Bordeaux, where I would finally get to see Gina.
As I previously mentioned, Gina and I first met each other on Erasmus in Germany in 2016. She came from a farm in England, I came from a small town in Ireland. We connected right away and we have stayed friends ever since. I went back to Ireland at the end of my Erasmus, knowing that I’d made a wonderful, caring friend in Gina.
We met up again three years ago for our friend Emily’s wedding in Carlisle, and later, I went to visit her in her new hometown of Agen. When I told her that I was coming to France again, she suggested going to a place called Arcachon. I instantly agreed to this idea.
Up until Gina mentioned it, I had never heard of Arcachon. It is a seaside resort on the south of Bordeaux and is the home of the largest sand dunes in Europe, the Dune du Pilat. Before I traveled to France, Gina and I video-called and made plans of what we were going to do. She had done some research and said that you could hire bicycles and cycle to the dunes. When I heard about this, I thought to myself ‘Could we really do this?’ But then I decided that you only live once and sometimes, you have to try new things. Besides, we’d tried bouldering in Germany before, what was to stop us from cycling in France? We decided to go for it.
I was really excited to see Gina; I could feel myself buzzing while I waited for her to arrive at Bordeaux. When I finally saw her…it was like no time had passed since we last saw each other. I didn’t realize how much I had missed her until we ran into each other’s arms. When we settled on the train to go to Arcachon, the two of us caught up with each other’s lives. It was so easy for us to do that, that’s the type of friendship that we have. She also surprised me with a little gift of butterfly earrings for my birthday; she really didn’t have to do that but I was so touched. I, in turn, gave her a gift of an Irish friendship fairy, which she loved.
It didn’t take too long for us to arrive in Arcachon. We were both a little taken aback by how picturesque the town was. It was so amazingly clean, it felt a little too good to be true. The tourist office that we visited didn’t even look like a tourist office. You were almost scared to touch anything for fear of breaking something.
After leaving our bags at the hotel, Gina and I went to the hire station to collect the bicycles. Up until that point, I couldn’t remember the last time I had ridden a bike and I was a little nervous about going on the road. Taking the helmets offered was certainly a great idea!
We took off down the road. Once I got used to the feeling, I found it to be amazing. We cycled past bright green trees, the sparkling blue ocean, and the little hills all around. The wind was blowing through my hair, everything passing by so fast, I felt alive, I felt free.
At last, we arrived at La Dune du Pilat; I knew they were the biggest sand dunes in Europe, but I didn’t anticipate how big they actually were! I’m certainly grateful that a staircase was provided for those who wanted to climb up there. Gina and I admittedly wore the wrong type of footwear for climbing though because by the time we were all finished at the dunes, our shoes were completely full of sand! Had it not been for the staircase, the two of us would have struggled even more!
Gina and I climbed up and up and up. We didn’t give up until we got right to the very top of La Dune du Pilat. We were lucky to be blessed with such a beautiful day. It was amazing to see the green forest on one side and the blue ocean on the other. The view was just breathtaking.
It was quite a windy day to be up there, we faced the danger of being blown away but we stayed up there, watching braver people than we were, actually sledding down the dunes! Gina and I were stunned that people were brave enough to do that, considering the size of the dunes. We weren’t brave enough to try!
The two of us began the journey back to the hiring centre to return our bikes before the place closed. Gina and I managed to get back down the dunes without tumbling down the way; once we had emptied our shoes of sand, we got our bikes and took off. They say that the way back is the easier part; that is ridiculous. By the time we returned to the hiring centre, our muscles were screaming, our throats were parched and I’m sure that our backsides were bruised from the bumping that we took! My shins also took a bit of a bang when I lost control and crashed into a bush on the way. It made for a good laugh though! I have to say though, all the physical pain that we felt at the end of it all, was worth it. It was such an amazing experience to cycle all the way to largest sand dunes in Europe. It was something I never expected to do and I’m really glad to have done it.
We weren’t quite ready to go back to the hotel. You know what we decided to do? We went to a little supermarket, bought little cubes of cheese and Magnum ice creams and ate them all on the beach! Of all the things to snack on, we chose cheese cubes and ice cream! It must be remembered that the weather was freezing; we stayed on the beach for a little while until it became way too cold for us to handle. It was time to go back to the hotel and rest a little bit before going out for dinner in the evening.
After a brief rest and freshening up, the two of us went for a walk around the town, trying to find a good place to eat. Eventually, we found a lovely little restaurant that accommodated my allergies really well. I enjoyed a wonderful meal of roast duck with green vegetables while Gina had paella. And we both had to indulge in a lovely glass of French rosé! We caught up even further with our lives and talked about our plans for the future as we enjoyed our dinner.
When we finished dinner, we had a little exploration of the place. At the time we were in Arcachon, there was a live art exhibition, with statues all over the town. What we didn’t expect was for them to light up at night. I’ll be covering the exhibition in a new article, which I’ll explain further at the end of this piece.
The following morning, myself and Gina enjoyed a buffet breakfast at the hotel before having one last walk around the town. A little tourist shop offered certificate-style postcards confirming that one had climbed to the top of La Dune du Pilat! It was a cute little souvenir and we bought one each, as well as other little trinkets to bring home with us.
Home…at the end of that day, we had to go home. I felt so sad saying goodbye to Gina at the Bordeaux train station. We were going our separate ways once again; she would be returning to Agen, and I’d be heading back to Paris to get the plane home to Dublin. I had such a wonderful time in Arcachon with Gina and having to say goodbye was really hard. She said that next year, she hoped to come over to Ireland; I will be there and I’ll be showing her all around. It will be great.
Returning to Paris and getting the coach to the airport, I couldn’t help but think about the last few days. I learned a couple of things about myself. One thing I learned from my visit to Versailles, is that sometimes things don’t turn out the way that you expected. Sometimes, things may not live up to the expectations that you have. And that’s okay. Disappointment is always a lingering aspect of our lives.
Another thing I learned about myself is that I am more happier doing things with people than on my own. In the past, I was happy in my own company, thinking that I didn’t need anybody. But as I got older, and I made friends, I realized that wasn’t the case. The more time I spent with others, the more I realized that being with others made me happier.
There is an interesting quote that I found from a wilderness explorer that I find very appropriate.
You only experience true happiness when you are with the people that you love and care for. From my trip to France, I realized that this was true. I enjoyed my days visiting Paris and Versailles, but it wasn’t until I met with Gina and we spent time together in Arcachon, that I was really happy and truly enjoyed my holiday.
It was late at night, that I finally touched down on Irish soil again. I returned home, exhausted but exhilarated. My first time abroad since the pandemic and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
I’m not quite talking about France yet though. There is a theme that I noticed all over the country that I used as part of a college project. But that is a story for another time.
This blog site has gone unposted in the last several months. No new posts have been written in a long time. Things have happened, things have been changing. I’ve had to put my writing on hold for a while.
Many times, I have wanted to return to my blog, go back to writing my short stories and posts about my life. I just was not able to. Time and other commitments in my life took the opportunity away from me.
Things are definitely changing; it seems that Ireland is finally being able to step out from the shadows of the coronavirus pandemic. Restrictions are finally easing, people are getting their second and third doses of the vaccines. It’s still a long way to go before we ever find a true sense of normality. Things will never be the same, the corona is going to stay with us for a long time, but we are getting there.
I am also really busy planning for my future. My future rests on me finishing my Master’s Degree in Griffith College. There is only one semester left of my entire degree and then I am finished. It’s been a long process but at the same time, I’m also amazed at how fast the time has gone. Signing up to do this course, during the pandemic was certainly a very wise decision.
Now, I would really like to come back to my blog. Writing is and always has been my passion and what I want to pursue as a career; this blog will help me achieve that. So, now, I plan to come back and post more frequently here.
Please bear in mind, that I will not be able to post every single day, but I’ll do my best to update as much as I can!
The second semester of my Erasmus year was only days away. I spent the Friday before the restarting of classes in the Trier Galerie with two of my friends, Emily and Gina. Easter had just passed, but the decorations had not yet been taken down.
On the bottom floor of the shopping centre, we saw something that we didn’t expect – a small mini-chicken coop with baby chicks on display. Tiny newborn chicks, fluffing their bright yellow feathers, cheeping up at the multitudes of human eyes looking down at them. They didn’t know what to make of us, they merely tottered about, pecking at their food.
There was also an incubator where eggs waiting to hatch, were being kept warm inside. Little lives waiting to start and expecting to crack open into this world. But as I moved to get a closer look, I got a nasty shock.
To my horror, among the unhatched eggs, lay the tiny bleeding body of a baby chick. It lay among the shattered pieces of its egg, born far too early for this world. I could see its skeleton, there were no feathers and its eyes were lifeless.
The caretaker of the chicks immediately removed the corpse from the incubator, but spots of blood and pieces from the egg remained inside. I continued on with the rest of my day, but I couldn’t get that baby chick out of my mind.
What had happened to cause that little chick to be born too early? It didn’t even get a chance to grow its wings or meet any of its brothers and sisters. I didn’t even want to think of what the caretaker did with its body.
That little chick reflects on the real fragility of life. Not everybody who is born in this world truly gets to bloom. The premature chick represents the thousands of lives, born too early, only to be returned to heaven. It makes you wonder about what they could have been doing, who they could have become as people.
Life is a sacred blessing and not everyone born in this world, is lucky enough to receive this gift. For those of us fortunate to be able to be alive, we should embrace all that we are able to receive and not miss any opportunities that are available to us.
Donegal has always been a part of my life right from when I was born. Both of my parents are Donegal born and bred, my father raised in Ballyshannon, my mother in the village of Glencolmcille.
Mum would take me and my sister up to Glen nearly every week. My grandad is still living in the house where he and my nana (God rest her soul) used to run a bed-and-breakfast called Brackendale. Me and my sister would share a room with two twin beds and we had all sorts of fun together.
As I got older, the opportunity to travel up to Donegal became rare. I was in university, working, setting up my own life away from my family. There was no time to go back to the county that had played a large part in my life for so long.
But in the summer of 2019, I was thrilled to get the chance to go up to Glencolmcille with my mum to see Grandad. He would never say it out loud but I know that he is always delighted to see. In the years since my nana passed away, Grandad loved company.
During my stay that summer, Grandad got the idea of travelling to a place of the coast called Port.
Up until the mid 1800s, Port had been a thriving village, said to have been the first maritime port in Donegal. But during the Famine of 1845-1850, the entire village upped and left, fled to Liverpool and America, in the hopes of escaping the hunger and disease. Even now, centuries later, the stone houses still stand, crumbling down, but show that at some point in history, there were people living there. These are all that remain of this once-thriving village of Port.
It was a bit of a journey to get from Grandad’s house to the beach, but I didn’t mind that. It’s ironic; when I was much younger, I would easily get bored, wanting nothing more than for the car to stop so I could get out of there. But now, I enjoyed the views of rural Ireland passing by the windows of my mum’s car. We took it slow, as the path was very narrow and winding. On occasion, we would have to stop and let other cars inch their way past us.
At last we arrived at the beach in Port. Immediately, I was taken in by the beach. It was not your typical sandy seaside, this beach had hundreds of large stones leading down into the water. I stepped out of the car and breathed deeply in the sea air. There is always something about the smell of the sea that really calms me and makes me feel good.
Leaving Mum and Grandad behind, I moved down to the shore. There was an old wooden ladder laid down, leading to the sea. Wanting to get closer, I tried the ladder at first, but about halfway down, I decided to step out onto the stones.
I remember I was not prepared for it. There was no real grip and it was quite wobbly. A couple of times, I lost my balance and nearly toppled sideways, but I didn’t care. By some miracle, I managed to find my footing on one particular stone and spent a little while just watching the white sea foam crash against the rocks. I was in awe of the remnants clinging to the shore as the tide went back out; it reminded me of the story of the Little Mermaid. The bubbly sea foam was all that remained of her when she cast herself into the waters.
The stones were heavy to the touch but I was able to pick up a few of them and through them out to sea. I smiled as they hit the surface with a large splash then sunk without trace. The stones were my worries, my fears and I was tossing them out to sea.
There was no way that I was going to leave without a souvenir. I searched and examined everything around me, before finally selecting a grey, oval stone.
When I picked it up, at first glance, it was smooth and sparkly, perfect to the sight. But when I turned it over, I discovered that one part had been broken off, a chip in what was once a perfect stone. I could have discarded it and chosen another one, but something in me said that I should keep it. Because that stone was me.
The stone represents two sides to my personality. How I’ve changed over the years. The smooth outside represents the determination to be perfect, to fit in with the crowd. The rough, chipped part represents the inner turmoil, the struggles with accepting myself, accepting who I really was. It shows that while you can try to cover yourself up as best you can, but you can never truly hide what’s underneath.
The stone also shows that there is not such thing as perfect. When I was a teenage, I tried so hard to be the perfect girl, the one who could blend in, fit in with the cool kids. I read the magazines, tried the different hairstyles, did the make-up… but none of it worked.
Because I’m not perfect and I never will be. None of us will be.
At the end of the day, the only person I can be is myself. Why should I try to be perfect and follow the crowd? That isn’t who I am, not anymore. It took a long time for me to show my true personality, but that’s over now. That chip in the stone is my real self shining through.
It’s a reminder that in life, regardless of what you see in society, there is no such thing as perfect.
How it took a near-death experience to understand the seriousness of living with allergies
This is one of the most difficult things I have ever written about, but at the same time, I think it is important that I tell my story.
Growing up, I hated going out to restaurants. It wasn’t the fact that I hated the places we went or didn’t like dressing up. It was that I hated having to make awkward requests to the servers so they wouldn’t serve me something that I couldn’t eat.
When I was a baby, it was discovered that I was allergic to eggs, nuts and sesame seeds. It was discovered after I was given a Milky Way bar (of all things) and my body began to swell all over. I was rushed to the hospital and soon the results were given.
My first severe reaction happened when I was 22 months old and I was exposed to nuts. It was through that experience that caused my parents to become aware of my allergens. With the help of my family, I felt that I was able to keep away from things I couldn’t eat. Perhaps, because as a result of this caution, I saw my allergies as a problem to others because food could never be simple when it came to me. Until a year ago, I was so fixated on how others saw my ‘problems’, that I didn’t understand how my allergies could seriously affect me.
This meant that I always had to be cautious when it came to food, constantly checking the ingredients to make sure that they were safe for me to eat. Whenever I went out for dinner with friends, we would always have to go somewhere that was alright for me. I hated this because I felt that my problem was a burden to my friends and they couldn’t really enjoy someplace they wanted to because of me.
On the night of 3rd November 2019, my view on my allergies would change forever.
That night, I was meeting up with a few friends from a drama club and we were going out for dinner in a new place. Because I had never been there, I knew that I had to speak to the people about my allergies. I told them what I couldn’t have and they assured me that the food on the menu would be alright for me.
That was a bull-faced lie.
When we finally got our food, I ended up with smoked salmon. I put a piece in my mouth and almost immediately, something was wrong. My mouth began to tingle and my stomach felt funny. I went outside to get some air and ended up getting sick. Fish was off the menu that night; I wasn’t going to be eating any more. In my mind, I thought that now I had gotten it out of my system, I would be alright.
I was wrong.
Suddenly, my chest began to tighten. It was extremely painful, like I was being stabbed multiple times. It felt like I was having a heart attack. I rushed to the bathroom in agony.
For the rest of my life, I will never forget what I saw in the mirror. My skin was pale as a ghost, my eyes were completely bloodshot and I could barely stand.
I looked like a monster.
By this point, my friends knew that they had to get me to the hospital, no arguments. The pain in the chest had gotten so bad, I was in tears. We went straight to the emergency department and I was given an injection. After that, gradually the pain went away and I ultimately recovered. I remember apologising multiple times to my friends that night as I believed that I had ruined everything. But they insisted on staying with me in the hospital, they looked after me and refused to leave me on my own, despite me saying that it was okay. I must have completely horrified them, but for them to stay meant a lot to me.
It took a long time for me to get over what happened that night. There have been many frightening experiences in my life, but none as intense as this.
I actually thought that I was going to die.
As terrifying as that night was, it was also a wake-up call for me. After that night, I began to realise that I need to be take my allergies more seriously. I could have died because I wasn’t prepared and because I was too embarrassed to speak about my condition.
Doctor Isuelt Sheehan of Allergy Ireland, says that the feeling that allergies are something to be ashamed of, is quite common in young people. As children begin to grow up, they can feel embarrassed and try to hide their allergies from people around them. ‘When it comes to teenagers’ she says ‘it is a particularly difficult time. Coping with an allergy is difficult because they can feel embarrassed about it. They feel they can’t talk to their friends about it but it’s important they do so their friends will know as well, how to manage the situation if it ever comes about.’
It must also be questioned whether public places really understand the serious nature of food allergies. By law, all restaurants menus must display information in relation to allergens in their choices. They must all be aware with how to manage a case if a customer ever suffers from an allergic reaction. All food packets must now display allergen warnings and information in relation to their ingredients. ‘Restaurants are a lot more aware about allergies than they were in the past.’ says Dr. Sheehan. ‘It’s extremely important that for any allergic reaction, restaurant staff undergo the necessary training. It is rare, thankfully, that we get reports of public reactions in restaurants.’
Any allergic reaction is frightening, not just for the sufferer, but for those around them. ‘There are no words to describe the experience of watching your child having an allergic reaction.’ one parent said. ‘Eventually as a parent, you learn to recognize trigger-points but this is gradual because you have neither prior knowledge of what makes up most foods, nor prior experience in dealing with this. You learn to study ingredients before you buy, you learn to prepare foods that don’t contain triggers, you learn to recognize signs of a reaction in your child and most of all, you learn to ignore those who tell you ‘sure they’ll grow out of it’ or those who consider you to be ‘fussy’ or ‘awkward’ when it comes to your child’s diet.’
Research has shown that in Ireland, approximately 5% of children and 3% of adults suffer from some form of food allergy. The rate of severe allergic reactions which result in a visit to A&E have trebled over the last twenty years. The most common food allergies in Ireland are to cow’s milk, eggs, nuts, fish, wheat, soya and peanuts. These account for about 90% of all allergic reactions. Dr. Sheehan says that the rate of allergies has increased by 50%. Because of this increase, she also says that ‘it’s important that we are all aware of them, not just the sufferers, but the whole world.’
All allergies, whether mild or severe, must be taken seriously both by the sufferer and all those who work in the food and hospitality industry. Sufferers need to see allergies as a nuisance rather than a burden. The burdens of allergies must be looked past. Sufferers and relatives must know how to deal with them if there ever comes a time when you get a reaction. As Dr. Sheehan says ‘Reassuring and advising sufferers and families can help with coping with allergies.’ She also touches on the importance of an epi-pen. ‘It’s wonderful that we have them available. As an allergist, we talk through them with patients and their families, show them how to use them and reassure them, that they can help.’
For anyone who suffers from allergies, being aware, being able to talk about your allergies and carrying an epi-pen wherever you go, can simply save your life.
It only took a piece of fish and an emergency visit to the hospital for me to realise this.
Sometimes we all have to do something that makes our muscles cry.
When I moved to Trier for my Erasmus, I met new friends and we enjoyed many fun days out and activities together. One day, a girl suggested something that I had never heard of before – to go bouldering. Bouldering? I didn’t know what the hell she was talking about! I soon found out that ‘bouldering’ was indoor rock-climbing! I had no experience whatsoever when it came to that, but sometimes you just have to try something new in your life!
The first day that we travelled to the bouldering centre in Trier, it was pouring rain from the heavens, I remember it very well! We were able to register at the desk, (speaking in very poor German) and were shown the special shoes to wear when climbing up the walls. Once we were ready, the four of us stepped out into the climbing area.
Elina, a friend from Finland, probably had the most experience, having done bouldering back home. She explained to us the easiest grips to start off with and only to move up in the difficulty levels when we were ready. I gripped the yellow wall grips (beginner’s level), and forced myself to push my body upwards. My hands were flailing at first, to grab the next one above me. Elina encouraged us to keep going , if we struggled. I was finding it hard but soon, I was able to reach the very top of the wall. My arms are aching but to look down and see how far I’d climbed, made me feel really good. Of course, there was the next problem of how to get down, but at least the ground wasn’t solid hard!
When I woke up the next morning after that session, I think it took me an hour to get out of bed. My arms and legs were stiff as a board and every time I moved, it was agony. I’ve heard that we’ve all had to suffer to be good, but this was taking it a bit too far! The more that we went bouldering, the more that we got used to the pain. I began to grow better at climbing and reached the intermediate level of the grips by the time I returned home to Ireland for good.
That being said, it wouldn’t be the last time that I would experience bouldering. When I travelled to Carlisle for my friend Emily’s wedding, myself, Elina and my friend Gina found another bouldering site not far from the hotel where we were staying. And to have a chance to climb back up walls again? Of course, we had to go for it!
It was so much fun to change into our tracksuits and shove our feet into those uncomfortable shoes, to rub our hands with chalk and climb the walls again. I didn’t struggle as much as when I first started off, but I know that I’ll never be as good as Elina with her skills! Sometimes, we have to do something that makes our muscles cry. For me, bouldering was that. Still, it was certainly worth the pain to climb up walls. Maybe I’ll be the next Spider-Woman some day!
In life, we all want to do something that we never expect to do. It may be wind-surfing, scuba-diving or, in my case, skydiving. Up until I was twenty, I had never really thought of anything like skydiving. My focus at that point was to pass my second year exams and secure a place on Erasmus. Well, that changed when I joined the DCU Cancer Society that year.
The Cancer Society held quite a few fundraising events, one of which was a skydiving session in County Longford. We were given charity sheets and our goal was to raise as much money as we could for the Light It Up Gold Cancer Foundation by the time the skydive took place in April 2016.
This event and the society was really personal to me – I had lost both of my grandmothers to cancer and my own mother survived ovarian cancer when she was in her twenties. I have a young cousin in America who, at only seven years old, contracted a very rare form of lukeamia and required a bone marrow transplant from his older sister. His battle inspired me to take on this challenge and raise however much money as I could.
Over the next few months, I did everything to gather up money. I reached out to my friends, family members, people who worked with my parents, telling them what I was going to do, what I needed. People were generous, they gave whatever they could, whether it be a euro or a cent. By the time the weekend came when I was to travel to Longford for the jump, I had managed to raise €500 for the charity which was an accomplishment in itself. I was very proud of myself for that.
The day finally came and a bus was to take the jumpers to Longford. I forced myself out of bed at about five in the morning, to walk the fifteen minutes to the DCU campus. The cold weather woke me up a little bit, but as the minibus trailed on, I ended up dozing off.
There were only eight of us doing the jump in total. We were to be attached to a regulated instructor and they would take us out on a plane. We had to sign papers and watch a safety video about being stapped into a harness. Watching the video, my thoughts turned to a storyline I had watched in Hollyoaks when a character, Sarah fell to her death during a skydive after her parachute didn’t open. It was a murder-gone-wrong, the parachute deliberately sabotaged but even so, I was still a tiny bit apprehensive, wondering what would happen if my own parachute didn’t open!
Everyone was changed into orange jumpsuits and introduced to the instructors. They led us outside where the instructors would help us into the harnesses. It was a little bit awkward to move about wearing it, I felt a little bit like a robot! But as long as we were safe and ready to go out into the air, that was all that mattered.
There was a surprise waiting for me outside. In the car-park, standing by the gate was my dad and my uncle, who had travelled all the way from Monaghan just to see me jump from an airplane! I knew that my mum and sister had gone to Donegal to see my grandad that weekend, but I had given no thought that anyone was going to see me that day! Looking back on it, I think it’s best that my mother didn’t come – she hates anything to do with heights!
I’ll be brutally honest – the worst thing about that day was not the jump itself. It was the waiting! We were at the area at nine, but the plane was so small, it could only take two of us at a time. There were eight of us doing the jump and I was part of the last two. It took a credible amount of time for the plane to take off, for the people to do their jump and to get the parachutes reset. I had gotten to the stage where I thought that I would never get to do it!
But at long last, just before three o’clock, myself and my instructor were called and we were prepared for the jump. I was given a pair of goggles to protect my eyes and I was firmly strapped to the instructor. We were taken into the plane and it set off. That was when the nerves began to come.
My stomach was in knots, I could feel myself shaking a little bit. It didn’t help that I was sitting right next to the door that would open and let us out! The instructor told me that when we were to jump, I had to keep my hands crossed and my head leaned back until further instruction. I was scared, but it was too late to back out now!
My instructor opened the plane door and the cold air slapped me in the face. He manouvered us to jump out; my legs were dangling outside, which made me even more scared. I remember crying out ‘No, no, no, no!’, before suddenly, we were falling.
I shut my eyes for about a second but the rush forced me to open them. My mouth dropped open in shock at the sight of the world so far below us. The instructor tapped my shoulder and I spread my arms out like an eagle soaring through the clouds.
The wind blew hard in my face, the force was very strong. It may sound like a cliche, but it really felt like I was flying. The world felt so small beneath me, I forgot about everything else that was going on and just concentrated on the feeling of being in the air.
Suddenly, I felt a sharp tug and instead of falling, we were floating. Much to my great relief, the parachute opened perfectly and I could finally see everything at a normal pace. My voice had a mind of its own, I couldn’t stop cheering and crying out ‘Oh my God!’ It felt amazing to be so high above everything else. My dad joked afterward that they could hear me before they saw me!
The instructor allowed me to hold the handle and steer the parachute so we were spinning around in a circle. He had a camera system attached to his wrist, so he told me to smile in the camera’s direction while we floated downward.
As we got closer to the ground, my instructor told me to lift my legs so I wouldn’t injure myself when we landed. In all honesty, I didn’t think I would have the strength to do it, but somehow, I managed to get my hands under my calves and lift my legs just about right. All too soon, we hit the ground, landing with a bump. For a split second, we were engulfed in parachute fabric before we were freed.
It took me quite a while to get my breath back. The adrenaline was still rushing through me, I still could not believe that I had just done. I had successfully jumped out of a plane from 10,000 feet up in the sky, my parachute didn’t break (thanks be to Christ!), and I had raised €500 for a children’s charity. That day, I was very proud of myself.
Who knows, maybe one day I’ll get back up in the air and jump out of a plane again?
If you were to go into a gift shop and see a rack advertising name tags or magnets, you are never going to see my name.
An unusual name with a very unusual spelling. To this day, I still am not sure how my mother and father decided on this name for their eldest daughter. Maybe it came from one of the nine Saint Eidhnes. (maybe the one who was Saint Colmcille’s mother). Or maybe it came from my mother’s never-ending love and fascination for the Irish language.
But even Eidhne is not really common amongst Irish names. The most popular Irish names for girls are Aoife, Sarah, Ciara and Niamh. I’ve never known any other Eidhne. I know that there is the amazing Irish singer and the spelling of her actual name ‘Eithne’ bears a very strong resemblence to my own, but to me, it doesn’t count.
Having a name like mine, meant I already stood out among the crowd no matter where I went. As a shy child, I found it very embarassing. In primary school, it wasn’t too bad, being so young, nobody really questioned my name, the strange spelling or the correct way to pronounce it. I think it was because I had my mum at the time and she was the one who saved me from questions.
But as I grew into a teenager, I had to learn how to stand on my own in regards to my name. I remember starting in secondary school, when every teacher would call registration. They would come to my name, pause and struggle with the pronunciation, until eventually, I had to speak up and say it correctly. I still remember the burning feeling I would get in my cheeks whenever that happened.
Hearing people pronounce my name wrong really began to get on my nerves, particularly when they would follow it up by saying ‘Oh, like the singer?’. It took every ounce of patience inside of me not to lose my temper with people like that. For years, I stayed right away from any of poor Enya’s music because of that. I was very unfair to her as a teenager; I realise now that it wasn’t our fault that we had such unusual names that nobody could pronounce correctly!
It was also very annoying to go shopping and see name labels, tags and little figurines, with all sorts of different names on display. No matter where I went, no matter how much I searched, I would never find anything with my name on it. I felt a bit left out because of that!
There were times when I wondered what it would be like if I had a different name. A normal name. Well, ‘normal’ in my eyes anyway!
I think that was why I found such comfort in Jacqueline Wilson’s books. It was a relief to read her stories and find people with names as crazy as my own. Her book, Cookie really touched me; I felt so much sympathy for the main character, Beauty, a girl who is constantly teased and bullied because of her name. By the end of the story, she finds a new friend who also has an unusual name, Princess and they end up forming their own Unusual Name Club. That was really opened my eyes and realised, that it’s okay to have an unusual name.
As a matter of fact, I have realised that I’m very lucky to have the name that I have. When I hear of celebrities having children and the names that they give, I think to myself ‘Thank God, I don’t have a name like that!’ I used to think Eidhne was a ridiculous name – but that was before I heard what a certain rapper and reality star had named their kids!
The funny thing about having an unusual name with a strange pronunciation, is that it can be such an ice-breaker when meeting new people. A couple of years back, I was invited to a friend’s wedding in Carlisle. Myself and two other friends were travelling together and attended the ceremony. The wedding was beautiful and we had a wonderful time at the reception. But beforehand, the three of us were a little bit nervous, because aside from the bride, we didn’t know anybody at the wedding.
But we needn’t have worried. We arrived at the reception, and soon people were being shown where we would sit for dinner. Every place setting had a little name card. I was sitting down at my place when the man sitting beside me took one look at my name card and said ‘Right, how do you pronounce that?’. And from there, myself and my friends were there, chatting away to all of the guests at our table, laughing at their stories. Honestly, if it had not been for my name, I think the three of us would have just sat there like sour lemons the whole night, too shy to say anything! So my name certainly helped us to have such a fantastic night!
While growing up, I hated having to live with such a strange name, I now feel proud to know that I do stand out from the crowd. I think it’s good that I have a name that doesn’t appear on the figurines and labels that are sold in the shops. It shows that my name is different. One of a kind.
Now, I say my name with a lot of pride – but I think I’ll be more kinder to my own children when it comes to choosing their names!
I’ll never forget when I received my history book in third class. It was nothing extravagant, just a simple children’s history book about famous people and events. I was flicking through the book without much interest, when my eyes noticed a name that I had never heard of before.
To this day, I do not remember what caused me to become so interested in this girl. We studied her story in school, but we were only taught the bare minimum. I needed to know more. I began to search for books about Anne, watched movies about her and of course, read the most famous book of all; her diary. As a matter of fact, I read Anne’s diary so much, that my copy fell apart and I had to buy another one!
Anne Frank has become symbolic for all the Jewish children who tragically lost their lives during the Holocaust. In 1942, she and her family went into hiding behind a bookcase in her father’s office which would become known as ‘The Secret Annexe’. While in hiding, she would go on to write her famous diary, hoping one day, it could be published. They stayed in hiding for just over two years, before they were finally discovered by the Nazis in 1944. Anne would ultimately die in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in February or March 1945. She didn’t even live to see her sixteenth birthday.
It was Otto Frank, Anne’s father (and only survivor of the group), who would push for his daughter’s diary to be published. It would go on to become one of the most widely read books in the world. For the rest of his life, Otto Frank dedicated his life to promoting his daughter’s work and to teach about intolerance and discrimation in society.
For years, I begged my parents to take me to Amsterdam, so I could visit 263 Prinsengracht where Anne and her family had stayed for those two years. After multiple disappointments and ending up in the same boring villa in Lanzarote every year, I realized that I would have to take myself to Amsterdam when the time came.
That chance finally came in 2016, when I had just settled into my Erasmus year in a small town in Germany. Just over a month in, a friend said that there was a company promoting day trips to Amsterdam for €60. Pretty expensive, but for a day trip to a city that I had wanted to go to for years, I was willing to pay for it!
That day trip began at 6am in the morning when the bus began the long trek from Trier to Amsterdam. Me and my friend managed to doze for a while, while the bus bumped along the road. It was nearly 12pm by the time we finally reached the cobbled streets of Amsterdam. We had booked our tickets for the Anne Frank House in advance, so we’d escape the queues.
Now, I’ll admit, it was a challenge to find the right street. I’m grateful to the citizens of Amsterdam, who were very friendly and did their best to help us find our way. Once I saw the street sign that read ‘Prinsingracht’, I knew that we were finally going in the right direction.
As we managed to skip the queue, my friend and I were able to enter the museum. The tour began in the workhouse, where the company would produce spices everyday. I remember reading how the people in hiding had to remain quiet as mice when the men were working. Many have wondered if one of the workmen became suspicious and found out, which resulted in the arrest. Nobody knows… and we probably never will.
The tour continued into the offices, where Miep Gies (the woman who ultimately rescued Anne’s diary after the arrest) and Bep Voskuijl worked as secretaries. They, along with Victor Kugler and Johannes Kleimann would assist the people in hiding, bringing in food, entertainment and news from the outside world. There was a copy of Cinema & Theater on display – Anne Frank loved the movies and Victor Kugler would regularly bring her this magazine to catch up on what was happening in the dramatic arts.
My heart missed a beat when we turned a corner and saw the bookcase. There it stood, half-open, waiting for us to come inside. Slowly we climbed up the steps – steeper than I imagined, it made me think about how the helpers managed to bring food to the people in hiding everyday. The first room we entered was the bedroom of Otto, Edith and Margot Frank. How three people managed to cram themselves into this tiny room every single night was amazing. On the wall, was a Charles Dickens book – Anne would write in her diary about how her father would learn English through reading Dickens. On the wall were lines and numbers, where he would measure his daughters’ heights for two whole years. It would be used as evidence when the Nazis asked how long they had spent hiding when they were finally arrested in 1944.
Tears filled my eyes when we entered the room next door. I had seen photos in the past, seen it in the movies, but it was the first time I had really seen Anne Frank’s bedroom. All over the walls were her beloved pictures of movie stars, that she pasted to make the room look brighter. I could imagine her frustration in having to share this room with the grumpy dentist, Fritz Pfeffer. While there isn’t any furniture in the annexe anymore, it was easy to picture the little table where Anne would write her diary.
Climbing up the stairs, brought us to the kitchen, which also acted as the bedroom for Hermann and Auguste van Pels, another family who went into hiding with the Franks and Pfeffer. Everyday, the eight people would gather into the kitchen for breakfast, lunch, dinner, for games and for entertainment. Despite their differences, I’m sure that coming together, brought the eight people a little bit of comfort. Next to the kitchen was the tiny bedroom belonging to Peter van Pels, the only son of Hermann and Auguste. It was interesting to read in Anne’s diary how she and Peter didn’t get on at first, but gradually began to fall in love.
It was sad to see Peter’s bicycle hanging on the wall, along with a game he received for his sixteenth birthday. One wonders how often Peter wished he could just leave the hiding place and ride off on his bicycle.
Peter’s bedroom also had a ladder that led to the attic. We didn’t use the ladder, but the next part of the tour was up to the attic where he and Anne would often escape to talk. The attic has been converted to a large room talking about what happened after the arrest. Hannah Pick-Goslar, a close friend of Anne’s and a survivor of Bergen-Belsen, was on video, talking about meeting Anne during their time imprisoned. She has said that if Anne had known that her father was still alive, maybe she could have had the strength to survive.
There was a large book open, with names of all the people who died in the Holocaust. Right at the top was name: Frank, Anneleise. Reading that reminded me of a book where two teenagers also visited the Anne Frank House.
Anne Frank’s story was only one that came out of the Holocaust. She was just one of the six millions Jews who died at the hands of the Nazis. Although she is probably one of the most well-known victims, it is important to remember those whose names that we do not know.
The final part of the tour brought us to the famous diary itself. Protected in a glass case, we saw Anne’s precious diary, opened to a page that showed a photo of Otto Frank. Nobody will really know the heartbreak that he endured after he learned that his wife and daughters were dead, but how he found the strength to bring Anne’s diary to worldwide attention. All across the room, copies of Anne’s diary were displayed in multiple languages, showing that her story has been shown all over the world.
I was numb when we left the Anne Frank house. I thought I knew it all about Anne Frank, but visiting the place where she spent two years hiding away from the Nazis, made me realise that there was a lot more to learn. To be honest, nobody really understands the story of Anne Frank until they themselves, climb up the stairs that were hidden behind a bookcase.