Post Traumatic Stress, Anxiety and Being My Own Worst Enemy

Anything Articles, Life Experiences, stories

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!

Experience on Erasmus: My Own Place

erasmus, Life Experiences, travel, Trier

I want to use this post to talk about moving into my own little place on my Erasmus and how I felt at the end of the year when I moved back to Ireland.

In Universitat Trier, Erasmus students were given the option of single apartments or sharing with another person. At the time, I wasn’t sure about living with a complete stranger, so I opted to stay in a single apartment.

The apartment block I was staying in, Kleeburger Weg was just a five-minute walk from the university campus. That was handy! My apartment was on the very top floor, apartment number 425. Not very good when you’re carrying big suitcases at the start of the year.

The view of the university from the window of my apartment.

On the first day, when I finally got all my possessions up the stairs, I opened the door to my home for the next year. I looked around. There was one large room, with a bed, a table, chair, and bookshelf. A tiny kitchen with a wardrobe in the corner and a little bathroom. That was my apartment.

I spent a moment looking around at all the bare walls, the empty bookshelf, and the sparse bed. Taking a deep breath, I began unpacking and decorating. I had brought two things that I thought would be important; blu-tack and a folder of pictures. There was a little bit of Anne Frank in me when I did that. When she arrived in her Secret Annexe in 1942, she had brought her collection of movie star portraits to decorate the walls of her room. I used my own pictures to decorate my walls.

One wall of my apartment, representing my favourite part of the Harry Potter story (Goblet of Fire)

I spent the majority of the day, tacking and sticking pictures onto each wall. Some of the walls had a certain theme; one wall was dedicated to Harry Potter, another had Yu-Gi-Oh pictures everywhere. I wanted to decorate the walls the way that I wanted to. It took a while for the decorating to be finished, but at last, I managed to get my last picture up on the wall.

The Yu-Gi-Oh! wall in my apartment

The walls above my bed were different. On a shopping day, I found a collection of wall stickers in the shape of butterflies. The butterflies had a different design and came in pink, purple, blue and yellow. I thought they looked really lovely and I have always had a weakness for butterflies so I decided to use them for decorating my room.

The butterfly wall in my apartment.

The final wall was a masterful collage of favorite pictures. I think I spent the most of my time decorating this wall, picking out all sorts of different pictures and putting them in exactly the right place. There was no select theme or anything like that, it was just a selection of my favorite pictures.

The collage wall in my apartment.

At last, my apartment was fully furnished. Now, I had to deal with the silence.

The silence was eerie. It made me nervous. Despite the brightly decorated walls and all my possessions around me, I felt nervous. The longer I spent in the silence, the more I didn’t like it.

Every day I lived in that apartment in Trier, I did whatever I could to fill the silence. In the morning, when I got up to have a shower or make myself some breakfast, there was always a video playing on my laptop. That Christmas, Mum bought me a little portable radio. Sometimes on Sunday evenings, I’d sit at the windowsill with a book and I’d read with the radio playing in the background. There was some form of noise in my apartment every night until I had to switch it off to go to sleep.

As the Erasmus year moved forward and I made new friends, I found myself hating it whenever I had to return to my apartment. The reason for it was, because I was returning alone. If I had been in a shared apartment, I’d have at least have had somebody else there. I could have become friends with my housemate if I’d have one. But I thought I’d be happy in a single apartment. That was where I was mistaken.

Living in an apartment in Trier taught me a few things. It taught me how to be independent and how to look after myself. I had to do my own cooking and clean after myself everyday. I had to throw out my own rubbish and do my laundry every week. I had to buy my own food and make sure everything was ready for the next day. There was no parent to look after me. I went home to Ireland with the knowledge that I was more than capable of looking after myself.

But another thing I learned is that I wasn’t happy living on my own. I thought I was happy in my own company, but I was wrong. The loneliness and eerie silence that I felt, made me spend as much time as possible out and about or with something in the background to fill the quiet. I realised that I was much happier to share a living space rather than having it all to myself.

It’s reflected on my living arrangements nowadays. I have my own room, in a house in Dublin. I have again decorated it to my own liking, but now I share the house with four other people. They started off as complete strangers but now, I’m happy to say that we’ve become really good friends. The girls in the house, and I spend as much time as we can, going out and having fun.

Part of my decor in my room in Dublin!

Maybe if things had been different when I was on Erasmus, I could have made friends with a housemate. But sometimes, things happen for a reason. I think I needed to fully experience living on my own, to understand what it was like.

Because now I know that I never want to do it again!

Eidhne In Paris (Or Just France In General)

France, Life Experiences, stories, travel

My story of traveling abroad for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic and what I learned about myself.

A View of the Eiffel Tower

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.

Parc de Luxembourg

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.

The Palace of Versailles

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.

The Hall of Mirrors

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.

The chambers of Marie Antoinette

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.

Being attacked by sleet showers in the Garden of Versailles!

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.

Marie Antoinette’s Beloved Petit Trianon

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.

The Cathedral of Notre Dame.

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.

The town of Arcachon.

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!

Myself and Gina exhilarated over our amazing bike ride to La Dune du Pilat

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!

The slope of the dunes, it was amazing how smooth the sand was.

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.

The view at the top of La Dune du Pilat.

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!

Getting windswept!

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.

The view of the beach in Arcachon

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 Certificate Postcards confirmed that we had climbed to the top of La Dune du Pilat.

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.

Happiness Only Real When Shared.

Christopher McCandless, August 1992

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.

Jusqu’à la prochaine fois!

Rediscovering Myself and My Passions in Life

Life Experiences

It’s taken me a very long time to come back to this website. The reasons for my absence were through no fault of my own. Working a full-time job and studying for a Master’s degree on the side took a lot more of my time than I thought. As much as I wanted to write, I had to focus on finishing my studies and meeting all the deadlines that were laid out for me.

This final semester of my dissertation has by far, been the most brutal and stressful one. I had classes in Online Media and Photojournalism. They were classes that I thoroughly enjoyed, and I learned things from these classes that I never expected to learn. I did projects that I had no idea I had skills in. Photojournalism in particular, was really interesting to me; there is a lot more to the history of photographs than one believes. We were encouraged to examine famous photos of the past and learn from what was good and bad about photography. We had to create our own photobooks shaped around one of four optional themes. Over the next couple of weeks, I will share my photo work with you, and show you the theme I chose and how I went about creating my work. It was a small thing that inspired me but it helped me to create a significantly good photobook.

I will be honest and say that most of my time over the last few months has been devoted to my dissertation. Oh God, the dissertation. The bane of my existence. I honestly thought that I’d never finish it in time. I wrote twenty thousand words all about how sexuality was represented in films between 1980 and 2020. In the dissertation, I examined how gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people were represented in film, using eight different examples. By the time submission day rolled around, I was losing my mind and was close to tearing my hair out. But it’s gone now, finished. I did the very best I could and that’s all anybody can expect of me. I’ve feel I’ve done enough to do well and receive my Master’s degree in November. And once I get the Master’s, that’s it. No more studying! I am done. It’s time to go back to my life, and rediscover who I am and what I want to do in my future.

For the next several posts, I’m going to be catching up on everything I’ve done over the last few months. I’m going to go back and look at everything I’ve done, what I’m going to say, what to write about on this site. There are things that I want to write about and I need to find my passion for writing again.

And when I say that, I do not mean any writing in terms of any assignments.

Hopefully within the next few weeks, I’ll have found my love for writing again and this site will be far more active than before.

The Passage of Time

Life Experiences, stories

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 Fragility of Life

Life Experiences, stories

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.

They’re gone forever if we do.

A Chip in a Stone

Life Experiences, stories
The abandoned village of Port in County Donegal

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.

The Beautiful Beach in the Abandoned Village of Port, Co. Donegal

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 chipped stone that I collected from Port, Co. Donegal.

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.

The only person that you can be, is yourself.

Beauté Cachée – Visiting Nancy, France

France, Life Experiences, travel

The reality of being an Erasmus student was more harsh than I ever imagined! In the space of just two weeks in November 2016, I had SIX presentations to do and an essay to write! Not fun, huh? At least, I didn’t have to have them all done at once (thank Christ!)! On a lighter subject, in this post I’m going to write about my trip at the time – in this case, the city of Nancy, France.

Elina Luukkanen, Georgina Pearce and Eidhne Gallagher posing by the fountain of Nancy. (Credit: Emily Whiffen)

This day-trip took place, just a week after my trip to Amsterdam. At least with this trip, it wasn’t that long a bus journey – we left at half past eight and arrived by eleven. We were dropped in the Place Stanislas where the traditional tour was going to take place. But before it did, we had a good look-around at our surroundings.

I have to say this; Nancy may be an old enough city, but it’s still beautiful. It wasn’t raining that Saturday thankfully, though very cold. As we waited for the tour to start, I snapped many pictures of the golden fountains that hundreds of years ago, had wine instead of water (wish it still did!), the statue of the Duke of Lorraine that made Nancy the city that it is. I’m a history addict, what can I say?

The tour finally began and we were taken through the streets. We saw the Notre Dame Cathedral that from the front, stood proud but from the side, it was easy to see that it was falling apart. Sadly, they ran out of money before the restorations could be completed. It’s kind of like what happened in Monaghan, my home town in Ireland many years ago. In the shopping centre car park, they has started to build new business association buildings, but then the recession happened and the money vanished. So the car park was left as a gaping hole covered by wooden walls for nearly six years until two or three years back when the original car park was restored. So the Monaghan council wasted €1 million turning the shopping centre car park, into another car park. Very, very stupid.

Georgina Pearce, Elina Luukkanen and Emily Whiffen, laughing in the park. Credit: Eidhne Gallagher

Once the tour finished and we had a spot of lunch, myself and my friends decided to go on our own tour around the place. We visited a local park and took several hundred pictures of ourselves, messing around the trees and kicking through the leaves. One thing that we didn’t expect to see though, was a peacock! Apparently, there was a wildlife centre nearby and it must have escaped. It didn’t open its wings for us, but oh well!

There was an amusement park set up as well and we decided to have a walk through there as well! No, we didn’t go on any rides, we were a bit too big for what was on offer! But we did enjoy some mulled wine and candyfloss! I had a sticky face and very sticky fingers afterwards, but you only live once!

One of my friends, Gina had arranged to meet a French girl that afternoon, so we went back to the statue of the Duke of Lorraine to meet her. There was a wedding group there, the photographer fussing around, telling the bride and groom to pose like this, like that. I don’t know how the poor bride managed to stay so composed in such freezing cold weather, but kudos to her!

Elina Luukkanen, Eidhne Gallagher and Emily Whiffen enjoying mulled wine and candyfloss in a Nancy amusement park. Credit: Georgina Pearce

Gina’s French friend, Emmeline arrived and she greeted us in the traditional French fashion- a hug and a kiss on each cheek! She brought us through the streets to a shopping centre where my friend, Emily could indulge in one of her favourite hobbies… smelling and testing perfumes! While she did, I visited a Kiko store; you can’t go wrong with a bit of Kiko makeup!

Afterwards, Emmeline led us to a waffle store where everyone could buy…you guessed it… waffles! Unlucky for me, due to my annoying allergies (and the fact that I’d already had a huge candyfloss) I ruled out getting any more food. So I spent a bit of time, browsing the market stalls, you never know what you can find in them! 

At half five, we had to go back to the Place Stanislas so we could get the bus back to Trier. We said farewell to Emmeline and made our way back. Unlike Amsterdam, Nancy didn’t have their Christmas lights on yet, but even so, still beautiful! It was just after six by the time we were on the bus, going home. Another great trip, I have to say! I wasn’t sure where I would be going next, but that will be covered in another post…

The Truth About Allergies and Why They Must Not Be Seen as Burdens

Life Experiences, stories, video

How it took a near-death experience to understand the seriousness of living with allergies

Chocolate that can be eaten by a person with severe egg and nut allergies along with an epi-pen and proscribed medication (credit: Eidhne Gallagher)

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.

A video project showing the true realities of living with allergies. Credit: Eidhne Gallagher

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.

Bouldering Bonanza!

Life Experiences, stories

Sometimes we all have to do something that makes our muscles cry.

All togged up and ready to climb! (Credit: Georgina Pearce)

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!

Myself and Gina making a start up the walls. (Credit: Elina Luukkanen)
Myself, Gina and Elina smiling after making our marks on bouldering. (Credit: Eidhne Gallagher)

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!