FINAL EDIT: NUIM Drama, I am glad to no longer be involved with you guys. end of.
When I was 13, I started going to a drama group in Clontarf. While I was there, my brisk no nonsense teacher guided me through the craft of being a good performer. No bullshit, no arty farty crap, just how to act and how to speak well. Drama became the first thing that I was just… good at. Acting was easy. Even when it was challenging it was easy. It was fun. Drama was the one thing. Drama was my one thing. I might be fat, or stupid, or lacking in subtlety- but I could do a decent monologue and that was all that mattered. Acting became something really important to me not for productions or the limelight but for a small inner peace I had never known before. When I fell into the character of another person I could forget how much I hated myself. Eventually, as it went on I slowly began to accept myself. If I could do this well, I could do anything well. If I could turn in a good performance, nothing else mattered.
Drama basically helped me work through all my problems and my anxieties. It was enriching and rewarding and fun. My little group still keeps in touch- my fantastic, no-nonsense teacher is now training me to take the teaching exams myself after college. I’m still welcome in that class now. When I started in NUI Maynooth I hoped that the Drama society there would be just as fulfilling.
NUIM Drama, you have beaten me. You’ve exhausted me, and you’ve won. You have finally, as a society, killed my love.
The Play I was in the cast of before Christmas, The Last of the Last of the Mohicans, is going to the ISDA festival, and my part is being re-cast. Going to go public with this and say right now how much NUIM Drama have ruined my love of acting. Every time I’ve gotten involved with that society as a performer I’ve come out the other end feeling used and badly treated. Last year, it was to do with politics that had nothing to do with me directly but concerning the play I was a cast member of and now it’s about me directly. With your cliques, your politics and your complete disregard for my self worth as a performer, you’ve beaten me. You’ve used my ability to act for two productions and once again, you’re discarding me as an inconvenient piece that won’t fit. I hope Mohicans and it’s cast are brilliant at ISDA because they will be going at the expense of my good will towards your society. You’ve lost me. You’ve lost me as a writer, as a performer, a director and a well wisher. You must have realized this was the only reaction I could have to your standing by as I’m airbrushed out. You have burned your bridge with me. I’m not even angry; I’m just very sad that I matter so little as a member of your group. Whatever the reasons are for re-casting my part (and I was told it wasn’t based on my actual performance, which was fine), I reserve the right to be very hurt.
You’ve turned something that I fell into as a vulnerable kid for escape and enjoyment into something that I dread to think about. I’ve lost all confidence in my ability to perform and I don’t think I’ll ever have the same love of drama and stage ever again. I’m not bitter, I don’t wish any individual member any harm (Many of you are my good friends and I wish you all the best) but as a person and a performer I feel utterly rejected and alienated. I won’t be participating in any productions anywhere for a long time. The thrill I used to feel being a part of something is lost- the confidence that used to flow in me is all drained out. You’ve taken a very important part of me away, and that hurts. That hurts me deeply. You kicked me out, and I’m not going to limp away without noting how much exactly you have taken away from me, how much it meant to me and what it’s cost.
I’m not putting this post up to have a go at you or make you look bad- as a society you are full of talent, boundless creativity and incredibly good people. That’s why I haven’t named anybody specifically in this letter. I’m not even mad. I’m not angry at the fantastic cast of Mohicans or the fantastic director who made the decision to re-cast me. I’m just really, really sad. I’m alone. I’m back in the place I was when I was 13.
Consider this my retirement notice from NUIM Drama and from acting at large. I will never participate in a production in Maynooth ever again. As for anywhere else, I’m still not sure if I will. I won’t write it off forever, but for the foreseeable future I can’t see myself being able to face it. Which is a pity. I wasn’t half bad.
Niamh ‘And no you can’t borrow my vintage radio for the set this time’ Keoghan
Column originally published on the StudentStandard.ie
Just this afternoon on her train, Bank Holiday Tuesday (BHT) noticed many “tweenage” girls in short shorts and brightly coloured baseball caps. I wondered if I had in fact fallen through a wormhole to 1993. No, these were just the final stragglers returning from staking out the Merrion Hotel where Justin Bieber was staying. Oh Bieber fever. When I was a girl it was Spice World and Boyzone – we were big into pandering the gender binary to little girls in my day and viewed the new wave of co-ed pop groups with suspicion. Liberty X and Hearsay and all that MIXING of the SEXES! It was too much for my little 9 year old head. Now we’re back to the nice binary system of boys in one group, girls in another. Now some don’t even NEED band mates: we have Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber to aspire to.
I drove past the point depot with my Ma last night and marveled at all the cars parked around- way more than you’d usually see waiting after a gig. When I heard it was Bieber I realised this must be an army of mums and dads waiting anxiously to pick up their darlings from the concert, possibly chaperoned by cool older sisters or younger aunties. There is something strangely cult like about Bieber. I think his hair has nanobots in it, controlling the little girls via electron pulses. That is the only way I can justify his alarmingly hysterical popularity. Maybe he’s a cult leader. I think Anonymous needs to get onto him, to be honest. He could be sacrificing virgins to Xenu for all we know.
But seriously, let us all be fair. Bieber is pretty easily avoidable in music fan terms. He doesn’t get that much radio play and he’s not on the music channels (yes this is how BHT experiences her music because it is still 2003 in her head…) and the level of hate he produces online is about equal to that of Osama bin Laden. People haaaaate this kid. BHT is not sure why. As far as pop crooners pandering to little girls go, he’s certainly not the worst. Often I hear people complaining that kids are listening to shit music these days. Eh, yeah, because that’s what kids do. You have to go through a stage where you listen to total twaddle before you catch five seconds of, say, Joni Mitchell’s Blue played by your mother at 3AM on a Sunday and you understand.
We need shitty pop music slopped out by the mainstream labels: if we didn’t we would have no way of obscuring our gems so they don’t get sucked in by the mainstream. Let the little girls work themselves into a state of weeping hysteria. Let them get it out of their systems now in one fearsome dose of fever: the Bieber fever. Bad music is, to BHT, a rite of passage we must all take. We don’t all have parents with extensive Rory Gallagher back catalogues or Uncles who lend you Talking heads ‘77 to help you in your education- some of us curate our tastes slowly, through accumulation. The first Album BHT owned was Avril Lavigne and a best of Britney Spears. Let those without sin cast the first hip hop style diss. Besides, little girls have always listened to inane crap. It’s how Donny Osmond and John Travolta made careers. There is NO POINT trying to play Ani DiFranco to your 3 year old cousin (BHT has tried).
So let it be said now: BHT is defending Bieber. She is defending Bieber because all little girls have to have their shitty music quota filled, so that when they are 24 and sipping ironic PBR at a party in a squat on Camden street wearing one of those absurd furry animal hats, she must still pause before passing judgement on another person’s music taste. It is an anchoring anti hipster force in the world, for no matter how hip and cool any of us will ever be,
There will always be a Bieber Fever scar on our heart.
Niamh ‘I’m about to lose my mind up in hurrr’ Keoghan
I hate the friendzone. I hate the word. It’s a shockingly clever concept- a catch all term for shaming women who turn a guy down, or decline their romantic advances, or just plain don’t want a relationship. It has a close connection to the concept of ‘leading one on” wherein a woman is oft accused of stringing a hapless everydude into her web with those feminine wiles only to cut him off cruelly for her own amusement. Most troubling for me is how women have started to use these terms I’ve heard girls say ”’he friend zoned me” or ”I wish he hadn’t led me on”. Hell, I’ve used these terms because there are out there people who will mess you around a little bit, and flirt outrageously. But these people aren’t friendzoning you. And generally this is a guy on girl trope- Some of parlance has begun to creep into lady talk, but it’s an institutional of hetrerosexual men to begin with. (Note- Not all straight men are ‘Nice Guys’in the way I describe them here. I have a lot of male friends and I’m not hating on the menfolk at all, just commenting on something I’ve experienced. Blah, I don’t hate men, these sexist concepts hurt men too, whatever x)
They might be kind of dick, but they’re not friendzoning you because and this may shock you so hold onto your hats and assort beverages the friendzone doesn’t exist. Sorry everyone. It’s just not real. I’ve seen women get messed around by men and men messed around by women, and I’ve never seen evidence of a real life friendzone. I did do a bit of research I stood around while my friends talked about relationships, and have also been in a few disastarous ones, and been on either side of the ‘let’s be friends’ equation. It’s also linked to another concept- that of Nice Guyism that we’ll talk about and discuss why it’s really fucking creepy. Bad romance is my specialist topic- so let’s talk the friendzone.
In the zone
In basic parlence, the ‘friendzone’ is where men who have romantic and sexual notions on a woman are placed when those women declined their advances- ususally with a phrase like ‘I don’t want to mess up our friendship’or ”Í don’t think of you that way’or ‘I love you!… as a friend!’ The zone is the purgatory men go to when women selfishly withold the sex that they are entitled to. Because hey, why does that girl have to be such a bitch and turn you down? You’re a nice guy, you treat her really well, you’re always interested and looking out for her. But okay. Here’s the thing nice guys- Somebody being nice to me is my BASIC prerequisite for continuing to even associate with someone. A guy being polite, courteous and listening to me is my baseline for being his friend- It’s not some magical perk that will automatically make me spit out a sexy time token, and that’s what it’s really about at the end of the day.
And further, the whole nice guy… thing is a bit creepy to be on the receiving end of. Lads, we know when you’re genuinely being nice and when your interest is forced only to make us think you’re nice. I have plenty of male friends who have little to no interest in hearing me discuss the finer points of my as yet unfinished novel, and in return I have no interest in hearing about the details of their record collection. You don’t have to take boundless interest in every single thing I care to mention or be involved in; all encompassing adoration and undying interest are as unsettling to receive as it sounds. It’s not nice. It makes me feel like I’m living in a world of plastic automatic yes men, all poking my ego until sexy time coupons pop out.
The scary thing is when men, after frantic and endless prodding, delude themselves into thinking a sexy time token HAS popped out, and that they ARE entitled to more of me than I am willing to give. That’s when I politely decline, and they scream, with arms thrown to heaven ”’FRIENDZOOOOOOOOONED!”
Sexy Time Tokens
I know I’m the last person that should be complaining about romantic attention heck, usually I’m complaining that nobody’s into me and how much that sucks. But the opposite extreme is scary and unpleasant. I was trying to quantify what makes one a ‘nice guy’ in the sex coupon seeking way I just described, and I have a very handy litmus test to discern between genuinely nice people, and ‘nice guys’-
If asked to give you some space to think and breath, a genuine person will do just that, and back off. They might be confused sure, or hurt or think you’re being dramatic, but they will still give you the space you’ve asked for and respect your feelings. A Nice Guy however, will ignore your requests for space and continue to bombard you with increasingly false-sounding declarations that they will understand and listen to you. They’ll completely ignore the fundamental point of what you’ve asked, and continue to steamroll you. And that’s the point of the Nice Guy, and the Friendzone.
In this whole unpleasant scenario, the woman is just an object to the nice guy. His feelings and his ego are the important things. It doesn’t matter how scared or uninterested or even hostile the object is, she still owes him something; He can wrap it up as a relationship, but in the end, the object becomes his possession, and in that possession there are obligations the object must fill. And if you refuse to play the game, check out and decline the thrilling chance to become an object?
Well, you’re just a frigid bitch who dumped that poor nice guy into the friendzone. You MONSTER.
Niamh ‘Offside in the friendzone’ Keoghan
RTÉ are hilarious. An entire hour or so was dedicated to his Popiness calling it off- personally, I think he should be made carry this papacy to term (Joke courtesy of @emjb but too good not to include here) and understand that if he didn’t want to be a pope, then he shouldn’t have become a priest in the first place. I mean, I’m not trying to be judgemental, I support his decision, but you know… I still judge him. Anyone with a bit of life experience would
But yeah, I find myself not able to wring much comedy out of the Pope resigning. I did try. I made a cup of coffee and sat down at the computer to make some LOLZ about his special pope chair and the special pope hat that makes him infallible as long as he’s in the chair and has the hat on, the dresses, the fact that he looks like emperor palpatine, his German-ness, and I tried to write a long thesis on why I should be crowned the Ultra pope- I’d be fifty feet tall like a power rangers bad guy and stamp on St Peters- but all my efforts at humour fell flat.
Irish people have been pretty playful about the papacy thing, as we always are about matters of the catholic church; that kind of self deprecating, eye rolling father ted style ‘sure where would you be without it’ kind of humour. I think the main reason Father Ted is watchable is because it is brutally satirical- pointing out the hypocrisy of the 1990s catholic church. It was from an era just prior to the Ryan report and the really massive child rape scandals, so I’m not sure how it would look if it was made today.
But I can’t make lolz out of the pope, because the Catholic Church is, to me, just too screwed up an institution. I can’t laugh about the silly hats and the robes and the cardinals having a piss up when just last week I found out the state I’m a citizen of was complicit in the slavery of thousands of women over 70 years at the hands of religious orders. Just three years ago my best friend spoke up in a religion class to question our male religion teacher on the very obvious bias against abortion in the lesson we were having on morality. When I was seventeen the speaker who came to talk to us about ‘the facts of life’ dropped her voice in the middle of a presentation about the rhythm method of contraception and told us ‘girls, I used this method, and I have three children, so just… consider that.’ It’s an institution in Ireland that consistently discouraged me from being loud, from having opinions, from having agency. Look even now, I’m trying to be light hearted and I can’t! I need a different topic.
It’s Richard III I feel the worst for, you know. You spend five hundred years under ground after your grisly murder (in Leicester no less). Then some young upstart named Will Shakespeare writes a play that solidifies you as only the baddest mother fucker who ever walked the earth and you go down in history as a twisted crazy tyrant, and then worst of all, someone builds a carpark on top of you. A carpark for a tesco, no less. I can think of no worse a humiliation than to have my resting place disturbed by a budget supermarket chain. If all this wasn’t bad enough only a few days later the horse meat scandal properly broke and twitter, the papers and everyone else had a new story to wring lolz out of. THEN Beyonce blew up the super bowl. THEN the Pope announced he was resigning. Jesus, there was so much. If there is a god and he is planning this shit, last week definitely proves he on the side of the satirists. Maybe God is actually just a celestial Alan Bennett. Think of all the horses that were technically in that tesco next to Richard III all along. All he needed to do was test for them.
Niamh ‘The Pope can’t handle me’ Keoghan
This column originally appeared in the Student Standard volume 1, issue 1 on the 12th February 2013. The Student Standard is NUI Maynooth’s independent new source and can be read online here
published here with kind permission of Keith Broni, editor of the Standard.
Bank Holiday Tuesday 12th February 2013
Another year, another Superbowl Sunday passed with me in bed early, not willing to stay up until 5AM watching the most excruciatingly boring sport known to man (Worse than Cricket, Curling and Lawn Bowls put together because AT LEAST those sports don’t stop for a little rest every every. single. Play) only for the faint promise of nine minutes of Beyonce that I could catch on YouTube the next day. No, I experienced the superbowl the way I also experienced the Late Late show’s debate on marriage equality last week- tucked up in bed with a hot chocolate, following the proceedings via twitter.
Twitter is a great medium for experiencing telly, a crowdsourced annotated commentary of whatever happens to be on. It’s basically watching highlights that are tailored to your own personal tastes- so in my case, the Superbowl coverage I saw was mostly ‘When’s Beyonce on?’ Then hysterical tweets when she actually did come on (SHE’S SO GOOD AT WALKING!) all about the dancing, the costume, the choice of song (‘Baby Boy?’ Really? That song was lame back in 2004. Come on Bey, do Bootilicious, come on-OH MY GOD THEY’RE DOING BOOTILICIOUS) and of course, the fact that Destiny’s child had ‘reunited.’ When really, all that happened was that Bey got her moderately famous backing singers back. I always liked Kelly Rowland. She reached a minor solo peak around 2003 when I first got into pop music. Sadface. Oh wait, now they’re doing single ladies- I have to do Single ladies on this deadly silent train now, excuse me.
The Bey halftime show was a bit of an experience for me, watching it on my phone on the train to Maynooth Monday Morning. It was when I finally sort of ‘got’ Beyonce. We’ve long had a complicated relationship because she just doesn’t really have a lot of songs I can groove to. Bootilicious and Single Ladies are aggressively good and that is Beyonce at her best. Telephone is an over produced masterpiece of pop excess. If I were a boy and her other break up jams always felt a bit flat to me. It never really captures the actual pain of a break-up- they’re more like revenge dreams. I’d theorise that ‘If I were a boy’ is really a dissing of the sort of casual misogyny that’s common in most hip hop and rap.
Beyonce isn’t particularly titillating. She’s too fucking scary to be titillating. Compare some of her earlier videos- writhing on a beach because Sean Paul is just too hot to comprehend (note- it was 2004 after all) in baby boy, to the aggressive dominance of the Single Ladies dance. Single Ladies is an aggressive, iconic song. It’s not sensual- it’s a war cry. She’s strong and she will fucking TRASH YOU in a song if you wrong her. She’s not pandering to sexism so much as sticking a sharp heel through it. Men do fancy her (note-I fancy her. everyone fancies her. don’t lie.) but she’s not for a moment subservient to any man. She consistently out-earns her husband. All you need do to set off any woman born between 1980 and 1993 is to go up to her and ask earnestly ‘Kelly, can you handle this?’. You will be treated to every woman in the vicinity shrieking the lyrics to ‘Bootilicious’ at the tops of their voices.
Which brings me to the title of her new tour- Mrs Carter. Using her husbands name on her solo tour has been a bit… confusing to people who have always seen Beyonce as a strong independent figure. Personally, I had actually forgotten Beyonce had a surname at all. ‘Knowles’ sort of became redundant after Sasha Fierce came out- She’s reached Cher levels of ‘first name only’ recognition. I had also forgotten Jay-Z had a surname either, in fact I just assumed they were monarchs and didn’t have a need for one, you know? Privately, Bey and Jay apparently both hyphenate their names, going as the ‘Knowles- Carter’ family. Bey has said publically that when she’s stressed, she likes to go make love to her husband to chill out. She is one of the most athletic and accomplished dancers of our generation- I’d argue her choreography will define the dance of our generation in the same way Michael Jackson defined the 80s. In the promo for this tour she’s dressed in a Louis the XIV style leotard and a fur cape. She’s Beyonce. LADS. She is Beyonce. Beyonce is allowed name her tour whatever she wants.
Niamh ‘I don’t think you’re ready for this Jelly’ Keoghan
Let me marshal my thoughts as best I can; I’ve just finished watching the Late Late Show debate on marriage equality, which I experienced first via the so called ‘river of bile’ on Twitter- a surprisingly moderate, inoffensive river all things considered although I do think calling Wendy a cunt and telling her to stick things up her fanny was unhelpful and immature- on the whole, twitter was being it’s usual twittery self. I think it says an awful lot of David Quinn blacklist of bile-y tweets mostly consisted of balanced, moderate comments and a kind of eye rolling disdain for the usual weak arguments against marriage equality. A few things did strike me about the debate hat I think I, as something of a feminist and general know it all, ought to clear up.
1. The ‘gender equality’ point
Both Darren and Wendy set forth this point; that in every other area of society be it in politics or business, we’re always striving for an equal number of men and women representing on boards and in government. The argument seemed to be that in these areas, there was a recognition that you needed both men and women for there to be fairness and equality, so why is it different when children are being raised? It was said that this notion of gender equality recognizes that men and women have different skills and approaches that are both valuable.
The thing is, that’s not what gender equality really stands for, or at least my conception of it. The idea is, quite radically, that gender doesn’t actually matter in these cases- that men and women can both do the same job equally well without difficulty. The problem emerges when there’s such a massive disparity in the gender balance of a company board or parliament- because if gender really, honestly wasn’t the issue, we’d have a 50/50 balance of men Vs Women. The whole basis of this is that like race, gender doesn’t actually tell you anything about the person. Women can be just as aggressive, stoic or tough as men, and men can be just as passive, emotional or sensitive as women. There’s nothing wrong with being whatever- people are simply people, their gender can inform their identity but it doesn’t define them.
2. Biological mammies and daddies are best
The first thing that strikes me about this entire argument is how insulting it is. To reduce the love I have for my parents- who have cared for me, protected me and given me a stable home for 20 years, loved me no matter what my difficulties have been- to reduce a relationship so complex and fulfilling to biology is woefully simplistic. I have a mother and father, but to reduce their roles in my life to simple cardboard cutouts of ”MAM’ and ‘DAD’ fitting into this narrow gender binary is ridiculous.
When I was a child, my father worked nights and my mother worked during the day in town. At the time I was sure that she basically owned a company and so was very happy mammy went to work in the day. Because my dad worked nights, I spent most of my day with him- we’d get up and watch sesame street, then we’d go in the buggy to town, or to the park, or to any number of places. My dad changed my nappy everywhere because there were no changing facilities outside of the ladies toilets in an era before parenting rooms, so he improvised, most famously on the grave of an archbishop.
My Dad is very stoic. He’s not a very touchy feely guy. He’s told me he loves me exactly once in his life- on the phone, after my mum had gently informed me that my grandmother, his mother, had passed away while I was on Holiday in Galway. He’s an old fashioned, Colm Meany in the commitments sort of Dad. He doesn’t say he loves me, but he certainly shows it- everything I’ve ever needed is provided for. I’ve never gone hungry or been cold or scared. He’s worked hours of overtime to pay for my education and my school trips. He was a very hands on father when I was a kid, sharing the parenting duties with my mother. As well as my mum and dad, I was cared for by two grandmothers who without fail babysat us four days a week when dad started working in the mornings again.
My mother worked in town full time for most of my childhood. When I was a little kid, she’d ring from her office in town once during the day, and then arrive home in a big beige 90s style rain mac, usually holding an umbrella and her handbag. On the weekends, she’d cook a spaghetti bolognese on Saturday and a roast on Sunday. We’d all go on outings- my mum, dad, brothers and usually my grandparents- together as a family.
Bottom line- my parents both mucked in and got on with it. I wasn’t particularly aware of gender roles when I was a kid- if I cut my knee, I ran crying to either parent. As I got older and needed help with other problems, I gravitated towards two people- My mother, and my uncle Fran. My uncle is like me in personality, articulate and great at conversation. I don’t gravitate towards my mother because women are just naturally better at dealing with their daughter’s problems, I do it because my dad just happens to not be as easy to talk to. My brothers go to my mum with problems too, the same way if we have a wobbly desk we go to dad.
It’s not to say that they have set roles that are defined by their gender- they’re just two people primarily, who raised a family together. The really important thing that they gave us was stability- I never had any doubt that my parents were a team, and working together. It’s stability, not gender, that’s really important to a kid.
3.Marriage is only for makin’ babies
This obsession with kids being the only outcome of marriage kind of irks me. No it bloody isn’t. The primary function of marriage as a social institution? I would have imagined it had something to do with the people actually getting married and not just their potential offspring. This also discounts people unable to have children, or who just plain don’t want them. Again, reducing marriage to just being about biological reproduction is ridiculous. There’s also the question of adoption- Sometimes the sad fact is that biological parents aren’t capable of raising children alone or together, and that’s okay- kids get adopted all the time, and it doesn’t fundamentally distort them. I suppose it’s okay for them to be adopted by straight couples because then there can be a pretend biological bond, by Darren and Wendy’s logic.
To me, the biological argument is bullshit. It insults adoptees and children raised diligently and happily by step parents, grandparents and any of the other million grey areas there are in the world. The ‘protecting the children’ rhetoric also completely ignores the legal limbo that the children of gay parents now exist in, with only one official parent. It doesn’t make sense to me.
4. George Hook is kind of the man.
Has to be said because I have done mean impressions of him on many occasions and he was a total dude up on that podium.
5.They’re gonna ruin marriage for everyone
God you know, as a straight, cis female who wants to someday have children, I know exactly what will put me off marriage forever- two chicks being able to do it, amirite? I mean, what would be the actual point of getting marriage and having babies if the gays are going to come in and RUIN MY MARRIAGE? It’s just not bloody fair. An entire generation of straight women and men would be discouraged from getting legal protection and starting families because sure now EVERYONE can do it, it won’t be cool anymore. Or something. The opponents to marriage equality are never very clear about how that bit works…
The idea that my relationships are cheapened by somebody else’s just confuses me. I don’t care if gay people can marry- my ability to produce more of me doesn’t somehow make me a magical, sacred person capable of deep sorcery that my gay friends don’t have- it just makes me fertile, and I’m a lot more than that. My relationships, both romantic, platonic, meaningful and shallow, are all based on more than that.
In the end, marriage equality isn’t really just about kids, though that seems to be the way the debate is always framed. it’s also about legal protection, clarity and the reinforcement of the principle that it actually doesn’t matter what you choose to do with another consenting adult. The re appropriation of ‘gender equality’ for something that’s just reinforcing the very divisions we’re trying to remove is laughable, and David Quinn’s river of bile is probably the most rational, balanced thing ever posted to the Iona institutes website.
Niamh ‘did not get onto the rivers of bile list. devastated’ Keoghan
I’m actually writing this right now because I can’t sleep- it’s 1AM, and I’m up at 6:30 for my train to college. I can’t sleep because I’m tense and worried- about my pending exam results, my possible international year not happening, whether I’ll fail, whether I’ll get a masters place when I finish, whether anyone hates me, whether anyone fancies me- These thoughts rattle and vibrate through my head and bubble unpleasantly in my stomach.
If I had to describe my anxiety, I’d say it’s mostly like a stomach ache. It sometimes manifests in small ways- The famous one is my obsession with time keeping and punctuality. I get irritating and upset when I’m running late and profusely apologize for being even 10 minutes late. I will habitually check that my phone is still in my pocket when walking through town, to the point where I keep my hand on it constantly. When I’m feeling low, it gets more severe, and thoughts about exams or the bigger picture will cause a wave of heat and discomfort to spread from my stomach and make it hard to breathe. The biggest underlying trigger for my anxiety is the annoying conviction I’ve never been able to shake- that I’m just fooling everyone.
To be frank, I feel like an absolute failure about 35% of the time, and a mediocre schmoo the rest. The idea that I’m not actually as intelligent as everyone around me thinks I am and that I’m just fooling everyone never, ever leaves my head. Usually it’s just a bit of background noise that I can tell to fuck off, but when I’m low it obsesses me. I don’t feel good enough, every possibility is for people better able to succeed. I can’t see myself as useful or productive, and everything about the future becomes scary. Every time someone rolls their eyes and says they’ll never be employed after their degree, my stomach heaves unhappily. ‘They’re much more competent than you, and even they aren’t going to make it.’
And of course I know objectively that this is rubbish; I have a lot going for me. My grades aren’t terrible at all (though certainly not excellent), I’m in full time education, I’ve finally starting losing all the extra weight that was damaging my health and as a result I look the best I have since hitting puberty ten years ago, I have started dressing with actual thought rather than just wearing whatever fits, and I have a vast, overlapping, amazing network of friends and family who all care about me. But the small seed of self loathing that I’ve had in me for as long as I’ve been self aware is so deeply rooted now that it’s hard to weed out. Mostly, I can contain it to the occasional self deprecating comment about my weight, work or personality- just a small little dig at myself, to let people know I’m not actually a wanker. I’ve learned to be a bit nicer to myself, but the background noise of ‘you’re a fake!’ has been pretty stubborn. One of my earliest memories was a girl in primary school telling me that ‘self praise is no praise’ when I tried to assert myself. She was just being dumb and unpleasant, but I never shook it off.
I suppose the reason I’m saying this is because mental health happens to be coming up in my life an awful lot, since I now have a gang of friends all discussing it openly. It’s nice to apologetically describe your problem to someone, only for them to go ‘bummer, I’ve had stuff like that too.’ The trouble really comes when the anxious feelings get a bit worse than usual. There, I can’t think of certain topics without a shortness of breath and a sore stomach coming on. Today on the train it was thinking about my exam results that triggered a small attack. In fact it wasn’t thinking about my results- I’m still so anxious about the actual trigger that I can’t even type it here without starting off again. It’s nothing serious but right now it’s the main irrational worry. My unhappy low periods of tension and worry are pretty much my mental health equivalent of getting a bad cold every now and then. They never last too long, and usually clear after a few days or a week. If they persist for longer I have people I can talk to who always know how to help and advise, I’m very lucky that way.
And like a bad cold, I am now able to get back to normal in about a week. The clouds lift and my stomach settles, and the anxiety goes back down to a level I can manage it at. Sprinting to the bus stop even though the bus isn’t due for another ten minutes and habitually touching the back of my chair to make sure nobody has taken my coat are the worst of it (and the sprint to the bus does me good I suppose). I know other people aren’t as lucky, and I’m very thankful that my anxiety never lasts long or brings me to any dangerous places in my mind.
So… yeah. I needed to let that out. Sometimes I have really bad weeks and think I am really useless but then I talk to people who love me and I stay in bed for a few days and eventually it lifts and I go back to being okay.
Niamh ‘I am now anxious about the lack of insight this post actually offers’ Keoghan