Last week as I was watching television I glanced at my phone, which was charging in the corner of the sitting room.
The screen shone bright, which was odd because I hadn’t touched it since the start of House of Cards twenty minutes earlier.
With a puzzled face I paused the TV and walked over to my phone.
It appeared to have restarted all by itself.
Hmmm, I thought. This is not good.
I waited, but to no avail. Five times I watched as the bright white screen blinked to black and then white again, with the Three logo appearing then disappearing.
At this point I figured I needed help so I consulted Google and then pals and after a few more attempts at ‘recovery mode’ I decided to switch the whole thing off completely – which also took some time.
By this point the phone was roasting.
Clearly a fault with the batter, FML, I thought.
I’d have to bring it back to Three and see about a repair.
This means going to Grafton Street. But it’s Friday night, I don’t want to go to town on a Saturday! Fuck, fuck, fuck.
Right, I thought, I’ll go on Tuesday when I have the morning off from work. I’d have to be in town that day anyway for work. I’ll slip across the Liffey before work.
So my life was phoneless for five whole days.
And what a gift those days were!
I noticed it two days in; I was so so relaxed.
Without my phone: I couldn’t access Facebook or Gmail on command; I couldn’t blot out my surroundings by blaring Future Islands on Spotify; I couldn’t keep abreast of the news. In short, I couldn’t do all the bad things I didn’t realise I was doing.
I could focus. I wasn’t dropping my attention to check updates every five minutes.
Having a phone feels like checking on a dinner that will never be ready.
On Tuesday I took my phone in for repair and now I have a loan phone for a few days, until my phone is fully operational. I can already feel old habits coming back; the quick FB notification check, the ‘oh I might have received an email’ feeling.
I have an embargo for weekdays: no Facebook before lunch, no Gmail until after work, no news unless I hear about it first in work.
A weekend embargo? Like today. Tough, tough, tough.
Do you know anyone who isn’t a slave to their phone?
So, this year I’ve been anxious. Super anxious. Since my anxiety attacks started in 2014, I’ve been trying a few things to minimise impact. Anxiety can hit me any time – on the Luas, in work, on a night out – so having a few tricks up my sleeve helps.
1. DEEP BREATHING
Good breathing calms things down. Today, for example, I was on the Luas. Shamefully, I hadn’t eaten well before stepping out and while on the track I felt a little faint. The tram was becoming pretty loud and crowded, and we were only at Drimnagh. FML.
First my eyes went – usually the first sign of impending panic. I couldn’t focus on anything. Then my body felt heavy, but weak. My thoughts were let loose:
I’m going to faint. Oh God. I’ll collapse. What if I smack my head? I’m going to collapse.
I’ll definitely pass out. Why didn’t I eat properly? Oh no, no, no.
OKAY BREATHE, AILEEN.
These unhelpful thoughts are the staple of any anxiety attack, and the best way to tackle them, I’ve found, is by doing some deep breathing. For example, inhale to the count of five and then exhale to the count of seven. Make sure you breathe in all the way to your stomach – let it expand as you breathe in, contract as you breathe out.
2. PRACTISE MINDFULNESS
Mindfulness means taking a few minutes a day to practise awareness by noticing the things around you. So much of your head space is consumed by what happened yesterday and what will happen tomorrow.
How present are you, honestly?
Some ways to be mindful: commute without headphones and listen to the sounds around you. I do this sometimes, on days when I can bear to be without music. I listen to footsteps, the engine of the bus, the hushed chatter around me. Everything that comes up.
It takes a little while, but this inconsequential noise does become a soothing soundtrack to my day. When I feel anxiety coming on I turn off the music, and try hard to notice my surroundings. Listening out for surprising sounds takes the edge off, I promise.
3. EXERCISE – OR AT THE VERY LEAST, STRETCH
I’m a very busy English language teacher. If I’m not teaching, I’m correcting writing assignments or planning a lesson. While my head is off worrying about how lessons are going and what to do next, my body isn’t given a second thought.
So when I can, at lunch usually, I find an empty classroom to stretch – in order to reconnect with my body. I’ve also taken to doing pilates twice a week, and boxercise once a week (with the best trainer ever!). Even if I ditch these classes – sometimes I just can’t find the motivation to go – I still stretch. It helps.
If you can’t exercise or find time to stretch, get off the bus a few stops early – a tip from my doctor. Do anything to move your body during the day.You won’t regret it.
4. PRACTISE GRATITUDE
When you feel like your head is exploding and your world is ending, it’s easy to forget the good things – so remind yourself. The big things matter, of course, like family, friends and a home to live in. But it’s the small stuff that cultivates appreciation, I find.
On a daily basis, recall three good (and small!) things that make today different from yesterday. For example, today: I had a peaceful bus ride home without my headphones; when my dog saw me he jumped on my lap and started to lick my hand; and my family and I sat down to watch Gogglebox together.
By remembering the small temporary stuff you notice how different each day can be and end up keeping some nice things in your memory bank too.
So there. I hope that, if you do suffer from anxiety, you find or will find these things helpful to you. I also recommend trying CBT – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. The best thing I’ve done this year is see a counsellor.
Don’t think twice about it, just go.
Slán go fóill.
Nearly two years ago I changed this blog from ‘public’ to ‘private’ – not because I lost interest, but because I ran out of things to say. Still, every November I renewed my website, not really knowing why.
Back in February 2015, I was in Brussels working in the media monitoring department of the European Council in the EU. I was a trainee. I loved it. Though I was stressed, I was happy. Five months later I was back in Dublin preparing for a teaching job I had applied for during my traineeship.
I had given up on a career in journalism. To this day I regret nothing.
Being a journalist meant judging people and situations, sitting at a computer all day agonising over the best way to sell the news, asking awkward questions, getting people to talk to me even after they said they didn’t want to.
I forced myself to keep going.
To keep at it.
It just wasn’t in my blood.
The moment I acknowledged these statements, it all changed.
Now I’m an English language teacher. I love it more than any of the other jobs I’ve had. A year and a bit in, I know it’s where I want to be. Every day I go to school, see my students and we just have a ball. A good job is made up of good people.
And yet, this blog – initially used as a way to promote my journalism – has always been in the back of my mind, waiting to be utilised again.
I’m not sure what it’s for now. My teaching? Personal stuff?
I don’t know, but it’s great to be back. Slán go fóill.
So I’m doing a voiceover next week and I’m pretty nervous about it. It’s my second chance behind the microphone in recent weeks.
I have a stammer, a stutter. To some, what I have is a speech disorder. Mostly, though I view it as an adorable little throat stall that makes my eyes twitch and my mouth speak sidewise.
Words come out in bits, with visible force, and sometimes mid-sentence I’m forced to abandon a word I want to use for something less troublesome – so reading from a script next week will be quite an effort for me. I’ll be wrecked after it.
Among friends and family I can speak fine, but when I’m put on the spot I get a little flustered and self-conscious, which spurs on the sound repetitions. Sometimes just making my speech look free-flowing and natural is hard. Like this:
It’s taken me years to find my appearance during a particularly bad flow of stammering endearing. The spluttering, spitting, choking sounds and the minor facial tick… they don’t exactly shout come-hither sex appeal.
Still, I wouldn’t trade my guttural blocks and stalls for anything.
It’s the fabric of my life, my personality. It wasn’t that long ago that teachers and classmates thought I was “stupid” or “slow”, that there “must be something wrong” with me for how I speak. Of course as a teenager all that’s upsetting to hear. (Hilariously, looking back, I was once told I wouldn’t go far in life because I couldn’t speak as fast as everyone else – how bizarre.)
But accepting myself doesn’t objectively help me speak clearly on the radio. Though I’ve been practising my script all weekend I just cannot control my voice. I never could, though I’ve improved a lot. Like this:
See how much better I got? (The speaking bits in the video just took five takes!)A few slight drawls here and there, but nothing that would demand a do-over.
I want to use my voice professionally. I want to sound clear. I want to slowly enunciate without the fear of losing my nerve mid-word. I don’t want to have to outrun my stammer anymore, hurrying my voice so I can trick my brain into thinking it can’t stop me. Finally, most importantly, I want my convictions to sound convincing.
Sadly, I don’t know if my ability to do this voiceover is greater than my honest desire to do it. Last week, my first chance behind the microphone, I didn’t sound convincing enough for the radio producer to want to use my tape… I was mortified.
I’ll keep going over my lines until Voiceover Day. Until then, send me good vibes, everyone?
When people ask me who my favourite writer is, regardless of what’s reeled me in in the past, I always say Sylvia Plath. She’s the default.
She cannot be de-throned, not even for Stieg Larsson and his Millennium series, and that’s saying something.
It’s been like this since I read The Bell Jar one summer as a teenager.
I’d known about the 1963 classic for some time before I bought it. Probably through having to read her poetry in school. So during one of those typical teenage summers, when you’re too young to go out dancing, but too old to “play out”, I decided to buy it.
I’ve read it in full a few times over, since.
Oddly, I didn’t seek out more of Plath’s work. So it came as a shock to me last year to discover her unabridged 1950-1962 journals.
How to reconcile that you’re reading someone else’s diary
I don’t know if Plath would have wanted her diaries to be read by strangers. To level the field: when I die you can all take a gander at my own.
Concise passages like the following continue to have me hooked (I’m still the slowest reader of all time).
Observations like this:
“In her, beating loudly, strongly, was the neutral fact: the potent sex drive. It could be used for either her triumph or her downfall. It could be her most dynamic asset or her most tragic flaw. (Which? … the lady or the tigress? ten years should tell.)”
“And so I rehabilitate myself – staying up late this Friday night in spite of vowing to go to bed early, because it is more important to capture moments like this, keen shifts in mood, sudden veering of direction – than to lose it in slumber.”
“If I am going to be a woman, fine. But I want to experience my femininity to the utmost.”
“There was more small talk, more laughing, sidelong glances, more of the unspoken physical friction that makes each new conquest so delightful. In the air was the strong smell of masculinity which creates the ideal medium for me to exist in.”
“Now I’ll never see him again, and maybe it’s a good thing. He walked out of my life last night for once and for all. I know with sickening certainty that it’s the end.”
The unabridged journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962.
By reading Journals, I’ve come to appreciate how introspective I am; to relish in it, forgive it and embrace something I once thought destructive and pretentious.
What I feel when I read Plath
Simply put, I feel less alone in my own thoughts.
Years ago, my English teacher said she thought I was “over analytical”. It filled me with joy – finally, I thought, a name for what goes on in my head!
To speak vaguely for a second: I think of the future a lot, planning my steps ahead carefully, stressfully. I put myself under a lot of pressure to succeed. When it feels like I’m not progressing I begin to feel a little lost. And if I feel lost for long, my head gets a bit intense.
From reading Plath’s diaries, it’s comforting to know I’m not alone.
Her writing, too, how she constructed sentences, how she can create images in my own head from just a handful of well-placed words… well, I aspire to write like that.
She wrote with such honesty and conviction. It’s hard to do. The writing has to be ugly, critical and fearless. Journals is.
It’s a breath of fresh air, because when I’m writing alone in my diary, contrary to edited, re-edited and ‘safe’ blog posts, it still feels like I’m trying to hide from what I actually think – it’ll always be a work in progress, that.
Blasts from the past
So I’ve been reading my old diaries (from 2006 onwards) recently. I rarely re-read after writing. In their current form, the entries are what they are: an honest angsty mess.
I’m surprised by the poetic license. Maybe being younger, a little more rebellious, I had the courage to write how I felt, regardless of what was appropriate.
Adorably, there are many entries on kissing. One entry, in particular, stands out. Let’s just say John Hughes had ruined my expectations!
I’d foregone that act of ‘meeting’ (Irish slang for kissing) and felt the horrible pressure of it in school, when everyone else was off ‘meeting the face off’ each other. I often wondered if I should have just met someone for the ‘craic’ and be done with it.
However, in a poignant entry I write with passion about how I want my first kiss to be and why kissing someone special is infinitely better than giving it away too easily. To thank Plath for making my life a little richer (and to mortify myself) my next blog post will be that diary entry.
So I start my new job next month. There are many perks to being unemployed (lazy mornings, unrushed breakfasts, lounging about) but the drawbacks (no money, no plans, no fun) outweigh all that. There is, however, one thing I will miss when I go back to the wage packet: the company of my dog throughout the day.
How to describe my Cavalier King Charles. Well. When my dad’s not around he thinks he owns the place. He’ll jump up onto the couch, roll around for a while (shedding his smelly dog hair indiscriminately in the process) and then settle into a tight ball for a nap – knowing full well that he’s not allowed on the couch at all. A cheeky one, he is.
I’ve had little to do since last year, when I came back to Dublin from my life in Strasbourg (a decision I wilfully made, but now consider a poor one, oh bygones), apart from writing scores of articles for newspapers in Ireland. I learned a lot of things last year about what it takes to be a news journalist: like, making calls to the police, who get cranky at your questions; like, reporting at funerals (grim); like, writing sensationalist opinion pieces with little or no time to comfortably fact-check or edit; and like, never being able to switch off. Mostly I learned that I don’t like doing these things.
Let me tell you, realising that what you’ve been working towards for the last six years has so far turned out to be… not so much fun or fulfilling is a right kick in the shins. Back to the drawing board.
So, having a quarter-life crisis and spending much of my time at home (to avoid spending much needed cash) I entertained Charlie. He’s five-years-old, we’ve had him since he was born and he has enemies left, right and centre – namely, the neighbours’ dogs and me, on occasion, when he rampages through the house barking madly (headaaaaache) after hearing just the slightest jingle of my keys and thinking I’m about to set him loose outside.
I’m a night owl and a dog owner, so I know what to expect in the morning: little undisturbed sleep. Like clockwork, at 8.40am he’ll start growling quietly, but audibly. Then he’ll run himself into the door a few times. He’ll go on barking then. Trying to get back to sleep is futile.
Adorably, after a brief run about outside he’ll grow tired of the fresh air ruffling his fur and tail and I’ll hear a few scratches at the door, signalling His Majesty would like to return to his castle. Then it’s nap-time in the sitting room; me under a blanket on the couch and Charlie by my feet… on the couch (maybe I’m the bad influence!)
I’ll miss this time with the dog. By midday we’re up and about and he’s playing guard dog by the window, shouting at complete strangers who dare walk by our garden. He’s a good egg really, but everyone, EVERYONE, outside the house is a villain.
I guess now what I’m looking forward to most is earning money after a hard day’s honest work and coming home to have himself greet me all excited at the front door. He does love how those keys jingle.
Do you miss your four-legged family member when you’re at work? How do you and your dog cope with the separation?