10 more things I’ve learned since returning west

Last June, I made the decision to take myself out of the city and head back to the bright lights – no, sorry, the dark skies – of North MayoAny regrets, you ask? No, not a single one. But adjustment does takes time and it continues to be a learning curve.

I wrote last year, just six weeks after getting back – about seven things I’d learned since returning west, and here are some more life lessons I’ve learned about relocating back to the country in the past nine months.

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#100HappyDays Day 5 – a new venture

The piece below with a Mayo theme was first published in the newly redesigned Mayo News on 5th August 2014 as an introduction for my new column, titled An Cailín Rua, which will be appearing every two weeks from now on in that fine publication. I’m really delighted to be working alongside such a great team for a paper of which I’ve been a big fan for a long time. 

My name is Anne-Marie, and I am an exile!

It’s been a while since I lived in Mayo. That’s purely by design; sixteen years ago, as soon as I finished school, I packed my bags and hit the road out of Mayo as fast as my legs could carry me. Brighter lights beckoned, the world was waiting and I didn’t look back. Back then, being from a small village in North Mayo felt stifling and restrictive, with nothing to do and nothing to see. Being elsewhere meant freedom and discovery.

It’s been an interesting few years. They’ve brought me around the world, through a couple of colleges, across a spectrum of employment, with a wonderful variety of people. They brought me up the walls and around the bend more than once too. I wouldn’t change much.

For many of those years, Mayo felt distant. Other places started to feel like home. And while I never minded going back, I didn’t mind leaving either. It’s funny, though, as time passes how your perspective changes. (I think it’s called getting old.) After a few years living in the capital, more and more, I find myself craving the slower pace of life of the West. Now, feeling stifled and restricted means traffic jams and long hours at a desk. Freedom and discovery, on the other hand means the mountains and rivers and wide open spaces of home.

Living in the capital isn’t all bad, of course. I’m one of the lucky ones. I have friends here and a decent standard of living and I’m not exactly far from home. The three-hour drive from Dublin to Mayo pales in comparison to the trips home friends working abroad must endure. Friends who, out of necessity, have left their families and are working on the other side of the world to earn a living and build a future for their children. I have a decent job I enjoy with patient, understanding colleagues who tolerate my need to talk relentlessly about GAA for the first hour of every Monday. And I’m a hop, skip and a jump away from Croke Park, which comes in very handy in this glorious era of Mayo football. B&B is in demand, so book early!

Technology, too, makes it so easy now to stay in touch. The internet ensures we can read the local papers, listen to the local radio, and hear the local news. It struck me the other day that I probably now know more about Mayo now than I ever did when I actually lived there. Social media makes it so much easier to be a GAA fan away from home, too – the news, chatter and gossip you’d only have heard on the street or in the pub at home fifteen years ago are now at your fingertips online, and all Mayo exiles scattered around the world, from Sligo to Saudi Arabia can join the conversation. So while you might not be at home to savour the build-up to a big game like last week’s, it’s the next best thing.

Speaking of which, we really are everywhere, we Mayo people. We get around. My work in research takes me all around the country, and last week I found myself driving through Co. Kilkenny. As I rounded the corner into a tiny village called Crettyard, there high outside a house, flying proudly beside the obligatory Kilkenny flag was our very own green and red. I nearly drove into a wall in excitement. I love the comfort of seeing traces of home in unexpected places around the country and further afield, and during the summer I don’t think there’s another county that shows off its colours quite so proudly. And GAA plays such a strong role in Mayo – It’s a part of our identity, our DNA, and it goes far beyond sport, connecting us no matter where we are. (Incidentally, that day I met a Kilkenny person that day that didn’t like hurling. Who knew such a person existed?)

So while one day I know I’ll be back for good, for now I like knowing that no matter where you go, you’re never too far away. Maybe it’s my advancing years; maybe I’m just getting sentimental. Or maybe there’s some truth in the notion that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Either way, I’ve learned over the years that there’s just no place like home.

Cliffs at Ballycastle, Co. Mayo

Happy New Year – and thank you

Just a quick note to everyone who visited the blog during 2013.

As we launch into another year, I wanted to say a sincere thank you to those of you who stopped by, commented, shared, retweeted or liked the posts. It’s been a busy year on An Cailín Rua, with lots to talk about. I did have great intentions of writing a minimum of one post a month during the year, but fell a bit short in the latter part of the year – but that’s what new year’s resolutions are for, right?

As regular readers will know, it’s been a year of great change for me personally; having  in 2012 made the decision to leave a steady job to face an uncertain future.  2013 saw me starting the year with no income and no idea where I’d end up. Not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, I know, but stepping away from security and out of the comfort zone felt like a bit of a risk.

I’m happy, however to report that the gamble paid off handsomely. And while the past year has been challenging at times, and laced with a level of uncertainty throughout,  it has paid dividends in terms of new experiences and achievements, both personal and professional, and more time doing the things that I deem the most important, with the people I care about most. I’ve had the opportunity to work in a number of different and challenging roles with some fantastic people, both on a paid and voluntary basis, and feel challenged and motivated in a way I haven’t for a long time. I even managed to get some writing published, which was a  high point for me personally.

While the journey is nowhere near over, and I still have some big decisions to make on a professional level, I feel lucky and privileged to find myself in a position where I have real and exciting choices.

To those of you who supported me in the early days, the wobbly days, the days of crippling self-doubt and the days I felt utterly lost, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your encouragement. Some of you are family, some of you friends, and some of you I’ve never even met, but at no stage during the journey did I feel alone, thanks to you. Thanks for reading the blog, and encouraging me to keep writing, for challenging my opinions, and educating me and helping me to develop my own thinking.

Wishing you all the very best for 2014, dear readers and I look forward to your company for the year ahead.

Welcome to my new home

I’ve moved house. Kinda.

Currently straddling two platforms (ooh-err), An Cailín Rua will soon be a WordPress only site with its very own domain.

I’ve even set up a Facebook page, so give it a like if you’d like to be kept up to date with all the goings on over here. 

Thanks for reading, and please bear with me while I iron out teething problems (i.e. figure out how all this works).

Hello Sunday Morning … or good afternoon, sobriety

So, as a follow-on from my last post, a quick update on my alcohol abstinence resolution. I deliberately haven’t started another blog with Hello Sunday Morning as I find it difficult enough to update this one regularly. Three weeks in, how’s it going?

Well, it’s like this. It’s bloody HARD.

Firstly, I had no idea I was quite so fond of red wine. But for the last three weeks, I find it occupying more of my thoughts than is probably healthy. It doesn’t help that we are major fans of it here and the wine rack is consequently a constant reminder.. As I predicted, what I really miss the most is that lovely single glass of wine of an odd evening, but I suppose that’s just shown me how much it’s become a habit, unbeknownst to myself.

What’s come as more of a surprise however, having never abstained from alcohol for any meaningful period before, is the realisation of how much I have come to rely on it over the past 15-odd years as a social lubricant. On certain occasions, at least. Take the following example. I attended a wedding last week, at which I knew barely anyone. From start to finish, I tried hard to get stuck in and enjoy it, but wow, despite the happiness in the air, the beauty of the bride, the deliciousness of the food, it was a  struggle. To the extent that it actually felt like an ordeal. The company was decent, but I felt like I’d become socially stunted overnight – like I’d lost my personality. I stood at the bar ordering soft drinks a few times, and on each occasion had to stop myself from ordering a (very strong) alcoholic beverage. There were other factors at play, admittedly, including feeling lethargic and unwell, but it was downright painful, and ultimately a bit pointless. I felt bad about myself and my apparent inability to relax without alcohol. It was undoubtedly the single biggest test I’m likely to face during this period, but it served a purpose as part of this “reflective” journey, so not entirely in vain.

On the other hand, I’ve spent a few evenings in the company of good friends lately, surrounded by food and alcohol. On one occasion, dinner with a group of girlfriends I wasn’t alone in abstaining, but others had the usual reasons like pregnancy and cars. That was grand – no hardship involved. The second, an evening gathering in a friend’s house where I was the only one abstaining. I expected that to be difficult, particularly as I arrived a little late to the party. On the contrary, I had one of the best evenings I’ve had in months. Laughed til there were tears in my eyes, didn’t feel in any way out of place and I even managed to stay out til 5am. No difficulty at all (apart from the lemonade-induced sugar high).  It felt really refreshing to be part of a group who didn’t question me or force the issue when I wasn’t drinking. I didn’t feel in any way that my not partaking set me apart from the conversation and neither did I feel that my being sober made them feel ill at ease. (At least I hope not!)

The drawback to staying out til 5am on a Saturday night is that Sunday morning slips away from you. I woke up at 8.30am with the beginnings of a migraine I’d staved off the day before, so I put my head under the pillow and the day didn’t see me until noon had passed. Then there was GAA on d’telly.  So I kinda failed at being wonderfully active and reclaiming my Sunday morning (armchair sports don’t count, apparently). Still, you can’t win ’em all.

So. Do I feel any better for not drinking? Em, honestly, no. Not in the slightest.

I’m a bit disappointed – I thought I’d feel happier, healthier, clearer of mind, but to be fair, I have to look hard at myself and admit that other aspects of my lifestyle at the moment are probably counter-productive. I’m still not working, so my routine has started to slip recently, my sleep pattern is all over the place, my motivation levels are low, and not having had an income since Christmas has imposed its own restrictions and pressures. This year so far has been full of emotional upheaval and uncertainty, but to my great excitement, I’m starting a new role this week with an organisation I’m thrilled to be working with. I’m looking forward to the challenge and to feeling a little less at sea once I bed in. Not to mention, feeling a bit more useful to society.
 
So, three weeks in, what have I learned? Well, I’ve discovered that I really like red wine, that you think about things like red wine a lot more when you know you can’t have them, and that being at ease in social situations probably depends a lot more on the people you’re with than the amount of alcohol you’re consuming. All in all, not exactly groundbreaking revelations, but part of a personal journey that so far I’m ultimately glad I’ve undertaken.

 Also, having the willpower of an amnesiac squirrel on a regular basis, I’ve surprised myself by discovering some reserves of stubbornness, and I know I will see this through. In what is probably the more surprising of progress updates, I have also managed to stay away from crisps. (Even when no-one can see me.) And there is also the bonus of feeling infinitely superior to an undisclosed number of our elected political representatives, in that I managed to stay sober on Prom Night.

 (Image by Sethness on DeviantArt)

So here’s to the next month. I’d love to know how feel HSMers are getting on, or how anyone who’s been through this process before deals with those difficult social situations – so feel free to leave a comment below with some wise words. I’ll repay you in 2007 Marquis de Rascale (my housemate’s).

Til next time!

The Great Lenten Challenge, or How I Will Cope With Six Weeks Of No Alcohol

On the back of my last blog post, I’ve been doing some thinking.(A little thinking time is a dangerous thing, and I happen to have a lot of that on my hands recently).

I’ve been toying for a while with the idea of giving up alcohol. Not permanently, just for a spell.  Not a big deal, I’m sure. Lots of people go ‘on the dry’ for January, or while they are training for an event, or while they’re pregnant. But while I’ve thought about it before, I’ve never managed to cut out alcohol completely, while carrying on with life and social engagements in the normal way. I think that’s the most difficult part – not shying away from social engagements on the basis of not drinking.

I met up for a chat last week with the lovely John Buckley of SpunOut, and among other things we talked about alcohol, and our attitudes towards it. John has given up alcohol for six months, and is blogging about it over here.

John also told me about the Irish launch of Hello Sunday Morning, which is being timed to coincide with the last episode of Des Bishop’s TV show, “Under the Influence”. HSM is an initiative originating in Australia, which involves giving up alcohol for a while, in order to reflect on your drinking behaviour, and see what impact it has on your life. You share your story, in order to contribute to a better drinking culture. In particular, it encourages you to reclaim Sunday mornings, which are often written off due to heavy Saturday nights. So for the month of March, I’ll be blogging about that either here or elsewhere.

I’m starting a little early though. I’m not sure sure what it is about Lent that encourages me to attempt something new every year (with varying degrees of success). But it seems to me to be a nice round period of time to try and do something new – not long enough to be excessively difficult and not short enough to be too little a challenge. So as well as the booze, I’ll be giving up crisps. Those of you who know me will know that this will not come easily….

With regards to my previous blog post, I know excessive alcohol consumption is not good for me. I know that when I drink to excess, I feel rubbish for about three days afterwards. My motivation disappears, I feel tired, I don’t want to leave my bed and the ‘beer blues’ hit me like a ton of bricks. Add to this days of self-beration and it all gets a bit much. I doubt this is unusual, either. So I for one and looking forward to eliminating those feelings for a while.

The difficult part will be the numerous social occasions that are cropping up in March. Be that football/rugby matches, St. Patrick’s Day, the couple of birthday celebrations, the hen night… the list goes on. So it’ll be a challenge. But hey, no point in doing something easy. I already know that more than anything I’ll miss that first glorious glass of red on a Friday night, or the creaminess of a single, leisurely pint of Guinness more than I’ll miss the big sessions. But they all count!

Anyone else with me? I’ll be posting occasional updates over on Twitter using the hashtag #boozefreelent – if you’re embarking on something similar do give me a shout.

In the meantime, I’ll be bidding a fond farewell to these and looking forward to a healthier happier me!

 

The career journey – an update



Many of you lovely people who either read this blog or follow me over on the Twitter Machine have been asking how my career change is progressing.

The answer is… slowly. Very, verrrry slowly.

I finished work on December 21st 2012. Contrary to what I’d hoped, my last few weeks weren’t quiet ones, and after a December of overtime I found myself working right up til 5pm on my last day. (I do hate leaving things unfinished.) As the time drew closer, I thought I should have found myself becoming more apprehensive. Rather, I noticed that with every day that passed, I felt a little happier. If I’d harboured any doubts, that told me all I needed to know.

My colleagues gave me a lovely send-off, and I’ll treasure the warm words I received on my last few days. I didn’t expect to feel emotional, but saying goodbye to so many talented, dedicated and genuine people – people with whom I’d spent long hours, sometimes late into the night writing, planning, presenting, debating, arguing, creating, developing and learning left me feeling a little wistful. I was also genuinely touched by some of the well wishes I received from my clients. And I didn’t even have to pay them! All filed in my head to combat days of self-doubt.

It was dark as I left, and I was one of the last.  I sat into the car, started it and promptly burst into tears. Proper sobs and all. I wasn’t really sure why. However, bawling like a professional onion-peeler with conjunctivitis watching the Notebook isn’t exactly conducive to safe driving, and besides, I had a party to get to. So once the initial burst of .. call it what you want, sadness, relief, whatever, had subsided, it was time put my head down, avoid making red-eye contact with the security guard and get home and start the rest of my life.

My original intention, when I bit the bullet was to have a new job in the pipeline by the time I finished working. That didn’t happen, but to be fair, I hadn’t had much time or energy to put real effort into the application process. Neither is just before Christmas an ideal time to go job-hunting. And, it was really only when I finished and decamped west for Christmas that I realised how exhausted I’d been. The moment I slowed down, everything that had been chasing me for weeks caught up. The body’s way of saying “slow down”? There was very little partying and very large portioning over the Christmas period. Highly satisfactory, and ultimately I think the decision to take some extra time out was the right one. Sometimes it’s good when plans don’t work out.

So, fast-forward a month, and I’m officially unemployed for the first time. 

The time out has been pretty wonderful, if I’m honest. It mightn’t have been strictly necessary, but it’s been a revelation to have time to think, to rest, to catch up with friends and family, to sleep, to travel, to volunteer, to research, to walk on the beach, to cook, to read, to write… there is always something to do. I am never, ever bored. (I don’t really understand the concept of boredom, I must admit. How can anyone be bored when there’s so much to do?!) I was wary of being unemployed. Lack of routine doesn’t suit me well, and it did cross my mind that I might find myself … slipping. To date, that hasn’t happened, though there have been a couple of dodgy days. But it’s good to know the signs, so I can address them quickly. I’ve tried to stick to a routine that involves getting up at a decent hour, going out for fresh air and exercise, talking to people, sleeping well and cooking well. (And job hunting, obviously.)  Some days it’s easier than others – the January weather doesn’t help! 

Budgeting is a must. Social engagements have had to be curtailed, and the cost of petrol has led to a new-found appreciation for walking and public transport. I’m constantly mindful of money now; which is probably not a bad habit to get into. But I never forget that I chose to put myself in this position, and I consider myself lucky to have been able to make that choice, especially when so many others haven’t.

There are also days of crippling self-doubt (like yesterday) where I berate myself for making this *stupid* decision and putting myself under this pressure and being a complete *idiot* for walking away from a secure position with decent prospects when no company with an *ounce* of sense would ever consider employing me because I have *nothing* to offer. Dramatic much? Mercifully those days are few and far between, and I find when those days occur it’s best to put aside the job hunt on and focus on other things. 

Now, I’m starting to get cabin fever. I’m a little restless. I’ve found myself listening to Liveline a little more than I’d like. I’m ready to start something new. I’m naturally a worker, and am starting to miss the satisfaction that comes from having put in a good productive day. I think I ultimately want to work in the not-for-profit sector. But roles are thin on the ground in the January of a recession! And the more the days go on, the more I’m drawn to the notion of temp work. I’d like to try working in different environments and see which I can contribute most to, and which I feel most comfortable in. So I think that’s what I’m going to focus on for now.

So if any of you reading this feel I would be a good short-term asset to your business, please feel free to get in touch! More than happy to use my blog to pimp myself to the highest bidder. Hell, any bidder. 😉

Thanks for reading, and also for the kind words of encouragement you’ve given over in the “other” place. (You know who you are). I’m looking forward to a challenging 2013, but in the meantime it would be a crime to waste this view….