The short, desperate life of Mariora Rostas

This would break your heart. And it’s a stark reminder of the fact that while we might dismiss certain sectors of our society that they are fighting their own battles, far more than we can ever know.

Philip Boucher-Hayes

Alan Wilson will never again stand trial for the murder of Mariora Rostas. Given the difficulties in getting the case this far it’s doubtful anybody will ever again stand in the dock accused of ending this girls life.

Why this injustice should rankle quite as much as it does is hard to say. Justice denied to the family of any victim, or the memory of that victim diminishes the entire justice system. Perhaps though it is that Mariora was so completely failed by everything in the course of her short life that this last attempt to do right by her is a disappointment that is particularly hard to stomach.

I have reported from Palestinian refugee camps, the squats of migrant Africans in abandoned railroad warehouses, sink estates in Eastern Europe and drug dens in Central America. I have never been as shocked by somebody’s living conditions, though until I went to…

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#100HappyDays Day 5 – Ulster Final Pretender

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a Mayowoman through and through, and that everywhere I go, I dream of green and red. But I have a fondness for Donegal, and have spent many a happy day and night in that little piece of heaven with the best people you will ever meet.

(I also like Donegal people because they were sound when they won the All-Ireland in 2012 and were happy to party the night away with us losers without actually making us feel like losers. I think it’s called being gracious in victory. Or being drunk.)

Anyway, when the opportunity presented itself to hit Clones for last weekend’s Ulster Final, the bandwagon jumper in me was only raring to go. Day 5 of 100 Happy Days was one of those sunny summer Sundays we GAA fans live for.It was a bit of a last-minute decision, but the day started out like they always do.

Up early, get in the good solid breakfast (Superquinn sausages come into their own on match days), pack the bag with gear for all eventualities (sunscreen, poncho, snow shoes), get on the phone to sort out the tickets, get the colours ready, proceed to the meeting point. Sean and Gerry pick us up at 12.30 and away we go. we arrive in Clones through a sea of blue and white flags, after a very thorough analysis of the impending football fare all the way from the M50. Some of us are feeling a bit ropey after last night’s late night. It’s good to get out of the car.

We pay a fiver and park in a field.

“Pull in there in front of that car. Yeah, yeah, there.”

“But there’s a line of cars behind us, we’ll be blocking them in.”

“No, no yer grand there”.

Fine.

We walk a mile, chatting away. and another bit. When we arrive in the town, Clones is heaving. I’ve never seen anything like it.  The streets are thick with people – thousands spilling onto the streets in a sea of green and gold and white and blue, pints in hand, sunglasses on head. Everyone in Ulster must surely be here.

“It’s like the Fleadh Ceoil”, Gerry says.

We don’t hang around, and we fly on through the town towards the ground, because the minors are playing. I run into a Donegal friend, briefly pause for a hug and a quick hello, but I can’t stop, I have to keep moving. I tell him I’ll see him later.

Arrive in St. Tiernagh’s Park. Of course, all four of us are sitting different sides of the ground. That’s what you get when you only sort out your tickets on the morning of the game. I don’t mind, though. I quite like paddling my own canoe at GAA games; invariably, it works out well. And you’re always going to be in good hands with Monaghan and Donegal people.

The minors have just finished when I take my seat – a wooden bench on the half-way line. Nice spot. A handsome win for Donegal. Mayo are playing the losers, Armagh in two weeks, so I’m sorry I didn’t catch some of it. But I hear enough from those around me to make me feel quietly confident.

There’s a teenager with flowing blonde hair and the shortest of denim cut-offs selling Maxi-Twists out of a cardboard box.

“Anyone for ice-cream?” she calls, half-heartedly. “Free spoon!”

It’d be rude not to.

The teams emerge to a crescendo of noise. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Compared to MacHale Park last week, this is a pressure cooker of noise. These supporters know how to make themselves seen and heard and they’re far from shy and retiring. The way it should be. It’s loud. Me, I’m sitting back. I just enjoy being in this special place, watching as an outsider. It’s the most relaxed I’ve been at a football game in months. Today, I can’t lose. I’ve my green and gold headband on for the day, but despite my affinity for the North Westerners, I feel a bit more neutral than I look.

It’s s a scrappy, frustrating, low-scoring first half. Ugly football, but it’s intense and hard fought. There is colour and there is noise and there are hard knocks and tempers fray on the grass and in the stands. The referee, one Maurice Deegan, is not a popular man. The air turns blue more than once.

“Put on the jersey, Deegan why don’t ya? Sure you might just kick a point yerself for them while you’re at it!”

Half time, we stand to stretch the legs, and watch the Tyrone team of ’89 take to the field receive presentations (we beat them in the semi-final that year, I recall). The lady beside me asks where I’m from. I tell her, and she smiles. That smile of pity we’ve come to see and recognise a mile off.

“Ye’ll do it this year, surely. We’re all praying ye’ll do it this year.”

This, from a woman, supporting a Donegal team, who, midway through the second half, are asserting themselves as serious contenders for a second All-Ireland in three years, depending on which pundit you listen to. And she’s praying for us to win. Sometimes I wish we’d win it to hell, just to put every other county out of their misery too.

We’re back. Donegal are pulling away, stamping their authority. Ryan McHugh is sublime. He’s not missing his brother, on the field at least. Big Neil Gallagher is running himself into the ground. Frank McGlynn looks like he’s spent the past month on Copacobana Beach, he’s that brown and energised. But they don’t have it all their own way. Vinnie Corey is keeping manners on Michael Murphy, who unusually hasn’t scored once from play. And Dick Clerkin is not giving up without a fight. Literally.

49 minutes in, and Monaghan get a goal. The stand around me erupts in blue and white and cheers.

But the Donegal fans respond. They shout,  they admonish, they bellow, and St. Tiernach’s reverberates to the sound of “Don-e-gal .. (clap clap clap) Don-e-gal!” They’re the 16th man, without a doubt. The men in green and gold quickly regain composure, and start to turn the screw. Monaghan can’t get close enough to score, and they shoot wide after futile wide. The stewards are called into place, and patrons are implored through the speakers not to enter the field of play once the whistle has gone. You’ll see the presentation from where you’re sitting, we’re told. Grim-faced blue and white clad men stride up the steps, head down, heading for the exits. They’ve seen enough.

It’s all over, and around me, and the roof lifts. (There’s no roof, but I couldn’t think of a better way of putting it.) There are scenes of sheer, unadulterated ecstasy. They’re jumping in the aisles, they’re hugging each other. It’s like they’ve never won a game in their lives and I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It’s super. They swarm down the steps, towards the field. They’re not taking no for an answer It’s not long before the tannoy man is instructing the stewards to open the gate. There’s a roar of approval.

On they flood, onto the field, where they belong. This army of football fanatics. They hang off Michael Murphy’s every word, as he thanks the supporters for playing their part.  And the Anglo-Celt trophy is held aloft to the familiar strains of the “Hills of Donegal”, and Donegal is partying in Monaghan’s back yard. Tír Chonaill abú!  I feel envious that I can only look on from the outside.

We swarm back up towards town. Hordes and hordes of happy and not so happy people stream down the hill towards Creightons. The sun is still shining, and the beer is still flowing. It’ll be a good afternoon regardless. Donegal have won their third Ulster in four years, and Monaghan are not out yet. So it’s not over.

Though my phone is dead, we manage to regroup with ease at the meeting pint. Sarah, Gerry and Sean are smiling. The form is good. We hang around for a pint and to savour the moment, and as we make our way up town and bump into a bigger crew. Everyone’s smiling. We’re in no rush. We’ll let the traffic go.

We make our way back to the field. It’s almost empty. There’s just two cars left. Ours, and the car behind us. Oops.

It’s an easy trip back when you’ve won, and the passengers sit back contentedly. Eyes are closing and heads are dropping in the back as we hit the motorway. (Mine.) We arrive back as the sun is starting to fade, grab some food and it’s home to take it easy, and relive it all on the small screen.

It’s been a great day. And a happy one.

Ulster Final 2014

Until next time …

 

#100HappyDays Day Four – Tea’s still better

The thunder and rain woke me this morning at 5.50am, but I didn’t mind too much, because there are few things I enjoy as much as a good cleansing thunderstorm and a tropical shower. And today was Friday, a fact which in itself usually suffices to make it a happy day. Despite being bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at stupid o’clock, though, I still managed to be late for work. Go figure.

Because it was lashing so hard, at lunchtime I wrote off the prospect of any outdoor activity, booked cinema tickets and was secretly happy. Naturally, that ensured that the rain stopped instantly, the sun re-emerged and it became one of the nicest, sunniest evenings of the year. (You’re welcome. Anyway, I stuck to my plans. We went to see Boyhood, which is a really lovely piece of work and well worth seeing.

On my way to the IFI, this made me smile.

coffee

Tea’s still better, though. 🙂

Until next time …

#100HappyDays Day 3 – Pavement Pounding

Today was a normal, run of the mill day, if there is such a thing. Nothing remarkable happened in my world, and I didn’t leave my desk until 8pm.

But the day wasn’t over.  These days I find myself craving the countryside more and more, but you can’t go out for a four-mile walk by the river at 10pm in the country, even on a gorgeous summer’s night like this, and feel safe. So I guess you win this one, Dublin.

walk by dusk

 

Beyond Satire

Yesterday, 1st July 2014 saw an incident occur in Dublin city centre.

An incident that, in the way it played out, spoke volumes about our relationship with mental health in Ireland. Faced with the reality of  a potential emergency, the Irish public and media reacted in a way that painted a stark, grim and dare I say it, depressing picture of our real attitudes towards those who behave in a way that suggests mental distress.

At approximately 10.30pm yesterday morning, a shirtless man was spotted on the roof of the Abercrombie and Fitch building on College Green, where he was seen climbing back and forth between the “peak” of the building, to the roof just behind it. He then moved to the adjacent, taller Ulster Bank building where he continued to move around the roof, and for a time balanced precariously on top of a statue on top of one of the buildings. Gardai were called to the scene, where they talked to the man for a number of hours (while the crowd looked on) and eventually, to their credit (and I’m sure, great relief) saw that he alighted safely from the roof.

I wasn’t there. But I know this, because within minutes of the man being spotted, a crowd of hundreds of people gathered on College Green. They stood, and they watched. I know, because they started posting photos on social media. I know, because a number of national news outlets and “entertainment sites” – too many to name, in fact – under the guise of reporting ensuing traffic disruptions, decided to post photos of the man on their webpages. Photos that in some cases, would arguable render the man identifiable, particularly to friends or family. Some even went as far as posting video.

Because it’s “news”. Because we “live in a digital age”. Because news is now “real time reporting”.

Conveniently, every news outlet that went ahead, published images of this man and told the nation what was happening on Dame Street chose to ignore the Samaritans’ responsible reporting guidelines. Guidelines, which were issued because, according to the Chairman of the Press Council of Ireland:

“The media … has a heavy responsibility in the manner in which it reports incidents of suicide and self-harm. I know that they are anxious to meet that responsibility.”

Really?

That must be why they ignored the following advice, then, from page 9 of the guidelines:

“Avoid dramatic or emotional images and footage, such as a person standing on a ledge.Try not to illustrate a report with specific locations, such as a bridge or cliff, especially if this is a place where people frequently take their own lives.”

and did exactly the opposite.

It’s not like the media just forgot, or that they weren’t aware of the guidelines. Within seconds of posting the images, amidst the ensuing comments, callous jokes and bitter dismissals of a man “wasting taxpayers’ money”, numerous members of the public objected to the images, and posted links to the page on the Samaritans’ website. All objections were ignored. Apart from Broadsheet.ie, who, to their credit, removed the image. TheJournal.ie closed the comments on their article – the same article that included a number of photos and videos.

Those guidelines are there for a reason. They’re there to protect other people, and in particular, people who may be at risk of suicide or self-harm themselves. So basically, some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

(Incidentally, other guidelines on that list advise not providing detail on how a person died by suicide, and not reading out the contents of a suicide note. But of course, certain factions of the media have form in ignoring them.)

Of course, it can be argued that this wasn’t a suicide, so these guidelines didn’t apply. That none of us knew why the man was on the roof.

Sure, we didn’t. We didn’t even know whether it was related to a mental health issue. True.

Was it any of our business? No.

But did we know for sure that we weren’t looking at a man in serious distress? No.

Was there a concern for his safety? Yes.

Clearly, in the eyes of the Irish media, that concern for a man’s safety was superseded by the need to get the scoop. Everyone else was doing it, so why shouldn’t they?

That, unfortunately, is  how certain elements of our media (not all – there are some wonderful, conscientious individual exceptions) view people who behave in an “abnormal” manner.  They encourage people to turn voyeur. To watch, to point, to laugh and joke. Much like a circus freak of the 19th century. Very few are willing to take a stand, while there are clicks to be gained. How far we’ve come.

Then – then! –  because that wasn’t enough, the news outlets decided they’d turn the images over to social media. Just to make sure that as many people as possible all over Ireland knew that someone in Dublin was in trouble (and that there were traffic disruptions) so that they could all watch him, and the situation play out. Just like a TV programme, for our entertainment.

And we all know how social media works, on a good day. Complete with the usual crimes against spelling and grammar, the comments came flooding in.

From the Irish Times Facebook page:

blo

 

 

 

 

From the Irish Independent Facebook page:

Irish Indo FB

 

 

 

And from Twitter.

I could go on. I could post hundreds more, all screen shot from yesterday’s news stories (though many of the crueller ones have since been deleted).

Can you sense the sympathy? The  compassion? The empathy?

So it appears, for all the mental health awareness campaigns, all the suicide awareness discussions, all the reminders for people to watch out for the signs,  for each other, to show a bit of compassion and kindness, to talk and listen, when faced with a person who looked like he was in crisis, Ireland dismissed him without even attempting to understand, and reverted to cold, hard type. Some online expressed their disgust with what was happening – about the cruelty, and about the images. Which is encouraging, to some extent. But those objections were roundly ignored. The snide comments kept coming, and the images stayed.

In Dame Street, 300 people stayed in the area for the duration of the incident, watching and waiting. Waiting for what? Who knows. After four hours, the man alighted, and everyone went home. A day of entertainment over.

And what now of our friend on the roof?

Who knows? And who really cares?

The below image links to an article worth reading, from the consistently excellent satirical site, Waterford Whispers News. Not for the first time, it holds a mirror up to Ireland – to us –  and the way we behave when faced with vulnerable people in our society. Time and time again, it’s been demonstrated that we either ignore them, we dismiss them or we simply ridicule them.

How far we’ve come, indeed.

 

Guest Post – The damage of the ‘temporary depression’ campaign

In light of the last post, and the phenomenal reaction it received, I’ve decided to continue the conversation about mental health on the blog. Over the course of the last week I’ve been contacted by a lot of people, sharing their own experiences, or those of people close to them. It’s been serious food for thought, and served to hammer home just how different each and every person’s mental health experience is and how different their needs are. One of the mails that really stood out was from Sinead Fallon, and with her kind permission I have reproduced it below. 

Recent attempts by the media to highlight mental illness have left me feeling more isolated from society than ever. Am I alone? With journalists and commentators jumping over themselves to find the most ‘normal’ cases of mental ill health, we have been regaled with images and stories of average young, middle-class men, suffering from temporary depressive episodes. Throw in the odd celebrity and the most recent charity attempt to raise money to solve the problem.

The problem presented by the ‘temporary depression’ approach is this. As a person with a long term mental illness – Biploar Affective Disorder, I find the campaign disingenuous and dangerous. The stories inevitably involve an episode in which the young male feels down, has no energy, wants to stay in bed all day, and loses interest in life. These are all symptoms of a depressive episode. Depressive episodes are very serious. Depression can ruin your life. These are both true.

The problem is this: all the stories then presented a series of events in which support was received from family, friends, GPs, medication and counselling and the person became ‘normal’ again. The End.

For 1 in 10 people living with a serious mental illness, this is not the case. But we are not heard. Our mental illnesses are life long, we do NOT ‘get over it’ – we learn to accept our fate and live with our illnesses. The presentation of the story in which someone is depressed and gets over it is dangerous, because so many of the people who experience these kind of depressive episodes don’t return to their lives as they knew them, which isn’t always a bad thing by the way. Their illnesses grow and change over the years. They receive new diagnoses of bipolar, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, anxiety, eating disorders etc.  They continue to suffer periodic episodes of psychosis or depression. Their lives never return to how they were before. Relationships are seriously affected. Employment is a serious challenge. Poor physical health is common. The damage of the lifelong mental illness is immeasurable.

The media, like society in general find it difficult to understand us. They want to fix us, find that magic formula to get us back to normal. We have learned the hard way that there is no getting back to normal. There is just acceptance of this new life as the normal. Societal attitudes around mental health in Ireland can lead to stigmatisation, discrimination and social exclusion for those with mental health issues.  These attitudes are influenced by messages and opinions coming from politicians, public commentators and the media. When we are seen to refuse to present ourselves as normal and when we refuse to recover as these others have, how does society treat us?

Listening to Bressie tell us all he didn’t ever feel suicidal because he had a good support network was particularly nauseating. Does this mean then that those of us who do feel suicidal or those who have died by suicide did not have a good support network?

Equally the presentation of the ‘mother’ saving the son from depression may leave mothers feeling useless for not being able to solve their son’s mental illnesses. I do not blame in anyway Bressie or the others who shared their stories and I do wish them all the best. I just wish there was more balance in the presentation of the stories. When will a schizophrenic middle aged woman from a working class background sit on Brendan O’ Connors couch? Soon, I hope.

For those who watched and read the stories and who are feeling something similar, please do not give up when you don’t start to experience the recovery spoken of. You are most probably one of the majority of those who need to accept a more difficult fate.

Six months on – a quick update

Regular readers of this blog will know that I encountered a(n early) mid-life crisis in September last year, when I decided to stop living to work, and start working to live. You can see the original and subsequent posts here.

So I jacked in my steady, pensionable job with good promotion prospects, cast myself adrift to carve a different life for myself. One with far less stress and far more happiness. Why? Because life is too damn short to be unhappy. Lots of my lovely followers over on the Tweet Machine have been enquired how life is now, so here’s a quick update.

Has it been easy? No. It’s been stressful, worrying, financially draining and I’ve wobbled. Has it been worth it? Yes. Did I do the right thing? Definitely.

So, after Christmas, I took some time out – nearly 11 weeks in total, as it turned out. I was just starting to panic – really  panic, when I was lucky enough to secure two part-time roles in wildly different industries, but both interesting and rewarding in their own way. So in the intervening months I’ve gained some experience working “client-side”, as we agency staff used to call it (we also called it the Holy Grail) and I’ve also managed to gain some experience in the non-profit sector working with brilliant people in  a brilliant charity, which has provided me with insight and an understanding of the sector I didn’t have before. I want to do more.

There are pros and cons. Cons being that I currently have short-term contracts, both coming to an end within weeks, which means it’s decision time and job-hunt time again. There’s no security, and I’m still flat broke. But – and this is a big but – on the plus side, for now I’m working, and I’m incredibly grateful. I know how lucky I am, and how lucky I was to be in a position to be able to do this in the first place. My personal life has also changed quite dramatically. I have free time now. I’m not constantly stressed or exhausted, I get to see friends, talk, write, travel, cook, watch TV, exercise, – all the things that make life worth living. I’ve had some writing published, and people seem to like it, which thrills me more than it’s cool to admit. I’m quite liking the nature of short-term work. It’s good and interesting to explore options.

Most of all, I’m happy. I wake up nearly every day looking forward to the day ahead. I feel lighter, more carefree. It’s remarkable how many people have commented on the fact that I look happy. (I really must have looked like a big bag of misery before.) I can’t describe how much I value this, having been through some darker times. It’s something I will never take for granted. I’m very lucky.

I didn’t think I was brave enough to throw the cards up in the air, but it’s worked out well. If you’re considering it, know that it can be done, and it may take time to work out, but it will.

So I look ahead, and the future’s not certain, but it looks bright, and exciting, and I can’t wait to see what lies ahead. The world’s still my oyster.

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.

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