At 7.30am last Tuesday, I found myself talking aloud in my car, en route to Dublin, practicing for a presentation that I would be delivering at the National Patient and Service User Forum that same morning. Looking back, I was really getting into it and I quite animatedly corrected myself when I went off track by shaking my head and frowning– I’m sure if anyone saw me, they surely had an early morning laugh on my behalf!
Anyway, it was just as I said the words “collaboration is key” that my GPS decided to gently interrupt my thoughts to let me know that I was coming off the motorway unto a national road. I suddenly realised where I was and was surprised because I didn’t recall the two hour journey I had just made, being so caught up in my thoughts about the oncoming day’s events.
Now I realise this isn’t just me that goes on autopilot when behind the wheel– so many of us on a daily basis put the key in the ignition and off we go – allowing one part of our brains to change gears, indicate, look in mirrors, check on the kids in the backseat, chat to the passenger beside us, merge across three lane motorways – while the other part of our brain is thinking about what we’ll have for dinner that night.
But every day, regardless of whether we’re “in the moment” or not, we have to rely heavily on collaboration to get to our destination safely. If you ever drive along a busy dual carriageway it can be fascinating to watch cars move in and out between the lanes and synergise with one another, as if each knows what the other is doing.
Added to this, more often than not, we presume that everyone will always abide by the rules.
Red lights, stop.
Bus lanes are for buses.
No mobile phones.
Stick to speed limits.
Now some of us stick by the rules, and some do not. We can question why and how some of these rules came into play in the first instance and can often forget the collaboration that is required to ensure millions of road-users can use the road at the same time…safely. Because we actually don’t know the next move of the driver in front of us, a proactive approach is required (like the seat-belt for instance), and many’s a time this comes about because of a reaction to a negative incident.
We need engineers for planning and to ensure our traffic lights are working smoothly; we need mechanics to ensure our cars are roadworthy; we need our council for sign and road markings; we need our Gardaí for governance; we need provisions made for accessible communications and we need educational campaigns to increase awareness.
Collaboration is the key to getting to our destinations safely – and all of these same structures, teams and approaches are required for a safer health care service too. It can be extremely difficult to understand and manoeuvre between all of the different services and teams but one thing is for sure – we all need to take responsibility for ourselves and for every other road user too – always remembering to expect the unexpected.
So how do we keep on improving on services while preventing possible accidents along the way? And when accidents do happen, is it good enough to just put a “Danger Accident Black Spot” sign up and not actually change the structure of the road?
It’s simple – we need listen to what every stakeholder needs. We need to learn from the negatives and the positives – and then improve on the quality of services based on these needs.
So this is what the HSE’s Quality Improvement Division are aiming to do. One of the priority focus areas of this division for 2015 is person centered care and they want to ensure that the voice of patients, their advocates and representatives are heard, and are central to how they design and deliver their services.
Now with this being the first meeting of the Forum, I was quite fascinated to see so many diverse groups willing to give up their time and work together on behalf of their users, to help improve services. I felt it was good too, to have this first initial meeting to give everyone a chance to meet one another and to discuss what expectations the organisations themselves had of the Forum. The Quality Improvement Division’s hope going forward is that organisations can discuss and provide feedback on a range of issues of national significance that have an impact on the experience of patients and service users accessing our health services, and then this feedback, can be communicated to the relevant HSE divisions and clinical care programmes.
To open the day, the National Director of Quality Improvement, Dr Philip Crowley started talking about the importance of kindness in our health care services. Yes, he said, there were many, many things that needed changing and the past few years of austerity had had its toll on health services across the country but that each and every one of us can still play our part by showing just a little bit of kindness to one another.
I sat there listening, meaning to take notes because I wanted to remember everything that was being said, but I stopped what I was doing because this is exactly what I think person centered care is all about.
Remember those rules on the road from earlier that we should all abide to? Now what would be the harm, if we just added a bit of kindness to them?
I know I am always grateful when the tractor pulls in to let myself and other drivers by. Or when a car flashes to allow me to cross the road safely. Or when someone offers to fill my tank at the petrol station. Or when the truck driver allows me to pull out of a busy parking space.
Kindness always restores my faith in humanity – and simply makes me feel better.
If we were to combine this simple approach with the right structures, teams and collaboration, in our health services, I really feel we could be on to something.
And this is what the Forum was made for. During the meeting we all broke into groups to discuss the expectations from the representatives and service users from the various organisations about the Forum and even though each table had different ways on how they approached the discussion, every one of them still had many of the same visions and hopes. This outbreak session was then followed by Public Health Doctor, Dr.Carmel Mullaney and I both showcasing separately, the different self-management projects that we are working on – thus showing how we can ourselves both work together in the ideal “patient plus professional partnership”.
After an interesting morning of discussions, Director of Advocacy, Greg Price, then closed the session and thanked everybody who attended, including his team in the Quality Improvement Division for their support.
At this moment, I looked around and realised that if everyone could really pull together on this one and truly collaborate then they would be showing our whole health service a level of kindness that could be truly outstanding.
Yes, everyone has their own or their organisations unique health issues to advocate for, but the reality is, no matter what type of patient you are, a lot of the time, the same issues come up, again and again – for each and every one of us.
And so as I always say–
We’re all here to either get better or to help someone get better…
This is how I told my story at Heart Children Ireland’s National AGM…
“Hi my name is Olive, and I am a mum of three girls; Micaela Nicole and Mackensie. I was going to tell my story spontaneously , but every time I practised doing it this way, my emotions took over and I forgot where I was, so today I am going to read it out to make sure I don’t skip over anything.
We, as a family, come up to Dublin quite often as each of my girls see different specialists in Crumlin, including their cardiologist, Dr Coleman. Thankfully they’re all doing great at the moment but it wasn’t always that way. About a year and a half after my youngest girl, Mackensie was diagnosed with her congenital heart defect, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Now I know you’re just in the door and probably wondering why are we starting with such a sensitive topic but we felt it would be good to do it now just in case any issues arose and people could chat to each other or ourselves about it at lunch time. Deirdre, our psychologist is thankfully here today also and is happy to talk to anyone that wishes to do so.
I myself am here today in the hope that my story can help others. I wish that another parent had told me back then that we all react differently to our situations, that it was okay to feel the feelings I was having , that I wasn’t alone and that that there was loads of help available out there for when I was ready, not just to talk, but to even admit something wasn’t right.
So here we go: before Mackensie was ever born I was worried that things might not be okay. I couldn’t say what exactly was wrong but my gut was telling me to stay alert. Anyway the labour was difficult, it took what seemed like a lifetime for her to cry and she wasn’t as pink as my other girls had been when they were born. I was worried but was told over and over again she was fine and that I probably just had the blues. So we went home but my anxiety rose as she couldn’t take her bottles for a very long time at a go, was sleeping nine hours at a time and wasn’t gaining weight. I brought her to A&E three times before she was twelve days old but both they and our health nurse at home said that it was me -that I just over-anxious, had possibly got post-natal depression and even that I was molly-coddling her. But something inside me told me something wasn’t right and so I fought my corner on the last go and eventually got her admitted. The next morning we were told that she had a slight heart murmur but they still sent her home to await an echo for six weeks’ time. Straight after being discharged I brought her to my GP (who was back from his holidays) and he knew something was seriously wrong. So he picked up the phone and sent her straight to another hospital which was where we were told she had three holes in her little heart and that she would need to have heart surgery in Crumlin.
In a state of shock and panic, when we got the call up the next day, I ignored my gut instinct and instead took advice not to upset my other two daughters by saying goodbye to them. And so we just left, just like that. The poor little things, trying to adjust first to a new baby and then mammy, daddy and baby just disappearing. When we got up there I felt so bad for them and I wanted to ring them all the time but I was afraid I was going to upset them. I missed them so much but couldn’t say it out loud because I knew I had to stay strong.
So in this tiny cubicle on St. Theresa’s ward we stayed; staying strong and hoping, praying and wishing without realising how long we would eventually be staying for. I had to stay strong before her surgery, during her surgery and after her surgery. The two things that stick out clearly in my mind were getting Mackensie baptised in this little cubicle before her surgery and having to learn how to do baby CPR on her before we got home.
It didn’t take long to meet other parents in the parents room, and it was surreal how we all learned the lingo quickly and were able to talk like doctors and nurses: conversations would go anywhere from discussing surgeries, types of heart valves to tube feeding and medications. But on the inside we were all feeling different emotions at different times; we were so tired, we were scared, we were frustrated and even sometimes guilt ridden – was it our faults our babies were sick, how are the other kids at home, how will we manage financially, why did this happen to us, why amn’t I worrying like all the other parents are? Our worst days were if a baby had lost their battle. No-one wanted to look at each other in the eye, because the fears and pain were too raw. And we had of course, to stay strong.
The day before Mackensie’s surgery, a great friend of mine now, that I got to know because her little baby girl was there, decided with my husband not to tell me about a little baby that had died that day, as she knew it would terrify me.
And she was right, it would have.
We eventually got home after a long six weeks stay and I soon realised very quickly that my safe haven of Crumlin was gone. I remember panicking on the first night because I wasn’t sure if the nib in the syringe actually counted as a milliletre of Frusomide or not! I worried about who would be able to mind Mackensie if I got sick. I had lost trust in so many people because of the so many battles I had initially to get her diagnosed and because my husband and other family members believed the doctors too at that time and not me, I had lost trust in anyone else to mind her or my other girls too. I was so scared being so far away from the security that if anything went wrong we didn’t have specialists to hand.
I soon learned a few months later though in one of the fastest journeys of my life those ambulances can get there fairly rapid if they need to!
But I also realised I didn’t have the security of the parents in Crumlin to talk to. I remember one day when we had to be moved to another ward temporarily it had made me so upset that the kind nurse moved me back. I was so lonely and missed everyone so much that I needed the security of St Theresa’s to keep me sane. Back home I knew that people were trying to be positive by saying that “she didn’t look sick at all” or that “sure she’d be grand”, but I used to feel like screaming at them because I had so many fears for her future.
And then my lovely friend that had protected me from my pain, before Mackensie’s surgery, rang me to tell me about her pain.
Her beautiful baby girl had died.
Words cannot describe the hurt, pain and utter heartbreak. My friends had lost their only baby during heart surgery. It was just so, so sad. And frightening.
So you would have thought after that a few months later, when we were told Mackensie wouldn’t need her next open heart surgery that I would have been so relieved and happy.
The silent fears suddenly came to a head. I went home, I closed all the blinds in the house, turned off the phone and for three days solid, I cried.
I had no idea what was happening to me and I felt so, so guilty. Why was I crying? Did I want my baby to be sick? What was wrong with me? I couldn’t talk about it to anyone because I felt like such a bad mother and my anxiety started getting worse until soon I couldn’t tell the difference between my gut instinct and worries. I didn’t want anybody to mind the girls and I started staying in, even quitting my job in the midst of it all. It all came to a head one day when I couldn’t get my husband on the phone and I had convinced myself he had been in an accident. One of my closest friends, Linda, came in to the house to calm me down and it was that day that I knew, I needed help. Because of my anxiety issues around the girl’s safety and that I may not hear them at night I refused anti-depressants or sleepers, which probably would have been a great help, so instead, I sought out counselling.
The first day was the hardest; my counsellor was sitting talking to me and I suddenly heard an ambulance in the distance. I made a bolt and just jumped out of my seat and ran out the door. He ran after me not knowing what was wrong and I explained that I felt something was wrong at home – he reasoned there and then that I would be quicker on the phone if I rang, and I did. Of course my poor husband, Fintan, asked why was I not in counselling and I told him about my fears. So for the first six months of counselling, I sat with my phone turned on, the door left ajar and the promise that Fintan would ring me if anything was wrong.
So, for the next two years, every Monday night, I met my counsellor.
And it saved me. It saved my family. It saved my marriage.
I will never be the person I was before Mackensie was diagnosed but to be honest I wouldn’t want to be. I still do get the odd twinge of anxiety every now and then, but I now have the tools to cope with it and so much more now. And I know blaming hospitals or anything else for that matter does not help…it only builds up the anger inside. Being proactive and making wrongs right does help though and it is this reason why I am sharing my story with you.
Recognising you may not be okay is the first step. For me it was the anxiety, anger and guilt but for others it may be the complete opposite. Talking is the next step. Talk to a friend, family member, GP…you may be surprised that they already know that you are in a bad place. Next get help – figure out which is the best way for you to get treatment by talking to your GP or psychologists like Deirdre. Know that the reason you are feeling this way is because you are trying to stay strong in a really stressful situation and sometimes when the calm after the storm comes, the real storm is only starting for you. My counsellor always told me not to be too hard on myself and I’m here today to say the same to you guys – Go easy on yourselves, know it’s ok to feel the way you’re feeling and talk to one another.
I will be disclosing personal information in this post. I am terrified in doing so, but here goes anyway. I care too much about breaking the stigma surrounding the mental health agenda. This post was originally posted on LinkedIn for professionals.
People think I’m always happy. Bubbly, outgoing, fun. People think I’m always strong. Hopeful, helpful, inspirational. People think I’m always smart. thinking, strategic, clever. People think I’m always grateful. Praising, delighted, unwanting. People think I’m always motivated. Busy, hardworking, driven. People think I’m always there. Caring, kind, mindful.
That one word that flows throughout.
No one thing in this world is stagnant.
No one thing in this world is unmoving.
No one thing in this world is always.
People change. Circumstances change. Perceptions change.
At any one time the core of a humans being can be shattered beyond repair.
And all good things can come to a sharp halt.
Hope, joy and optimism replaced with:“What’s the point, we’re all going to die anyway?”
Kindness, mindfulness and caring replaced with:“I don’t care about myself so why should I care about others?”
Outgoing, bubbly and active replaced with:“I’m staying away from people and the world, I only make things worse.”
Working, educating and learning replaced with:“Where has it all got me so far?”
Strength replaced with tears. Hope replaced with fears.
All factors which can change of how one is, and how they have come to be.
A strong word in a world that has no always.
A very thin rope holds the happiness of a human within its loop.
Perceptions that emotional stress or illness does not affect every one of us causes great barriers on the road to the prevention of such.
Preparation for the probability of stress caused by natural life is the only proactive measure.
Acceptability that life has happened to others is measured through the reactions of society and the eyes of the perceived.
Disruption to stigma is the only way forward.
Every being in the world will witness and go through stress.
Be it physically, emotionally or both.
Let everyone accept this.
It’s called life.
Let everyone change the perception.
Let’s be ready.
Let’s be thoughtful.
Let’s be open.
And most of all, let’s be kind.
This post is addressed to professionals, and to everyone else for that matter. So before I hear “this content is not business related” in the comments, I am addressing this now. This poem, by yours truly, is written for, and about, a very close friend of mine. The below article, based on this work, is completely suitable for posting here on this, a professional platform.
Because, it is people, not products which change the world. Behind every product, behind every business, is a person with an idea, a thought, a vision. Upon building upon this dream, other people become involved. And those people are connected to more people. And all of those people, to many, many more. Which is what this platform is all about. Connections. Every person along this journey each have their own dreams and visions. And lives.
Lives which can be full of happiness, full of aspiration, full of love. Full of travels, full of eating out with friends, full of shopping. Full of sports, full of arts, full of music. Full of relationships, full of family, full of friends. Full of career prospects, full of academic achievements, full of achieved bucket lists.
Lives full of, well, stuff.
But one day, that same life, in just a heartbeat, can suddenly become empty.
Just like that.
Much like a computer which turns on and lights up, everything externally may still remain as was upon first glance, but it’s only upon closer examination you find something just isn’t right anymore. The internal system is just not syncing correctly, there has been some memory loss and it doesn’t really know what to do anymore. The hardware is fine, the software isn’t.
You look for the signs. You backtrack. trying to figure out what caused the problem. Still unsure, you tentatively reach out to others for help. An online help service, a phone call to a friend, a dusty PC manual stuck in it’s box.
You do everything to fix it. All your work is stored on it. Photos of your children. You might even hear yourself say, “my whole life is on it.” It’s connected to loads of other PC’s. You’re afraid it might affect them.
It might have just been that a wrong button was pressed; it might be that a wrong code was input; a drink spilled – or worse somebody hacked your system.
All very logical reasons for how a perfectly perfect system could suddenly crash.
Much like when a human being crashes.
A high energy, fun loving, positive person you once knew, is suddenly, gone. Eyes empty with an over coated gloss to hide their pain, shame or anguish. They can’t keep up, can’t work like they did before, talk, chat or respond in the same way. They try to find the root cause. Ring a helpline, talk to friends, read self help books. Their changes are affecting those around them. What happened?
Life. Life is what happened. Life happens to all of us.
Life challenges everyone’s mental health.
Every single one of us have experienced stress at some stage. Even our birthing process is a physical stress our bodies go through. Think of a time you were worried about exams, health, finances, peers, family, relationships. Afraid of an injection, a spider, flying. Afraid of what your friends would think, your boss would think, your neighbors would think. Afraid of the past. Afraid of being ugly. Afraid of embarrassment, failure, guilt. Afraid of losing your job, your home, your dignity. Afraid of dying. Afraid of losing someone you love.
Yes, all stress inducing fears. And very real fears to the person who has them.
Yet, sometimes there are no fears.
Sometimes stress is caused by circumstances or situations. Break-ups, job losses, health issues – all can contribute. Bullying, be you an adult or child, can have the most detrimental effects.
The loss of your home. The loss of a loved one. The loss of a child.
The yearning for a child, not yet conceived.
There are no words.
No one knows what tomorrow may bring and this sometimes causes stress brought on by anxiety worrying about the unknown.
We all, at some stages in our lives, will go through some sort of stress. We have to break the ignorance that is stigma surrounding mental health “issues” as if it is something we have not ever experienced. This agenda needs to be addressed at a professional level.
People from all status’ and hierarchies need to start speaking up. We all need to admit to one another, and the world, that we all have experienced stress, and at times even, depression or anxiety. And then we need to learn from one another as to how we got past those feelings of despair or emptiness.
It is normal to feel empty sometimes. Completely and utterly normal.
I have felt empty.
But as soon as I started feeling fulfilled again, I knew I wanted to help others.
In 2012 I joined a new group on Facebook called EasySpeak. This private forum was founded by Dublin man Mark Dolan and he had just lost two of his best friends within a few weeks of each other through suicide. Devastated, he never wanted to see anyone have no-one to talk to and so he took action. It was a year or so after, and thousands of members later, when Mark decided to take a step back from this forum so that he could try and make sense of what had happened to him, and so since 2013 I have watched, minded and safeguarded this page for him, and for our 10,000 strong members, of which we call, EasySpeakers.
EasySpeakers comprise of people from every single background and walk of life. Business people, parents, grandparents, unemployed, students, politicians, teenagers – the list goes on – from all over the world.
EasySpeakers mind one another. They share stories, both anonymously and openly, to help each other heal and not feel alone. They share information about local resources and professionals. They share what worked and what didn’t. They share their good days and their bad days. EasySpeak has helped so many.
I know this, for a fact.
I know…because it helped me.
I was one of the first people to share my own personal story on EasySpeak. I spoke of how I had got through some extremely turbulent teenage years of which I very nearly didn’t survive. I spoke about the regrets, sadness’s and hurts that I had gone through, and that I had felt I caused along the way too. I spoke about my fears of my past. I spoke about how I then overcame PTSD and severe anxiety after my daughters heart surgery eight years later. I spoke about the moment when one of my closest friends helped me admit that I needed to talk to someone. I spoke of the most amazing two years I went through upon starting counselling. I spoke of how it was the most important thing I ever did.
For me. For my family. For my friends. For my life.
Sharing my story, helped me heal. Hundreds and hundreds of comments, private messages came soaring in. Old friends made renewed contact with me and I made peace with my past.
It helped others heal too.
The first night after I shared my story, I got a message on Facebook which made the hairs on my neck stand up. My friend wrote to me telling me that he had a bottle of vodka and pills beside his bed and that he was just about to take them, with the intention of overdose – but upon reading my story, stopped. That amazing person is still alive today, and I’m so glad to say, is happy and well.
Since 2013, I have since answered thousands of messages from others in bad situations. And all I do is listen.
I know people might want to know what my original story is and why I don’t share this story here, or publicly. But sadly, I am not yet ready to share it this way yet. The world isn’t ready. I am not so famous that I could get away with it.
You see, the stigma is very much alive and well. As I share this with you now, hundreds of people are posting their stories on private forums across the world. Desperately wanting to talk to someone who understands. Who can help.
Why do they not reach out to those they love?
I know why. Because as I write this, I feel the symptoms of anxiety creep up. Anxiety from knowing I have now opened up, and the world can now judge.
A world full of “professionals” that I now might have blocked myself from potential opportunities because of peoples perceptions of mental health “issues”. For those professionals that I have met and shared my story, they have often seemed surprised because I don’t seem like “that type of person”.
I have often wondered what is “that type of person”.
I often think of Robin Williams after such reflections.
I wonder now will people reading this suddenly think of me different. Perceive me as a “victim”. Or treat me like they have to “mind” me. Think I’m “not able to do my job” or that I would “look bad for business”. That I am a “risk”.
But one thing is for sure. I cannot put up an article or blog raising awareness about breaking stigmas if I don’t stand by it and speak up too.
I imagine a world where one day a boss or manager will sit down with a new staff member and have an open and honest conversation about the normality of “stress”. It can be something as simple as letting them know that everyone has a bad day every now and again and that the best thing to do is talk to someone about it. To ask questions if they’re unsure or to tell them if the job is getting too much. Start the conversation, and not be scared. Empathy can go a long way.
Believe me, I know. I have always done this with my team. It works.
My final message is this.
Think about who you are.
Think about how you treat others. Think about the stresses in your own world. What might seem trivial to you, could be huge for someone else, and vice versa. Think about how you reacted when I admitted I had been through my own difficult times. Especially if you already know me. And that you may have perceived me initially like that as in the first few sentences in my earlier poem.
Change your reaction to hearing someone has depression or anxiety. You’d be surprised to see that often, their reaction won’t be what you expect. Let us not be so egotistical to think that we will “never be like them”.
Fancy cars, houses and clothes one day. Recession; homeless.
Great health, social life, dances. Car accident ; wheelchair.
Dream vacations, romantic dinners, roses. Cancer diagnosis; respite.
In a heartbeat our world can be changed. Our mental health challenged.
All I ask from this blog is for people to be kind. Not superficially kind, but really kind. From your heart kind. We do not know what others are, or have, gone through.
Think of me as your daughter, your wife, your sister. Your son, your husband, your brother. Your lover. Your best friend. Your pet even. 🙂
If you can’t think of me as that, think of me as your business. People change the world, not products. Think of your staff, your colleagues, your bosses. Think of the potential just kindness alone can have in your workplace.
It’s only one little thing, that can mean so much.
I am only one person. I am only human. I am a survivor.
But I am not a survivor of a “mental health issue” – I am a survivor of life.
For the record: I have learned enough tools through counselling to help me get through crisis moments and because of this I am doing great. I have bad days (don’t we all) which are most often caused by normal life hiccups and bumps in the road – amongst many health care appointments with the kiddies! I have learned one simple technique that if I make myself smile even if I’m having an “I’m late for work, have a headache and can’t find the paracetemol” type of days, people will respond to me positively which rubs off on me and actually makes me feel better! Talking is key, as is eating good food, exercising and keeping a balance in life. I personally love my work, I love my Zumba dancing and these have been my saviours to keep my head space happy – along with the love from my many family and friends, of course!
Wishing you all good coping skills for this thing we call life!
Thanks for reading! O x
If at any time, you or someone you know is in a crisis situation please go to your nearest A&E, ring 999/112 or got to nearest Gardai /Police station.
The following are some helpful numbers/websites in Ireland:
www.samaritans.ie The Samaritans 1850 60 90 90 Nationwide helpline and 24:7 text support service, 365 days a year, for anyone in emotional distress.
Reach Out is a web-based service that inspires young people to help themselves through tough times, and find ways to improve their own mental health and well-being.
www.headsup.ieHeadsUp – information on where to go for help in a crisis is now available through your mobile phone. Text the word HeadsUp to50424.
www.headstrong.ie Headstrong – Phone: 01 4727010: Headstrong works with communities to ensure young people between 12 and 25 are better supported to achieve mental health and wellbeing. It was set up in response to an identified need to address the issue of youth mental health in Ireland
www.heads-away-just-say.com Heads Away Just Say For young people in Northern Ireland, covering common problems to do with home, school and friends
Spun Out is an independent, youth powered national charity working to empower young people to create personal and social change
www.aoibhneas.org Aoibhneas : Phone: 01 8670701 Provide facilities, professional help and support. Helpline offers a FREE professional counselling service to men and women who are suffering from violence in the home
www.cari.ie Children At Risk Ireland CARI Phone: 1890 924567 Provides many services, among them is the provision of therapy for children, young people and families who have been affected by child sexual abuse.
www.womensaid.ie Women’s Aid Phone: 1800 341 900. Offers confidential info, advice, support and understanding to women who are being physically, sexually or mentally abused in home
www.amen.ie/ Amen Phone: 046 23718 Support and information for male victims of domestic abuse
www.drcc.ie Rape Crisis Network Phone: 1800 77 8888 Provides support around any concerns you may have in regard to issues of rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment or childhood abuse
www.drugs.ie Drugs.ie Phone: 1800 459 459 Drugs and Alcohol Information and support
www.dap.ie Drugs Awareness Programme Phone: 01 8360911 Provides info, support and counselling in relation to drugs, substance misuse or addiction
SOSAD (Save Our Sons And Daughters) is an organisation with five main goals:Raise awareness of suicide in Ireland, Break the taboo surrounding suicide, Provide support and direction to those feeling suicidal, Provide support and direction to those approached by someone feeling suicidal, Provide support and direction for those bereaved by suicide.
“It was during an informal conversation over a cup of tea with a business associate that led to a discussion about our various music tastes. I confidently declared that Beyoncé was one of my favourite artists. I was immediately taken aback when I was met with an arched eyebrow; a patronizing smile and the statement – “Oh really, YOU listen to Beyoncé?”
Would you judge my ability to do my work based on my tastes of clothes, hobbies or music?
When I say the name Beyoncé do you think of a famous pop singer – and just that?
What if I told you one of my inspirations for my work as an entrepreneur were this same lady?
Would you be surprised?
If you’re wondering why I ask this, please read my open letter to you, as a society, as addressed to Mrs. Carter…
I walked into my bedroom after kissing my three beautiful young daughters goodnight, and saying their bedside prayers. Sometimes it takes my breath away when I see their little faces. As I contemplated on how blessed I was to have them in my life, I reflected on their lives.
I reflected on my own life.
And as your music was playing softly in the background, I reflected on you too.
Even though we are worlds apart by our careers, finances and locations, we still are not all that different.
We are both the same age, you and I. My husband too, the same age as yours.
I have stood on international platforms telling my story, to hopefully help others, and me, heal. And in doing so, know the feeling of being judged.
I have gone through the unexpected shock of miscarriage. Personally know the pain of separated parents. Resonate with the many confusions, conflicts and closures a family go through together – all the while recognizing positively the strong values they too have instilled in me.
Much like yourself, most of what I’ve gone through has been done while a vast village has watched on through lenses unbeknownst, and yet too well known, to us.
As my life journey has been progressing, I have watched yours from afar.
My heart ached deep with empathy at times for you as the picture painted of your world is often tainted by viciousness, through others delight in negativity. Celebrity status, be it local or global, does not take away internal pain. If anything, it restricts natural healing processes.
I smile, I get on with it.
Closed, yet openhearted. Wanting to speak out, yet knowing I sometimes have to wait until the time is right before I can do so.
And when those times become too tough, sometimes wondering what it was all about.
Until I remembered. Your words. We were strong women. We were not born weak.
I was not born weak.
I thought about how I was just a little older than my eldest daughter when I first heard your music. Instantly, my soul synchronised with your styles, sounds and stanzas. Your hidden messages that others may not have grasped, often resonated with me on a level that I could not articulate.
As this young teenager, you influenced me. I always had a profound interest in entrepreneurs.
I thought of you as just that. I imagined how hard you had to work, how you had to ignore the negativity and how hard you had to push your body and mind to reach your goals. How you and your family sacrificed to make ends meet. Pushing your own boundaries time and time again. Pushing societies boundaries. Creating your brand. Recreating your brand. Creating your life. Recreating your life.
Your music was always a form of escapism for me. Even though I had never been able to sing, my body had no problem tuning in at all.
You see, I had always wanted to be a dancer.
But I was never brave enough to tell anyone.
Fear of worrying about what people thought of me always stood in my way. I took one dance lesson as a child. And stopped. Too scared I wouldn’t be as good as anyone else. It was only as I was old enough to go to clubs with my friends, that I would take every opportunity to be first on the dancefloor – inhibitions quickly fading as was the way with the consumptions of one too many.
My mirror too, in the privacy of my bedroom, often got a glimpse of my dreams.
Then, just as I was entering my twenties “life” happened very quickly for me.
Young love, marriage, three beautiful children.
However it wasn’t long before serious health complications ensued on all three of our daughters – myself and my husband did not escape it either. Heart surgeries, strokes, chemotherapy treatments. A personal recovery from post traumatic stress disorder took its toll. Financial difficulties. Twists and turmoils of which no-one knew about affected our marriage. The loss of hope to go to college and get my degree. The loss of loved ones through death. The loss of friends through bitter realisations. The loss of a youthful body, and mind. The loss of dreams.
Along the way somewhere, I had stopped dancing.
Serious life issues took hold of me. I forgot who I was.
I found myself in the darkest of places.
I searched for hope. Everywhere.
And then, one day, it appeared.
I saw that hope in my daughters’ eyes. I realised that I needed to find my passion again. They needed me to be happy; for them to be happy. This became my drive to find myself again. I so badly needed to live again.
And so, I joined a dance class.
Went to counselling. Even set up my own social enterprise to help create equality in healthcare. I started to feel an inner contentment that I hadn’t felt before. I felt valued for the first time in my life. I felt I was making a difference to peoples lives.
I started to feel the old young me emerge.
That was until, I was told to stop.
When I danced, I was told to “act my age”.
When I worked, I was told “I wasn’t an expert”.
It stunned me. I was left reeling. Suddenly feeling trapped, like a hand had tightened its grip around my neck it told me I could not be me anymore.
Told to “fit in”. Told to be “passive”.
Suddenly I knew I was expected to act a certain way now. Expected to meet the expectations of civilizations standards. Apparently it was presumed that my personal life should have been as serious as my daily work. This was an emotional roller coaster that I did not expect to feel – my mind still pined for a rhythm, a beat, a heartbeat, in my life, but my society told me it was best to do it behind closed doors…
I was grieving. Grieving for my lost youth. Grieving for my career, my calling, even. Grieving for the could have beens.
What would I do now? Who was I?
Had I not been acting “grown up” enough going through all of the trials and tribulations in our little family? Had I not been educated enough for my career having dealt with five members of our family having serious medical issues? Had I not proven that I could do my work, and have fun too in my spare time? Did I not look suitable enough to wear what I wore; to still dance?
Why did I not fit in? What did I do wrong?
I was shutdown.
But it took that to awaken me. It was only when I shut down, I decided to shut out the noise. I shut out the pollution.
I again submerged myself in your music.
I started thinking.
Who put limitations on when I, or anyone else, had to start acting a certain way? How did someone my age even act? Was there a rulebook somewhere I was unaware of? I was always there for my children, my family, my friends. I spoke on behalf of local, national and global communities via universal podiums. I had won national awards, been celebrated even, as an outstanding young person. I had a beautiful home. A beautiful family.
I fought battles no one ever saw. And overcame them.
I worked hard.
Hell, I slayed hard.
Wasn’t I allowed to now just be me? Be I a woman or a man? Be I young or old? Be I rich or poor? Be I black or white? Be I fat or thin? Be I educated or not? Be I a lover of opera or heavy metal? Be I a dancer or an academic?
I figured that the restrictive statements said to me about my age or my dreams were all just about people’s perceptions. Rules inflicted by jealousy or vindictiveness or power. Or own internal issues, that had actually nothing to do with me at all, at times.
I always knew that much of the time in the work I did I was judged – though not might I add, always negatively. People told me it was exhilarating to see someone so positive and optimistic. That I lit up a room when I walked in. That my vision was so cleverly simplistic. That my ethics shone through in my actions. What people didn’t realise was that my real life was not always positive and optimistic – the reality sometimes far from it. Life throwing curveballs could alter the very core of a human being and suddenly someone who wore their heart on their sleeve, wore themselves out.
And then there were the moments when people did not always perceive me so positively.
I always remember the first time I was really made aware of this.
It was during an informal conversation over a cup of tea with a business associate that led to a discussion about our various music tastes. I confidently declared that you were one of my favourite artists.
I was immediately taken aback when I was met with an arched eyebrow; a patronizing smile and the statement –
“Oh really, YOU listen to Beyoncé?”
I didn’t expect it. Because of my music taste I realised that I suddenly didn’t meet their expectations of what type of person I was. I knew instantly it was because my work in healthcare was so “serious” that I wasn’t deemed as a person who would listen to “your type”.
I was judged outright to my face, simply just because of my personal choices. You were judged too.
Completely aware of what had happened it was at this time when I decided that I would not respond like I would have done when I was younger. I did not backtrack and say I liked lots of others artists too. I had had enough. I actually didn’t care anymore about what people thought of me.
I defended my choice. I defended you.
It drove me insane; closemindedness. I often wondered why did people stereotype others by the music they listened to? The clothes they wore. Their religion. Their tattoos. The colour of their skin, even.
I wondered would they think to question me in the same manner if I had said I loved classical music?
And so in this conversation I purposefully did not go on to explain that I actually had a vast interest in all music genres, influenced by my family, friends and upbringing. Nor did I explain that you too delivered many music variances through your own work – switching from pop to rock to country instantaneously, without ever breaking the flow of the story you were telling.
I chose not to inform them of same because I knew their decision was already made about the type of person I was in their eyes.
I wanted to change their perspective.
I had a point to make.
I challenged their preconceived notions about me – and about you. I held my ground. Calmly.
I asked how easy would it be for them to make the million dollar industry you had created? Asked them were they judging you solely on “mass media” reports? Asked them had they been working since they were a child? Or did they even know who or what you represented – did they know how much you cared about the equality agenda?
“Working to make those inequalities go away is being a feminist, but more importantly, it makes me a humanist. I don’t like or embrace any label.”
Beyoncé, Elle Magazine 2016
Asked could they stand in front of millions and perform the way you do – literally flawless? Remember every dance move and lyrics for your shows? Asked if they could lead diverse teams to work with you, the way you do, to see your vision through? Asked if they knew the many charitable organisation’s you supported? Asked could they run international clothing companies, write poetry, always look good and be a parent of a toddler all at the same time? Asked how they would feel not being able to go down to a local shop without being bombarded by cameras? Asked how they would feel being judged by just looking at someone sideways at a football game? Asked if they could keep their head in someone else’s tennis game knowing you had to catch a flight to another country a few hours later to perform a live show that same night? Asked how they would feel if every little mistake they made was circulated globally? Asked how they would feel being judged by every little thing they did?
And do all that while going through a public forum about parents breaking up, internal family conflicts, miscarriages and speculations of whether their marital relationship would survive or not?
I asked if they thought they had the same type of resilience that you have?
I asked if he knew now why I was inspired by you.
Yes. The answer was yes. The gentleman in question was really interested in what I had to say. We swayed in and out of a dual conversation long after.
I knew I could not take anymore judging of me, or you, and I had had a chance to put it right.
I knew in my heart too that this wouldn’t always be the case.
I knew I wouldn’t always be able to change someone that didn’t want to be changed and knew too that I could only change myself, and how I reacted to someone else’s actions or words. In this situation I simply wanted to shed light on the bigger picture, hopefully with the long-term outcome that they would maybe not judge people on their personal interests, be it music, or otherwise; but take them for who they are. At face value.
Ignorance is an extremely dangerous weapon that the “other side” still hold on to.
And I thought about it for a long, long time after the fact.
I asked myself are these the same type of people who would say I had to “act my age”?
Are these the “they” in society when we start statements with “They say…”?
Are “they” the cohort of individuals in our society that dictate how we look, dress, talk, walk or write? Are they the type of people that can shut down your business? Ruin your reputation? Destroy relationships?
Are “they” the type of people that say “all lives matter” and not research or try to understand why certain advocacy groups for minorities are founded to speak up against statistical wrong doings? The type of people that don’t understand why we get the bigger picture and see things from a humanist perspective? Striving for equality for all, and understanding that to reach this goal sometimes those who can’t speak up for themselves need people like us to speak up for them.
And knowing too that sometimes people like us, need someone else to speak up for us, at times when we can’t.
I want my beautiful daughters to not worry like I did about what society thought of me. I want them to be themselves. I want them to have respect for themselves and others; to be kind and compassionate. To be honest, empathetic, caring and passionate. To think of our world as a global village.
To be strong. At all ages in their lives.
Pretty really does hurt. It has hurt me when I have compared myself to others; trying to be thinner, less talkative, more intelligent. I now instill into my girls that beauty is on the inside; shining through the eyes of the beholder as they show their inner beings through their actions and words to others.
My brain now has matured through knowledge, my body has matured through childbirth and my heart has matured through healing.
But my soul, I am finding is forever young.
I do not intend to replace the old, I intend to make something more beautiful than the original – taking the art of Kintsugi which shows beautifully in your pictorials, to my real life.
Your music is my therapy. You make me feel like I am not alone. I feel I can be who I want to be.
I have watched your work of art in silent awe. Not listening, but HEARING what it represents.
Optimistic by nature, and resilient by choice – turning fruit into juice is what I have always tried to do. Sometimes just adding more sugar to eventually get the taste just right. And upon running out, just seeking out the right ingredients and filling the glass up again.
Even before I heard you, I resonated.
Nothing prepared me for what your most recent vocal and visual story would bring to me. Each and every word brought personal images of my own life, to mind. Tears rolled down my cheeks as memories of this journey invaded my present being. The curse of the past that blended into present tense, impacting on the future. Broken trusts. The changing of me to suit, to fit in, to be perfect.
To be the only one.
I sang out of tune, yet very much in tune, to release an anger I had forgotten was still there. Remembering the prayers that it was “just me” and not my intuition. The realisation of truth. Emptiness engulfing me. The wide open hole in my soul that I thought would never heal. The learning of what my true values and beliefs were – and listening to my inner self, the quiet…not the noise.
The apathy. Oh, the apathy. I didn’t actually realise that is what it was at the time.
Accepting that I knew I made the right choices in who was in my life; accepting their choices in their lives were not always the right ones for us. Knowing the choices I would make to stay were the right ones, for us. Promises broken, for wrong – and right reasons. Redeeming new found deep infatuation from its hiding place. The forgiving of the past and the formation of new foundations from broken sandcastles.
I am now 35 years young.
I have, and still am, on a journey of which no-one has, nor ever will experience; yet still know so many others haved lived this life, just in so many different ways. I have had to let the past go. I have been judged, compared, knocked, hurt. Nearly suicide before tears rolled down my face. Tears of which would eventually lead to my freedom.
I will “dance” again, and graciously so. This dance will show through a new found inner confidence – an assertiveness which when eyes open for the first time in disbelief their mouths may twist as per their need to wreak havoc on my character. The “They” in society may openly sneer to suit their own agendas, especially if they are used to a stifled voice – those who speak the truth can be seen as a threat to those in power.
I am writing this to you with the hope that people’s eyes will open, in a positive light. To educate themselves and accept differences are a good thing.
I am standing strong for myself, and for those who can’t stand strong for themselves.
You stand strong now and in the direct eyes of the world you ask for peace, truth and equality.
You are putting yourself in the firing line – because you have had enough. You care. Not just about your family or your friends. Not just about your marriage. Or your beautiful little daughter. Not just about women, race or culture – but all humans.
You do this with your husband by your side, Mrs. Carter.
I do too. I embrace marriage. He embraces me. We embrace the past and know it has made us stronger.
My husband knows I am on this journey to help me find who I am again, and it was he who surprised me with the gift to see you in person. He knew I needed this, in this particular moment in my life. He knows how you helped me through my darkest of days as I sat in my car alone. With just your music on and tears streaming down my face.
Crying through the grief of losing my dad, and my unborn baby. Realising heaven needed them more.
He knows how you made me feel it was okay to be a curvaceous woman as I nervously got ready on a night out and tried to pick outfits to fit me after each of my pregnancies. He knows it was you who helped me dance when I really didn’t feel like it. He knows you helped to restore hope in myself.
I again saw that hope in my daughters eyes for a second time, when I returned from your concert. She looked at me and told me she felt she had her old “young” mom back again. I went back to me and I wore my favourite clothes – baseball cap and all.
Removed the “serious suits” from my life.
For that, I am so grateful.
I’m sorry it took me nearly twenty years to see you perform. You the same age as I proudly did your thing. You the person I had grown up with year for year, had owned your vocals, your body, your dance. Each and every woman on that stage owned themselves too. Each and every person in your audience felt your presence. You made me realise age is only a number.
It was the singularly most empowering thing I have ever witnessed.
I danced right in the gold circle with my eyes closed. I danced on the outside, and on the inside. I am still dancing today – and the people in the room don’t even know it.
You showed me that you can wear what you want, dance like you want and be who you want to be. I was not judged. I was embraced. I felt my heart light up again. I felt all past pains slip away silently. You saw me through; through your own words. I was not stifled anymore. I could tell you too were not stifled anymore either. Stifled by others visions, others fears.
I, like you, do not like to be boxed with labels.
So, I am finding my way again. I am starting to now believe again that little “old” me can make a difference across the world.
Redemption is too powerful a weapon.
So from one mom, one woman, one wife to another – I want to let you know that you have inspired, and still are inspiring me.
I believe dreams can come through. I am sure when Martin Luther King spoke about his dream there were times in his own life when he wondered why he could not just sit back and get a 9-5 job like everyone else. But he knew he had a job to do on this earth.
He knew that winners didn’t quit on themselves.
Yes, there are haters. But it shows their true colours, not ours. And not the colours on the outside, but their colours on the inside.
Scars can heal, and crimes can be kissed – but only if the truth is set free.
I dream to change the status quo. To break down uneducated preconceived notions. I dream to be part of a global movement for equality for all – not just in public policy, but in peoples hearts. I dream to be part of a crusade towards empowerment, freedom and truth – no matter what sex, race, culture or age you are. I dream to not worry about what others think anymore. And to help others feel the same – no matter what age they are.
I dream for my daughters to have that inside happiness and contentment that I am still working on achieving.
I dream that they dance. I dream that I dance.
What is my aspiration in life? To be happy.
I aspire too to one day meet you in person – not in a “I want your signature” kind of way, but moreso in a “how can we make sure people never stop dancing” conversation. But you are you – and I am me – and realistically oceans apart I know our paths may never cross.
So I wanted to say thank you – just in case I never got to say it. I wish you inner peace and contentment throughout your life. I’m sorry it took me this long to write to you. But I am hoping everything happens for a reason. You have opened my eyes again, to life. To dancing.
I am going back to the place, park even, that gave me the courage to keep on going.
Your message resonates with me.
And I am so glad you have resurrected. It is this what makes you the leader that you are.
And I hope from this open letter to you that others open their minds before they judge.
Full Interview with Beyoncé, Elle Magazine 2016: http://www.elle.com/fashion/a35286/beyonce-elle-cover-photos/