Thursday, 31 May 2012

The apologies of an exhausted girl

This is just a brief note to explain why I haven't posted in a while... and why I may not be doing many posts for another while.

I decided for the fun of it to take part in Camp NaNoWriMo this June. The link is here if you would like more info, but basically the idea is you attempt to write a 50,000 word first draft of a novel - in thirty days. I know I'm going to be all into it for about five days and then will probably wind up quitting, but I want to at least give it a shot. You don't get anything in life without trying, after all.

I have been up to my eyeballs in work, what with planning the novel and also cramming intensely for my summer exams. I would imagine that the posts will continue to be a little thin on the ground, as writing almost 2000 words a day is definitely going to wear me out.

So, basically, just bear with me for a bit. I'll post when I can, and things will be back to normal soon enough.

Friday, 18 May 2012

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Too odd to not be true

I went on holidays to Rome last summer with my family. We had a wonderful time, seeing many of the impressive churches and artwork the city has to offer. However, one church in particular has remained in my mind, for its startling and chilling display.

Image from an old National Geographic special
The church of Santa Maria Della Concezione is known for its crypt which contains mosaics and sculptures made from, well, bodies, to put it bluntly. The crypt contains the bones and remains of over 4000 Capuchin friars buried between 1500 and 1870. Skulls line the walls, and ribs, vertebrae and other osseus matter have been used to create every conceivable design or pattern.

These are postcards I bought there, as cameras weren't permitted

Walking through the crypt was an incredibly surreal, disturbing experience. To this day I don't really know whether I actually liked it. It was certainly thought-provoking, leading me to mull over life and death for quite some time. It's truly an oddity, though. Sometimes I'm glad that places like this exist at least once, just to remind us that the world can sometimes be more interesting than we believe.

Mares of the Night Variety

Image from
I couldn't get to sleep last night.

Everything kept echoing around my head, you know? Like, I'd had an Irish test earlier on and I kept remembering all the phrases, and I was really nervous about a choir competition we attended today, and I'm worried I won't have anything to do over the summer and I'll just spend twelve weeks in my room again.

Sometimes everything builds up inside my mind and rushes round and round, so that I can't give anything my full attention. I hate it when this happens. My brain feels like barbed wire, and it hurts to focus. I toss and turn in distraction, hoping everything will just disappear, and leave me be. This never happens, of course.

So lately I've tried some new tactics. I am attempting to just focus on my breathing, to relax and think of nothing other than each slow inhale and exhale. I don't really know if that could be called meditation, but it is certainly calming. It feels good to forget everything for a couple of moments.

Keeping my room tidy has helped as well, I think. Now my mind is no longer filled with the guilty knowledge that I really ought to pick up my clothes and books. It's one less thing to worry about, when my life sometimes seems filled with nothing but.

image by dorina dubceac
I also find it beneficial to put my worries into perspective. It's true that I'm something of a perfectionist, and I constantly fret about past mistakes, beating myself up over the things I should or shouldn't have done. So, sometimes it helps to ask myself three questions:

  1. Did this mistake happen recently?
  2. Does it still affect me?
  3. Can I do anything about it?
Nearly always, the answer to these three questions is no, and this means that I needn't bother about it any longer. I take my advice from the turtle in Finding Nemo, who wisely stated "Don't worry about the things you can change, and don't worry about the things you can't". Sometimes I just need to remember that life doesn't have to be as complicated as I make it out to be. Once I realise this, I can sleep easily and peacefully the whole night long. 

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Obsession #3 - Exercise

This is one obsession which I definitely do not regret.

Having gained a substantial amount of weight during my bout of studying, I spent my summer holidays feeling dumpy, unfit and unhappy. I knew that I had gone above a healthy weight, but I was so unfit that I couldn't motivate myself to do any hard exercise. I'd go for a twenty minute walk and be gasping by the end of it, and I wasn't able to keep up with my siblings and cousins when they came around. The lowest point came when I attempted to pull on a wetsuit at the beach. In full view of my family. With disastrous consequences.

Image from
I realised that something had to change. You see, I had managed to fool myself into believing that my weight wasn't an issue, that it was normal. I constantly reassured myself with the thought that people in magazines were too skinny, and that the discontentment I felt about my body was in fact due to comparing myself to these unrealistic ideals. I forgot, though, that it is equally unhealthy to weigh in at either end of the scale. Eventually I had to face up to the fact that if I didn't deal with the issues I had with comfort eating and sedentariness, I would end up stuck in a rut, from which it would be very difficult to escape.

At first, I started small. I began to walk more regularly, pushing myself to get further, and enjoying the flushed happiness I would get at the end. I started to take part in more school activities, and I bought an ABBA aerobics video at the €2 shop in town. My comfort eating went down quite naturally, as the stress of exams were over and I was beginning to make new friends who I actually liked to spend time with, instead of my previous frenemies. I dropped a bit of weight without much effort, and it was a real relief to fit into my old clothes once again. Already I felt more happy and healthy than I had in a long while.

My biggest push, however, came when I decided to join a musical theatre group for their Easter cabaret show. I originally assumed it would be a fun, easy way to pass the time, learning songs and making friends. Was I in for a shock! I had unwittingly signed myself up for an intense dancing extravaganza of Fame proportions. There were four hour dance rehearsals three times a week, and after each one I flopped dizzily down the stairs, and fell asleep as soon as I got home.

Image from Dance Theatre Ireland
Being Christian, I also put myself on a strict Lenten fast that year too. I don't believe in dieting, but I cut away any junk food or between meal snacks, and began to ask myself for the first time if I was actually hungry for food, or if I was just bored or moody.

Little by little, my dancing became less of  "elephant among swans", and although I was no Billy Elliott, I surprised myself by actually mastering the steps, and persevering no matter how much my joints ached. My relatives noticed my weight loss before I did, after they commented on it, I went home, examined myself carefully in the mirror, and realised that I was actually truly happy with what I saw.

After the performances, I continued to exercise, and still do. I go hill-walking, jog occasionally with my friends, and have moved on to some more advanced workout videos like Jillian Michael's 30 Day Shred. The experience was positive for me in many ways: I took control of my body and my health, and I also truly began to appreciate the way I look. I realise now that the work it must take to look like a model or a film-star is an effort I never plan to put in! I am grateful for what I have - my health, my shape, and my newfound happiness.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

"A dream doesn't become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work." Colin Powell

I have this friend, who is an astoundingly driven person. She runs religiously every day after school, she is an awesome public speaker and she pours so much effort into everything she does. My friend is an inspiration.

So I was surprised a few months ago when I realised that over the few preceding weeks I had been subconsciously distancing myself from her. I had been mentally finding fault with little things she did, acting cooler towards her, and finding excuses not to be around her. I hadn't actively bitched about her or been mean or anything, and in fact I had hardly noticed the few little things I did. But the fact remained that I had suddenly tired of my wonderful friend, who has never shown me anything other than care and kindness.

I couldn't understand why. She hadn't done anything wrong, she had been her usual amazing self all along. It puzzled me for ages, trying to solve the mystery of why I didn't like her as much as I used to. However, when I read this article, everything clicked into place: 

My friend had disproved "The Dream".

You all know what "The Dream" is, right? All those advertisements and articles that claim they can instantly transform you into a better, more beautiful person, with no work on your part. The banners that come up along websites saying "Lose 50 lbs in 5 weeks!" or something equally misleading. The scary fact is that, unknowingly, most of us contribute to the dream.

Picture from
Don't believe me? Think about it. Have you ever told a classmate that you hadn't studied for a test, when in fact you had spent the whole weekend doing nothing but? Have you ever spent ages counting calories and working out, only to tell an admiring friend that the weight had just "dropped off"? For some reason, we refuse to shatter the myth that everything we achieve is effortless, easy. Perfection is simple, we tell each other. The dream gives us hope, but it also holds us back. Too often, we buy into it, and don't work towards our goals. Sadly, my friends, that attitude delivers a big fat nothing.

My friend never makes a secret of the effort she puts into her tasks. She doesn't boast about how hard she works, but all the same, we constantly see her doggedly going about achieving the goals she sets for herself. "Good things come to those who wait, but better things come to those who work for it", that's her mantra. And that's what made me resent her.

Why do we feel we need the dream? Why did I grudge the one person who gently pointed out the truth?  To make things happen, you need to Make Things Happen. You need to do some good, solid, hard work. I patched things up with my friend, and now it's time for us all to wake up. Forget instant gratification. Forget miracle cures.

Forget the dream.

(Here's an inspiring example of the wonders achieved by hard work. Watch it, then begin yourself!)

My Life's Obsessions #2

I am a fairly easy convert to any ideology that doesn't involve weird blood sacrifices or chanting. I'm a fickle follower, flitting quickly between my beliefs and goals. The odd thing is, I always feel completely serious about them for the first few weeks or months. But I inevitably lose interest at some stage, no matter how sure I was that it was the only way of life I could follow. It's a sad truth, but I am living Mason Cooley's statement that the only cure for obsession is to "get another one".
To prove my point, and to attempt to prevent others from following my slippery slope, I'm posting a (long) list of my teenage fixations, in chronological order. Proceed with caution.

Obsession #2 - Study
After I gave up on the dream of popularity, I needed something else to focus on. With big exams coming up, I threw myself into revision, learning every little detail of all my subjects by heart.
Picture from Study Prof

I worked incredibly hard. I studied on the bus coming into school every morning, in the classroom before school and at lunchtime, and yet more in the evening. I did no extra-curricular activities whatsoever, gave up on reading books and watching tv, and spent every waking moment tackling the mound of schoolbooks and notes and handouts.

I was so tired. All the time. I had this dull constant ache echoing around my temples, like the excess knowledge was trying to find a way to squeeze back out of my head. My comfort eating reached an all-time high, as I grabbed whatever sugary things I could to keep me awake long enough to finish this chapter, or that summary.

The subjects became the bane of my very existence. I hated everything about them. Even the ones I liked, such as Art and English, became targets of my bitter, tearful curses. It seemed like no matter how much work I got through each day, the list of things to revise continued to increase. I could see no benefit to knowledge I was obtaining any more - it just seemed like a cruel, impossible task that I had to fulfil. The exam week was a blur of feverish, last-minute cramming sessions, panic attacks and stomach cramps. When I was done, I was drained; a wreck; the weak exhausted residue of my former self. I couldn't remember how to relax. That summer I ended up mostly lying in my room, staring out of the window or catching up on lost reading. My schoolbooks were shredded, obviously.
Mind Map from

It worked in the end, of course. When all you do is study, your results are bound to be stellar, and mine certainly were. Which was lucky, because at that stage the grades were all I had. Having dropped out of the group I mentioned in the last post, I was on my own. I was more than two stone overweight, unfit, unsociable, unhappy. I was a girl clutching at the straw of an exam which in the end, really didn't count towards anything.

Over the next school year - TY, I gradually pulled myself out of the obsession. Since grades don't matter in Transition Year, I had time to participate, make friends, and finally relax. Even now, when exams are beginning to matter once again, I finally have some perspective. Some of the skills I learned during my study obsession still help me - mnemonics fix information in your brain astonishingly quickly, and MindMaps will always be beautiful, if not particularly effective for me. Now though, I realise it's all right not to come first. I simply do what I have to to get the job done, and use the rest of my time to read, write, relax - and breathe.