Me and Mark – Cabin Fever Podcast for BBC Ouch

Hey! How are doing during this GLOBAL PANDEMIC?

I’m alright. You can find out more in the BBC Ouch Cabin Fever podcast with me and Mark Brown, where we talk the impact of Covid-19 on mental health, lost bras, panic attacks, zombies, interminable Zoom calls and the radical concept of kindness.

How #TheGoodPlace Is Helping Me Face My Fear of Death

Death! I talk about it a lot, don’t I?

In my defense, there’s been a lot of it about. My last but one entry talked about two peoples’ deaths – David and Lyra. Two different people with two different – and two violent – deaths.

So forgive me, it’s been on my mind. It’s always on my mind, really. I’ve talked at length in this blog about my death anxiety – thanatophobia for the Greeks out there – and its vampiric impact on my life. I’ve been in therapy for it before, but it was the wham-bam-thank-you-mam CBT, which did nothing to address the elephant in the room. Or, in Phillip Larkin-speak, the wardrobe.

The elephant is trauma. It’s terror. It’s checking for breath with a mirror when you’re 6. It’s shameful grief, collective grief, lost grief and grieving. It’s feeling it is shameful to grieve. It’s trying to understand why I am the one who wakes up screaming, and not my husband. He has watched countless people die, but he’s not afraid. (He’s not a serial killer – he was a carer for 8 years).

The Grieflings

I started therapy (again) a few weeks ago. This therapist is of the psychoanalytic variety, so some of it so amorphous it’s hard to get a grip on what it is actually is, and what we’re talking about. I went, ostensibly, for my anxiety. My anxiety – again, which I’ve written about at length here if you want to hear more – can occasionally be so incapacitating I struggle to cross a road. Far from impulsivity, my primary problem, for some years now, has been indecision.

When I sat down in front of the therapist – the kind of slim, green jumper wearing kind of one – I decided I was going to talk about death. Because I have come to realise that it is the genesis of my anxiety, all of it.

I am sometimes so afraid of crossing the road because I’m afraid a car I will hit me. I am sometimes so afraid of meeting new people and making a friend because they will die (ha, I mean, this is valid, let’s be honest now). I am afraid of happiness because it will end – I am afraid of all endings. I am afraid of saying something stupid in front of someone or to someone because I am afraid it will harm them. I have felt unsafe my whole life and I need to be safe and to keep people safe. Basically, here’s that big

D again.

I can’t actually remember the first session now, except that I cried for around 4 hours afterwards. I talked through some of the losses in my life. Throughout my life, it has been a procession of violent ends. Vicky, who killed herself, she was 16. My dad, of alcoholic liver failure, when he was 47. Brendan, who died of an overdose when he was 32. David, suicide, when he was 40. Lyra, murder, she was 29.

These losses are complicated and different from each other. Anyone could understand my grief at my dad’s death. But they’d have understood it a lot more if he’d died of cancer and had been a smiling Werthers Original type dad, and not someone who died how he died, and had lived how he lived. The head tilt, “At least he’s not suffering anymore” is coded, “At least you’re not suffering anymore”. But we were, just differently. In the same shame we lived with while he was alive – your drunk dad – there was shame when he died, too. How can you let someone you love so much die like that?

Lyra and I were not best friends. She is so widely loved and adored I have felt another sense of shame around my grief for her. I have felt I do not deserve to grieve and that my feelings are stupid. I don’t grieve for her or know her as people close to her did and do. My feelings are tied up a bit in the crushing sense of regret – that I pushed her away when she was being kind to me and that I wasn’t kind enough in return. I was no loss- she had so many people to love and be loved by – but I wish I hadn’t allowed my own grief in 2018 shut me down to our friendship, and I am trying so hard not to let my own grief shut me down again. It’s tied up too in just sheer anger and rage on her behalf, that she was taken as she was. It’s tied up in fear of the future. She was one of my biggest champions moving back to Belfast – telling me, you will be happy, you will have a career, it won’t be like it was back then, things are different. And then she dies, and how.

But they are my feelings – I can’t deny that they are. They may be wrapped up in the other unresolved grief, in the other unfair, horrible, violent and just not fucking right deaths of people who had so much more to give and who deserved so much better. But they are still feelings that have left me howling on my bed in the foetal position, and now in therapy, trying to make some sense of them.

So I’ve been trying to talk a bit about them. The shameful grief of my dad’s life and death. The unseen grief of David with no place to go but a scarf I wear and a voice in my head. The formative grief of a beautiful 16 year old friend ending her life, and the trudge through mud almost 20 years later to a tree you vividly remember. The collective grief and rage of Lyra – rightly so – but everywhere, hard to escape from, knowing your own tiny speckness in it all, but it still lays you out crying and not knowing who or what to turn to.

I think this is why I am so afraid and Robert isn’t. He saw people feeling ready. My experiences of death have been people who are not. Who shouldn’t have died. This does not make me special. I am not unusual – lots of people have experienced lots of losses, and of people closer, in ways much worse. But I can’t picture another experience of death. I can’t form another image in my head that isn’t the face of people I have loved not being ready. And I’m so afraid for myself and the people I love because that idea is agony to me.

Whenever you’re ready

So, what’s this got to do with the Good Place? Are you just tagging your post this for the clicks?

No! Well, a wee bit, yes.

My second session was on a Friday morning. I love the Good Place. It’s something I watch with Robert, but I knew what was coming from the episode title. So before I went to my session, and without telling him, I watched it by myself. I knew I’d have a possibly unpredictable reaction to it and I wanted to be alone with it to process it a little. Which was just as well as I sobbed for about 2 hours and then had a panic attack for another.

How is that helping me cope with my fear of death?

Because I was still crying when I got to my therapy session. I didn’t stop crying all the way there, and I didn’t stop when I was there. I didn’t apologise and I didn’t try not to cry. I just kept at it. Had a cry, in public, in front of someone else.

How are you so certain?

The therapist asked me this when I told him what I thought happens when we die (nothing, basically). I’m not certain, I can’t be, nobody can be. But I’m as certain as I can be. And I think this certainty of one thing or the other is shaped by our experiences of death. If someone has a, “good death”, you could well imagine they are free and their soul has gone somewhere. Likewise, you could well imagine that is the end because they change so much in that moment- but either of those things, you can imagine and the imagery isn’t coming from fear.

I said I don’t find debating the what ifs comforting or useful. So maybe then what is the point of this therapy?

I still need comfort. I still need a way to navigate these feelings so that I can live my life. I have so many regrets and my absolute greatest will be that I wasted my life worrying about death. Because that wardrobe’s going to crash right onto my head one day.

“Picture a wave”…

I’d never heard of or read about Buddhist conceptions of death, beyond reincarnation. I am drawn towards the finite perceptions. I am drawn, generally, towards the topic, though also repelled by it. I can’t, for example, really tolerate graveyards. I hate zombie things, and I have a bit of a discomfort around, “old” things. But I like Camus and existentialism. It terrifies the shit out of me, but not in that cold, creeping way a graveyard does.

Other things I’ve read posit that we all become energy and give back to the world when we die. Through natural processes, through, “ripplings” as Irvin D Yalom described, through what we leave behind in art, love, music. So a sort of reincarnation, really.

There is one place I always find comfort, and that’s by the sea. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s something as elemental as the song of the waves. Whenever I’m feeling low or untethered, I am drawn towards it. Which maybe is why Chidi’s speech above gave me more comfort than I can express. It is an idea of death I’m okay with, and one I can intellectually reason with. It’s an oneness and going back to where you belong – not away from, not leaving. It’s a concept and one explored in public and collectively that helps me to find a language to express and explore it.

Love and grief

 It seems to me, that if we love, we grieve. That’s the deal. That’s the pact. Grief and love are forever intertwined. Grief is the terrible reminder of the depths of our love and, like love, grief is non-negotiable. There is a vastness to grief that overwhelms our minuscule selves. We are tiny, trembling clusters of atoms subsumed within grief’s awesome presence. It occupies the core of our being and extends through our fingers to the limits of the universe. Within that whirling gyre all manner of madnesses exist; ghosts and spirits and dream visitations, and everything else that we, in our anguish, will into existence. These are precious gifts that are as valid and as real as we need them to be. They are the spirit guides that lead us out of the darkness.

Nick Cave

It occurred to me in this session that I had stopped remembering the people I loved or cared about who had died. I had stopped recalling their faces (voices, harder). When I get too emotional or feel overwhelming feelings, I shut down. For all my splurging on here over the past decade, and on social media in the same, I am a guarded person emotionally in real life. I geyser out occasionally, then when overheated, shut down. Sometimes for an evening, sometimes for months. Sometimes it’s feelings that feel so private and personal and sharing them makes them someone elses’. But they’re mine.

I have been trying to forget. I have been dishonouring them by not allowing their ripplings to ripple. How do I remember?

Anyway. Here are some unformed thoughts on this unformed therapy and unformed focus. Will it help? I don’t know. At least I’m thinking about this stuff without my shut down switch going off. That’s progress, I guess.

Dear Me – A Letter to my mental teenage self

Dear me,

I’m not sure when you’re reading this letter. When would it have been the most helpful for you to find, tucked under your pillow, like a pound coin for a tooth? The magic that happens when you’re asleep. How would you feel to wake up and find this, unfolding in front of your swimming eyes, still half in dream?

It was often hard to wake up. It was often harder to sleep. Since you could remember, you were in dread of the downstairs, the muffled monsters of night-time arguments. The mornings not any better, the alarm clock psst of your dad opening a can of beer in bed, and the day begins. These are the sounds that have echoed down the corridors of your years.

Nowhere ever really felt safe for you then. I remember it all. You couldn’t even live in your own body. You starved it and purged it and hurt it. The more you hurt it, the more people noticed, and the more you hated it. The more you hated it, the more you were told, “Stop seeking attention. Stop being a drama queen”. The more you were told it, the more you believed it.

I wonder if you could have read this when you were 15. You were so sad. You departed for almost a year. You wore a yellow fleece your mum bought you. She called the fuzzy duck fleece. It clung to you for every sallow day for months on end. The effort of a bath was too great. You missed nearly all your GCSE year and had to drop two subjects. They stopped marking us as late; they were just glad on the odd days we still showed up. When you put your coat on, you didn’t take it off again. You couldn’t look into a mirror, you couldn’t separate what was real and what wasn’t, you could barely lift a hair brush.

And then one day we rose; and frenzied months followed. You kept your mum awake at night with your talking, you climbed out the window and wandered the nights. Years followed of rising and falling; kicked out of school because they thought you were too ill to continue, leaving the country, starting again, and again.

I would hope you would keep this in your pocket. You lost a lot along the way, of all the starting-overs. House moves got smaller and smaller. The world did, too. From your house to the doctors and back again. The hospital waiting room, the crisis team. The pill bottle and the water, and the long, implaccable sleep of medication. I remember how you felt, that this was forever, but it wasn’t.

I’m sorry to say though that you’re mental. We’ve heard it a lot! In a lot of different ways. From a lot of different people. In a lot of different words. Bipolar disorder, self harm, body dysmorphic disorder, borderline personality disorder, anxiety disorder. All the disorder of being mental, coming down to one neat thing; pain. Just pain! I know it’s crap. I know you’ve been in a lot of pain. I know you feel bad still that you just wished for silence in the night as a child, and when the silence came, the echoes haunted you afterwards.

People don’t care. Wait! Don’t crumple this up. I know what it’s like to have our memories locked in someone else’s head. I know all those words for that neat little thing means we’ve acted in ways that make us want to dissolve, have led us to places we can’t return from, the places people we loved have gone to and not come back from.

Don’t follow. People are more forgiving, more open, and thankfully more forgetful that you think they are right now. It is not the end of the world. None of it is. None of it ever was. Your world will go on. The more it doesn’t end, the more you will feel able to go on, too. The worst happened. It happens again and again and I promise, you’re going to be okay. You don’t have to keep running every time you rise and fall.

I wish you’d known that one day you’d feel sympathy, affection for your hated skin. That your body would do amazing things. That you’d become a mum and grow a person, and grow your heart, and fall in love. That you would rise and fall for always, but not the mountain and the cliff; you are still, a bottle bobbing gently up and down over the widest sea. That things you did and said and couldn’t forget, or be forgotten, you forgot, and were forgotten.

I’m sorry that there’s so much grief in the years to come. You know there will be. There is for everyone. You’re going to feel like it will extinguish you each time. I know it doesn’t.

You’re going to find a home. You’re going to find a place and space without that itch, without the waiting for the next disaster ready to run. You’re going to unpack a bag and keep it that way. You’re going to be able to pick up a book again one day and read it. I remember that desolation when you realised being ill and being medicated had taken that away from you. You’ll be a bit slow – but you’ll get there.

You’re not going to feel ashamed anymore. You’re going to tell people what happened to you. And they are mostly going to listen. What happened to you happened to me. It’s happened to other people. You are not as alone as you feel you are. We were never as alone as we felt we were. In the unsleeping nights, you are going to find comfort in this. In the years to come, you’re going to be able to nap again. Sometimes, strangulating panic is going to jolt you awake. But it comes and goes. That’s ok.

Don’t give up. Don’t let the words define who you are – it is not all of you, even though it feels like it sometimes. It will, you know, but that’s okay too. You need to go through that, and own them, inhabit those words that you’ll hear and see written down about you, explore them, unpack them. That’s the way you’re going to do it.

You are not going to be standing in the big clean glittery recovery kitchen where you’re going to prepare wholesome whole foods and drink nothing but green tea. You are never going to be slim. You are going to drink so much Coke it stains your teeth and your kitchen cupboards will be overflowing with bags and debris and all the normal things of a normal life that you never thought you would live to see.

Fold me up now and remember, keep me safe. In the nights when the panic comes, take me out and read again. There is light coming through the window to see by; always.

Is it time to end The Secret Life blog?

I haven’t really been posting here, for a number of reasons.

One is that social media has taken over slightly – discussions are had more in real time than in the reflection of blogs and comments.

Another is that, in terms of my own mental health, there’s nothing really to report. I remain the same anxious bundle of energy that I always have been.  Parenting with my history – well, that’s something I’d like to discuss, but I feel like I’ve sort of backed this blog into a very specific corner that my life and thoughts – my normal, every day life and thoughts on other topics- don’t really fit into it. Nor does any sort of creative writing.

For all I’ve shared here over the past OH MY BLOODY GOD 12 YEARS, I haven’t shared much about my day to day life. Because it’s not very interesting! Nor do I share my thoughts on many other topics.

My 2 most recent posts have been me trying to reconcile and understand grief and missing Lyra and David, which don’t really fit into this blog’s topic.  I actually got some shit for my post about David on my blog’s Facebook page which led to me pulling it down for a while. But I can’t write this stuff out there then where to?

Part of my reluctance to just quietly put this blog into mothballs is that it has been my home on the internet for over a decade, and I don’t want to start again!

So, to whoever is reading, I ask you:



It won’t always be like this. It’s going to get better.

It’s nearly 2am here and I can’t sleep even though I’ve got to get up and cycle my son to school tomorrow, before going to work. So I thought I’d come here and write something for the first time since October because my head is chainsawing again.

The last time I wrote here was when David died – well, two months after he died as it had taken me that long to find any words about it and I still don’t think I really said anything, and this post will be the same.

When I found out he died, after I finished work, I had posted on Facebook, in that way you do because you don’t know what else to do. The first person to get in touch with me, and who checked on me in the days after, was my friend Lyra. I mentioned her two blog posts ago here. I had first got in touch with her on Twitter in 2017, when I had watched a dramatisation of her beautiful letter to her 14 year old self, struggling with her sexuality, the journey of acceptance and hope and love. Please watch it.

I contacted her because I couldn’t believe someone from Belfast had written it. I had never heard these thoughts being voiced so openly and so compassionately, personally, articulately, in this country which still doesn’t allow gay marriage.

She had lost 2 people to suicide in the previous year and knew how I was feeling. I went straight from work to a pub and drank on my own. I rebuffed her offer to meet up because I felt so hollowed out. But she stayed patiently on the other end telling me however I wanted to cope with this it was okay.

I remember feeling not feeling. My chest was concrete. I didn’t want kind words. I was small and inside and felt, “Don’t touch me here in this place. Don’t try to touch me down here”. I shrank away. After David died, I publicly avowed, I am going to open up more. Because what I regret are those missed meetings. Those missed words. Those missed relationships, and days, and conversations and laughter and love. I’m not going to do this anymore. I am going to open myself up to friendships and people and love.

I didn’t, of course. I stayed the stone. And all my last conversations with Lyra are those of me cancelling plans, not replying to messages.

You will have heard about her because her death has outraged Northern Ireland and the UK and broken hearts. Lyra McKee, 29, who was shot dead in Derry, doing her job, the day before Good Friday. Lyra McKee, investigative journalist, writer, activist, a laugh, a sweetheart, hopeful, helpful, kind, generous with her time, her love, laid to rest in Saint Anne’s Cathedral with hundreds of people there, (me included), from everywhere, from every community, from every background, from the Houses of Parliament and the Dail.

I had been following the riots on Twitter then gone to sleep because riots here are nothing new. I woke up to a text from my sister saying she was sorry. Her murderers are still out there. Her sister has offered to meet them to turn themselves in. It is mindbendingly surreal that in 2019, a journalist, and our friend, was shot dead on the streets of Derry in the night by the IRA. She hadn’t long lived there. She had moved there to live with the love of her life. It was supposed to be the beginning and not the end.

She was murdered and I can’t get my head around that still. We weren’t close friends, but she was incredibly kind to me and I thought the world of her. She listened and counselled me through all my fears about moving back here (which feel well founded now to be honest. I can’t get my head around this still), my worries about raising Oisín here, the bad memories I have of this place, and the first night out in Belfast I had when I did come back was with her, pissed, wandering through the closed city centre, feeling like it was all going to be okay after all. A large part of me feels stupid and angry at myself for feeling so lost and upset at her death and of being awake again at 2.30am with her on my mind. The loss is something I find hard to fathom. The heartbreak and the absolute utter waste of someone who was changing the world for the better, the unfairness. She had many close friends. People often bullshit when people die. Say how wonderful they are when really they’re saying how wonderful they are for putting up with them. But no-one is bullshitting about Lyra. She was that wonderful. No-one has a bad word to say about her because there is nothing bad to say. She was a tiny genius dynamo and I wanted to be her. She was universally loved and her close friends and family have been pouring the love into action and doing her memory and themselves proud.

Ellen made this video – please watch it.

Her friends and family have just completed a 3 day peace walk from Belfast to Derry.

She is everywhere. In Writers Square where I last saw her and stole her chips, across the road where I said goodbye.

This is going to peter out here because I wanted to write a beautiful rallying cry befitting of her and everything she stood for and everything she did and would do and which those who loved her are doing in her honour. I wanted to link you all to her work which you should read.

But I can’t get my thoughts straight and I can’t sleep again and I am thinking of you, missus.


Death, the digital distance, and David.

My friend David killed himself on the 13th of August. I found out when I was at work, in a room full of people I didn’t know, filming their stories of mental health hope and recovery, and David was dead, across the world, in a different time zone. I’d say it was ironic, but it was just horrible. I asked to take a few minutes and went into another room where I sat down, feeling as though I had been shot. Dizzy, numbing ear roaring hollowness. Then I went back to work and tried to hold it together.

I’m lucky I found out at all, as David lived in America (though he was a dashing Englishman and capitalised on that fact frequently), and living in America while you live in Ireland doesn’t give you a lot of mutual friends. But we had one, and she told me- I didn’t find out weeks later, and I am so grateful to her for that.

I’m not going to eulogise him here or talk about suicide (honestly fucking sick to death of suicide now). David existed within a constellation of complex relationships, of which I am further than Pluto so I don’t feel it’s my place. He was loved, fiercely, protectively, sometimes frustratingly, by many, many people, myself included. He was lovable and his death has shattered many people.

I’m not writing this to go, “Wahey, let’s make my friend’s death all about me!” but to try and make sense of something that I’m struggling with and that I don’t know how to make sense of otherwise than writing through it.

I met David on a Manics forum, back when I was 18 – 15 years ago. D was 25. We had intense friendship- I was a bit in love with him for a while, like so many of us were. But it was easy to be, with that letter-writing, literary, labouring to impress kind of friendship Manics fans like us build up, and also when you’re 18 and a bit of a dreamy immature dick. Also, David was very, very loveable. In the later years, as we both grew up, grew older, we grew closer, more honest with each other, an easier, gentler, genuine friendship and love. He didn’t feel far away. We video chatted, we messaged often, emailed, and then there was the immediacy of social media to keep up connected. I speak to most of my friends more online than I do in real life. He never felt far. I knew his friends’ names and faces, and their habits from what he shared with me privately, and what he shared publicly. I knew when he was in crisis because he told me, I knew where to look and who to call and I did (not enough). He was my friend and someone I would call a real friend and for a long time, a close one.

There must be so many of us out there who are struggling with the same thing as the world has changed; friendships online, and how to cope when your friend who you met online dies, how does anyone around you understand it?

How do you grieve for someone who wasn’t, “there” and who never was? There are no old haunts to visit or vigil, no day-to-day hole that burns. No passing the house, or gathering friends for reminiscing. How do you grieve for someone who is, to those around you, a phantom? Luckily, my husband and my family all met David and he kept in touch with them all. He felt part of my world. But he wasn’t, not in the way Robert is, not in the way the people I see every day are, not in the way he was to people who were around him every day and shared his life with him. There’s just an Oriels jersey to wear to bed. There is no memory repository to dig through for comfort; just 3 days and thousands of messages and emails and voice messages to rake through in agony, because there’s the last ones, and there are no more. And there the ones you didn’t answer, the question marks left in the air. Nothing left but just wish, wish, wish.

How you miss someone who wasn’t there, but who you can visualise with painful luminosity, whose face you can summon when you close your eyes as easily as you can your own, who you can feel in that warm spot on your cheek from where you finally laid your head on their (damp, haired) chest, one day in 2012?

What do you do when you don’t even have that virtual space to remember and to grieve with other people? David and I were estranged since last October; we fell out over things friends fall out over which I won’t go into. But unfriended on Facebook, so I couldn’t post on his wall, or share any memories, or comment on others or offer anyone any comfort and I had no idea what had been going on with him before he died. I had wanted a hundred times to get in touch, to say something. A day before he died I got a Snapchat notification that he was on it; I’d just started using it and thought, “I could take a silly picture and message him, keep it light, make him laugh and maybe we would talk again”. But I didn’t, I didn’t get back in touch, I didn’t know if he’d want to hear from me, I didn’t know how to explain, maybe I should have been gentler, maybe I should try to understand. I try not to think too much about other things. Wish wish wish.

Some people wouldn’t call it real grief, to grieve the phantom, but it feels real, but then you think how can I grieve a phantom, am I wrong for feeling this way? (I grieve who he was and who is lost to the world for ever, grieve because I knew his mind and grieve because I can imagine too clearly what may have been going through it). Am I being silly? Is this basically insulting to people who were actually there, every day, the real friends and loved ones? Why do I feel so sad? What do I do?

I don’t know. I started by going to his memorial.

I first met David when he surprised me by telling me he was coming to my wedding in 2012. Sometimes (gotta admit this eh) I had lied to people and said I had met him before because I was slightly embarrassed by the intensity of my feelings for him, having not met him yet. But it was then that I met him, crumpled, delighted, shy and exactly who he had always been to me, at arrivals in Heathrow airport. A huge hug, the strangest thing, that voice in my ear, really! I was overjoyed to have him there on my wedding day two days later (reading some of the messages we sent to each other during those days, breathless at being a bus ride away, I wish you were still here), he had been one of my most beloved and enduring friends and it meant everything to me, and I find this hard to write about. I said I wasn’t going to eulogise so I won’t. I wish we’d had more time, I was so preoccupied with getting married and getting drunk on my wedding day, I wish we’d seen each other in person again- despite many plans and schemes, we never did.


I wished I had still lived in London then. To have some sort of link back, to be sitting in the same airport making the return journey to him (this was not how I had ever visualised that). But I don’t anymore, so I told work I needed the time off, gathered together the $1000 for flights and got on a bus to Dublin. Took a flight and got hammered on the free red wine and tried to enjoy the novelty of tiny TVs on seats. Our mutual friend had kindly offered to pick me up and let me stay with her, and again, I can’t express how grateful I am for her and her family for this, when she was grieving too and trying to support others who were, at such a difficult time. I never would have had the courage to go if not for that, and coming out of the airport to a friendly face made the whole journey bearable.

She and her husband took me to some of his places; drove by where he lived, we went to a bar they’d often gone to together (I had heard of it, he had talked about it, had a few drinks, we all needed them that day), walked around his neighbourhood, went to one of his favourite pubs after the memorial.

I wanted to go to his funeral to say goodbye to him. I felt like, even though we had fallen out, it was the least I could do, and it was the last. It was for closure – as they are generally – but because I don’t have those physical spaces, those physical memories, I wanted to go to make him, and it, real to me again. His real spaces, and his physicalness, and to be around people whom he had known and loved, to put spaces to names and faces. To, and this is all part of the struggling where and how to grieve this, validate myself and my own feelings, too. To be there, really, like we all do.

I felt awkward as fuck. I wondered if I should be there (would he even have wanted me to be? I feel like, even though we’d fallen out, he would have done the same for me) Funerals and memorials are awkward anyway. They are surreal and odd (though this one was pretty celebratory in tone, story sharing, memories, still surreal).

It was standing room only (you silly fucker) and I wondered if should get up and offer my seat to someone. When I looked up, I started crying. Where do you even begin with these things? How do you make sense of it, any of it?

I said I wouldn’t eulogise, I’m trying not to. I don’t want to go through all the details of all of this, it’s not my place.

I have a few of his things which were there for anyone to take, a few things I need to send. His Holtzmann glasses (he was a cosplayer) live on with my son:

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Booyah! Oisín rocking D's Holtzmann specs.

A post shared by Seaneen Molloy (@ms_molly_vog) on

I went on BBC News recently to talk about young people and self harm (even though I am no longer young and no longer self harm) and wrapped David’s scarf around me (“like my own sweet shadow”)


warm day today…the sun on the unmown grass outside makes me sad as all this will soon be gone…thinking about ‘Concrete Island’, perhaps this is homesickness – my memories of boyhood summers are staring through the back passenger window of a car at the London orbital.

Anyway- after writing this, still no closer to making sense of anything, sorry. I love you still. Go hug people, or pick up the phone.

Has Belfast changed or have I changed? – Back “home” after 15 years

Apologies for the long silence. As alluded to in my last post, it’s been all go here.  We’ve moved country, I’ve moved jobs, and in the midst of it all I was flattened by an episode of ferocious (and probably to be expected) depression which has made it hard to write, and think. I’m starting to feel a little brighter now, so lassoing the thoughts before they float off and freeze in a cloud. Hello anyway!

Moving country. Not in any exciting, exotic sense where I’m now blogging on a balcony with a view over some bustling European piazza. I’ve moved back home – sort of – to Belfast.

I’ve written before about my feelings on my hometown, and wondering whether it was time to return.  I don’t believe there always should be a time to return; we can make our home wherever, without ever returning to the original.  It’s the kind of place that, for me, made for interesting stories but unhappy memories. (Incidentally, Derry Girls pretty much NAILS IT in terms of the more ridiculous – and heartbreaking- aspects of growing up in Northern Ireland).

London makes it extremely hard to make it your home unless you are extremely wealthy, which is ultimately why we have to leave. Supporting one family on my very modest indeed charity job income (and all the freelance work I can get too just to make it harder for myself) became impossible. We lived in a literally crumbling 2 bedroom house we were trapped in because we were on housing benefit and the fact that we were on housing benefit at all when I worked 2 jobs just felt so stupid and pointless.  Here, it’s merely just very difficult so slightly less soul destroying. Upgrade!

Robert’s from London, so it’s been hard for him to leave.  I feel like I’ve always had one foot out of it, and never felt entirely at home there.  Now I’ve left, of course I realise I was at home, because I lived there for 15 years and you’re always quantifying it on some phantom of childhood or that one night you had on a roof with people you never saw again.

It’s strange to be back. It doesn’t quite feel like back. Back is gone. I’ve become a weird hybrid of Norn-Irish/English, and it grieves me to admit it. I have all these insipid Englishisms which are utterly at odds with the Norn Irish straight talk- I say, “let’s have a chat” instead of, “we need to talk”, “bollocks” instead of, “ballix”, “privy” instead of, “toilet”, “perambulator” instead of “pram” etc. I have developed the English reticence with strangers and orienting myself is tricky.  People talk to you and it takes me a second to respond because I’m not used to being spoken to by human beings I don’t know. WHAT DO THEY WANT FROM ME?

In work, everyone leaves at 5pm. Dogs to feed, kids to pick up, and generally life to get to. People eat dinner at 5.30. I don’t know if that’s just my workplace, but it was unheard of in London, even in the charity sector, to rarely ever work past your hours.  I love this. People go to church and aren’t the facsimile lefty atheists I’m used to in the London charity sector.

It’s been almost three months now, and we can see that Oisin is starting to adjust. His spirited brrm-brrm bus journeys around the living room has ceased calling at Brixton and now stop at Rugby Road, Shaftesbury Avenue, City Centre… He says, “cave” and “eight” with that crater-trip in the middle, like a Norn Irish person does.  He says other things in the mannered English accent of his dad (a speech impediment potato in his mouth enunciating rubbing off on young minds and mouths).  He’s very impressed by the weather, lover of storms and rain and defier of parental screech from the sideline and mocker of elaborate aged sighing.


“Back”. It is strange. I left when I was 17, so I’ve never been an adult here.  I rarely ventured outside West Belfast (where I’m from) and the City Centre. I think I went to a party in East Belfast once, and remember being called, “Emma” in Sandy Row since my actual name may as well be Fenian McTaig. But a lot of the city, and the country, is still a mystery to me.  My mental map, my topography, is London.  My childhood is West Belfast, and coming back has been occasionally wrenching.  It’s not as though I’ve buried grief about the things that happened there -namely, losing my dad – but cruising past the hospital he did in a bus, the funeral parlour, your granny’s old house, no longer as memories or memorials to be honoured at Christmas but places again, part of your day and life- strange.

It’s strange coming back to somewhere you’d sermoned about authoritatively for years to people who weren’t from there, and confronting your own total ignorance about it.

I live in South Belfast which is the fairly, “gentrified” bit- not a deliberate choice but necessity in that I had 1 day to find somewhere to live and was staying with my friend of the Ormeau Road. It all happened very quickly. We had one last muted Christmas in London and then in January, we bundled into a rented car with Oisin and the cats and got a boat and then here we were to very little fanfare.


Bedroom window view.

It’s gentrified but still has a flute hall and union jacks everywhere that I’ve pretty much stopped noticing already. I’ve always hated union jacks- to me growing up they signified I was in a place I wasn’t welcome, and every sodding holiday in the UK would have them plastered all the shop, equally hated there.

Quick aside for people who don’t know what the fuck I’m on about; basically Belfast still has bits which lean towards being “Loyalist” (ie loyal to the UK, the Crown, all that) and Republican (ie not loyal to the Crown, want a united Ireland).  They’re the political terms- others are Unionist and Nationalist.  And there’s a lot of grey areas – I’m not an Irish nationalist but I am an Irish Republican, if that makes any sense.

What denotes you’re in a specific area is flags and murals. I am naturally more comfortable around Republican flags (tricolour mainly) and murals because I am from a Republican area, grew up with it, part of the scenery, so I don’t find them at all intimidating. I understand totally why someone who grew up in a Loyalist estate would.

I do find other flags a bit intimidating.  Here’s a “Seaneen Shits Herself Hierachy of Flegs”:

Union Jack

union jack

Not even a tummy rumbling, especially since the Union Jack renaissance which, even though it remains a resolutely political symbol in Northern Ireland, is more closely associated with various, “Great British…” TV shoes.

Ulster Banner


Probably wouldn’t shout my name out in this area, but again, no stomach stirrings.

Orange Order flag

2000px-Flag_of_the_Orange_Order.svgThere’s a flute hall around the corner, so this wouldn’t induce a squeaky fart as it would have done back in the day, but I wouldn’t go knocking on their door collecting for Trocaire.

UVF flag


Cramps and diarreah.

I’ve resisted posting murals and graffiti but this is an excellent blog full of them which also gives them their context. 

What’s changed though is, when I’m trying to orientate myself, friends are encouraging nuance around these things. I really wouldn’t have walked into a Loyalist area as a teenager- it’s why I don’t know much of Belfast. I’ve been quizzing my friends about different areas I’d never have ventured into- how have they changed? What’s going on there? From street to street the answer is different (it has taken me all this time to realise why people here refer to streets!) but much more different than it ever was.  I know I sound like an eejit with all my questions (“You’re from here!” But I’m not; I’m from here in 2003).

I left in 2003, which was 5 years after the Good Friday Agreement.  My abiding memories of the time are the pamphlet coming through our door and the, “Time for Peace, Time to Go” adverts on TV.

That’s just, well, celebrated isn’t the right word, but had its 20th anniversary.  Having been away for such a long time I don’t feel qualified to comment too much on the complexities of life since then, but there are some thoughtful pieces on the Good Friday Agreement here, here and here, and an event here.  And some pieces on how Brexit may entirely fuck it up and how the government licking the hole of the DUP almost certainly has, so well done there.

There’s much talk of Belfast having changed and certainly, it has.  It can be glib and simplistic to think that because we’ve got a Wagamama, because capitalism is flourishing here and hotels are popping up and people actually want to come here, it’s all well and good. We’re normal! Just like everywhere else! There’s craft beers! Costa! WE’RE BASICALLY LEEDS! We have tourists who come and write facile slogans on the “peace walls”! There are buses going through the Falls Road! Come Home was set here and didn’t reference the Troubles! (Did half expect the ‘Ra to turn up at the end and claim custody, though.  I hadn’t really appreciated the bravery of my English husband in full make up, fur coats and often a dress moving to Ballysillan when he was 18, in 2000. It was despite fierce protestations from his family which at the time I was scornful of.

And I have to say I want that to be the case sometimes, too. I like finding a fancy wee coffee shop and going, “Fuck me!” at the price and then not having any more fancy wee coffees ever again. And I like the democratising culture here, that it really does feel like it’s for everyone, and for everything, when in London, because of being poor, not being university educated, I felt so constantly on the outside and unworthy of it.  I can’t say if that’s changed, because cultural life was not what a 17 year old me indulged in while I lived here. I can say that if we were truly “just another place”, it would be a huge shame. Because Northern Ireland is different. It is morbid. It is mordant. It is silly and warm and curious and it fosters a different kind of culture.

Morbid. Another piece written by my friend Lyra, and something that has been affecting me more than I thought it would, describes the, “Ceasefire Babies” – my generation and after. Suicide since the end of the Troubles has now killed more people than the Troubles themselves.  The suicide rate in Northern Ireland is higher than anywhere else in the UK, and highest in my generation, the children reared in and born after the ceasefire in 1994, and living in the shadows of trauma. Trauma in every sense; their parents, disconnected, unheard, unhealed. The communities; closed shops, tout graffiti, broken windows. Economic, social, personal.

Northern Ireland is a tiny country and every week there’s another, “sudden death”, “tragic death”, “died unexpectedly”. All coded words for suicide. I hear more detailed stories off the pages. That bald, Northern Irish way of speaking. “Poor divil”. But the divil is ancient and forever, and these people are young, so young.

I understand why they’re coded words. Part of me doesn’t want to understand it. There are many initiatives and charities to support people, such as PIPs, but no government to implement any cohesive strategy for something that’s so complex.

It is striking and it does, on a selfish level, scare me and sadden me.  I know myself how indiscriminate mental illness is, but it’s not entirely true that suicide is. Suicide is less indiscriminate than mental illness.  Suicide kills more poor people and more marginalised people. It discriminates.

I worry about raising a child in a place where suicide is so prevalent, and so amorphous.  I always think campaigners are immune to suicide in a way- since y’know ending stigma and “reaching out” and “speaking out” apparently cures suicide, but an alarming amount of prominent campaigners for mental health here have died, and partly I would imagine because they’ve become campaigners due to losing someone close to them to suicide. And so it goes on. I don’t know to insulate and protect Oisin from it. I don’t know how anyone in Northern Ireland can insulate and protect the people we love from suicide. I remember my dad’s devastation when a friend of his killed themselves. I remember mine when mine did, she was only 16. I remember how offended I was the first time someone suggested I might have 1) got the fuck out and 2) had mental health issues due to things like falling out of bed at night when a bomb went off and living with the British army at your front door. If we can’t admit to ourselves that it fucked us up, what hope is there?

Intergenerational trauma aside, further trauma ripples.  I’m almost more worried about Oisin killing himself here than I am about the Troubles kicking off again. If the Troubles did we’d get the fuck out. But you can go as far away as space and if you want to die you will still want to.

So, strange. And I don’t want to end on such a note in this brain dump post, so here’s some lovely pictures too.






















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