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The Pursuit of Happiness

I told you I’d catch up. I told you I’d get there in the end. My parents always said that their three daughters were just taking the ‘scenic route’, ‘the long way around in life’.

But then I did it. I finally got what I’d been craving, what I’d been working towards and dreaming about for years. I got the dream job. And with the career, came security and a few quid in my back pocket. A normal life. Finally. Home at the weekend to see the folks and meet up with the home crowd to hash it out, vent about work, boys, life, etc. over drinks. Then back up to the big smoke on Sunday night for another week in the office.

I finally did it. Accomplished what I thought I wanted. I was officially settled. And I was comfortable…

For about ten minutes. That’s all it lasted. And then my mind began to whizz again.

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The question kept cropping up in my mind’s eye. Again and again it would float to the surface, that most deflating and demoralizing question… is this it? Is this it for the rest of my life?

I wasn’t unhappy. Aspects of this life, I loved.

But for the first time in my life I did not have an end point to aim for, to keep me motivated, to make me enjoy the inevitable lows and the hard times. This could technically continue indefinitely. This could be it. For the rest of my life.

And I wasn’t ready. I still wasn’t ready. Even though everyone around me seemed ready. I, to my utter dismay, was not.

So I did something reckless once again. I decided to hand in my notice and do a ski season. The thing that most people commit to in their early twenties, on their gap year after university or just after, in that brief lapse of time before entering adulthood. At 27, had my moment passed?

But I have learned in recent times that if you care a little less about what people think of you then you are free to make up your own rules. So for the umpteenth time in my life, I threw caution to the wind and took a gamble. I applied to work as a chalet host in the French Alps. I informed work that I was running away and I packed my life into a 20kg duffel bag to join the hoards of youthful, party-mad seasonnaires boarding a plane to the mountains.

What ensued was weeks of highs and lows, day time siestas, way too many fresh baguettes and pastries devoured, a few extra layers of fat to line my stomach and thighs, drama, a lot of drama, sleeping on couches, chef’s with broken arms, passive-aggressive comments, belly-aching laughs, a new best friend, miles and miles of piste, howling at the moon, dancing under the stars, legs dangling off of chair lifts, pushing through fear, climbing mountains, countless perfect sunrises and sunsets, embracing the thrill of speed and the biggest surprise of them all; meeting a beard toting, van owning, free-thinking, adventure-loving vagabond to share my world with.

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The season now draws to a close. The prospect of returning to reality looms once more. Yet the ride continues. A new adventure presents itself daily. The highs are high and the lows are low. Every week a new challenge to bask in; the first black slope, the first visit to the ski park, the first off-piste run, the first time using ice axes, ski touring sessions, sunrise hikes to the summit…

All welcoming the return of fear back into my world. A feeling that at times I despise. It makes me feel weak and inferior. But a tiny part of my brain revels in, craves it and seeks it out. Fear is all consuming. You tune out everything around you. You become hyper-aware of your own body, your own mortality, your chest rising and falling as your lungs fills with oxygen. Your palms slightly sweaty, the feeling of your teeth as they brush against your lips. One more deep breath, one swallow, one last thought before you close your eyes for a beat, everything slows down and then over the edge you drop….

Into blissful oblivion.

Every week I up the stakes a little more. I push myself to find that thrill, that feeling once more.

At 27, you would think you would know yourself pretty well. Yet, I am still learning, still discovering who I am. I now know, categorically, that my happiness lies outside the confines of office walls. I have discovered the lure of the mountains and I may never return. It has taken me a long time to learn, that for me, lifestyle trumps job.

What is next… who knows! The only thing that I am certain of is that I’m not yet ready to return to so-called ‘real life’. It’s not the life for me. I am content, at peace, at long last. The feeling is no doubt finite, it is inevitable that it will come and go in waves throughout my life. But at this moment in time, I am right where I’m supposed to be.

I am happy.

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Why I Run…

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Sometimes, not often, but sometimes, I feel the most awful pain in the pit of my stomach. It builds up my throat and thrums in my ears. My head fills with fog, my brow furrows and I find it hard to breathe.

Sometimes, not often, but sometimes, the anxiety in my body builds up to such a point that the centre no longer holds. It feels like I’m a vessel filled with liquid that has reached its capacity. And when I try to move, the liquid sloshes over the side. The tap won’t turn off and it flows and flows over the brim.

Sometimes, not often, but sometimes, the tears tip over the ledges of my eyes and leak down my face. Sometimes it’s so unexpected I cannot even trace where it came from. I cannot fathom its cause.

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We criticize, we criticize, we criticize. We look in the mirror and we tear ourselves apart. We look at others and we tear them apart. We should be marvelling at ourselves and each other, celebrating. Yet, too often I look down at my body and pinpoint all of its flaws, one by one. My scars, the size of my thighs, my nose, my height … how often have I looked at myself and thought, ‘wow, I am incredible?’

The answer is never. Not once.

But look at what my body can do. It has taken me around the world, up mountains, into lakes. It never fails me. Every blemish is a battle wound that tells the story of who I am.

Yet sometimes, I forget it…

Sometimes, not often but sometimes worry drowns me. Fear consumes me. That I’ll make the wrong decision. That people won’t like me. That I won’t be good enough. That I’m too weak, too stupid, too ugly. That I won’t get another chance, another job, another love.

I fret the small stuff and I fret the big stuff; climate change, poverty, human rights, the direction this world is heading in… that I’m not doing enough to help. I’m never doing enough to help.

And sometimes, not often, but sometimes all of that accumulates and my mood spirals downwards.

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To cope, I run, or I bike, or I hike, or I throw myself off a cliff (recreationally!) into open water… so that for a few blissful moments, time stops and I can breathe again.

For a few blissful moments my head is not clouded with worry or anxiety.

I am free from the soul-destroying grip of my phone.

I am at peace.

Perhaps it’s the beauty of the sunset, the colours in the sky, a knowing smile from a fellow runner as I pass them by, the realisation of pure isolation, the laboured panting of my breath, the sweat dripping down my forehead or the frigid wild Atlantic swell hitting my skin… it’s always a moment like that, that makes it all go away.

That perfect feeling when you close your eyes briefly and you are totally free.

It only lasts a second.

But that is all it takes.

To remember.

To be reminded.

That this world really is a beautiful place.

And I’m lucky to be in it.

And perhaps that I should stay a little longer.

And just do my best.

Try my hardest.

And see what this world has in store for me.

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Documentary: Keepers

This is a short documentary I made this year where I interviewed psychiatric nurses who used to work in the old Irish asylums. I have a unique perspective on this, growing up with two parents for nurses, four nursing aunts and two nursing uncles… all except two who worked in St. Senan’s psychiatric hospital.

Keepers