Addiction and Children in Care

Irish people are addicts. Every Irish person I know (and, living in Ireland, I know quite a few!) is addicted to something: whether that’s coffee, sex, alcohol, nicotine, heroin, or something else entirely, practically every one of them has an addiction.


For years now, I have asked myself what is wrong with us – as a people – that we are all addicted to something. If I may be simplistic for a moment, addiction is a substitute for a lack of love.  Addicts pursue their addictions because they feel unloved and are trying to fill the internal crater that a lack of love leaves inside a person.


In Ireland, we don’t care about, or look after, our children. I’ve written about this before.  Am I the only one who sees a link between how we treat our children – as is evidenced by the recent report on the deaths of children in care – and the level of addiction in this country?



The Value of Work

Yesterday saw the ESRI make the unprecedented move of pulling off their website a report that had made headlines earlier in the day.  The report that the ESRI decided, on reflection, that they could not stand over, claimed that some people were better off on the dole than working.  Specifically, this report claimed, that 44% of families were better off being in receipt of social welfare payments and the ancillary benefits associated with those payments than going to work.


In the hours between this report coming to light and it being removed from the think-tank’s website, there was much air time given to it. People rang various radio programmes and declared that they were aware of people who refused to work because they were better off on social welfare payments. Interestingly, I didn’t hear one person say they had, or would, refuse to work because they would rather be on the dole.


You see, work is about more than the money you get at the end of the week. Work provides a sense of self-esteem. It gets you out of the house, provides opportunities for intellectual stimulation, conversation with peers, the possibility to form relationships with other people. Work gives you a sense of purpose, a sense of pride, a sense that you are doing something worthwhile. Being offered a job comes with a sense of achievement – the knowledge that you were the most suitable candidate for the job – that you don’t get on the dole.


Work helps you feel like you’re making a contribution to the society in which you live. There’s a lot to be said for that, as self-esteem is very important for mental health. Of course, the pay check at the end of the week or month is useful, too, but it’s not the only reason to go to work.



Mind Yourself

Like your physical health, your mental health is your own responsibility. You can choose to blame other people for everything that’s wrong in your life, but you can also take responsibility by looking for help when you need it. There are people and places you can go for help, but the first thing you need to do is admit that you need it in the first place.


I don’t say this glibly.  Looking for help – admitting you need it – can be a scary thing to do. For many of us, seeking help for a mental health issue is difficult. This is due, in part, to the fact that there is such stigma attached to mental ill-health that  seeking help can be daunting. But think about it – if you had a broken leg, wouldn’t you take yourself to hospital? If you had a cough that wouldn’t go away, wouldn’t you seek help from a doctor, pharmacist, homeopath or naturopath? It’s the same with your mental health.


If you are in emotional pain, there is no reason to let that pain fester. There are many different types of healers you can approach, depending on your own beliefs and what you feel might work best for you at a given time. The point is that if you are suffering you are not doing anyone any favours – not yourself or anyone around you – by continuing to suffer.


If you are unhappy, you must take responsibility for your unhappiness yourself. Blaming other people for every upsetting or disappointing event in your life does no one any favours – including yourself.


This doesn’t mean, of course, that you can’t hold other people accountable for their actions. Accepting responsibility for your unhappiness also allows you to accept responsibility for your happiness, which is hugely liberating.


For example, I could quite easily blame the people who abused me for my unhappiness. That would just give them power over me. I no longer choose to do that. Instead, I acknowledge that there was huge pain and trauma associated with their actions. I acknowledge that I need to heal from that trauma. I acknowledge that there are some bits of me that will never heal (a bit like an amputee accepting that a severed limb will never re-grow). I also acknowledge that in every moment of every day, I have the power to choose my own happiness.


It took a lot of work, a lot of therapy and a lot of time for me to reach this point. I’m still a work in progress, but I know I can’t do it all on my own – and I don’t expect that of myself any more.


I’ve learnt how to mind myself.



Mind Your Space

One of the things that can impact directly on our moods – and on which we have a lot of control – is our environment. Living in dreary, grey Ireland won’t do much to lift your mood but there are plenty of things you can do within your own four walls that can help.


I have noticed that I feel much less motivated when my house is trí-na-chéile. I feel like I can’t breathe, I feel overwhelmed and I feel lethargic and incapable when the house is a mess. The solution is so simple – sort it out! The problem is that by the time it gets bad enough for me to feel stifled by it, it feels like a problem that’s too big to tackle. The solution, I’ve found, is to tidy and sort as I go – and to get the children to pitch in and do their bit as well. I know this sounds so obvious and simple – but it is really easy to let things slide. It’s easy to let things get out of control when there are so many things of equal priority on your to-do list. But when something so simple can have such a profound effect on your mental health, it’s a good idea to train yourself to pay attention to your surroundings.


Decluttering is wonderfully therapeutic. At least twice a year, we go through every cupboard, closet and drawer and strip it of anything non-essential. It helps if you have a friend who will lend a hand with this process – other people aren’t emotionally attached to your clutter the way you are. If you haven’t worn an item of clothing for 6 months (or for two seasons, if it’s a seasonal item like a winter coat) give it to the charity shop. Books you have read and know you won’t read again deserve to be enjoyed by others – so donate or Freecycle them, too.


While your children are doubtless artistic genii, you don’t need to keep every daub they ever put on a piece of paper in their lives. Keep a sample from each school term, and one or two other exceptional/sentimental pieces. Bin the rest.


Moving furniture around – even getting rid of one or two pieces – can improve the flow of energy in your home. If you’re not constantly irritated by the placement of a particular table or stool, you’ll automatically feel a lot better when you step through your front door.


Paint your walls happy! Even in rented accommodation, it’s usually possible to broker a deal with the landlord with regard to repainting the premises. Start with the room that bothers you most, or the room where you spend most time (they’re often the same room!) and set to with rollers and tins of gentle, refreshing colours. If a re-paint really is out of the question, head to IKEA and invest in some cheap frames (they have loads) and frame pictures, paintings, postcards and even bits of fabrics to brighten your surroundings – and your mood.


I’m not suggesting that we should all aspire to make our homes museum-like in their neatness or zen-like in their minimalism or even that we should know and employ every rule of Vastu Shastri or Feng Shui, but the more you enjoy being in your surroundings, the more you’ll enjoy being in your skin.


Supporting Someone With a Mental Health Issue

At some stage in our lives, each of us will suffer with mental ill-health. It’s important, therefore,  to know how to manage our own mental health but it’s also important to know how to support someone in difficulty.


The first thing to remember is that, like pregnancy, mental health issues are not catching. You won’t ‘end up like’ the friend or relative you support when they’re feeling low.


Personally, I find that the most qualifying, the most dignifying, and the most helpful support I have ever received from friends who have supported me is what compassionate professionals call ‘witnessing’.  Simply put, this is the act of  ‘allowing’ the person who is suffering to go through what they are going through without trying to minimise or ‘fix’ it; without trying to shake the person out of how they are feeling or tell them that shouldn’t need to feel as bad as they do. Just allowing a person to sit in silence, or sit and cry and not trying to intervene is hugely empowering for the person in pain.


Sometimes we stay away from people who are in mental anguish because we are embarrassed to see someone who is in pain, or because we don’t want to see our own pain reflected back at us. It’s really important not to further isolate people in pain by shunning them. It adds to the stigma, and can make people more reluctant to reach out.


If you share a hobby or have a standing arrangement with someone who is suffering mental ill-health, don’t change your common routine just because they’re not feeling well.  They may not be as chipper as usual and they may be resistant to  going out but if that’s the case, can you go to them? Feeling that people still care can be a huge help to recovery for most people.


Do remember that ‘this, too, shall pass’ and your friend will return to themselves.  In the meantime, though, you don’t have to have all the answers, just being there and making the odd phone call or the odd cup of tea can make all the difference. Letting your friend know that you think they’re worth bothering about and worth the time and effort you put into the relationship can help them to feel that way about themselves.


Finally, bear in mind that if you want a friend, be a friend. You never know when your own mental health will suffer and you’ll want support, understanding and kindness yourself.



Mental Health

Many discussions on mental health focus on mental ill health.  Like our physical health, we need to care for our mental health. Here are a few ways everyone can easily incorporate mental health self-care into their daily lives:


1. Exercise.  I know it can be hard to find time, but if a twenty-minute walk or run is the difference between a good day and a terrific one, it’s something you need to find the time for.

2. When you’re feeling down – or feeling you might slide towards feeling down, don’t read or listen to the news. News is usually negative, and when we’re mentally and / or emotionally vulnerable or fragile, the negativity eats at us more than it would otherwise.

3. Have something that soothes your soul – knitting, needlework, painting, reading or photography – nearby and use it to help you when you need it to.

4. Don’t use your to do list as a tool to beat yourself with and scream ‘Failure!’ at you. Only allow things on your to-do list that really need to be done today.

5. Don’t berate yourself for being sad. You feel how you feel and you don’t have to apologise for it – not even to yourself.

6. Keep a gratitude journal. In it, write down the things you are grateful for. On your sad days, look through it and realise how blessed you are.

7. Whenever someone pays you a compliment, or comments favourably on something you’ve done, make a note of it. If you start to feel down, refer to the list.

8. Add to the list with things you notice and like about yourself.

9. Treat yourself. Every day do something nice for yourself; buy yourself flowers, run yourself a bath, talk to a friend, read a book, watch a movie you love, cheat at solitaire….whatever makes you feel you good. You deserve to feel good.

10. Eat well. A good, nutritious diet will help you feel good and will strengthen your immune system. All of which will help you feel good inside and out.


Pulling the Curtains on a Dilemma

So, the news in Dublin today is that a lady left a pair of curtains into a charity shop, and sewn into them was a wad of cash. Honest workers at the shop are desperately trying to re-unite the lady who donated the curtains with her money.


Hearing this news, I couldn’t help but wonder what I’d do if I bought a pair of curtains in a charity shop that then turned out to have a large amount of money sewn into them. I would like to tell you that I am so scrupulously honest I’d return the money to the shop in question. But the truth is, I’m not so sure.

I think it would depend on how much money the ‘find’ contained. If it was just €50 I might keep it. Or I might not. I might be more likely to return it – €50 isn’t a life-changing amount and it would make me feel good about myself if I went back to the shop with it. On the other hand, €50 is enough to make a difference to my weekly budget and would buy a few things my girls need. So I might hang on to it.


Then again, a larger amount – say €1,000 and above – is a significant sum to me and would make a huge difference right now. And I could easily convince myself that I was predestined to stumble upon the money; that finding the cash in the curtains was the same thing – more or less – as buying a winning lottery ticket. I would agonise over what the right thing to do was.


That said, I am the type of person who, if given too much change in a shop will hand back the extra. I’ve also been known to point out omissions on restaurant bills and tell suppliers when their goods turn up after they have refunded me for items that we thought were lost in the post.


The difference is that in those instances,  I don’t feel morally entitled to keep the money. It doesn’t feel legally right, either. But the money-in-the-curtains thing? Well, if  the money legally came into my possession, would it morally be mine? Would it be okay to keep it?

What would you do?