What you are about to read is basically a follow-up to the last column which appeared here. Produced by way of reassurance. Perhaps mostly to myself, but also for people who read the last piece. For I have been blown away and humbled by people’s support and kindness since it was published.
As was alluded to during the last outing, there are no quick fixes. There’s going to be a bit of a contradiction in this, but, it’s very much an individual thing, though anyone afflicted with the vile curse must lean on support around them too. I cling to the concept of having the four walls of a house around me.
Over the years, the makeup of the four walls has changed. Sadly in most cases due to people held near and dear being called to the great resort above, but also due to lives drifting apart which, though very upsetting, is probably a bit of an inevitability.
Thus, the walls need to be reconstructed. It’s probably fairly well known by now that a blessed, needed and cherished beacon of light, strength and hope was parachuted into my life when my partner Susan and I met at the Meath-Longford game last year. Our lads were unceremoniously dumped out of the Leinster Championship, but, every cloud, silver lining and all that!
In terms of my mental health have there been dark days since? Copious. None more so than around the time of the passing of Sean Nealon of Brady’s, Dunboyne last October. Part of me will never get over it and I’m not about to force myself to try. Grieving is a process, a journey, and, if life has taught me anything, it’s that such must be allowed to take its own course.
The incalculable difference now however is the feeling of not going through it alone. That is not to say that I ever was, in the literal sense. One is absolutely blessed to have a wonderful family, amazing friends, a truly fantastic GP who’s more like a close friend to me, other healthcare people (given circumstances) and the treasured support of the sporting and farming communities near and far.
However, even with all that, there was always a void without that special somebody. Incidentally, terms like ‘somebody special’ and ‘plenty of fish in the sea’ or ‘there’s somebody out there for everybody’ used to cause yours truly indescribable levels of upset before being blessed with having Susan enter my life.
Now, there will always be longings for certain things to be easier in life, compared to ‘normal’ people, whatever they are, but, aside from the more obvious things, the greatest ‘new’ feeling is – as stated above – that of not going through the many battles life tends to throw this way alone.
Sometimes though, the biggest difference comes from the simple things. Am I a hoarder? A concession would probably have to be made in the affirmative, especially in terms of newspapers and match programmes (Do books get an exemption?!). My special lady, however, deems it “Organised chaos”.
Which it was, until she coaxed/cajoled/guided me into bringing some order to the office/kitchen/man-cave. And I must admit, it has made a difference. There were papers going back two years unopened. Now though, there’s no backlog, stuff is – mostly – read as it comes in and I’ve even, albeit tentatively, got back into some of the stockpile of books which populate all shelf-space in the building!
You know, even watching sport has become enjoyable again. No, for a while even that wasn’t the case. It’s something made possible by the confidence garnered from having a certain someone in my life. After all, these wheels docked in Croke Park twice this season having not been in situ since 2014. An entire story could be made out of adventures getting to and from the old ground, but that’s for another day.
If things ever drift towards their lowest ebb – they can without warning and there’s damn all can be done about it – a trip to YouTube usually brings familiarity and comfort. Whether the clips are of farming or sport. In terms of sport, Kevin Foley’s goal against Dublin in 1991 and Dawn Run’s capturing of the 1986 Cheltenham Gold Cup will always be atop the go-to list of rescue remedies.
The latter will always command a special place in my heart. Visitors to this location of certain vintage will be well used to the following, but it is known new followers – and very special ones – have been acquired most recently, so it’s worth trotting out again. Now read on…
When I was airlifted into the world, my legs were knotted in an x. Now, I had what I call my ‘big’ operations in 1985. To separate and straighten the limbs. Which meant being in a cast resembling a set of GAA goalposts for months. It’s a long time ago now, but the terrifying horror of having the contraption removed WITHOUT anesthetic and being done with HACKSAWS is all too easily recalled.
It was erroneously thought that it was during that stint in hospital Paddy Mullins’s magical mare was observed from my stricken state pulling off the seemingly impossible. It was, however, in March of the following year, while this corner was prostrate in Temple Street having had the tonsils yanked out.
If it’s admitted that the Gold Cup video has more or less been on repeat lately that should give some indication of how much it’s been a case of playing into the wind. As was hinted at last time, ‘One Day At A Time’ has got numerous run-outs also.
So too, however, has Christy Moore’s ‘The Voyage’, for it is beyond question that in troubled waters, my First Mate has kept me afloat. Our true destination isn’t marked on any chart but I do know that only because of her support am I slowly, very slowly, at least inching back in the direction of something which constitutes ‘Normal’. For now at least.
Hardly surprisingly, central to that has been watching sport again. Indeed, it was during an online ‘comfort search’ that the epic 2008 Wimbledon Men’s Championship match between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Now, I don’t know which was more remarkable, that match itself from a decade ago or the fact that the former recently played his part in a contest of comparable – if not better – quality during the most recent conclusion of events in SW19 against Novak Djokovic.
Maybe even more basically than that, the fact that the Swiss is still producing output of astounding quality long after that horrible word ‘veteran’ was affixed to his file. In the case of Nadal that is even more applicable given the manner in which the Spaniard’s career has been blighted by injury. Federer has had his troubles too – only natural in a pursuit so gruelling – but, in an era where ‘Game Management’ is one of the ‘in’ buzz phrases, there’s scarcely a better exemplar of it than he.
Luckily, thanks to modern technology, having been consumed by GAA and horse racing on the day of this term’s Wimbledon conclusion was able to be digested in its entirety more recently. All five hours of it. And simply, all one can say is Wow!
Not only that two of the great gladiators of the gruelling (mostly) individual pursuit are still producing output of such majesty at all but also when one considers the mechanics of their latest joust. It was their 48th clash in total. Even that is remarkable. Elite level Darts revolves around a relatively small number of players but even Michael Van Gerwen and Gary Anderson would scarcely have met that many times.
Consider, now, that it takes a minimum of six games to win a set in tennis, three sets to win a match in the men’s game and that the three sets the victorious Serb eventually clinched went to tie-breakers and it gives you some indication of the resilience, determination and sheer mental strength of the two competitors involved.
It’d actually leave you searching for appropriate words to sum it all up. Which is why the preceding part made it into a piece chronicling my ongoing mental health battles. There are often no words to describe it either.
Admittedly, it’s very different in a lot of ways having Susan in my life. However, there are still parts of life’s journey it’s wondered will these wheels ever get to. Hearing stories of friends getting to where one longs to be can still be heart breaking. You congratulate them and are genuinely happy for them but inside it’s tearing you apart though you can’t show it.
Which is why, personally speaking, another ‘go-to’ video when the spirit is a little beleaguered is Al Paccino’s ‘Inches’ speech from Any Given Sunday: “We’re in hell, right now gentlemen. And we can stay here, and get the sh** kicked out of us, or, we can fight our way back into the light. We can climb out of hell”.
Inches. Every day is about inches. Every day out the Meath footballers had this year was an inch the right direction. Conversely, missing the neighbours at the first-cut silage sent the inches backwards at a rate that was off the scale. Then it bounces back again with a few days out observing the harvest.
Swings and roundabouts. Potholes in the road and upward ramps. At the moment, the feeling is of being a few inches in front. The battle goes on. The fighter still remains.