From One Nervous Wreck to Another

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So. You’re having your first panic attack. At the outset there are a few things we should probably clear up:

  1. Your limbs have not been reduced to giant lumbering sausages and you will start to feel more human than hotdog again soon.
  2. Your throat is not narrowing like the walls in one of those really difficult levels of Super Mario.
  3. That surge of heat rushing through your entire body is not your blood reaching boiling point and you will not explode.
  4. Your heart has not chosen to interpret Queen’s “I Want to Break Free” FAR too literally.
  5. Your mind has not up and left you and decided to emigrate to Shutter Island.

The logical part of you knows all this but, unfortunately for you, “logic” has bid you a farewell for the next few minutes and left you with your unbearably irrational self.  What led you to this point is of little significance.  It might have been what some would consider a “minor hiccup” or just some completely nonsensical notion that you managed to get into your head and couldn’t shift. Nonetheless you are here and, for this brief time, it feels like the world has abandoned you.

There’s little I – or anyone for that matter – can do by way of consoling you. All I can do is tell you “You’re not nuts and it happens.”  Whatever it was that triggered this episode is not your fault; life just seems to have a gotten a little bit too much for you. The aftermath of this will be strange.  You’ll wonder how it happened, why it happened and whether or not it will happen again – questions that will remain unanswerable to you for some time.

On one hand, you may have been lucky enough to have had company during this little mishap.  On the other, you’re now likely to feel tarred with the “crazy” brush.  And while life was seemingly stressful enough for you before this fit of panic, you now have the added bonus of worrying that at, any moment, you might be induced into another one of these frenzies.

I have no interest in patronising you by making ill-founded claims and promises that I can’t keep. You have no doubt hit a stumbling block in your life and you’ve some work to do before you’ll regain that sense of normalcy you once took for granted. Inevitably, you’re going to get a lot of advice over the next while, none of which is strictly wrong or right.  A doctor might attribute it to a chemical imbalance and recommend medication to remedy this; your mother might see it as a continuation of your nervous little ways stemming from childhood; or a friend might simply tell you “You need to just chill out.”  In truth, it’s likely to be a combination of these factors.  Take it all on board with an open heart and an open mind but do not let anyone infer that you are in some way weaker because you have a greater tendency to worry. You could not have foreseen or prevented this.

Equally, do not become resigned to this panic-stricken way of life. Acceptance, of course, has its place in this whole thing – but only to the extent that you allow it. You can remind yourself that it’s ok not to be ok and from this derive a sense of comfort but the fighter in you (yes, it’s somewhere in there) must take action. Anxiety is something you might have to live with but there are ways and means of coping with it and while much of your progress comes down to you, it is important that you do not shut out those who wish to – and can – help you.

I relay this to you because there was a time I wish I had known some of this. By using this opportunity to take a step back and relive the motions of an anxiety attack and all it’s ensuing bullshit, I am reminded of how far I have come. I may have opened with an apparent flippancy but I assure you there is nothing flippant about anxiety. It’s simply my way of relating how the whole thing feels, which admittedly has been rather challenging. It’s odd that these events – so singular and, at the time, traumatising – are so hard to recollect. I imagine it’s because we do not wish to remember these darker days.

It is no secret that Anxiety, its close friend Depression and its other annoying relatives you may be familiar with, are gradually beginning to make a mark on many of us. And while I have little wisdom to offer in relation to this, I can say from my own meandering experience that there is another side.

I look forward to seeing you there.

 

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Grant Unto Him Eternal Rest

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Having spent many nights with Frank Kelly, I felt personally obliged to write a little something in his honour. Just to clarify – when I say “spent many nights with”, I am of course referring to watching episodes of Father Ted and not to any seedy rendezvous between the two of us. As a TV show, Father Ted is my automatic go-to for all those unforgiving hungover days and godawful sleepless nights. What can I say? There’s just something I find incredibly soothing about watching the lives of three completely ridiculous priests unfold. It must be the very Irish part of me. My mother can testify to this as she’s spent many a night in the same room as me, trying desperately to sleep through the Divine Comedy theme tune.

When I heard the news of Frank’s passing, I wasn’t filled with the same shock that normally accompanies these sorts of deaths. You see, over the years, having immersed myself in Craggy Island and its uncommon inhabitants, I have come to know and love Frank solely as Father Jack Hackett and let’s face it, if he was Father Jack he’d have been long gone by now. Between the floor polish, the Toilet Duck and the daily alcohol consumption, he couldn’t possibly still be going.

This synonymity with a role was reportedly the reason Dermot Morgan (Father Ted Crilly) decided to call it a day on the show. He wanted to earn credibility as an actor outside this role. Unfortunately, he passed away shortly after Father Ted ended. A true tragedy for someone at the mere age of 45. His anniversary also happened to coincide with Frank’s passing – something I find to be an inexplicably comforting coincidence.

While I’m sure the two actors have accreditations in many highly valued works, I would be lying if I said I was aware of any of these. This, I’m sure, was the kind of thing Dermot was referring to. But on this matter I will say “Yes, you were only Father Ted to me but that in itself is a wonderful achievement.”

Throughout all these years, this show has remained a personal favourite. When asked “If you were to watch one undiscovered episode of any TV show, what would it be”?  I would always answer with Father Ted. You’re probably wondering who the hell asks this question. Well, I do so naturally I get it asked back. This might seem like a very strange question but when you think about it, it’s actually a really good one.  And, while I can answer this with 100% certainty, the leading question “Why?” is a little more difficult.

In part, I think it lies in our ability, as a culture, to relate to it. The fascination with tea, the all too familiar caravan holiday to the arse-end of nowhere, the feeble attempts at keeping our Lenten vows – it’s so stereotypically Irish that you cannot help but fall in love with it. On the face of it, the premise is terrible: three priests living alone together on an island. And yet, somehow it just works.

Even in its innate silliness and vulgarity, it still manages to possess a charm and warmth that few others have been able to replicate. It’s like sitting at home on a Sunday afternoon, drinking cup after cup of tea, with some daft old uncle telling inappropriate jokes. It all feels so comfortably familiar and yet so bizarrely impossible that it creates a very special sort of paradox.  And despite the fact that it had on paper the propensity to be so incredibly offensive, it somehow managed in its crude depictions to avoid causing any such offence.

For many I’d imagine, it is a hark back to simpler times. A familiar picture of life in the quaint, Irish countryside – while still holding true to the fact that we’re admittedly fond of a drink (or two) and a bit of craic. It is more than just a TV show; it is a piece of Irish culture that is unlikely to ever be repeated.

So, to you Frank and Dermot, the two men that brought us these unforgettable characters, I say “thank you”.  Thank you for bringing us the foul-mouthed mess that is Father Jack and the disastrously unlucky but well-meaning old fool that is Ted.  They have brought to my life years of laughter and comfort and no doubt, will continue to until I’m as old and senile as Jack himself. You probably never envisioned being remembered in this way but trust me, it is in the best way possible – with lots and lots of laughter.