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A Bipolar Odyssey (a guest post)

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OFTEN, we are asked by media organisations if we have noticed a shift in attitudes to the stigma around mental health matters since First Fortnight began in 2009. Our answer would be that, while a lot of good work has been done, the stigma around talking about mental health matters still exists. Below is a blog from a First Fortnight supporter who has asked to remain anonymous because of that stigma, particularly around psychosis. The blog fits in with an interesting piece on The Journal which states that, while a corner has begun to be turned, there is still much for us to do as a society in challenging the stigma around mental health….

A Bipolar Odyssey

FOURTEEN years ago I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after an “acute psychotic episode” whilst working abroad.

I spent six weeks in four different hospitals on two different continents with the most time spent in a regional psychiatric hospital.  The traumatic experiences in hospital require a separate account.

I was very lucky to have a family who decided not just to support me throughout this period but also, when necessary, to take matters into their own hands.

For a multitude of reasons, and against the doctors’ wishes, my parents eventually took me out of hospital and cared for me at home for several months.

I was on prescribed medication but my parents complemented that with a routine of exercise and good diet.  I also regularly went to a counsellor (who was a former psychiatrist).

I slowly began to regain confidence in myself (perhaps one of the hardest tasks after the terrifying experience of completely losing control of your thoughts) and 10 months after my episode I went back to third level to do a Masters.

I decided I would be open about my experience and would regale friends and acquaintances with stories of my delusions.  Being pregnant with the next Prophet was the story that always drew the best response!

I gradually, in a very controlled way and with advice from experts, came off all medication and over the course of the next 13 years managed my illness very successfully.

I was aware when I was feeling high or manic so I’d go for a swim, a jog or a massage.  I’d let close friends and/or partners know how I was feeling.  I was managing things so well that I forgot I had any illness and probably began to believe that it was a one-off event and that I was fine.

I forged a career for myself, got married and had children.  I ended up with a job with high responsibility and a lot of office politics.

Then suddenly, I was in a state of acute psychosis.  This time I had responsibilities, children of my own in particular.

I was fortunately in hospital for only 16 days, but I was away from my children in recovery for six weeks and was out of work for months.

Regaining one’s confidence after a psychotic episode takes time, a lot of hard work and support. However the absolute hardest part for me has been accepting that I have a mental illness.  Although I appeared on the surface to accept it, I know now I was really in denial.

Since the last episode, I’ve had random moments where I just shed a few tears accepting that I am ‘bipolar’.  Now, that I have accepted it though I can manage that aspect of my life and just get on with being who I really am, seizing the moment, stepping out of the moment when needed, reflecting, meditating, tapping into my creative side and most of all, enjoying what is a truly wonderful life!

Mental health and sport with John Kavanagh – First Fortnight podcast #1

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FIRST Fortnight is delighted to unveil its first podcast of 2015 featuring John Kavanagh, Mixed Martial Arts coach and Conor McGregor’s head coach.

John sits in with First Fortnight’s JP Swaine and guests Diarmuid Lyng, Wexford hurler, broadcaster and youth facilitator with Soar (soar.ie) and Ruairí McKiernan, Irish social entrepreneur, campaigner and founder of SpunOut.ie, to discuss mental health within a sports context.

Listen below and download via iTunes

Presenter: JP Swaine
Produced and edited by Steve Cummins
Photo: Ruth Medjber

First Fortnight podcast #1 – Mental health and sport with John Kavanagh 

David McCullagh’s go-to feel good songs – Co-Motion at First Fortnight

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OUR really unique event - Co-Motion, a musical walking experience - takes place in St Stephen’s Green tomorrow (January 4) at 2pm!

Hundreds of people are expected to gather, armed with their four-song playlist of “songs that get them through” and we want you to participate!

Four steps:
1) Make a playlist of songs that give you a lift when you’re down

2) Put them on a device

3) Bring device, playlist, warm clothes and ear phones to St Stephen’s Green at 2pm

4) Be paired with a stranger for a unique shared experience 

Here are RTE Political Correspondent and Prime Time presenter David McCullagh’s  four-songs that he goes to in order to feel good…

View more playlists and book FREE tickets to attend Co-Motion in St Stephen’s Green on January 4th here

‘The story of abortion is one that should also be heard within a mental health context’

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Eva O’Connor in My Name Is Saoirse which runs from January 8-10 at Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin

MY Name is Saoirse is the tender coming-of-age play written by and starring Eva O’Connor of the award-winning Sunday’s Child theatre company. It won our First Fortnight Award at the Dublin Fringe for challenges to prejudice on mental health issues, deftly dealing with teen pregnancy and adolescent sexuality. It runs again for three-nights only at First Fortnight 2015 from January 8-10 at Dublin’s Smock Alley Theatre.

 Fiona Smith spoke to Eva about the issues that inspired her and the Sunday’s Child company.

 Q. Hi Eva, tell me first of all how Sunday’s Child evolved.

I founded Sunday’s Child in my first year of Edinburgh University with Sophie Fuller. We were both a bit frustrated with the student theatre scene, and I was keen to write and make my own work. Since then there have been five Sunday’s Child Theatre productions which have been performed in Ireland and the UK. We aim to make new and vibrant work about issues that are often swept under the carpet – our past productions have dealt with depression, substance abuse, sexuality and coping with grief.

We picked up our first major award in 2012 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and the First Fortnight Award at the Dublin Fringe last year. It’s been a really exciting journey going from a student company to a professional one, it’s totally shaped my life over the last few years. We’ve been really lucky to work with a lot of different people in our past productions: performers, designers, musicians and choreographers who have contributed their talents to our past work. Hildegard Ryan is the director and dramaturg for Saoirse and we live together in London, so it kind of feels like we are always working, but also like we never work!

Q. My Name Is Saoirse covers issues of teen sexuality, pregnancy and travelling for abortion and the effects it has. How did you first approach the fairly intense subject matter, did you deliberately try to inject a lot of humour or did it evolve organically with the character?

My Name is Saoirse is (apparently!) a very humorous play. As I was writing the character of Saoirse I knew she was very endearing, and vaguely entertaining, but I had no idea she would get this many laughs. Hildegard said to me, after she first read the script ‘You do realise you’ve written a comedy?!’ which surprised me a bit because I was so conscious of the fact that the subject matter was quite heavy. I wouldn’t class the play as comedy, but audiences do laugh out loud throughout the piece. In the past I’ve made quite dark work, so it’s been a completely different experience for me seeing smiling faces throughout the piece. I always wanted this to be a compassionate play that would appeal to people’s hearts, rather than be a political polemic. I think the humour really helps with that. It serves as a vehicle that wins people over to Saoirse’s side of things

A really insightful review we once received on RTE Arena mentioned that the humour in Saoirse is typically Irish: as a nation, we have always used black humour to deal with dark elements of our society, and get through hard times.

Q. The play set in rural Ireland of the 80s, was that a deliberate move to add a bit of distance?

Yes, this was a deliberate move. I had an abortion last year, and I immediately felt compelled to write about my experiences, but I never wanted it to be autobiographical. Saoirse’s story is different from mine, she grows up in a very conservative household, with no mother figure in her life, and travels over to England on the ferry to have an abortion. My upbringing, despite being in the countryside, was nothing like Saoirse’s, and I was lucky enough to be living in the UK when I chose to have an abortion, so I had access to great care from compassionate people without having to travel. The time difference is also important – it places Saoirse’s story in a more innocent time, before the internet and any kind of decent sex education. She’s very much an innocent in everything that happens to her, and I believe this makes her a very empathetic character. I don’t believe anyone in the audience could say to Saoirse that she “deserved” what happened to her, or that keeping her baby would have been a better decision for her.

Despite all the differences however, I have a real sense of solidarity with Saoirse, as I do with all women who have travelled to the UK for an abortion they couldn’t have at home.  It’s horrible that between the 1980s and now the rights of pregnant women have basically remained unchanged. Our society is so different from then – we’re much more secular and modernised, but for Irish women the church still holds a huge sway over their rights. The parallels between the situation for women in the 1980s in Ireland and now are striking, so from that point of view I have more in common in Saoirse than I would like.

Q. How did you feel about winning the First Fortnight award at the Dublin Fringe? You’ve had great critical acclaim – what kind of feedback have you gotten from audiences?

Winning the First Fortnight Award was absolutely brilliant. As a young company working hard with small resources to make a name for yourself, getting recognition like that means so much. The response to the play has been overwhelming, we have had standing ovations, and amazing feedback. We did it in Edinburgh Fringe first, which went great, but I was a bit apprehensive about bringing it home where the issues are a lot closer to the bone. My fears were completely unfounded however, as people seem to enjoy it even more here. People often comment on the range of emotion they experience with Saoirse throughout the play, and how much compassion they feel for her. They can get quite weepy towards the end of the piece, it’s always quite moving to see all these tearful faces in the audience. I think I expected a much more hostile reaction to the play, so I have been completely taken aback by the play’s success.

I am so excited to be performing the play in the context of a mental health awareness festival, as it’s something I feel very passionately about, and I believe that Saoirse’s story is one that really needs to be heard. This play is about more than just a young girl getting pregnant and going to England for an abortion. It also deals with darker side of Irish society, and how we fail to equip our young people with the tools to deal with adolescence, sexuality, alcohol consumption etc.

Q. You’re planning to stage the show again later in the year?

Our next run is in Theatre 503 in London in February, and then we’re doing a tour of Ireland in late 2015. We are really keen to bring it to as wide an audience as possible, so there will probably be a UK tour at some point too. I absolutely love performing this play, so hopefully it has a long life ahead. We’re also working on a new piece that we hope to bring to Dublin Fringe next year. It’s still in development but I will say that it will focus on eating disorders, and will incorporate puppetry and a lot of physical movement.

My Name Is Saoirse runs from January 8-10 at 8pm in Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin, admission €12

Bressie’s go-to feel good songs – Co-Motion at First Fortnight

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EXCITEMENT is building in the First Fortnight camp ahead of our really unique event - Co-Motion, a musical walking experience.

Hundreds of people are expected to gather in St Stephen’s Green on January 4th, armed with their four-song playlist of “songs that get them through”. They’ll then be paired up with another randomly selected participant.

While the idea of putting a playlist together is pretty straight forward, the idea of bringing that playlist along to a specific location, pairing up with a like-minded stranger and walking around a park with them as you play your playlist for them while they then play theirs for you, is probably something many of us have never done before.

Former Blizzards frontman and The Voice of Ireland judge Bressie selects the four-songs that he goes to in order to feel good…

View more playlists and book FREE tickets to attend Co-Motion in St Stephen’s Green on January 4th here

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