Cities / Towns Visited: 77
Countries Visited: 20
Steps Taken Today: 12,418
Steps Taken Around the World: 2,568,907
With the days adventures not being quite as intense as the previous day, we opted for a slightly later start before packing up our things and bundling into the car for the trip to our next temporary home, with a couple of stops to enjoy the sights of this incredible little country, of course. As we drove north the scenery continued to be the gift that keeps on giving, and despite the mildly terrifying roads, we thoroughly enjoyed the drive, stopping briefly in the name famous town that is Limerick, for a quick pub lunch before continuing to our first stop without incident.
Leaving the car in the rather full car park, we followed the crowds through the cold afternoon air, across the road, and toward the sight we had come all of this way to see; the Cliffs of Moher. For those of you unversed in the geological formations of the Irish west coast, as I expect most of the world’s population is, the Cliffs of Moher are, unsurprisingly, cliffs. They stretch 14 kilometres along the coast, and at some points reach more than 200m in height. After a quick stop in the visitor centre, where you can learn all manner of scientific facts and figures about the sight, from the formation of the rocks, to the local flora, and the wildlife that calls this slice of paradise home, we headed into the 4D cinema for a quick birdseye view of these beauties. From the perspective of a seagull, you are visually delighted by the rather terrifying plunge over the edge, before catching an updraft and soaring high above. The film swoops down and lands on the small pillar of rock that stands just offshore, a piece which was once a part of the cliffs but has been separated by the passage of time and the powers of erosion. This secluded point is the breeding space of puffins during certain times of year, and the film shows them waddling around with their perpetually smiling faces, and distinctive bright orange beaks. From here the bird dives below the surface of the water revealing the local wildlife which lurks below, from grey seals, to minke whales, and even basking sharks. Before long the entertainment came to an end and it was time for us to go and explore the real thing.
Stepping out, once more, into the cold we made our way out to the best view point, near O’Brien’s Tower, a round lookout tower constructed in 1835. As you reach the railing, it is hard not to be awestruck by the magnitude of the cliffs. When someone says 200 metres, it doesn’t sound like that far, but when its a sheer 200 metre drop off into the freezing white-capped waves pummeling the rocks below, all of a sudden it feels like an awfully long way down. From this point you are treated to a stunning view, thanks to the fact that the cliffs curve into somewhat of a horseshoe shape, thus leaving you with full, front on view of their true scale. We took a long moment to revel in the precarious majesty before us.
Eventually we moved along, out of the official visitor area, and onto the unofficial cliffside walk. You see only a small portion of the cliffs is equipped with safety railing, and is monitored and maintained by council funded employees who run the centre, including a safety warden who, rather infuriatingly, has to blow his whistle and tell people to stop climbing on the railing far more regularly than should be required. I swear some people have a death wish, and if natural selection was still allowed to play out there would be a lot less idiots in the world. That being said we did still pass through the gate and into the dirt path that runs along the clifftop and over towards another area which sits jutting out, and that we imagined offered an equally as spectacular view. Given that there was more than a hundred or so people over there, and the fact that the path was set some distance back from the edge, we took an educated guess that, as there was no high winds and as long as we stayed on the path, we were unlikely to fall to our untimely death today.
A short walk and we were soon atop the aforementioned section of cliffs. We, intelligently kept our distance from the edge, and happily snapped our pictures of the towering rocks. Before too long it became much to uncomfortable watching people edge closer and closer, a couple of whom even tempted fate enough to dangle their legs over the edge just to get the perfect photo. Not wanting to witness some tragic accident should they lose their balance, or should a strong and sudden gust of wind dethrone them from their pedestal of social media selfie champion, we made our way back to the visitor area and out the other side, following the other unofficial path for a little while so that we could take a photo of the point on which the tower sits.
As we passed through the gate, and out of the safety of the monitored area there was a small plaque commemorating all of those who have lost their lives at the mercy of the cliffs, whether accidentally or intentionally. A couple more steps and there was a poster with the phone number of the Samaritans, should some poor soul, seeking to end their existence, be willing to talk to someone before taking the plunge to eternal sleep. As someone who has struggled with suicidal thoughts on and off for thirteen years, it struck a nerve, and it took everything within me not to burst in tears and fall back into that dark place then and there. Just as my depression bubbled to the surface, my partner quietly slipped his arm around my shoulder, in the kind of knowing embrace that only someone who has struggled with the very same thoughts can offer when they can see you fighting that silent battle. Steeling my mind we continued on, in a long moment of silence for those who had found no reason left to stay at this altitude or on this plane of existence.
Eventually we made our way back to the car, as we still had to drive to our accommodation on the other side of Galway, and thus outbound we headed. We decided on taking the scenic route, via the Burren, a national park made up mainly of landscapes consisting mainly of large expanses of rocky plains, mainly formed by limestone. Now I don’t know about you, but when I think national park, may mind tends to stray more towards the image of thick forests, or rivers and waterfalls. I’m not saying the landscape here was bleak as such, but it was certainly quite sparse. That said, it was fascinating to make our way through scenery which was so very different from everything else we had seen thus far in the trip. The other benefit of the rather flat landscape, is that you are able to see off into the distance, and it was precisely due to this fact that we turned down a tiny lane for an unscheduled stop. You see, from the road we had spied a ruined church with a rather tall tower next to it, much like the tall lookout tower we had visited beside the cathedral in Kilkenny. Pulling into the carpark we found ourselves at Kilmacduagh Cathedral. There was a monastery built here in the 7th century, but the current structure was built between the 12th and 13th centuries, although now all that remains is a roofless shell. Beside it sits the tower, and, at 34 metres tall, it is Ireland’s tallest round tower; although the most distinguishing feature is actually its rather precarious lean. Like all towers of this style its door sits a good eight metres or so above ground level, obviously to prevent enemies easily accessing it; an addition which seems to have served it well, considering the fact that it is still standing strong some 800 years later.
We entered into the churchyard, and began a slow meander between the gravestones, pausing to read some of them, both old and new. The cathedral may not see anymore use, but the local community still buries their deceased beneath its holy grounds. As we rounded the corner of the church we stopped, noticing that just past the tower were three men, shovels in hand, digging. Now I’m going to assume that they were undergoing the rather morbid task of digging a plot for an upcoming funeral, but there was a brief moment where our horror movie loving brains jumped to the idea that they may, in fact, be digging up an existing grave. As daylight grave-robbing seemed unlikely, we put our sudden shock away, whilst still avoided that area of the graveyard, given that I’m sure that job is hard enough without a couple of tourists nosing around.
As the sun drooped lower in the sky, we jumped back in the car to complete the final stretch of our journey. Before too long we were at our Airbnb. A good chat with our host, and a home cooked meal later, and we were settled on the bed getting some work done. As we pottered away we could hear our host watching a rather loud action film downstairs and wondered what it was that she was indeed viewing. As she made her way up to bed, after what, I will hazard a guess at, was a good few wines later, she stopped to talk about said movie. What was to ensue was the most amusing rant I have heard in a long time. She couldn’t think of the name of the film, but after repeatedly saying he had knives for hands, we eventually narrowed it down to one of the X-Men movies, and the fact that she was talking about Wolverine. We then helped her out with remembering that the actor’s name is Hugh Jackman, and that he is also from Australia, at which point she went on a rather amusing tangent. Seemingly she wasn’t much of a fan of the film, and the rant went along the lines of, ‘It was just noise! Hugh Jackman. Yeah he can jack off back to Australia; he didn’t impress me much’. We were repressing intense laughter until she bid us goodnight and retired to her room. As which point we mildly lost our composure and tried to stifle our giggles as best we could.
Before long, we too were settling in for a good nights sleep, and it was at this point , that my mind cleared of the previous amusement and strayed back to the less jovial thoughts on the Cliffs of Moher, and the memorial plaque. Now as I’m sure you have gathered from my previous blogs, I have been struggling with depression and anxiety for around fifteen years. Over that space of time, I spent a large portion of it self-harming, and suffered from more bouts than I care to admit of suicidal thoughts. I have seen several doctors, two councellors, and a psychiatrist, and yet I have not found a solution. I have tried four different medications and yet I have stopped taking all of them because, although they help ease the lows, they also soften the highs; they do not make you happy, they make you emotionally numb. At one point I was on one type that were so strong that I’m pretty sure if you had told me my mother had died I wouldn’t have even blinked. I reached a point in my battle with the black dog that I decided that I would take my chances and fight though the rollercoaster drug free. I would rather feel terrible than feel nothing at all; however as a result I left myself open to the isolated darkness that comes with that decision; the land with no oxygen, the world with no lights.
In my struggle for help I learnt some hard truths about the horrible lack of assistance which is offered by the severely underfunded mental health services of Australia; although I know this is not unique to my home country and is also mirrored in many other nations worldwide. I know that unless you are planning on killing yourself today, they will tell you that unless you can afford the cost of private counselling, they can perhaps fit you in with a bulk billed service in a few months, maybe. So the options are help now if its life and death today, or help months from now. Seeing the number for the Samaritans on the cliffs today swelled within me, mixed feelings. Along with happiness that there is help available in times of crisis, it also makes me sad that we can only afford to offer aid to people when they are at breaking point. That’s not to say that the work that this phone service, and the many others like it, offers is not important and potentially life saving, but we need to work harder to remove the cause instead of just treating the symptom. If we were to fix the mental health system, and give people access to the assistance they require for free before it reaches a crisis point, we would see a huge drop in other problems we are forced to spend tax payer money on preventing and fixing; things like drug abuse, domestic violence, homelessness, and crime. You will never convince me that people with addictions, domestic abusers, the homeless, or the majority of criminals, grew up wanting that for their life. These are not childhood dreams, these are the acts and circumstances of desperate and / or damaged adults. Something happened, usually in their formative years, that triggered the emotions which have fueled the actions, and which have, in turn, led them to the place they are now. And yes, quite a few people aren’t triggered, and simply become victims of genetic depression, or chemical imbalances in their brains through no fault of their own or anyone else’s, but they also would benefit from a change to the system.
I will admit that mental health awareness it steadily growing, and there are countless campaigns attempting to remove the stigma of mental illness, pushing for people to ask for help, and encouraging friends and family to check in on their loved ones, even if they seem like they are doing okay; because as I’m sure most of you know, us depressed folk have often become experts in putting on our happy masks and fooling you into thinking our lives are great. We post the pictures of us smiling, but we hide our tears away; we let you see us excited, but do our best to shelter you from our panic attacks. I have seen a number of posts online about asking people if they are okay, which is certainly an important step to take to help those you love who may be struggling, but my main annoyance with the idea presented is that they insist that you keep asking if you think that they are simply saying they are fine, even if they’re not. It may not be true of all, but I know from my own experience that if you ask me if I’m okay, and I say I’m fine (regardless of whether I am or not), do not press the issue. We may not be fine, but you may also not be a person we are comfortable discussing it with. If you have an inkling that we’re not fine, by all means let us know that you’re there if we need to talk, or even quietly contact someone who we are closer with, like our parents or partners; but under no circumstance say anything along the lines of ‘Come on, I can see you’re not okay, just tell me’. If you insist that people aren’t okay, you’re just adding to their almost certain feeling that they are a burden on or an inconvenience to those who care about them; that very same feeling which leads to suicidal thoughts.
Of all of the suicide rhetoric which offends me, the most appalling would have to be when people say that the act of suicide is selfish and weak, and does nothing but hurts those around them. Lets break that down shall we. For starters, those who are suicidal almost always believe that if they were no longer there, that the lives of those around them would be better. It may not be the truth, but that is how depression makes you feel. Given that that is their true and honest belief, that therefore means that their act, if anything, is one of self-sacrifice; one of extreme selflessness. Furthermore, regarding the selfish argument, the comment is in and of itself contradictory, as you are essentially arguing that you don’t want your loved one to kill them self because it will hurt you; sounds a little selfish on your behalf now doesn’t it. What you are essentially showing them is that you are okay with them suffering long term, excruciating mental anguish, as long as you don’t have to.
From here we move onto the weak argument. As far as I’ve ever seen, this seems to stem from some misguided idea that committing suicide is the ‘easy way out’. For all of you who have been lucky enough to never have to deal with such thoughts, there is nothing easy about it. For one, your body it naturally programmed to avoid any and all situations in which death would be the result, therefore logistically it is in no way an easy option, even physically. Secondly, to insinuate that anyone who has lived with depression, especially over extended periods of time, often decades, is weak is almost laughable in its ridiculousness. Some days its hard to even get out of bed, and yet we do; its hard to find the will to eat or drink, and yet we do; its hard to breath, and yet we do. If you saw a dog owner with a pet who was as injured on the outside, as suicidal people feel on the inside, you would not blink at the idea of that owner putting the animal out of its misery by euthanasia, and yet you sit and judge people who fight a battle you can’t even comprehend.
The World Health Organisation estimates that 300 million people suffer from depression; that’s 300 million soldiers marching in a war you can’t even see, whilst simultaneously being expected to act like and contribute to society the same way that non-sufferers do. If you saw someone in a wheelchair, you would make exceptions for their needs, and yet we make very little allowance for the needs of the mentally ill in today’s society. Just because you can’t see the injury doesn’t make it any less debilitating, and just like any war, this one will have its casualties. I work in an industry where depression and anxiety are rife and yet it is rarely discussed, let alone dealt with; stress levels are high, addiction is everywhere, and far too many are pushed to their breaking point; far to many have been lost to drug and alcohol addictions, and far too many have committed suicide. I’ve always said that I’ve never met a chef that doesn’t have some sort of mental illness, and some sort of addiction; and the truth is, that’s a pretty bleak and rather disgusting reality.
Depression and anxiety are very real mental illnesses with very real physical symptoms; mine alone range from heart palpitations and shortness of breath, to difficulty sleeping and fatigue, all the way to panic attacks, irritability, sensory overload, difficulty making decisions, and tearfulness. For some sufferers they will recover, for some it will be a lifelong battle, and for some of us it will prove terminal. For all of you who have never been faced by the black dog, count yourselves lucky, and if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. For all of my fellow soldiers, you are my heroes, and my inspiration. Sometimes all you will have the will to do is take one more breath, and sometimes that is the bravest thing you can do. I am here should you need to talk; no judgement; no conditions.