If given the opportunity to pick any career you like, what would you choose? A rock star, a brain surgeon, a bartender in the Seychelles? A Disney Imagineer, a Ben & Jerry’s ‘Flavour Guru’, a professional traveller?
If writing was no longer an option in some sort of dystopian future where no one reads anything longer than a 1,000 word thinkpiece on their smartphones, there are only two other careers I can imagine myself pursuing.
The first is acting. As a teenager, all I wanted to be was a stage actress, which is why the theatre adaptation of Asking For It was so utterly thrilling. The second job I would enjoy is psychology. Writing, acting, and psychology may appear wildly incongruous but on closer inspection, I can see the similarities between the three.
Each demands a level of introspection and a curiosity about other people, their interior lives, their motivations for behaving the way they do. My acting experience has helped my writing, allowing me to fully inhabit the characters in my books, but I know that without the skills I’ve learned in the therapy room, I wouldn’t be able to write the books I do today.
I have seen first hand how it can completely transform one’s life and yet there is still a stigma attached to therapy in Ireland. There’s this idea that it’s too ‘American’ or that only ‘mad’ people need that kind of professional help.
It’s claimed that Sigmund Freud said the Irish were the “one race of people for whom psychoanalysis is of no use whatsoever”, and I’m not sure that’s a compliment. If you’re only as sick as your secrets, then Ireland, a country that was built on secrets, predicated on ‘don’t tell the neighbours about an unmarried daughter’s pregnancy or sexual abuse at the hands of the local priest…’ well, Ireland must have been very sick indeed.
No wonder there has been such a history of alcoholism here; people broken by shame and silence, needing something to numb their pain.
I have often been the person to whom my friends come for advice, probably because a) I try to be a good listener and b) I’ve made so many mistakes that I know I’m not in a position to judge others for theirs. I’ve been in therapy, on and off, since I was 17, and over that time I have become adept at recognising my own patterns, my triggers.
I understand when an emotional response is appropriate or whether I’m overreacting due to some deep childhood wound that is being re-activated. I know all of that sounds terribly ‘woo woo’, like I should be living in a yurt surrounded by crystals and dreamcatchers, but the freedom therapy has given me is indescribable.
Today, I feel empowered because I know that I am the only person who can change my own life.
My ‘wisdom’, if you could call it that, has been hard won and I am eager to share what I have learned over the last 17 years with others. When I do events or signings, there are always people in the audience who have questions for me, wanting advice about their grandchild who has anorexia or a friend who has been sexually assaulted, wondering what is the best way to raise their sons and daughters to be socially and politically aware.
After discussing the idea with my editor here at Weekend, we thought that the best way to address these questions on a larger scale could be to start an agony aunt column. And thus, Dear Louise was born.
This has been a lifetime dream of mine since my days of reading Sugar and J17 magazines as a pre-teen and I still love such features today, from Roe McDermott’s brilliant column for the Irish Times to Dear Polly on The Cut website. I can’t tell you how excited I am to begin.
Dear Louise will run on a monthly basis — the start date will be announced shortly so stay tuned! — and there are no problems too big or too small to be submitted: Writing, publishing, sex, body image, relationships, feminism, family issues, addiction, mental health. Whatever you want to talk about, I want to listen.
Disclaimer: I’m not an expert. I’m not a qualified psychologist. I’m sure there will be plenty of times where I will recommend the letter-writer seek medical advice from a professional and in those cases, I will do my best to find appropriate services near you. The first tenet of my new column will be ‘do no harm’.
But I want to create a space in the pages of this magazine for radical honesty and self- acceptance, for compassion and empathy. A place of non-judgment, where we can acknowledge that we are flawed, we make mistakes, and we are all just doing our best to survive. I want to foster open and honest communication, and a sense of connection. We are all in this together, in the end.
GO: The Irish Examiner presents ieStyle Live in Cork City Hall on October 17. Brendan Courtney and Sonya Lennon will host the event which will take place over a three-course dinner, with goodie bags and prizes to be won. It will help raise funds for Enable Ireland (and I will be in conversation with Sonya Lennon!).
READ: Once, Twice, Three Times an Aisling by Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen. Someone asked me how many more Aisling books there would be and if this wonderful instalment is anything to go by, I hope they never stop.
We will be accepting submissions for Dear Louise very shortly.