LOUISE O'NEILL: I didn’t want to get out of bed because I was so strangely fearful, and I didn’t even know what it was that I was afraid of

Publication week is always a strange time, says Louise O’Neill.

As I write this, there are still lumps of dirty snow lining the footpath and I can barely suppress a shudder every time I catch sight of one out of the corner of my eye, as if I’m suffering from snow-induced PTSD. 

When the initial forecasts were released, promising plagues and locusts and the return of the Ice Age, I was sceptical. 

That might happen in Dublin, I thought, but it won’t reach us in Clonakilty, as if West Cork is some magical land protected by fairies and sprites, thus extreme weather would not find its way to us.

When I woke up on Wednesday morning to find the world rolled in white and the roads impassable, people warned not to leave their houses, I took a deep breath and I told myself it would be fine.

At the start, it was. It was an excellent excuse to stay in my bedclothes all day, and as someone who received five pairs of pyjamas and two dressing gowns for Christmas, that was almost indescribably joyous. 

I applied a face mask and a weird exfoliating treatment to my feet, spending hours afterwards peeling dead skin off my heels in a gross but truly amazing fashion. (I’m single, yes, why do you ask?) I took Instagram stories of my mother battling the elements to fill the bird feeder (sorry Mom), posted videos of her being driven to work on the back of a quad bike (sorry Mom), and yet more videos of her preparing the overnight oats I wanted for breakfast but was too lazy to make. (Sorry... OK you get the picture. I’m a terrible daughter.)

I’m not sure exactly when the cabin fever started to creep in. I had expected the snow to melt within a day so when Friday came and I was still house-bound, I began to feel uneasy. 

It didn’t help that my third novel, Almost Love, was released on March 1, coinciding with the country being brought to its knees by some of the worst weather conditions in 30 years.

Publication week is always a strange time. As the author Liz Nugent says, it’s as if you’re putting your child out there for public consumption. “What if they say my baby is ugly?” she said. “What if it gets bullied? Maybe I shouldn’t have made this baby? What if they say it isn’t a real baby? Oh God, I can’t take it back now!” 

To be faced with those nerves, and to have them exasperated by the fact that most of the book shops were closed, was almost unbearable.

I didn’t have access to my usual methods of stress relief either, I couldn’t make it to Inchydoney gym, I couldn’t get to the city to see my therapist, my sunrise yoga classes were cancelled. 

I spent more time on social media, ostensibly promoting Almost Love since I couldn’t get outside my front door to do any actual publicity, and I found myself reaching for my phone first thing in the morning rather than meditating and journaling for an hour first, like I usually do. 

The support systems I had put in place, the self-care regime I had so carefully constructed for myself, all disappeared.

And, day by day, I could feel the anxiety begin to build. By the following Monday, I woke up and it was as if there was a large weight pressing down on my chest, leaving me breathless. 

I didn’t want to get out of bed because I was so strangely fearful, and I didn’t even know what it was that I was afraid of. I also felt pathetic — how could I have fallen apart so easily in just a matter of days?

W

hat was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I be stronger? Why was I so weak?

 I thought of all the people living on the streets in such weather and how ridiculous my ‘problems’ would have seemed to them, and I berated myself for not appreciating my privilege enough. I was on the verge of tears when my father rang me.

As soon as he heard my voice wobbling, my breath a little unsteady, he came home early from work. 

He made me get out of bed and he handed me my runners, telling me to go to the gym. (Everything in our house can be cured with exercise. 

Heartbroken? Go for a run. Flu? Go for a run. Ankle sprained? Go for a... swim?) And I did. I ran on that treadmill and I kept running until I was dripping with sweat and absolutely exhausted. And it worked. 

Now, I’m not some class of Scientologist who thinks we should ban antidepressants and prescribe vitamins and sunshine instead. I’m not talking about serious mental health issues, I’m aware that prescription medication is vital for some people. 

But my god, I felt so much calmer leaving the gym that day. The experts were right about endorphins, who knew?! (Literally everyone else, I’m guessing.)

I wanted to write about this in today’s column because there is often such shame around anxiety, echoing silence around the times we feel unable to cope. 

I hope that being honest might help someone reading this, and maybe encourage them to get outside when the pressure begins to build, even if all you can manage is a walk on the beach. 

I know that can seem impossible at times, but if it’s even slightly within your grasp and you can push yourself, I promise, it will make you feel a little bit better. And sometimes, just that ‘little bit’ better can make a huge difference.

LOUISE SAYS

READ: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. Billed as Gosford Park meets Inception, it is audaciously inventive, gripping, and original.

GO: I highly recommend Colour is Life, the Emil Nolde exhibition at the National Gallery of Ireland. The artist’s use of colour is so sumptuous, I could have happily spent hours there. Running until June 10.


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