IT WAS the start of June, really, that it became glaringly apparent to me that I was at my edge, says Louise O’Neill.
IT WAS the start of June, really, that it became glaringly apparent to me that I was at my edge. From trying to keep on top of my multiple work commitments (note to self, releasing two books and a stage adaptation in a four month window is an act of lunacy ...) and some difficulties in my personal life, it was if I was fighting a war on multiple fronts. I’d suffered from burn-out before, in 2016, and I could see some of the same symptoms beginning to sneak back in.
The propensity for tears that were inconsistent with the situation at hand; the sense of being completely overwhelmed when presented with a new task, no matter how minor, and the struggle to get out of bed in the morning — these were all recognisable to me. The signs were obviously recognisable to those around me, too, which I discovered when I found myself in a restaurant in Dublin, shell-shocked, as my boyfriend and one of my best friends, Niamh, revealed the surprise that they had spent weeks plotting together.
There was a beautiful care package, a large portrait made up of mosaic tiles of all the foreign editions of my novels, and, finally, a short video compilation of some of my favourite people telling me why they loved me. I was weeping as I watched the video, much to the consternation of the waiters at the restaurant. I couldn’t believe that they had gone to so much trouble to do something so thoughtful, so beautiful. Niamh and Richard told me afterwards they wanted to do something to counteract the toxic voices I encounter so frequently, particularly online.
The voices that want me to feel afraid, the voices that want to silence me and make me feel small. The abusive tweets, the threatening letters that arrive to my front door with such alarming haste that my parents have taken to opening my post, the vicious comment sections, the online threads that run to hundreds of pages tearing me apart, limb by limb.
Most of the time I ignore it, able to see these people for what they are — small, sad individuals with small, sad lives. As my mother keeps saying in incredulous tones: “Well, it’s fine for them. All I want to know is where do they get the time for this carry-on?”
But recently, tired and vulnerable, I have to admit that I felt as if I was under siege. I’m a real person, I wanted to say. I have a family and friends. I’m polite to strangers and I give to charity. I try to be kind and generous and decent.
I know I’m not perfect. I’ve made mistakes, and plenty of them, but I’m not a monster either. What is it about me that you hate so much?
But as I sat in that restaurant, dazed, tears in my eyes as I watched the video for a second time, I realised that in the end, it actually doesn’t matter. While I don’t subscribe to the notion that abuse is ‘just what you get’ for being in the public eye — casual cruelty is never acceptable — it did occur to me that I was giving these nasty opinions far too much weight.
I was choosing to obsess over what faceless trolls on the internet believed; trolls who had never met me, who didn’t know anything about me but had, nevertheless, chosen me as a receptacle for their frustration.
I have done this before, of course, in different ways: desperately seeking approval from people who would never be capable of giving it to me; falling for emotionally unavailable men who treated me badly; believing the one negative review over the 10 positive ones.
Why do our brains do this?
Why do so many of us dismiss the compliments and the praise we receive as exaggerated, an overestimation of our talents, but the insults stick to our brains like glue?
Why is it that we think we have somehow ‘fooled’ the people who love us but that one person who told us we were stupid, pathetic, talentless, worthless? That person could see the truth of who we are.
Well, not today, Satan. I have decided for the rest of the summer, I am going to ignore the haters, (insert Taylor Swift lyric here), and focus on the people I love and who love me back.
I have taken a break from Twitter and Instagram for the foreseeable
future, and I want to use the next two months to sleep and recover.
I want to read more, I want to wander around art galleries by myself, I want to go to the theatre and watch as lives unfold on the stage. I want to spend less time on my phone and more time in nature.
I am planning a proper holiday, my first one in more than three years. I’m going to search for silence, for some space. I am going to think and I am going to breathe.
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