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Finding positivity during life’s hardest times

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How do you find positivity during a life changing event? In this Women’s Live’s, Women’s Voice’ feature Jen shares her story and journey of working through a traumatic loss, to engaging in a new personal venture and raising awareness for victims of domestic violence.

 


Here’s my story. It isn’t always a happy one but I hope you can see, as I did, that there are still glimmers of hope to be found during the darkest hours of our lives. My journey to this moment started at Christmas 2018. You see I now find my life has split into parts. Before what happened and after. Back then I had just made the decision to return home after spending a few years living and working in Spain. I had an amazing time while I was there and I am so glad to have had the opportunity to meet all the wonderful people and make all the fantastic memories that I did.

The reason I moved home was that my partner and I were expecting our first child and we decided that we wanted to live close to family so moving home was an easy decision. When I came back home I was around 7 months pregnant and eagerly awaiting the new arrival. Christmas came and went and I was adjusting to my life back in Ireland.


 

Everything changed on 4th January 2019. I think we often float through life thinking we are invincible and nothing shocking or devastating is ever going to affect us. It’s not an easy thing to write or for that matter read but my sister Jasmine was murdered.

Now I’m sure we have all heard about the stages of grief. Probably from the hundreds of Hollywood movies that like to portray this process over and over again. To be honest I am not sure it works in the way in which it has been made out to.

I think when something this life altering happens you never really make your way through all the so called “stages”. The shock of what had happened is something that our family will never be able to fathom and neither our community or country for that matter. But in terms of my own personal story I was in a serious state of shock and at this point 8 months pregnant.

I think that one of the main things that helped me and everyone around me during this time was the fact that I was pregnant. The fact that I had to stay calm and focus on the baby. And that’s what we did.


 

The next 6 or 7 weeks were an absolute blur. During this time one of my sister’s beautiful children came to live with me. I had never in a million years imagined that I would become a mother to a toddler all the while pregnant for the first time. My entire life had changed.

Then on the 21st of February almost 2 weeks later than he was supposed to and on the day after my sister Jasmine’s birthday, my son arrived. It was another whirlwind. I guess he was quite content not coming into the world just yet and in the end, I had to have an emergency cesarean.

So now I was really on another planet. I had gone from living an easy life teaching English in Spain to dealing with trauma and grief, becoming a mother to 2 kids and recovering from a major surgery. I don’t know how but I just kept on living my life even though I was dealing with all the stress that was constantly being thrown at myself and my family.


 

When the fog of our lives started to lift a bit, my mother and I decided that we wanted to start a social media page in order to keep people thinking about my sister and to help keep her memory alive. We started SmileForJasmine and received a huge response from the public which was amazing. We have continued with the page and have organised many events since raising funds for various charities in my sisters memory.

I realised while we were thinking of ideas and posting to the page that it made me feel good. Or distracted me at least. I needed something of my own. Something that could draw me away from thinking about everything going on in my life, something positive. So, I thought about it. What makes me happy? Simple. The kids. That little girl becoming my daughter and my son being born were two of the main things that got me through everything. Once I knew the subject I had to figure out what the actual idea was…


 

It happened like this. I woke up one morning and it was there in my mind. IrishMamaBuys. I don’t know how it got there but it’s one of those moments when you dream or wake up with a really good idea and usually you just think “Hey that’s a great thought” and then fall back asleep. But this time that wasn’t the case. I thought some more and decided that I was going to start my very own “Mum Blog” with a focus on product reviews and tips from my own experience as a mum.

On that very day, I set up my website, my Facebook and my Instagram and the rest as they say is history. I started up in August last year and it has been one of the best things I’ve ever done. It has given me so much. The distraction as I previously mentioned is a wonderful thing to have, it’s a way of keeping my brain focused, I love the satisfaction of helping other people, the chance to talk to other like-minded women, a way of venting my feelings and a great sense of achievement.

82490384_169964374348928_7614060517031673856_oMy life will never be the same. I have had to find ways to move forward. IrishMamaBuys has been a huge part of this. I don’t know where the journey with it will lead or who I might meet along the way and that’s ok. I hope that people who are part of my little IrishMamaBuys world get something positive from it too. Maybe they get some help with something as simple as what bib to buy, perhaps they get chatting to other women about everyday challenges mums face or maybe they even get inspired to create their own blog or business.

Whatever it is I am grateful. Grateful to everyone who has helped me grow and share my little passion project. I hope you can understand now how much my “mum blog” really does mean to me.


 

If you or any one you know have been effected by domestic violence or need to seek advise you can find support with the following organisations-

 

 


NCCWN Donegal are always looking for women to share their stories and looking for women to write features on topics of their choice which we will profile as part of our Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices’ series.

Big Community Clean Up

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Women around the world are increasingly becoming recognised as agents of change in supporting climate action and environmental work. Over the years, we have met many inspiring women in Donegal leading the charge in supporting environmental issues. In our latest ‘women’s lives, women’s voices’ feature, Donegal Town local Geraldine McBrearty shares with us her journey to setting up the “Big Community Clean Up” group in Donegal and talks about why it’s so important to keep trying to make an environmental difference.


 

Hi Everyone, thank you for taking the time to read this article.  In 2016, I founded a small Facebook group called “Big Community Clean Up“.  Its aim was to rally my friends and neighbours to get out for a few hours for the summer months and clean up our beautiful area as much as we could.

 

What inspired me to do this? Well it was a combination of the older generation and also my children who both always inspire me in all aspects of my life. During one of my walks to my local beach at Drumbeg, I noticed two wonderful ladies in their 60’s walking towards me. I had the pleasure of knowing these ladies many years previously whilst working in Magee of Donegal and I loved meeting them out and about.


 

To my shock, they were laden down with plastic bottles, old rope, part of an old mud flap and a discarded bicycle rim to name but a few.  They were halfway across the beach and literally could not carry another item.  They stopped to chat with me and I offered to carry what I could for them.  They informed me that they regularly picked up rubbish on the beach. What legends!!

 

I was gutted that these two amazing ladies had to go to such lengths to clean up our area. Equally worrying was the danger posed to my children from discarded rubbish and broken bottles. They would often ask “Mum, why is it so dirty here”.  It broke my heart.  I decided to organise a few close friends and neighbours to help me out on regular clean-ups.


 

It was hard work especially as high tides and storms would wash in huge amounts of rubbish onto the shore.  One such beach we cleaned, Matthews Strand, had to be tackled in an almost military manner.  We all had to line up and inch slowly along the beach picking up the endless waste that lay there.  By the end of the few hours cleaning we had made a noticeable difference, everyone was so proud of themselves. The amount of rubbish lifted was so vast that we had to call in the help of the local fishing company MOWI to help us take the rubbish to a designated lifting area for the council to remove.  Just imagine that!

I try to make outings fun, especially for the little children, so I organised on a couple of occasions for an ice cream van to pull up after the clean-up and gave an ice cream to everyone.  It was the least that they all deserved. This was very kindly paid for by the generosity of MOWI and also local councillor Noel Jordan who are always on hand to lend support to the group.


 

During the Covid-19 pandemic our main supporters, Clean Coasts, have been unable to organise clean-ups around the country due to travel and group restrictions.  However, I decided a few weeks ago to approach my group members to see if we could at least get out with our family members within the 2km area and clean as much as we could.  It worked out fantastically and a lot of rubbish along the roadside and in the ditches, was cleared up before it was covered by the growing grass of Spring.

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A socially distanced clean up

Our next mission is to get onto the beaches for a much needed clean up and to implement social distancing and some safety measures.  It’s so important to keep trying to make a difference.  The council and local litter warden are so helpful and I appreciate their regular support.  I believe that any effort at all is so worth it and will make a difference if we can all get out and make it a part of our daily lives to pick up the rubbish.


 

Our future

Maria Murphy and her grandkids out and about cleaning up the area around their home on our recent clean up.

The effort we put in today will benefit our children and relatives in the future. What really stands out for me is that there are so many people like my older friends who are out selflessly lifting other people’s rubbish.  We can join them and it makes the burden they are under a little lighter.  That is why I try and get out when I can to lift rubbish.  Thanks so much to everyone in the community who helps out.  It is very much appreciated and every little helps.  Thank you.

 

To date the group has been a great way to rally people together and to showcase the difference a clean-up makes. People can ask to join the bigcommunitycleanup group or contact their local council who will supply pickers and bags for their own clean ups. Moving forward I’d love to get the beaches cleaned up for the summer but we will have to navigate the social distancing restrictions. Even if each family clean up their own areas and beaches it would make a massive difference.

 


NCCWN Donegal are always looking for women to share their stories and looking for women to write features on topics of their choice which we will profile as part of our Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices’ series.

You Define Yourself

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On Sunday 26th April 2020, Ireland joined others around the world to celebrate the 11th Lesbian Visibility Day, a day to celebrate, recognise, and bring visibility to lesbians. To honour this day local community group Donegal LGBTQ+ shared the story of Ann Marie which outlined the struggle of accepting one’s own sexual identity. In this Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices’ feature with the permission of Ann Marie we share her journey of loss, of love and the battle to belong.


 

Hi all, my name is Ann Marie or aka Annie. This is the normal way I introduce myself because that is who I am. When people ask me what I do, I say I work as an accounts administrator and I coach football and camogie and tutor part time.

 

Again, this is what I do but that’s not all is it? It’s that nagging voice in your head telling you to blurt out that you’re a lesbian shout it out get it out there but I don’t and not because I am ashamed but because it shouldn’t matter. It doesn’t define my decisions in life it doesn’t make me a better or worse person. If I make a big deal of been a lesbian then its making it out to be a big deal and it’s not. I am who I am and the ups and downs of life make me who I am not who I love.


 

When I was in my teens I always felt a little different to other girls my age. Boys weren’t the big concern in my life. One of my best friend set me up with her neighbour. We went out for a bit but lasted a month or so. I had to pretend to be upset that we broke up but I wasn’t. I couldn’t understand why I didn’t feel upset though he was a nice guy, cute and treated me well. Then one day everything changed not because I dramatically fell in love with a girl but because of a TV show called Playing the Field. I was extremely sporty playing camogie, soccer and basketball (I started playing Gaelic football late in life).

This show was about women playing soccer and the drama that goes with it. I loved it and there was two characters who started getting close to each other and they happened to be two women. I became obsessed with them but in my head, it was just because they played soccer. Reflecting back these characters opened up my eyes. It was late 90s and I had never seen two women together before. I would safely say I was very naive. So, I starting looking for shows that would have lesbian content, fortunately for me it was a time of change in the world and TV shows were starting to introduce gay characters for me Bad Girls and Buffy became my new favourite shows. The only problem was I was in a relationship with a guy.


 

Expectation is hard to deal with but when the expectation is coming from yourself it’s a whole lot worse. I always wanted to be the best and I took negativity and criticism really bad. I wanted to be the best daughter, best granddaughter I wanted to be someone that my parents would be proud to introduce to friends. I wanted mam to be able to show off her daughter and show how well she brought me up and for me this was the hardest part of been gay. I didn’t want mam to have to introduce her gay daughter to anyone. So, I kept it a secret I became an actor in my own right, said the right things at the right time did the right things and even talked about marriage. Then one day I met someone that would change my life for ever in good ways and bad. I fell in love but I was still in a relationship with a man. I would talk for hours with her about my feelings, about my fears and about my lies that I had to tell. She was amazing she listened she gave me advice and we fell in love. The thing was, as we look back on it, how we fell in love more or less instantly. So, after my grandfather died I made a promise that I would do the right thing. I would finish my relationship and start preparing myself to talk to my parents.


 

What I haven’t mentioned yet is that the woman I fell in love with lived a in a different country thousand miles away. She travelled over to meet with me for the first time and it was amazing. Everything felt right. Holding her hand, looking into her eyes everything just felt the way you read in books but that nagging voice in the back of my head was telling me to run. Anxiety hit, fear of telling my mam and dad doubled this shit was real now. Before I could pretend it didn’t exist but now I couldn’t. I would stay up long into the night going over how I would tell them. Every time I would build up the courage something stopped me from doing it. I hated myself, I hated looking in the mirror I couldn’t look at myself in the eye. I starting retreating into my room secretly drinking to help me sleep. I was 26. I spent nearly 10 years with a secret that was slowly killing me inside. So, what happened next well my biggest regret happened next I was so consumed with how I was feeling that my relationship with the woman I loved got destroyed. Not going into the details as that is another story to be told.


 

My mum was having a birthday the big 50 and I managed to ruin it by coming out as I was not able to hold it in any longer. It just came rushing out the week before her surprise birthday party and I gave the poor woman no chance to deal with it. I didn’t tell her in a controlled way I was totally uncontrollable at that point. She didn’t take it well but not for been gay I don’t think but probably more about the way I done it. My mum and dad are amazing people. It took them time to deal with it but who am I to judge it took me 10 years. They are my biggest allies and voted yes in the referendum and are proud to introduce me. Mam says “how could I not be proud of you look at you, look at who you have become”

 

So where am I now, I now live in Donegal (from Kilkenny) and I am back with my first love and smashing the long-distance thing. Advice for those coming out be relaxed be calm be proud of who you are, been part of the LGBTQ+ community is just something your part of it doesn’t define you. You define yourself.

 

I am Ann Marie. The person I was meant to be and the person I will be in the future.

 


 

NCCWN Donegal Women’s Network would like to thank Donegal LGBTQ+ and Ann Marie for sharing with us an insightful lived experience.

Donegal LGBTQ+ aims to promote the health and wellbeing of LGBTQ+ people and increase the social connectiveness across the county by providing information and supports as well as offering events with local partnerships. They are a non-profit community and you can find them on facebook here by email at donegallgbt@gmail.com or phone number 086 088 7738.

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NCCWN Donegal are always looking for women to share their stories and looking for women to write features on topics of their choice which we will profile as part of our Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices’ series.

Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices

Express Yourself

 

NCCWN-Donegal Women’s Network are looking for women to share stories and write about topics of their interest to feature in our ‘Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices’ series.

 

The Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices series has been running for over 17 years through the Donegal Women’s Network with hundreds of features being printed in the Donegal Democrat. Over the last few years we moved these features to an online platform on our website.

 

You can check out a number of the features written by women in Donegal which we’ve published by visiting  donegalwomensnetwork.org/womens-lives-womens-voices/

 

If you would be interested in being part of this series please drop us a message we’d love to talk with you. Or if you know of any women who may like to develop or put their writing skills into practice why not share with them too! 


 

Please email us on donegalwomensnetwork@gmail.com if you’re interested in writing a feature for this women’s series.