Q: What do you get when you take a child in the middle of a mental health crisis to Ireland?
A: You get to hang out in Ireland with a child in the middle of a mental health crisis.
That’s it. No escape, no reset, no reprieve, no respite, certainly no do-over.
It was an insane, wonderful, excruciating, beautiful, tragic, sublime mess. When I described it that way to my aunt, she said, “Oh, so you got family.”
What I really needed, what my husband really needed, was about a week to sleep and do nothing—think about nothing, worry about nothing. What we got was anxiety troubles on one side and addict misadventure on the other. And sandwiched in between were some profound moments of laughter beauty, and simple fun.
I guess we just got life, but we got life in Ireland.
The boys got to surf. While they did, I got to have a cuppa with a salty Irish pensioner, her dog and her sheep sitting at her tiny table in her home overlooking the beach.
I listened to her rail against American golf course developers ruining the beauty and environment of her community. I heard about the relative merits of surfers over golfers, the importance of protecting the soil, the surf, the fish, the hares. We were totally simpatico. I got to see beautiful pictures of her house, the beach, the waves. I saw her life displayed on her walls and was overwhelmed by the generosity of this woman who took a stranger into her home. She fed me tea and cake while she shared her heart with me. I felt my anxiety melt away as she treated this stranger like a friend.
We got to meet new surf friends at a local pub. Then I saw the boy walk out of the pub and talk to our new friend about her son who is fighting his own teenage fight. I saw her return and look a little less alone. I felt the world shrink as I connected in the delight and fear of that moment.
My son and I got to walk around the top of a ring fort in a mist that was turning to rain, feeling as free and wild as the iron age individuals who called it home 1700 years ago. Then we took a selfie.
I got to stay up with my son almost all night as he suffered. Watching him impotently, as his body refused to be comfortable, as he paced unrelieved then switched to sitting unrelieved. Watching his weariness, his exhaustion, his fear that this was forever.
We saw sheep. Spray painted sheep. Tagged sheep. Lots of sheep.
And enough green to quench our desert-living souls.
We got to pay extortion prices to hike up to “the best views in Kerry” and found the best views in Kerry. Rugged, beautiful, drenched in deep color. Some of the most beautiful landscape I have ever seen.
We got to see a donkey there too. Just a little bonus.
The seas were too rough for the boat to Skellig Michael to run, the one thing that I had really wanted to do on this trip. And yet I wasn’t disappointed at all with our visit to Kerry.
I got to hear from my daughter that she had just seen the professional Riverdance production at the Gaity theater in Dublin. She told me it was surreal. I think it may have been her best use of that word to date. She got to spend a week dancing with some of those professionals and capped the week off by performing with them on stage at the Gaity herself. When I read her Instagram post afterward, I got to learn it was “one of the best weeks” of her life and she was overwhelmed with gratitude toward the @riverdance professionals who made it possible. She wants to do it again next year, and next time there will be no audition required.
I got to fall on some steps in an Irish downpour and ended up with a hematoma on my ass the size of a papaya. My son couldn’t find ice so he brought me frozen brussels sprouts to help with the pain. It slowed me down. I needed to be slowed down. We played cards and drank whiskey until the three of them left me to my pain and frozen sprouts to find dinner in Dublin. They brought me back Chinese.
We explored art, literature, the Easter uprising, Cromwell, and Wilde. Some of us enjoyed it more than others and then others got their turn to enjoy. It wasn’t perfect, but it was right. The boy and I stumbled upon a Vermeer exhibit at the national gallery. We got to spend a little bit of time in heaven while the girl and her father did a walking tour of the uprising.
We drank tea with sugar and milk. We got to drink lots of tea.
We realized we should have allowed ourselves an entire day for Glendolough. We got to see a rainbow on our way to Meath. When we got to the end of the rainbow, we realized we should have allowed ourselves 4 days at our fairytale cottage in Slane.
I got to watch the girl light up when she saw the romantic cottage on the river. I saw the boy relax when the cottage cat adopted him and followed him to his room, where they stayed and played until dinner. I laughed on the second morning when I knew the cottage cats had accepted us by the dead mouse offerings on the path to the cottage.
We were all melancholy as we said goodbye to our fairy tale cottage. When we got to London in a torrential downpour and found our raincoats leaked, and we only had one umbrella, and the rain hitting our phones screwed up our navigation, and we didn’t have a paper map, and the queue at the British Museum was 2 hours long; we did the only reasonable thing we could and ducked into the first restaurant with an open table and ordered Irish coffees.
I have a feeling that everyone else in the family would describe our arrival in London very differently. Grumpy doesn’t begin to describe the mood of the table that afternoon at the Savoir Faire in Bloomsbury. But to me it was how we dealt with it that was important, not what actually happened. We got to deal with it by eating sticky toffee pudding.
We got to see London improve in the sunshine, as London does. We got to introduce our children to our friends who had never met them. We met and spent time with our friends’ children. We celebrated our 26th wedding anniversary (both ours and theirs) with champagne in the garden. We got to remember why we love spending time with them.
We got to hang out with our child in the middle of a mental health crisis. We got our wonderful, tragic, beautiful family together. We got life. But we got life in Ireland.
I think we got lucky.
If you are planning to travel and mental illness is a concern for you or a loved one, please consider planning ahead.
(c) 2017 Gigi Quinn