Less than two seconds into the revelations from the millennial, already a successful social media influencer, about how she had endured low-self confidence and anxiety before eventually getting a grip on her negative feelings and establishing her own clothing line and an online mental health service, I began to feel deep rumblings of irritation.
“She’s a very minor celebrity who hasn’t even made it through her twenties yet,” I complained, rattling the paper irritably.
“And she’s explaining how to manage your mental health. What does she know about what the rough edge of life can do to a person?”
“You’re being ageist and you’re being jealous,” he declared, grinning. He leaned over to snatch the paper out of my hands and have a look.
“Aw, God, she’s gorgeous. Phew! She can tell me how to live my life anytime.”
That, I grumbled sourly, was not exactly the point. Or maybe, I acknowledged, given the cynicism of this modern world and its emphasis on style rather than stuffing, it was secretly the point, but we were supposed to focus on the well-meant advice and pretend that we hadn’t, not for a single second, been influenced by her beauty. Because this young influencer clearly wanted to be more than the sum of her parts.
She had this advice to offer: Boost your inner confidence by putting on make-up and dressing up to look your best. Fair enough, it’s much the same as my mother used to say to us when we were teenagers and feeling a bit blue.
Especially if you compared your finished results to the golden image of the young ‘wan in the newspaper. You could potentially end up feeling even worse, I pondered.
Another strategy she suggested was to surround oneself with highly positive upbeat people who would boost you. Again, nothing wrong with that — as long as you can find somebody who is 24/7 confident, upbeat, positive and smiling you don’t just end up wanting to murder.
The young social influencer also recommended involvement in charity work. For, like, the feel-good factor.
Isn’t charitable work, I observed, supposed to be about helping people who are actually not doing so well in life and who therefore may not possess an excess of positivity to shower on you, no matter how nice you’re being to them?
“Now you’re just being picky and snarky,” my companion smirked.
Well, maybe. Personally, if I was feeling the sharks circling, I’d try to focus on Adrienne Murphy’s essay in the 2009 collection.
There are no pretty pictures here of Murphy looking wonderful in various outfits. In fact, there are no pictures at all. It’s just a slab of thoughtful revelatory writing about living by somebody who has knocked up against some of life’s harder or more serrated edges. Other contributors to this collection include Alice Taylor, Fintan O Toole, Seamus Heaney and Fr Peter McVerry, so Murphy is in exalted company.
A journalist and mother of an autistic child who has campaigned for the rights of children with autism in Ireland, she recalls that before she had to cope with the extremes of her child’s challenging behaviour, she had never known what it really meant to be left with no recourse but “to fall to your knees and beg for spiritual intervention”.
“All I can say,” she observes, “is that it works.”
So, for what it’s worth, here are some thoughts that Murphy — somebody who has had real struggles and has survived to struggle again — tries to remember to tell herself when she finds herself in rough weather:
You are a spirit being having a human experience. In no time at all, you will be dead, everyone involved will be dead and none of this will matter a jot any more.
Detachment puts you in touch with the eternal soul which is beyond human suffering. Remain detached and observing until this particular storm is over. It will pass.
Accept what is. Resistance increases suffering. Breathe and feel. Don’t think.
You are being taught a fundamental lesson: that happiness is an inside job. Real happiness is not contingent on outside circumstances. It’s a harsh lesson. Stop praying for your sick child for a moment. Instead, pray for your own strength and endurance
Are you beating yourself up? Flood your being with self-love through your heart right now. You are exhausted.
By hook or by crook get a good night’s sleep soon. You are working very hard. Work is love made manifest.
Pain can be a gateway to the soul. It is possible to use this moment for rapid spiritual advances. You can also cry, and cry and cry.