WHEN former Cork footballer, Valerie Mulcahy, launches Health Awareness Week for LINC (advocating for lesbian and bisexual women in Ireland) next Tuesday, January 29, at the organisation’s premises on White Street, she will be highlighting the importance of looking after physical and mental wellbeing.
Valerie says it’s important to acknowledge that everyone gets stressed at some stage. It’s a question of how to manage it.
“I like to do mindfulness and to get active when I’m stressed,” said this secondary school teacher of maths and physical education.
“I like to go outside my comfort zone with certain things but I don’t want to be constantly pushing myself. I try to understand my limits.
“I think a lot of sports people are very competitive and often try to seek perfection. I would have been very critical of myself when I was on the Cork football team. I could have probably enjoyed it a little bit more. I do miss it.”
Valerie says that there is a bigger drop off in girls doing sports in their teenage years than boys.
“There are not as many opportunities for girls and not the same amount of clubs as there are for boys. Things could be improved on that front. It doesn’t have to be GAA or basketball. There’s a range of different activities, things like Ultimate Frisbee and gymnastics.”
As part of her healthy regime, Valerie eats mindfully and is conscious of portion size.
“Preparation is key. That’s where athletes excel. Athletes are aware of what they put into their bodies.”
A varied diet is desirable with plenty of water and liquids, she said.
“It takes 20 minutes for the body to tell the mind that it’s full. People should eat slowly and mindfully and enjoy their food.”
Community health worker at LINC, Ciara Mulcahy (no relation to Valerie) says Health Awareness Week caters for every interest. It covers mental, physical and sexual health as well as social and emotional wellbeing.
For women who have not yet come out, the awareness week “can act as an invitation to check out the service and use it”.
One of the talks is entitled ‘smears for queers’. Ciara says: “There is a gap in our community of women attending for smear tests. There is a variety of reasons why that happens. Lesbian and bisexual women are generally less likely to go for their smear test. But it’s important for everyone who is sexually active to have a smear test.
“There are myths around lesbian and bisexual women maybe not needing to go for this check-up. Also, if you’ve had a negative experience with health care professionals, you’re less likely to engage with services like this.”
And no doubt the fall-out from the cervical smear test scandal has affected women’s faith in the service.
A talk entitled ‘Bodyworks for Home’ will be presented during the week. It’s all about looking after the immune system.
Ciara said: “It’s engaging different parts of your body to boost your immune system. It’s about looking after hormone balance.”
While physical, mental and sexual health are the main areas that will be under the spotlight during the week, there will also be fun elements to the programme such as Go Karting.
“A big element of the health week is promoting social inclusion and social and emotional wellbeing.
“We will have a number of social events including board games,” Ciara added.
The board games will take place in Table Top, a board game cafe on Castle Street.
“We have booked a large part of the cafe. It’s an opportunity to socialise outside of the pub. Women can play board games with each other and have coffee.
“There is also a No Escape event. This involves being locked into a room and having to figure out clues and puzzles in order to work your way out of the room. No mobile phones will be allowed in the room. The aim is to get out of the room as quickly as you can.”
The closing event, Pledge for Health Prize Giving, actually kicks off at the beginning of the week, where members of the lesbian and bisexual community take a pledge. Every day, they will take a Steps challenge which is tied into the 10,000 daily steps that people are encouraged to take.
“Those taking part in Pledge for Health will also be set mindfulness practices every day. Everyone who takes part in the pledge has to agree to attending a certain amount of workshops for the week.
“On the final day, they are asked to sign up for six weeks to a new sport or a mindfulness programme. It’s about forming good habits. It’s not competitive. But whoever meets all the challenges of their pledge will be included in a raffle for prizes such as gym membership and restaurant vouchers,” said Ciara.
LINC received €100,000 in lottery funding in 2015 to purchase a new premises. Through fund-raising, it aims to double that amount of money. More than 1,500 women access services at LINC.