Nightmare Headaches and Men: Miriam in Ireland, 2017

Nightmare Headaches and Men: Miriam in Ireland, 2017

As I might have expected, my reflections on Ireland are dragging out long after I actually got home. At this rate I’ll be blogging about it for the whole month, and I do actually have other things I’d like to talk about. But I got distracted last week by sleep and catching up on OITNB and actually writing for once (more on that soon!), so you’ll have to forgive the delay. 

I’m still writing all my blog posts on my phone while procrastinating, so forgive me if they’re ridiculously long, I can’t tell. 

Before I went to Ireland, one of my biggest concerns was that pain would stop me enjoying myself. I took my walking stick, a box full of painkillers, and a whole bunch of support bandages, anticipating my knees giving up on me for days at a time.

But I actually got really lucky about that. Unlike my trip to Cornwall, where I was entirely reliant on the stick for quite a lot of it, I only ended up using my walking stick on two occasions (and very briefly on a third, but not for long). These were both guided tours: one of Dublin Castle and one of Newgrange and Knowth. I discovered that guided tours are more difficult because of standing still while places are explained, and because you often can’t sit down and rest along the way. 

This was more of a disappointment at Newgrange because I’d hoped I would be able to walk back to my hostel in Drogheda after visiting the site — it was a beautiful day, and not an unmanageably long journey. However, halfway round Knowth (the first of the monuments in the tour), my knee just gave up on me entirely, so I ended up using my stick and getting the bus home. 

I always feel uncomfortable when I get the stick out after it’s been folded in my bag for a while. People tend not to be brilliantly understanding about part-time use of mobility aids, and they’re always surprised when you start using one. That said, I think you get fewer weird looks for getting one out partway through than putting it away, especially if earlier on you needed help or special treatment — that’s when people tend to assume you’re faking. No one said anything to me, but I have anxiety, so obviously I ran through every possible accusation in my head and came up with comebacks just in case. 

And I was glad I’d brought it with me, because without it I’d have had the pain but no support, even if there was some anxiety involved. A lot of the places I visited weren’t brilliantly accessible, so I was glad I was generally pretty mobile on this occasion. My hostel in Drogheda was a converted Georgian (?) house, so full of stairs and as a result, quite tiring. I think my dance practice has helped strengthen my legs, and I’m glad that they’re cooperating a bit more at the moment, but I’m not taking it for granted that this will continue. 

One way I did suffer was from developing a migraine midway through the week at Oideas Gael, which then persisted until the end of the holiday, to varying degrees. I’ve been suffering from migraines for most of this year, but they’re new to my life overall. I think they originate primarily from my neck and shoulder issues, as well as sometimes from vision problems. (I should probably wear my glasses more than I do.) Plus, fatigue never helps. 

Lugging a suitcase around, barely sleeping, playing the egg shakers a lot (since they’re surprisingly hard work), handwriting notes in Irish classes… I’d been putting a lot of strain on my upper body, and it’s not really any surprise that what I call a nightmare headache and what my doctor told me was a migraine kicked in on Wednesday morning. I forced myself to go to Irish, but skipped the set dancing class in the afternoon in favour of sleeping, and didn’t go to the pub that night either. Later in the week, I tried to quell the headache with painkillers so I could still play sessions, but when 30mg of codeine does literally nothing, you know it’s a migraine and not just a bad headache. 

Sigh. That was a bit frustrating, to be honest. I really wanted to make the most of my week at Oideas Gael, but it’s hard to concentrate on learning a language when your head feels like there’s an iron band being slowly tightened around your skull. Not only did I miss one set dancing workshop in favour of sleep, but also the following day, because although I turned up, I found after twenty minutes that a twinge in my neck left me way too dizzy to take part in something that involves turning in circles. 

I’ve had this neck problem since about October, and it’s one of the reasons I didn’t do ballet this year, but I honestly thought it had gone. Clearly the nightmare headache summoned it back. 

So yeah, that kind of sucked, a lot. My legs may have held out pretty well, but my upper body was more useless. (Typical Irish dancer, right?) I’m working on strengthening my shoulders in the hope that this eases some of my problems, but I don’t know what I can do about the headaches except hope that my body gets over them. 

Set dancing was pretty fun, but it would have been easier if the instructions hadn’t all been in Irish. I danced the man’s part most of the time, due to a shortage of men, except for one notable incident where I somehow switched roles midway through a dance and finished it by dancing the woman’s part. I feel like that might be a metaphor for my life. 

That said, although I enjoy the stamping and twirling and whatnot, I don’t like how much you have touch other people in set dancing. There’s a lot of holding hands. And holding waists. And at the start of a session it’s okay but by the end everyone’s sweaty and it’s kind of gross and like, I don’t know these people? And I’m not great at touching anyone anyway because being tactile isn’t my thing?

Like seriously how do people do casual skin contact because I always feel deeply weird about it. 

The advantage of dancing the men’s parts was that I only had to hold women’s waists, which was an improvement, as my sensory anxieties about touching people tend to increase when they’re men. Not sure why. Most of them don’t deserve it. But it’s partly because I never actually meet any men so they’re still a strange and unknown quantity. 

I talked to more cis men while in Ireland than I have done in three years of uni, to be honest. Going to a women’s college* and studying a female-dominated course, with ballet as one of my only hobbies, means I just don’t encounter them. Straight men are even rarer. Taking up archery has increased the number of guys I meet and if I actually went to ceilidh band rehearsals I’m sure there are some there, but they’re still a rarity. 

(Note: One of my best friends at college is actually a trans guy, but since he’s not out to the staff and hasn’t transitioned or whatever, it doesn’t feel the same. And I know a fair few dmab people but they’re nonbinary. Straight cis men are just… absent.)

So joining in pub sessions that were mostly male and having to dance with guys in set dancing was a weird experience. I sort of hadn’t realised how much I’d got used to a female-dominated environment until then. 

Anyway, that was a bit of a wake-up call, and while I found out many of these people intimidating (grown men are always intimidating when you’re a young dfab person travelling alone), I didn’t have any bad experiences of that sort during the trip, so by the end of it I relaxed a lot more and hopefully won’t find it so scary in the future. 

Welp, this post went in a different direction to what I was meaning to write about. I was trying to talk about pain and health and stuff. Still, this was definitely something I noticed about the trip, so probably worth saying, even if some people might misconstrue it as me saying I hate men or whatever. Not what I’m getting at in the least, guys. 

Anyway, this post feels very long already, and I need to go and buy some lentil pasta, so I’ll leave it at that for now. I don’t know how much else people want me to write about Ireland: I’ve been mostly trying to follow up on the concerns I voiced before the trip, rather than give a blow-by-blow account, but by all means, if anyone has any questions about it I’d be happy to answer. 

If not, I’ll try and get on with blogging about other stuff again. Like the fact I’m writing again, at long last! That’s exciting. 

4 thoughts on “Nightmare Headaches and Men: Miriam in Ireland, 2017

  1. AHHH CASTLE RUINS. 😍 I want to see a castle so badly, particularly at the moment because I read about some in a book and in my brain that = I need to see one desperately now. *melts into a puddle* Also yayyy for being lucky (mostly) about your knees!! And nayyyy to the migraine. That honestly sounds awful. I hate just headaches alone, so I can’t even imagine a migraine intensity. Also touching people is weird. I’m pretty sure casual affection contact all the time is the weirdest thing. Even my dog and I sit on different chairs.

    (Loved reading this!)

    1. Right?? Touching people is so weird! Mind you, we did have that conversation about whether or not I might be on the autistic spectrum, which would probably explain a lot about my tactile issues…

      Yeah, headaches are the worst. I’m really prone to them so you’d think I’d be used to it by now, but apparently not.

      ((Castle ruins? What castle ruins? I have many pictures of ruins from Cornwall and Wales in recent years but I see no castle ruins here…))

  2. I really like reading all of these! I’ve been low-key stalking your adventures in Ireland because it sounds quite exciting. I’m also planning to do some travelling by myself in Europe later this year so this has been fun to read about (but I’ll be staying with people I know + I don’t have any problems with mobility which is lucky).
    I’d definitely read more Miriam In Ireland posts (side note: you should think up a creative irish name for them, haha). One question: what does dfab mean/stand for? I haven’t come across that word before.

    1. It means “designated female at birth”. Some people use afab instead: “assigned female at birth”. It’s a way of saying I’m biologically female that is inclusive of trans/intersex people and which takes into account the fact that I identify as agender. People see me and think, “young woman travelling alone,” and while I don’t see myself as a woman, that doesn’t make me any safer because it’s how I’m perceived. Hope that clears things up!

What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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