As is rapidly becoming a January tradition for me (and by the look of the crowds, for lots of people!), my first outing of the year was to First Fortnight, Ireland’s mental health arts festival. I’ve talked previously about how amazing I think this festival is, with its mix of music, poetry, art, film and theatre in addition to discussion forums. The fact that year-on-year, this festival has managed to gather growing crowds at a time of year when the tendency is to hibernate, and to keep prices at a level that allows people to come when no-one is feeling flush, is a testament to just how brilliantly organised it is. The growing numbers in attendance mean that the festival is continuing to spread its message of normalising the discussion of mental health in Ireland, and continuing to challenge mental health prejudice through the creative arts. In a country that seems to only be slowly coming to the realisation that talking is important, the open discussion that takes place at the First Fortnight events encourages people to talk but manages to avoid being preachy.
This year, I went to more events than usual. Apart from my traditional trips to the Therapy Sessions music and poetry events, and the Finale gig featuring some of the best Irish acts around at the moment, I went to Silver Linings Playbook followed by a discussion panel and a play so brilliant that I went back to see it again and brought my parents – Confusion Boats (I’m not going to say anything about this other than that I think Ger Kelly, writer and star, is a serious talent, and that everyone should go see it!).
Mark Geary (First Fortnight Therapy Sessions 1, Workmans Club) Daithi (First Fortnight Therapy Sessions 1, Workmans Club) – disappointingly small crowd hung around for his set, which was brilliant as always
I also did some volunteering at the festival for the first time this year. From freezing my arse off at Happy Clouds to getting a chance to see the Poetry Slam, the Milk and Cookies storytelling and baking evening, and the No Room at the Inn mental health service discussion forum – volunteering at this festival was such a privilege. Tiring, but a privilege! The organisers are the nicest, most hard working group of people you’ll ever meet. The fact that this group of my peers (they are normal people, with day jobs, who organise this festival on a voluntary basis) can achieve something so amazing – well, it is humbling, inspirational and just a little bit intimidating!
Susan Quirke (First Fortnight Therapy Sessions 2, Workmans Club) – she may have been nervous but she played a belter of a set
In last year’s blog (https://gigaholic.wordpress.com/2013/09/17/first-fortnight-2013/), I touched on why this festival means so much to me, and now that I’ve had a chance to be involved in it in a small way, it means even more. The next piece of this post is something I’ve struggled with – I just couldn’t decide whether to include it or not. I’ve never revealed a huge amount of personal information in this blog, and this was deliberate. Last year’s First Fortnight post was probably the most I’ve spoken about myself here but I felt that in the spirit of what the festival is all about, it was appropriate. And I still feel like, when it comes to First Fortnight, sharing honestly is the least I can do.
So, in that spirit, here goes. While I’ve had my issues (haven’t we all?), I’ve been lucky that they have never been too severe, in the greater scheme of things. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t almost cripple me with self-doubt at times – trust me, my brain is often my own worst enemy. I really wanted to sign up to volunteer for First Fortnight for quite some time, but I had to think long and hard about whether I was actually up to it. While I’ve made huge strides in working on myself and my confidence from my lowest point at the end of 2012, I still have my bad patches. The last thing I wanted to do to the First Fortnight organisers was sign up and then back out, which is my pattern when things get too much – but I decided it was time to push myself out of my comfort zone. If I’m honest, I was so nervous on my first day volunteering that I didn’t know whether I wanted to cry or puke, and nearly turned back so many times. I’m sure the people who met me at that first event probably thought I was some kind of mute – nope, not mute, just terrified. But it got easier, and easier, with each event I helped at – luckily, I helped out at quite a few events, so my lasting memory is of how much fun I had, and not how scared and out-of-place I felt initially. The people running this festival are so welcoming, the other volunteers were a lovely bunch, and I am going to be the first in line to sign up to volunteer again next year.
If anyone has actually bothered to read until the end of this blog, well done – I think I’d have given up long ago if I wasn’t writing it! Thanks for sticking with it, and letting me share, even though it doesn’t really fit in with what Gigaholic is about. And if anyone who made it this far happens to be a part of First Fortnight, I hope you know how amazing what you’ve created is. From the fact that I look forward to the festival every January, to the fact that I often take a different route to work just so that I can see Maser’s You Are Alive wall on Camden St, First Fortnight has really got under my skin. I don’t think I can express how much being involved in First Fortnight 2014 meant to me, mainly for the amazing festival it is, but also for proving to myself that despite being terrified, I could do it. So, thank you. It’s not enough, but it’s all I can say – thank you. Roll on First Fortnight 2015!
Stuart Semple’s Happy Clouds (First Fortnight, Meeting House Square)