No doctor, no pharmacy, no supermarket: I’m moving to an island

I will be living in a draughty cottage on Cape Clear with books and a lot of thinking for company

Brigid O’Dea: Being a city slicker, I’ve always dreamed of living rural. Photograph: Alan Betson

Brigid O’Dea: Being a city slicker, I’ve always dreamed of living rural. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

To those of you who pass me on Dublin’s streets of Drumcondra with my overflowing tote bag, or on the Clontarf seafront with my Thomas the Tank red cap and bottle blue jacket co-ord, you’ll be seeing less of me for the next two months.

I’m moving to Oileán Chléire, or Cape Clear for you Béarlóirís, as part of Oileán Air residency scheme. I’ll be shacking up in a draughty cottage on the island off the southwest coast of Co Cork with two strangers and, Covid-allowing, getting to know the 120 other residents on this Irish-speaking island. No doctor, no pharmacy, no supermarket – a bunkbed, books and a lot of thinking. A Thiarna déan trócaire.

Being a city slicker (insert sunglasses emoji here), I’ve always dreamed of living rural. I crave the expanse of nature, the peace, the slower pace of living. I grew up by the sea, and when I’ve spent periods abroad, it is the sea I miss more than family or friends.

Neurologist Oliver Sacks wrote in an essay, Why We Need Gardens: “In 40 years of medical practice, I have found only two types of non-pharmaceutical ‘therapy’ to be vitally important for patients with chronic neurological diseases: music and gardens.”

Anecdotally, it’s hard to deny the benefits of nature for my migraine. It brings an almost overwhelming level of calm. Over recent months, I’ve given up reading about complex people, and am reading instead about birds and bees and sheep and trees. Even that helps.

Born anew

For me, however, the sea is a superior form of nature. Each time I dip myself in the water, the sacrament of Baptism resonates with me. I’m born anew. The sea cleanses but does not sanitise. Yesterday’s sins become indeed that, yesterday’s.

Three years ago, I moved to Seville, Spain. There was no great reason for the move except that life felt lacklustre. The more relaxed Mediterranean way of living suited me. I lived on a diet of beer, bread and strawberries. My hair grew shorter, my clothes looser, my laugh louder.

I never knew what time it was.

There’s an age-old saying, “Wherever you go, there you are.” But we are many versions of ourselves. And I’m a nicer me in 30 degrees with a €2 cerveza.

A large part of living with chronic illness is finding a way of life that suits you. I brought my migraines with me to Spain. I’ll bring them with me to Cape Clear. (Wherever you go, there you are.) But living alongside migraine can be made easier in some environments more than others. Not necessarily because the migraine itself is eased by the environment. I was exceptionally happy in Spain. And those few months also precipitated my worst bout of migraine to date. Perhaps just because we are more fulfilled, and therefore burdened less by the pain.

Parallel lives

Of course, sometimes, the correct environment can serve to ease the pain. Other times, we cannot overlook the pain no matter the environment. It hurts too much.

In his new book, The Midnight Library, author Matt Haig gives his protagonist, a young woman who has just attempted suicide, the opportunity to remake her life choices. Nora, who finds herself in a realm somewhere between life and death, is given the chance to experience the parallel lives she may have led had she made different choices over the course of her life.

It’s a fantastical novel. It is unlikely we will find ourselves in The Midnight Library. However, we have the opportunity here on Earth to try on multiple lives. If we are fortunate, we can do and redo, upcycle and recycle until we find a life that fits, or at least is comfortable.

It’s important to get it right. When getting it right means less pain and more freedom, more joy, it is really important to get it right.

So, I’m looking forward to my adventure. To the sea and the stars and the cairde nua. And I’ll miss the comforts of my couch and my local pharmacy.

The likelihood is I’ll be back in Drumcondra in a number of months. You’ll pass me at the traffic lights with my overflowing tote – maybe a new one bought to commemorate my stay – but what you may not see beneath the tomatoes and the tuna and the overpriced oat milk are the experiences I picked up along the way.

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