No woman is an island

“Happiness is within,” they say. Within you, within that cup of herbal tea and a gratitude journal and deep, deep breaths. You should try yoga. We’ll all have our 15 minutes of fame – if we just find that strength within. We’ll all be somebody, more than just selfless mothers – we’ll make our lives into works of art, copyrighted, patented, and with no one to thank but ourselves.

One for the gratitude journal: we’re safe from floods and earthquakes. But calm as the waters may be, the 8th ships us across the Irish Sea, sweeping secret upon secret under a rug woven of intricate age-old lies. “I’m drowning in post-natal depression,” says one, as another numbs guilt with a bottle of Tesco’s Finest. A third perfects the art of covering bruises with concealer and a new fringe, while 12 a day are exiled. Shame – our greatest export.

“Happiness is within,” so the self-help books say. But what is self-help if the self needs help, reaching out and away for respite, for togetherness? Sure happiness must be within when the outside and beyond is cold and lonely, bills unpaid and children hungry, wombs a battlefield and homes hollow as ghosts. You must find strength within to get up early in the morning, pay your taxes, look after your own, never complain – good man. When there’s no such thing as society and Thatcher rests in peace, take a deep breath, try yoga.

Down by the Central Bank, placards of blood and flesh make religious icons of grotesque purity, flaunted by big, strong men who know nothing of hormonal battlefields but are certain that a heartbeat is a heartbeat because God tells us so. Four of them, maybe five, the placards huge like altarpieces. Just a couple of yards away is a woman, alone, red tape across her mouth and a small hand-written sign asking the big, strong men to mind their own battlefields. Then a stranger walks up, joins in silence, grabs her hand.

Up by the Dáil, another man with a sign – on strike for that same heartbeat, demonstrating his right to refuse to eat so that others can be force-fed. Up walk 25 handmaids, all dressed in red, a long line of white bonnets. Solidarity in silence. Yes, there is such a thing as society. There’s a soup kitchen just around the corner, serving mugs full of steaming hot care and smiles, and three lads on Facebook offering free grass-cutting services and hugs to old, disabled, sick people and single parents. Hope in a social media post.

I don’t think happiness is within, but in between, in what holds us together – in showing up and grabbing someone’s hand. I think it is in marching side by side, 20-30-50-thousand, unapologetically through the streets that are our own, refusing to throw another woman under the bus and in the sea, turning the streets of Dublin from battlefields into a weft of compassion and solidarity.

I think hope is in drinking that tea together, taking a deep, deep breath and listening to each other – disagreeing, maybe, but respectfully, without judgement. Marching, stronger together, until the ideas of ‘mind your own business’ and self-realisation for 15 minutes of fame no longer shape our policies and our dreams and our health; until we refuse to swallow our pride along with guilt and shame and tears, and admit that some days giving up feels easier than leaning in and reaching for what was once a seed of happiness within; until we can say out loud that today it hurts, and I need help. It’s not your fault.

This, to me, is self-care: surrounding myself with other people who care, mothers who haven’t slept in years but spend every free minute writing down facts and engaging in debates and finding pills for those who need them; women who have been abused and ignored, who are scared and hurting but won’t stop talking; and those born with all the luck and privilege in the world, who would give it all up in a flash if it meant those born without could be heard.

No man is an island. No woman is an island. When I despair, I put my faith in community and I seek out these warriors. And then, together, we cry the world better.

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