I am a violinist, member of the Irish Chamber Orchestra and also a freelancer. I have produced and hosted a podcast called Bittersweet Symphony and I also write for The Goo, a new music magazine for Dublin.
Analysis >>Watch video>>
I’ve been in psychoanalysis for a lot of my adult life, to support my mental health. It’s been incredibly valuable and transformative for me. I’m a big believer in the power of stepping into language. I think that stepping from the subconscious into consciousness through language is really powerful.
Carl Jung said that it’s our responsibility as human beings to know and understand our shadow, so that we can be compassionate people in the world. It allows us understand when we’re coming from reactivity, to understand our behaviour and to connect with ourselves. There’s so much value in that and I’ve always believed in it.
I had thought about being a psychotherapist for a while. In 2013 I did a Higher Diploma in Psychotherapy Studies in UCD. It was the first time I ever had to do any academic writing, but I loved it. I would be very much of the Kleinian/Winnicott school of analysis and psychotherapy.
I recently thought, “Well, let me try coaching. Let me at least dip my toe in and see if I’m able to do it… see if I’m able to sit, listen, reflect, hold back all the desires to fix, to save, to help or to offer solutions and just create a holding space for people. That’s the real power of analysis and therapy. It’s a place where people can come and speak freely and can listen to their thoughts. We so rarely listen to our thoughts and allow someone to hold that space and keep you safe in that expression. I absolutely love coaching and it’s something that I hope to do more of in the future.
Knocked down >>Watch video>>
One evening in August last year, 2021, I got knocked down by a car off my bike (the joys of cycling in Dublin).
I’m kind of conditioned to wipe myself off and say “There’s nothing wrong, everything’s fine”.
Typical raised-in-an-Irish household! Your leg could be hanging off and you’re like, “No I’m fine, I’m grand, I don’t need to go to the doctor”, but my left hand was actually really badly injured. I had a broken finger but a lot of the other fingers and joints were damaged. It felt like there was a “before” and an “after” from that accident.
From August until December I really wasn’t using my left hand at all on medical guidance and I didn’t really know if I’d ever be able to play music or play the violin again. It’s the only thing that I’ve dedicated my life to since I was five years old.
For me, music is a way of understanding my place in the world; of understanding feelings that I can’t completely articulate to myself (whether that’s healthy or not healthy). The way poetry can kind of synthesise an obscure emotion, music would do that for me as well. Suddenly I didn’t know if I’d ever have that again. I didn’t know if it would ever be a possibility for me to sit in an orchestra and become a part of sound. It’s a very hard thing to describe, but you become sound when you’re in an orchestra or when you’re playing with people. You stop being a person anymore and you just become pure sound and harmony and vibrations in the world. The idea of not experiencing that again was quite devastating.
The orchestra that I am a member were the first to play for live audiences again in the National Concert Hall in September 2021. The accident happened a week or two before that. I went to the concert and I could hardly breathe. It was so moving but also incredibly upsetting to not know if I would ever be up there again making music and performing for people.
Injury >>Watch video>>
I guess I had a lot of concerns around how I’d survive financially. What would I do? I couldn’t live on illness benefit or disability benefit. Would I lose my home? There were all these very practical concerns, but then there were all these other struggles, like having to buy disability items for my home.
I couldn’t open things, I couldn’t tie my shoelaces. I couldn’t keep my house clean. I needed a lot of help. I needed a lot of help from my family. I was having to call on a lot of people for support and I find that difficult, so there was a lot of humility. I had to really sit in that place of humility, a place of saying, “I’m not able”. I would even doubt it as I’d be saying it. “Really? Are you not able?”. “No, I’m really not”.
It opened my eyes to how unequal the world is for people who are older and people who have disabilities. I appreciated that insight. I was very inspired by things that I saw and thought how minor what has happened to me is really compared to what some people live with and cope with in their daily lives.
After the initial real darkness and despair, (because there was quite a lot of that) I found a trust that I had never quite identified. I hadn’t heard this voice before in my head saying, “Everything will be OK. It’ll be alright. Even if you can’t play music again, you’ll be OK, you’ll be alright”. I don’t know where it came from and I don’t know why I had it. Maybe it’s because I did need to ask for so much help, and help was there from friends and family. Maybe that enabled me to trust the universe more. That was something new for me – to think, “Do you know what? Whatever this is, it will be OK.”
Coaching training >>Watch video>>
I had done coaching training all during that autumn of 2021. Myself and my coaching partner Hannah were coaching each other every week for an hour each. She’s a dear friend. I’ve never met her! I’m meeting her this summer. She lives in London and is a ceramic artist.
To be coached by Hannah was incredible and very supportive. It helped me move forward with the things I was trying to achieve. When I didn’t always have hope, she carried hope for me and belief in myself when I didn’t have it. I also got to coach her every week which meant that I got to be a support for somebody else, and that for me was incredibly helpful for my self-esteem – to feel that I could do something when I couldn’t even wash my hair. That made me feel like a viable human being when I didn’t always feel like that.
I also had weekly therapy online with my therapist and that was also a lifeline. I’m incredibly grateful to her for her support during that time.
Podcast >>Watch video>>
I created a podcast that I had been thinking about making for quite a long time. I guess if I had been performing and working, I wouldn’t have been able to so completely throw myself into it. I think it still would have happened because I really wanted to create it. It’s called Bittersweet Symphony and is about the bitter, the sweet and the bittersweet of musicians’ lives from March 2020 until August 2021.
I wanted musicians’ stories to be heard – for us as a community to connect with each other, and to share our experiences authentically. The podcast allows audiences and people who listen to music and come to concerts to know who we are, how we live, and what matters to us. The stage can often be a barrier, so Bittersweet Symphony allows us to go towards people and say, “This is who we are, this is what we care about, this is what we love, and this is what we find hard.” Making and sharing Bittersweet Symphony was an incredibly enriching experience for me.
I recorded 16 conversations with colleagues. These musicians were incredibly open and vulnerable. I was moved and inspired by their honesty, but it also gave me so much comfort. It was a significant solace to me during that time for sure. This was my community. Bittersweet Symphony allowed me to peel back the layers and go, “Gosh, we’re all extraordinary human beings with so much strength and vulnerability, and in that is so much beauty.” It was very touching and was massively supportive during an incredibly difficult time.
Light coming back >>Watch video>>
To anyone struggling and going through a difficult time, often the last thing we want to do is tell people that we’re struggling and to tell people that we need help, because depression, anxiety, darkness, whatever you want to call it – the nature of it is isolating. But when you answer that phone call, just take a small step forward and ask for help, and tell someone how you feel or allow yourself to connect with another human being…that is the beginning of the light coming back through.
There is always hope. Often you can feel like there is absolutely none, but just allow yourself to be helped, to know that you can’t do it alone. Nobody expects us as human beings to do things alone. We are always part of a community, even if it’s only your next-door neighbour or a sibling you haven’t connected with in a while. It’s part of how we are as animals, to live in community and part of that is being part of the earth and nature. However awful you feel, if you’re able to just stand outside and take one breath in and one breath out and just soften yourself to what is around you, it can be the beginning of letting some light in.
I think we can be conditioned by guilt and shame around asking for help and allowing ourselves to be helped. I know for myself, if somebody asks me for help it is the greatest privilege. If someone trusts me enough to say, “I need to talk, can you help me? I’d love your advice, all I need is someone to listen to me”, it is the greatest honour as a friend or as a family member.
There are also professionals who are trained to do this. Minding Creative Minds is a free support for the creative community. If you are not within the Irish creative sector, there’s always sliding scale therapists who are more affordable, like at My Mind. If you don’t have an income it can be as little as €20 an hour.
If you don’t have the hope to make those calls, allow someone else to do that for you. I know sometimes people don’t have the energy to do all the admin side of getting better and staying well. If that’s the case, allow someone else to do it for you. Say, “I need help. I need to talk to someone. Help me find someone.” It’s a gift to be able to allow people to help you.
What’s next? >>Watch video>>
It’s quite an exciting time at the moment. I am busy rehearsing and performing every week. I have just done three concerts with the Irish Chamber Orchestra at the Kilkenny Arts Festival and am looking forward to our September concerts in Dublin, Limerick and Mayo. I’ve upcoming performances with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra and I’ll be performing with friends at Kaleidoscope in October.
In the August/September issue of The Goo, the Dublin music magazine I write for, there’s the usual classical roundup I do each month, as well as an interview with composer Sebastian Adams. At the moment, I’m putting together the round up for concerts in September/October and also preparing to interview Finola Merivale, the composer of the community virtual reality opera “Out Of The Ordinary”. As well as all of that, I’m producing a Culture File Debate on RTÉ Lyric FM, which is my first experience of radio production and I’m absolutely loving it.
Listen to Cliodhna’s podcast, Bittersweet Symphony (available on all podcast platforms):
Remember, if you’re a member of the Irish creative industry, Minding Creative Minds offers life coaching and career advice free of charge. Our mentorship programme opens again in the coming months so keep an eye on our social media channels for updates.
We also have a team of counsellors/psychotherapists on-hand to support you emotionally at any time of the day or night + we can support you with practical and financial advice too. Simply call the phone number below.