Few are more internet crazy than me. There’s not much I havn’t done online, from meeting people and running a business to self diagnosis and learning. I’ve also had a few breakdowns in my time and sought both clinical and mental help in the form of real life Doctor and Psychotherapist visits. In recent years I’ve seen ads for online counselling services and my initial temptation was to feel suspicious. Surely counselling is something you need to do face to face so your therapist can read you and get to know you properly? But then I noticed some counsellor friends and clients were starting to offer therapy sessions online via Skype etc.. in an effort to reach more people and become more efficient. So I decided to look into online counselling a little more.
What better way to check out the whole area of online counselling than to sign up for some!? One company/website that seemed to keep popping up for me was “BetterHelp.com“. It’s an online counselling community with over 4,000 registered and qualified therapists and works on the basis of a weekly, monthly or yearly subscription fee in exchange for which you receive one to one counselling via text chat room, instant live messaging, email and video or phone call with your chosen counsellor. Upon sign up the first thing they require is that you answer a series of questions which seem to try ascertain if online counselling is suitable for you. Some things that might make it not suitable are, severe mental illness, currently in psychiatric care, current suicidal thoughts, addiction, your age (you must not be a minor) and poor internet quality. The services they provide are mostly for mild mental illness and life issues such as depression, anxiety, relationships, family issues, breakups, eating & sleeping disorders, LGBT issues, religion and self esteem. It’s fair enough I guess, no one can help you properly if they are on the other side of the planet and you are suicidal. And this website seems to have a mostly American bias. If the questionnaire deems you unfit for online counselling then they refer you to more appropriate local services in your area which is a nice touch.
So once you pass the initial evaluation, you get to specify your preferred counsellor. This is more to do with picking age, sex and specialist areas covered than randomly picking from a list but you will be assigned a counsellor within 24 hours. Or within about an hour in my case. The counsellor than makes contact with you within your shared “chat room” in which all messages between you are saved and which you can drop in and out of at any time. Once you agree to go ahead with your chosen counsellor (or you can choose a different one) you get to pick a payment plan. You can pay via week, month or year with the longer time frames working out cheaper. Prices range from €35 to €60 per week. One cool thing about Better Help is that if the prices are a little too much for you you can apply for their financial aid program which is simply filling out an online form with your gross monthly income (no documentation required) and you get an instant decision. I was awarded a 40% discount on any payment plan which seemed generous and the prices overall are probably up to about 50% cheaper than real life counselling in my experience.
So I didn’t get to sample the actual counselling experience but I think it stands to reason that this could work quite well for certain people who either have financial or social issues and would prefer not to do one to one counselling. Better Help do say that their service is not a substitute for the real life thing however.
I should also say that last year I availed of another excellent online counselling service of sorts which is completely free and Irish based. It’s called “Life Skill’s Online” and it’s run by Aware and based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) principles. I got great benefit from it personally.
Other Irish Mental Health Support agencies include:
Yeah, no prizes for guessing the context of this post! The Leaving Neverland documentary/film has been out for about a month now and is causing havoc worldwide and dividing opinions. The first thing I need to say is that I’ve seen it! Many have come to conclusions about it without even getting that far. And having seen it I, like a lot of people, immediately thought the game is up for Michael Jackson finally. Finally someone has come out publicly and told their story in detail, confirming what we all suspected for years now…that Michael Jackson didn’t just like kids…he ‘really’ liked them. How could any of us argue with the detail, poise, dignity and obvious heartfelt honesty of Wade Robson and James Safechuck, not to mention the seemingly very partial Oprah Winfrey siding with them both and interviewing them shortly after the documentary release and news/media outlets worlwide reporting the documentary as gospel. Cue practically the whole planet from every kind of news media online and off to the average man and woman in the street siding with Wade and James and demanding we all stop listening to Michael Jackson’s music. Radio stations all over the world even banned his music!? I for one started listening to it again for the first time in years. Fucking sue me..
Now as someone who leaves and breathes the internet and has seen many times before how quickly and emphatically a piece of alleged factual news can spread and be adopted as gospel by pretty much everyone to the point where you dare not disagree with the general consensus in case you get slated yourself, I was a little hesitant and suspicious to jump in with the crowd but that’s my thing to be honest! I usually see if I can find another angle on a popular news story, sometimes just for the crack to be a little divisive, others because I genuinely believe there’s a more factual side to the story. In this case I waited a little then slowly began to see some people come out in support of Michael Jackson and question the documentary and stories contained therein so I felt a bit more comfortable doing the same myself.
I need to say that I’ve always been a fan (not massively though. The Doors forever) of not just Michael Jackson’s music and general talents but also the man himself so maybe I’m a little biased here. The interview Martin Bashir done with him in 2003 always sticks in my head. It was the first time I’d ever seen Jackson interviewed (he rarely if ever done interviews of course) and I found him fascinating and refreshingly weird. I’m not sure what it says about me but pretty much everyone else on the planet came to the conclusion that he was completely nuts and wrote him off following the program but I thought he sounded pretty cool. The one bit I remember best from it was when Bashir tries to get Jackson to come down from a tree on his Neverland ranch to talk to him but Jackson refuses saying, “this is my happy place, whenever I’m stressed I like to come out here, climb a tree and pretend I’m Peter Pan.” Why the fuck not I thought on seeing that. Sounds good to me! Better than doing what most of the rest of us do on a daily basis our whole lives. I guess that’s easier to do when you have Michael Jackson’s resources though.
I hate the thought that someone like Jackson (yes, I know I didn’t really know him personally but how many of us do know celebs personally yet we’re prepared to judge them easily?) could have been a paedophile. It would really ruin any confidence I have left in the world, society and people in general. However, I’m not stupid and if someone was to prove to me beyond any reasonable doubt that he was guilty..I’d hold my hands up. That’s yet to happen though. People who are “different” and weird always fascinate me. In a world in which the media and internet has us all thinking, talking and acting the same, wearing the same clothes, adopting the same opinions and generally not bothering thinking for ourselves any more, it’s so, so easy to label someone who is weird and different as a criminal or reject of some kind. Weird = bad generally. But speaking as someone who has always been at least a little weird (nowhere near Michael Jackson weirdness levels admittedly!) myself and how alienated you can become because of it, I can side with someone like Jackson a little easier. Add on top of the weirdness thing the fact that he openly and unashamedly hung around with kids a lot and admitted to preferring the company of kids to adults, then you begin to see how easy it is for people to believe that he was a paedophile.
The last couple of Michael Jackson child molesting controversies happened quite a while ago now in in the late 90s and early 00s so it’s no surprise that people mostly forget that the allegations and even trials then failed to convict Michael or provide any evidence that he molested any kids. Lenghty, in-depth investigations were done and nothing surfaced. Settlements out of court affected his credibility of course but technically, it didn’t mean he was guilty either. Then he died in 2009 and things have been quiet on the Jackson child molesting scandal ever since. Until now of course but don’t people come out of the woodwork a little sooner with these allegations when someone dies? But one thing remains constant, there’s still no real evidence or proof that he was guilty. I posted a piece on Facebook about the comparison between Michael Jackson and Jimmy Saville. Even though neither were ever convicted, the sheer weight, number and types of people that came out with stories about Saville’s activities make it a lot easier to believe that he was a paedophile. That has never happened with Jackson though? And that’s despite being around kids probably even more than Saville was..
All Men Are Child Molesters
So here’s what I think the whole thing boils down to. And it’s way bigger than Michael Jackson, this documentary or yours and my opinions on his guilt. ALL MEN ARE CHILD MOLESTERS. It’s an unspoken, taboo subject but it’s what society tells us indirectly or maybe even directly in this case. When is the last time you seen a male working in childcare for example? Michael Jackson is a paedophile because he hung around with kids and even had them in his bedroom. How could he not be a paedophile doing that kind of stuff? People have no concept of the fact that an adult could have a child in his or her bed and not molest him/her, even though those of us who are parents, Aunts or Uncles probably do the same on a routine basis? I for one as a separated father of 3 who lives alone wouldn’t have the courage to invite any of my kids friends over for play dates or birthday parties because I know full well the parents will be iffy unless there’s a female present. It’s a pretty sad and depressing indictment on society if you think about it. That’s not to say people should start letting their kids stay with any old stranger of course but some level of trust would be nice or at least a level playing field between men and women when it comes to kids? Isn’t it possible that Michael Jackson could have had completely innocent motives for spending time with children and just preferred their company to adults? Is that such a massive leap to make?
My prediction with the current Jackson controversy is that more and more people will come out in support of Jackson and that the Leaving Neverland film will eventually be pulled apart and that will force the participants and makers to come clean. I also hope that Michael Jackson’s name will be cleared once and for all and that we will see him as a friend of children rather than abuser. I also hope that even in death he helps us all to realise that it’s possible for adults to be friendly with children without molesting them. Call me and Michael idealistic and naive if you like, but those are childlike qualities and the essence of children in general. And who amongst us ever really wanted to grow up or would prefer adulthood to childhood now that we’ve experienced both? I believe Jackson’s only crime was naivety. He was naive to think that spending time with kids wouldn’t attract controversy or false, money making allegations. He should have known or been advised better.
If you fancy hearing a bit more about the other side of this controversy and opening your mind a little more so you can at least make a more informed decision about Michael Jackson, there’s information out there if you look. You could do worse than check out these 2 podcast interviews with Jackson’s niece and nephew by American journalist John Ziegler. I know they are related to Jackson and biased but they speak very openly about it all including Jackson’s faults:
Michael Jackson’s Music
Also, thank fuck for Spotify now that it’s harder to check out Jackson’s music on the radio! Here’a a cool Michael Jackson Playlist with some songs I’d never heard myself. I know you can’t judge someone through their creativity alone but listen close to the music and lyrics and see how hard it becomes to think of this man as bad.. Listen at least until there’s more proof of his alleged guilt. If we didn’t separate art from the artist we’d have to stop listening to a hell of a lot of music!
Saturday last, 12th January 2019, I was sitting on the couch in my new house (my first night there) with my girlfriend, drinking Captain Morgan’s and Coke. We’d just watched a scary movie “A Cabin in the Woods” and were shitting ourselves. The new house backs right on to a forest and is on a pretty extensive, barren Castle estate grounds. We decided to unwind with some music so I stuck on a 90’s playlist on YouTube. The first song on was “U Can’t Touch This” by MC Hammer, followed soon after by “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice. Both songs always instantly remind me of my old friend Ali. He was an awesome dancer when he was younger and had most of the moves from both videos down to a tee. I remember he used to go to niteclubs in town and even entered some dance competitions with his brother David who was pretty cool at breakdancing too back in the 80’s.
So I ended up talking about Ali to my girlfriend for ages, telling her all about his eccentricities, dance moves, our football adventures, his weird brother nicknames, his family tragedies, his kids, the last time I seen him, his one visit to Leitrim, etc.. I said to her that I must get in touch with him soon then said jokingly that I really hoped he was still alive and that I worried about him sometimes. I didn’t think he’d been looking after himself great over the years. Imagine my shock then when our mutual friend Colm rang me only 2 days later to tell me Ali had died on December 5th. He was found by his daughter and her mother in his flat in Ranelagh where he’d apparently been dead for about 5 days.
When you get older, I mean quite older usually, you start to hear about some old friends passing away, people about the same age as yourself. There’s nothing like it for reminding you of your own mortality. It was some shock when I heard that one of my first proper, long term friends in life, Alan had died. I remember he was a little younger than me so probably 42 or 43. It’s a bit young to be dying or to be hearing about friends the same age dying?
Alan or “Ali” as we called him, lived on an adjacent road to me in Crumlin Dublin and we met somehow in the late 80’s around age 10 or 11. It was probably through football as that’s all we ever done around were we lived. Myself and Ali used to go “training” for Liverpool in local parks as most of my photos of us below show. We used to buy Liverpool kits, goalie gloves and jerseys and take turns to fire shots at each other from all angles, pretending to be better than we were. Football was eventually replaced by more adult activities such as drinking, hanging around in old, abandoned houses (Ali, Colm and I had a little gang that got up to no good around old houses and we called ourselves The Red Skulls!) and our infamous house “sessions”. Ali moved out of his family home on Stanaway Road, Crumlin to a flat above an upholstery shop on Clonard road just a few km away. Myself, Ali and Colm regularly got together in the flat to drink cheap cans, eat take away and listen to music. Ali loved a good music quiz and we used to stick on some songs and try guess the song name and artist for a point each. Ali usually won but only because he used his own tapes!?
One memorable session in the flat was New Year’s Eve 1999. When everyone else was out partying in fancy pubs and niteclubs like it was 1999, we were in Ali’s grubby little flat with our cans. At one stage after midnight Ali’s older brother (also sadly deceased now) who lived there with him came in stark naked, done a little dance and left as quick. We looked at each other wondering if it really just happened? Ali eventually moved to another flat in Ranelagh where he stayed until his death. I visited him there once before I moved to Leitrim and lost touch a little. He used to tell me that he regularly bumped into Liam O’Maonlai of the Hothouse Flowers too for a chat. He lived around there too. I couldn’t help but notice the huge pile of cigarette butts in the ashtray and the pile of empty beer cans on the sideboard when I was there and it worried me. There was a games console and TV too but he didn’t seem to be doing much with himself. He was telling me he was trying to study for his Leaving or Junior Cert but I don’t think it worked out for him.
Ali was always a little rough around the edges. Not very “intellectually intelligent” as he used to say in his own words but he was a real character and had an interesting way with words. He always seemed a bit dirty/shabby, had poor teeth, little or no education and both his parents died youngish leaving him living with his siblings until he moved into his own place in the 90’s. I remember meeting his mother once and staying with him in her place above a hairdressers caller “Hair Affair” in Athy with our other friend Darren. The 3 of us shared a double bed. The less said about that the better. He didn’t have many breaks in life in general and I never knew him to have a proper job or long term girlfriend although he had two children by different partners and I believe he regularly seen his daughter up until his death which I was chuffed to hear. He spoke regularly to me about his daughter and son and I’m sure he loved them. If you achieve nothing else in life, creating living human beings is pretty damn awesome.
I remember whenever we went anywhere “outdoors” with him such as a restaurant in town etc.. he would get very nervous and self-conscious. He could never order off a menu, either because he couldn’t read great or because of his awkwardness and we usually had to help him. He’d normally just end up blurting out “Chips”! My mother never approved of us being friends but I ignored her. I liked his company and we got on very well. Kids know best and have none of the judgement or snobbishness adults do.
Football brought me and Ali together but a mutual love for music kept us together. He knew a lot about music. All genres and ages. I think he got his taste in music from his older brothers and sisters. Ali got me into some awesome music, none other than The Doors, the band love of my life and I’m chuffed he came to a few of the gigs my Doors cover band played. I remember trying to teach him guitar once after I learned myself but life was too short to try teach Ali anything! I went to see the Doors movie in Tallaght with him and it was The Doors all the way after that. He also got me into Pink Floyd and Thin Lizzy and I believe his favourite Lizzy song “Sarah” was played at his funeral. I recorded a version of it below in his honour. Myself, Ali and Phil Lynott all lived within a few minutes of each other in Crumlin! It’s one of my favourite too. Fittingly, his funeral service was in Mount Jerome cemetery where we used to knacker drink! It was a pity to miss the funeral.
Also, here’s a song me, Ali and Colm wrote one night in Ali’s apartment for the crack! Lyrics by all 3 of us put to music and recorded by me.
Another memorable “outdoor” occasion was when Ali, myself and few guys from the band got together in my house in Crumlin for a BBQ and music session. We had a PA system that we’d just bought for the band setup in the back garden and we done a few of our repertoire. Ali knew all the words to most of the songs. In fact he was famous for being able to quote song lyrics from a ton of songs. One lyric that sticks in my head that he “recited” often were from “Billericay Dickie” by Ian Dury:
Had a love affair with Nina In the back of my Cortina A seasoned up hyena could not have been more obscener She took me to the cleaners And other misdemeanours But I got right up between her Rum and her Ribena
The whole estate probably got an earful of that gig. We all got stoned immaculate and decided to get the 83 bus into town to go see the LA Doors at Midnight at the Olympia. We were doing fine until the bus stopped at a stop in Rathmines where there were a few Asians waiting. Ali started singing “Turning Japanese” by the Vapors and we all lost the plot. Ali was refused entry and another of our group got thrown out for smoking a joint! Imagine!? At a Doors gig?
Rest in peace Ali. We had some good times together and I’m shocked and sad you’re gone. I’m angry and dissapointed with myself for not getting back in touch with you like I said I would in summer 2017 and for not being in contact much for most of the last 15 years. If your sad death teaches me or anyone else anything it’s that we should stay in touch with people who were or are in our lives. I think the last time we spoke was about 6 years ago and the last time we met in real life was probably the session in Colm’s in Balbriggan when you puked your ring up! I’m glad you visited me that one time in Leitrim when we buried the dead rat in my back garden, made a little cross and said a few prayers for him..
I hope the music is good wherever you are now buddy..
I’m not sure where the hell this idea came from but the seed was planted, so to speak, when I got a leaking aquarium and some goldfish from my kids for my 43rd 25th birthday recently. I tried fixing the tank but getting the old silicone off was near as hell to impossible so I quickly gave up and splashed out on a cheap new tank which was missing a filter and lighting system, things I realised painfully that you can’t be without when trying to keep pissy, smelly goldfish. So fancy tank number three is now in operation and me and the fish are happy. But what to do with the two old tanks!? I googled “uses for old fish tanks” and a pile of images of Terrariums or indoor gardens in a box came up. Terrariums it was so.
After a little research I realised that they were all built the same way pretty much, gravel or stones first in on the bottom for good drainage and root dispersal, then soil or compost for the plants to grow in, then some sand and/or gravel on top mostly for appearance sake. Finish off with some ornaments and there you have it. Simple. The only real complication I found after a little research is that Terrariums can be open (dry) or closed (wet) and the one you choose governs which types of plants you put in. I had two old tanks so why not build one of each?
You’ll need the following. Most of it is pretty inexpensive, apart maybe from the plants themselves. Particularly the Cacti:
A large Glass Box or Bowl (or old fish tank or two)
Some way of closing or sealing the Terrarium if you’re building a wet one (I used old plywood cut to size)
Gravel or ornamental pebbles (old aquarium gravel maybe?)
Soil or Compost (get some in your garden for free)
Small Stones, Sea Shells or other Ornaments
Clean out your container first then add a layer of gravel to the bottom. Deep enough to let water gather or contain meandering roots
Add a layer of soil carefully, deep enough to contain the plant roots (maintaining the visible layers rather than mixing them gives a nice visual “geological” effect at the end)
Make holes deep enough to fit your plant roots after removing each from their pots and shaking off excess compost
Add the plants and press down gently, covering in any gaps with surrounding soil (use a few layers of kitchen roll if handling Cacti)
Add a layer of sand or decorative gravel with a spoon, placing some under plant leaves if possible to keep things tidy looking
Add ornaments as required
Use a soft, small paint brush to “clean up” any errant sand or gravel from plants, glass etc..
In the case of an open, dry Terrarium, you shouldn’t need to water regularly if at all. Unless you notice extreme drying or plant decay. You water the like of Cacti the same amount you would if they weren’t in a Terrarium but it might depend on latent heat and where you place your Terrarium, ie – in the sun or shade, moist or dry environment. I have mine as a centrepiece of the sitting room coffee table.
In the case of a wet or closed Terrarium, it may actually need less maintenance than a dry, open one. The idea, if you do it right, is that you create a mini ecosystem. The plants photosynthesise in the closed, humid environment, expel oxygen etc and the whole process creates moisture that gets trapped inside the container which the plants then absorb again. However if you notice it drying out, just add very small amounts of water. Again, Terrarium positioning is important.
We need to eat to survive of course but I also like to eat for fun. I always have. From the eating competitions I used to have with friends and on blind dates even (don’t ask) to indulging in take away regularly, I just love eating. I love the variety of food available these days. Indian, Italian and Lebanese are some of my favourite cuisines. I love the ritual of cooking (I recently took a couple of cooking courses) or going out to a nice restaurant. I adore Buffets. All my Christmases come together when I’m at a buffet and I eat until sick almost. Is that bad? Gluttony is a sin of course but I’m a militant atheist luckily. Right now you’re probably imagining me as a bed ridden slob, dangerously overweight and a ticking, heart-diseased, diabetes ridden time bomb but I’m actually only a couple of stone overweight and probably not noticeably fat. Unless you look real close. Those who’ve seen me naked know best. I have height, a good metabolism and pure luck to thank for that possibly. However..
I’ve recently become middle aged and have an assortment of mild middle aged related conditions such as back pain, joint stiffness, high blood pressure, etc.. Middle age is a time when shit starts to deteriorate and go wrong so you really have to keep an eye on things to keep yourself functional. It’s a time to get more regular general medical checkups, get that free eye test and dental checkup, get active, stop smoking, drinking etc.. Lowering weight is one thing that I think I and a lot of people would benefit from. It makes sense to think that joint and back pain could be reduced if there’s less weight acting upon your frame and there’s known benefits to high blood pressure from weight loss. Thus I entered the depressing world of dieting. But..
Enjoy Food, Just Eat Less Often
I wasn’t about to give up my life long love of food. Rather, I’d continue to eat well and eat pretty much whatever I like within reason. I do try to avoid eating food with little or no value of course but the odd take away or desert is fine. Instead what I’d do was just eat less often and be patient until the next feeding time. I’d heard of “Intermittent Fasting” before but never really looked at it properly. The word “fasting” put me off. And in truth, I only got a renewed interest in it kinda by accident recently when I forced myself to not eat for a day, just to see if I could. I like to test my resolve in these ways occasionally. I tried and failed a few times first until I got angry with myself then finally carried it through properly one day. It was a long day..
My Intermittent Fasting Experience
So the first day I fasted went like this. I skipped breakfast. I’ve done that before or had very late breakfasts, so no big deal there. I don’t normally bother with lunch either (I guess I’d probably been fasting intermittently already considering my no lunch and late breakfast habits) but by lunch time I was becoming a bit twitchy. I hadn’t eaten anything since dinner time the previous day at about 6pm. By mid afternoon I was becoming ravenous and very, very nearly gave in. Then something strange happened around 4/5pm, just before normal dinner time. I can only describe it as like “hitting a wall” then finding a second wind. Hunger seemed to disappear a bit and become more manageable. I felt as if some weird internal, metabolic, survival process had kicked in. I joked that my body and stomach had started to consume itself for vital sustenance. Having researched intermittent fasting a bit since, I realise that wasn’t a million miles from the truth. The body looks within itself and processes existing stores of fat, carbohydrates etc when starved of food. For the rest of the evening and even next day I didn’t feel terribly hungry. I ended up having breakfast around 11:30am. No bigger a breakfast than usual.
I carried on my intermittent fasting for the rest of that week. Having two no food days in total and that’s what I’m trying to stick to now. I think two is plenty. Especially when you consider that by two days I mean no eating from say dinner at 6pm one day until brekkie at about 11am 2 days later. That’s a total fasting time of 41 continuous hours and do that twice a week! So what benefits did I notice and how long before these benefits showed exactly? Well I was quite surprised to find that I lost the best part of 3kg after the first fast, ie- within days. At first I thought my scales were broken. But seemingly not. I’ve been doing it for a few weeks now and havn’t lost anywhere near the initial amount since. I think this is normal for any kind of serious diet, you lose a lot at first then it balances out. I’m still losing weight, just a lot slower. Here’s my weight spreadsheet below. You can see the start of the fasting process and big weight drop the first week in October:
It Gets Better
Once you get past that initial hunger wall, it gets a lot easier and you get used to the regular process of fasting then. Apart from the obvious benefit of losing weight, one other thing I’ve noticed is that, when I do finally eat, I don’t over eat or seem to eat as much as I normally would. It’s as if the stomach shrinks in some way. Also, I don’t seem to be in quite as much pain as usual. This could just be in my mind though. Speaking of the mind, there’s obvious psychological benefits too. I’m happier that I’m in control of my eating habits and losing weight. My blood pressure seems to be down too. See below (last reading today on the right):
If anyone is interested in trying Intermittent Fasting, I found this website useful: