St. Patrick’s Day

The day everywhere in the world forgets the signs there used to be, on shop doorways and in hotel lobbies, reading

No Blacks, No Gypsies, No Irish, No Dogs.

The day “being Irish” (even if you’re not, or only 1/8th, or less even than that) is celebrated, but no apology is made for the appalling treatment many Irish “navvies” received digging canals and laying railways.

The day everyone wants to be the people who, time and again, have been driven from their homeland. The people whose language was ruled illegal, whose country was divided up by disinterested foreigners.

The Irish have made a trademark of homesickness. They’ve become successful in exile – it often happens; necessity being the mother of invention. The same is true of diaspora Jews, and many middle-class African-Americans – the story of exile is retold as the story of success, as the outsider having an edge, the itinerant becoming integral.

We celebrate that whilst we conveniently forget the loneliness, the sorrow, and the bitter, brutal resentment that lies in the hearts of all exiles – however much we try and hide it.

I’m half Irish, my father having come to England, alone, at the age of 19, following the death of both his parents, because there was no work in his homeland.

I’m also schizophrenic – but a functional, self-aware schizophrenic; twice exiled, first from “normal”, “sane” society – I can’t manage prolonged interaction with people, crowds, noise, or decisions. My tolerance for stress decreases as I age – sometimes, it seems, almost daily. My memory, thanks to antipsychotics, is patchy at best. I’m not always myself, and I don’t always remember the things the person others believe to be “me” has said or done. But I’m exiled from the ranks of the mentally ill, too – because I know what “normal” looks like, and I continue to strive for it. Because I can, and do, identify and set up coping mechanisms. Because I’m able to be mostly independent – although I know I’d be lost without my wife. I’m told, over and over again by other people with mental health issues, and the psychiatric community, that I’m “lucky” – and then I’m told, over and over again by the “sane” section of society that I’m broken. Weird. A freak.

I am lucky. But I’m also broken.

Where there are no shadows, no light falls either.

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