Studying English at Queen’s University Belfast

What’s it like, being a student? An English student? An English student at Queen’s?

Simple answer: It’s brilliant.

I hear people complaining about their courses all the time – too many hours, the lectures are boring, the lecturers are bad, etc etc etc. I’m happy to report that I have NO complaints about the English course. It is interesting, very interesting. We get to look at the subject from all angles – literature, linguistics and writing. 

I have learned about the history and origins of the English language. I have learned about child language acquisition. I have learned how it is possible to change wording so that the exact same story can make any character sound like the guilty party. I’ve studied poetry, plays, prose and novels. I’ve studied Shakespeare, which is only to be expected on this course, and then gone on to study David Nicholls’ “One Day”. 

At the moment, for the course, I am reading two novels a week. Depending on what sort of reader you are, that will sound like a lot or a little. But one thing is for sure, it is very doable if you manage your time properly. This week, I have read Philip Pullman’s “The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ” and Owen McCafferty’s “Scenes from the Big Picture” (a nice wee break from the full novels). Both are just fantastic, but so different from each other.

The lectures are great. Lecturers explain everything so well, and point out things that you might not notice when reading books for the first time. A lecture is a serious, formal, informative session, but it is not unusual for lecturers to make little jokes that have the whole hall laughing (yes, you’re allowed to laugh, good grief!). 

My decision to study English at Queen’s was one of the best I have made. I’ve learned so much, met a load of great people (both through living arrangements and through classes), and it has definitely helped me come out of my shell a little bit, even if it took a while.

To summarise: University is yes. Let’s university. 



It may be a bit of a cliché calling my mother my hero on Mother’s Day, but…


My mother truly is my hero, and I will happily say that every day of the year, not just on Mother’s Day.

There has not been a single time that she hasn’t been there for me. In an ever-moving, ever-changing world, my mother has been the single constant that I have always known I could rely on. She has always pushed me just enough so that I know I should always apply myself fully to everything, but not so much as to be a “pushy parent”. She has always encouraged me to pursue my interests, be it music, art, sport or literature, and given me full support in all my endeavors, even those that were doomed to fail from the offset (badminton is NOT a sport for someone with as little coordination as I have). If it wasn’t for my mother, I would not be studying English in my dream university. I would be studying some subject I absolutely hate, but sounds impressive when I’m asked about it.

My mother taught me to draw, play piano and ride a bike. Behind every achievement, big or small, there was my mother, standing in the background in support. And this is just the “normal” parenting stuff.

My mother works 3 jobs just to pay the bills, and does none of these jobs in half-measures. Along with this, she sings in two choirs, acts as an accompanist, and plays the organ in church most Sundays. When she’s not working on any of these things or helping my sister and I out of whatever trouble we’ve got ourselves in, she’s working in her beautiful garden or painting in the shed (did I mention that she’s an incredible artist?)

Is this enough to convince you that she’s a superhero? Perhaps I should tell you that 4 years ago, her own mother died and guess who it was that has had to organise memorials, help with the will, and try to keep the whole family tied together? That’s right, my mother.

I am immensely proud to call this amazing woman my mother. She has been here for my sister and I, and her entire family, through every single drama for as long as I can remember. If I am even slightly similar to her when I grow up, I will know that I have done something right.

So happy Mother’s Day mum, and happy Mother’s Day to all the other superhero mums out there.

Thank you for making all of this possible.



Weekly Photo Challenge: Street Life


This (somewhat blurred) photo was my attempt at capturing Belfast’s City Centre in the run up to Christmas. It was dark out, but people were still bustling about, trying to secure those last few Christmas presents before heading home. 

Until September, I had only ever spent any real amount of time in the countryside in Donegal and Somerset. There’s such a massive difference between living in a city like Belfast and living in the countryside. That may seem like a fairly obvious observation, but I simply could not believe just how different it was. 

It’s not just the size of the place, although that did take some getting used to. It’s not just the vast amount of people, even though that still does cause some problems. The biggest difference is the way the people are. In Donegal, if you walk past someone, you say “Hi” or “How are you?” even if you don’t know the person. Even in Monksilver, people might not say hello to you when you walk past, but they at least smile or nod in recognition of your presence. Here, it seems that everyone makes it their responsibility to pretend that there is nobody else on the street. It’s bizarre. At first, this made me feel incredibly lonely. It felt like nobody knew or cared that I was here. Now that I’m used to it, I find it almost comforting. I know that nobody knows or cares that I’m here, but there’s a sort of safety in that invisibility. 

So here is a photo of Belfast, and the people in it. And we can see all of the people in the photo, but it seems that the people in the photo can only see themselves. It’s very odd, but I guess that’s just city life.


Moments to Remember

It’s sort of difficult to boil 18 years down to just 3 moments, but that’s my task for today.

1. 6th November, 2010. Evening. I was in my bedroom doing homework when I heard my mum calling me from downstairs. Not wanting to stop working, I responded with “I’m doing my homework! What do you want?”. All she said was “Just come downstairs.”

When I went downstairs, I found my sister and both my parents in the sitting room. Eilís looked just as confused as I felt.

Mum started talking. She explained that she and my father had secretly been attending couples therapy in Letterkenny, but it wasn’t working out. That night, I found out that not only were my parents separating, but my father was moving to Manila. The other side of the world. The conversation ended when my mother, in tears, said “Right, first ever family meeting. Done.” and left the room.

I went back to my homework.



2. 16th August 2013. Almost midnight. Again, I was sitting in my room, this time obsessively refreshing my emails but slowly losing hope. My mum was downstairs in the sitting room. All of her friends were over, and I could hear them chatting and laughing through the floor. 

At last, just as I was about to give up, the email arrived.

“Congratulations! Your place at Queen’s University Belfast for English, Q300 has been confirmed.”

I ran downstairs and stuck my head through the door into the sitting room, asking my mum if I could talk to her. She came out, looking worried, and I showed her the email. Mum took my laptop straight in to the sitting room and read the email out to all of her friends. Everyone was whooping and cheering.

Then we had cake.



3. 21st September, 2013. Evening. As I walked into the kitchen, about to meet my new flatmates, I was terrified. What if they didn’t like me? I had just been reading downstairs, when Shannon and Rachel (who I had only just met) sent me upstairs to meet everyone. I was still holding my book.

When I entered the room, everyone looked up. I got really nervous. These are your first words to what will hopefully be your new group of friends. Don’t mess this up.

“Hi. I’m Tabitha. I’m kind of socially awkward… you’ll get used to it.”

… yep, you messed it up.

They said ‘hi’ and invited me to sit at the table. I was next to Cillian, and opposite Claire, Curtis and Brian.

“Hi, I’m Brian… What’s your book about?”


They still take the piss out of me for that.


Here’s to more memorable moments to come!


Living with Grammar Nazis

Our attitudes toward language determine where language goes. It is a fact of life that as time goes on, language grows, develops and changes. We only need to look as far back as Shakespeare to see that this is the case. So where will the language go next?

There are two types of people when it comes to the English language: Those who look at it with a prescriptive approach, and those who take a descriptive approach. Those that view the language from a descriptive point of view tend to value the different varieties of English, paying attention to what people do say rather than what they should say. This is where I tend to fall – as a general rule, my grammar is correct (or almost correct), but this is because that’s how my parents spoke to me as a child. I never go around correcting other people’s grammar because it is none of my business how they express themselves. The prescriptive approach, on the other hand, is based on notions of “correctness” in language. It decides what people should say, and distinguishes “good” language from “bad” language. This is where you’ll find your common-or-garden Grammar Nazis. 

The thing is, there are some fairly common ways of phrasing a sentence that are ungrammatical but essential. If I were to ask you if James was about and you responded with “James doesn’t be here”, I would know what you mean even though this isn’t a phrase I would use. There are more grammatically correct ways of responding, yes, but these don’t mean quite the same thing. “James isn’t here” would imply that James simply isn’t here at the moment, which is not what “James doesn’t be here” means. “James doesn’t be here” means that James may have been here in the past, but in recent times he hasn’t been here. It’s an ongoing absence which “James isn’t here” simply doesn’t cover. Perhaps the most accurate way of translating the sentence to “correct” English would be “James doesn’t tend to be here”, but this is overly formal and would sound odd in casual, spoken English.

Even more common is the use of the word “youse” to represent the second-person-plural. “Youse” is a word which I never really encountered until I moved to Northern Ireland, but it is one of which I have grown quite fond. If there was a group of us sitting in the kitchen and someone walked in saying “Do you want to go into town?”, we would look at each other for a while to try and decide who was being addressed. On the other hand, if they were to walk in saying “Do youse want to go into town?”, we would all jump up and we’d have a lovely day out together in the city centre. 

I think that it is important for us to see little bits of language like this not as disgusting abominations, but as interesting and rather useful ways of playing with the language.

But I guess that’s just my opinion.

Note: According to my little green book which tells me what I’m supposed to be writing about, today I should be writing about my friend Alex’s birthday, which was on Tuesday. However, I can tell you now that other than a panic attack in the bathroom of our local pub and a taxi ride home alone, the party was not all that eventful from my perspective. Instead of writing about it, here are two photos to sum up the event so I can get on with writing about other stuff.



Onward and upward.



Midweek Music: Too-Rye-Ay

Considering I was only born in 1995, I guess it’s pretty odd that I grew up listening to music from bands like The Jags and Dexys Midnight Runners. The reason for this oddity is that my father made it his personal mission when my sister and I were kids to create a “good” music taste in each of us. Apparently, “good” means anything but pop music. Personally, I try to listen to music from as many genres as possible, but I guess even that may be because such an effort was made to introduce us to non-chart music.

This week, the album that has been on repeat in my room is Dexys Midnight Runners’ “Too-Rye-Ay”, and I just love it. The whole album is just relentlessly happy. I mean, come on. Jackie Wilson Said? Come On Eileen? How is it possible not to fall in love with this album?

So, without further ado, here is my playlist for the week:

  1. Dexys Midnight Runners – Come On Eileen
  2. The Boomtown Rats – Rat Trap
  3. The Alarm – 68 Guns
  4. Blur – Badhead
  5. David Bowie – Oh! You Pretty Things
  6. Elbow – Starlings
  7. The Jam – Going Underground
  8. Elvis Costello – I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down
  9. The Dandy Warhols – Get Off
  10. Talking Heads – Road to Nowhere
  11. Dexys Midnight Runners – The Celtic Soul Brothers
  12. Blur – He Thought of Cars
  13. David Bowie – Drive In Saturday
  14. Elbow – Weather To Fly
  15. Talking Heads – Blind
  16. The Hoosiers – Worst Case Scenario
  17. The Style Council – Walls Come Tumbling Down
  18. Duke Special – Last Night I Nearly Died
  19. The Lambrettas – Da-A-A-Ance
  20. Arctic Monkeys – Red Light Indicates Doors Are Secured
  21. Joe Jackson – Is She Really Going Out With Him?
  22. The Hoosiers – Cops and Robbers
  23. Blur – For Tomorrow
  24. Elbow – The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver
  25. Dexys Midnight Runners – Jackie Wilson Said

For anyone who doesn’t have the joy of owning a copy of Too-Rye-Ay, I’ve made a playlist on YouTube.

Happy listening!


Writerly Reflections

Today’s post comes from The Daily Post’s Writing Challenge. Why not check it out?

I’ve loved reading for as long as I can remember. Like most people my age, I grew up with Harry Potter. The first few books were read to me as bedtime stories but after a while, I was the reader. I eagerly awaited the release of each new book, devouring it as soon as it was in my possession. Other books I enjoyed at this time included Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” series. 

Needless to say, through this love of reading came a love of writing. Throughout primary school, my friend Phillip and I came up with countless characters – superheroes, mutants, villains, detectives, wizards, etc. We thought that we were creating absolute works of art, but looking back at the drawings, they’re not exactly professional standard! These characters were then written into short stories, comics, everything. This went on for years. 



Oh, so Fyreball shot fireballs? Shocking!

Eventually, in fifth class (I would have been 9 or 10 years old), my teacher stopped me after class and told me to stop writing stories about these “silly superheroes”. I was outraged. In my totally sensible 9-or-10-year-old brain, I decided that the best way to deal with criticism was to send my teacher a message, and the best way to send this message was to write a story that featured a murder and had a *scary* cliffhanger ending. My teacher responded to my super threatening message by writing a comment along the lines of What happens next? Where’s the rest of the story?”

Uncultured swine.

When I turned 13-or-so, the only writing anyone got to look at was work that had to be handed in to a teacher anyway, while my personal writing turned from gripping tales of daring do to angst-filled poems about someone in class not giving me my pencil back, or whatever was bothering me that day. The only poem I remember from my short spell as the next Sylvia Plath was a distinctly worrying ode to a dead badger I saw on the side of the road once. Poetic beauty? Perhaps not. The cringey poetry died off fairly quickly, thank heavens, but I still didn’t really let anyone look at anything I wrote until this summer, when I did a brief stint with my local newspaper (2 published articles, I’m SO VERY FAMOUS).


Still, even if a short summer job with a small town newspaper turned out not to be my big break, it certainly showed me what I wanted to do with my life, writing-wise. I realised that rather than writing stories about murders on trains, or even supercool superheroes, I prefer writing about things that actually happened (whether in my life or in my local area), or my real-life-actual opinions on things that matter (to me). In short, I like being a blogger, and when I finish at university I’m going to do my level best to be a journalist or a columnist or a jourcolumnalist or a mermaid (still not letting “the man” tell me what I can and can’t be).

And even if I don’t get to work as any of those things, and I end up working in a shop until the day I die, I’m still going to write. Yes, it would be pretty great to write for money. But mostly, I write for myself and that is something I can do whether people read it or not. I will keep writing because it is the one thing that interests me above anything else, and because English (reading and writing) is the one thing I’ve ever been good at. And that’s fine with me, because it’s all I need.

Keep reading and writing, I know I will.


The Attack of the Brain Bees

Anxiety is a big, all-encompassing disorder whose symptoms can affect every single aspect of life. For me, it is something that has constantly improved and disimproved for as long as I can accurately remember. Different aspects become stronger and weaker as time passes. Sometimes, my problems culminate in a low but constant buzzing that allows me to function inconspicuously but easily keeps me up for days on end. Other times, it manifests itself in bursts of extreme nervousness that make it rather difficult to concentrate and cause me to shake violently, but still allow almost normal function. Right now, however, anxiety attacks are the bane of my existence, and these do not allow normal function at all.

If you are unsure what an anxiety attack entails, offers a pretty good explanation:

There is a long list of anxiety symptoms. But because each body is somewhat chemically unique, anxiety affects each person differently. Consequently, anxiety symptoms vary from person to person in type or kind, number, intensity, and frequency. If your symptoms don’t exactly match this list, that doesn’t mean you don’t have anxiety. It simply means that you body is responding to anxiety slightly differently.

Common anxiety attack symptoms include:

  • A feeling of impending doom, that something horrible is about to happen, that you are in grave danger
  • A strong feeling of fear, foreboding
  • An urge to escape, to get out, to run away from danger
  • Blanching, turning white, looking pale
  • Blushing, skin blotches, turning red
  • Burning skin
  • Choking sensation, tightening throat, it feels like your throat is closing
  • Confusion
  • Depersonalization (feeling detached from reality, separate from one-self, separate from normal emotions)
  • Derealization (feeling unreal, in a dream-like state)
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, unsteadiness
  • Emotional distress
  • Emotional upset
  • Fear of going crazy
  • Fear of losing control, freaking out
  • Fearful thoughts that seem incessant
  • Feels like there is a tight band around your head
  • Hot or cold chills
  • Inability to calm yourself down
  • Knot in the stomach, tight stomach
  • Nausea
  • Numbness, tingling sensations in any part of the body
  • Panicky feeling
  • Pins and needles feeling
  • Plugged ear(s), stuffed ear(s)
  • Pounding heart
  • Racing heart
  • Shooting pains in the chest, neck, shoulder, head, or face
  • Shortness of breath, difficulty breathing
  • Sweating
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Trembling, shaking (visibly shaking or just trembling on the inside)
  • Upset stomach
  • Urgent desire to go to the bathroom (urinate, defecate)
  • Vomiting

This is a pretty accurate description.

For me, during an anxiety attack, it feels like my head is full of bees (hence the title). Instead of one clear train of thought, it’s more like all of my thoughts are climbing over each other to try and get heard, and the result is that I can’t make sense of any of them. Without access to clear instructions in my head, I don’t know what to do, and I crumble. I’m scared and confused. I feel like I’m not in control of my own body. I struggle to breathe. I sweat, shake violently and have nosebleeds. Somewhere in the middle of all of this, I start scratching at my arms and neck in a desperate attempt to have something else to focus on.
By the time I have calmed down, I’m covered in bruises, my skin stings and burns and my fingernails are bloody. It’s not an attractive sight.

These attacks are not something I would ever wish on someone else.

I don’t allow my friends or family to see me when I’m having one. The fact that I can react this dramatically to things like crowds and loud noises, things that most young people revel in, makes me feel incredibly weak. For this reason, if I feel stressed or overwhelmed I try to escape the situation as quickly and as quietly as possible.

There has only been one occasion on which I couldn’t escape in time for an attack, and it happened just one month ago. Everyone in the flat and the flat’s social group went to a “foam party” for Rachel’s birthday. By the time we got there, we had been drinking for a while (I’ve discovered that sometimes a small amount of alcohol renders me almost socially capable) so I was doing fine for the first hour or so. By half 12, however, Shannon had discovered me curled up at the side of the room, crying uncontrollably as I recovered from my first ever tipsy panic attack (no fun). Ever the good Samaritan, Shannon took me home and got me some company before returning to the party by taxi. She explained to the rest of our friends that “Tab was getting a bit stressed, and I wanted a walk so I took her home.” I think that that’s probably one of the kindest things anyone has ever done for me.

Before it went downhill: Curtis, Evan, Francesca and I at the foam party.

Got questions? Experiences? Feel free to comment!

Have a nice day.


Meet the Oakfriends

Well, Sunday evening is here again!

Sundays are always weird in student accommodation for weekenders like myself (weekenders being people that stay in accommodation over the weekend rather than travelling home). It’s our last day of peace before the rest of our flatmates come back from wherever it is they live. Typically, it’s a day spent telling ourselves we’re going to start working any minute now, but actually just sitting together in the kitchen laughing at utter nonsense that we don’t get away with during the week. Then, at last, people slowly begin to trickle in at about 8 in the evening.

I live with 10 other people, but there are more people who live on different floors and pretty much live with us. Everyone just comes and goes as they please. It’s really funny living with this many young people, especially considering I lived alone with my mother for a good few years before coming here. Sometimes, we function like one big happy family. Other times, we’re split into bitchy little friend circles (but this never lasts too long). Rather than attempting to describe everyone, I’m just going to put in some photos of them. An idea of what these people are like is bound to be painted over the course of the blog, so there’s no point in trying to capture everyone in a few sentences right now!

Christmas in the flat. Standing: Curtis and Philip. Left (front to back): In-Ho, Brian, Niamh, Herkmin, Minjung, Claire, Cillian, Francesca and I. Right (front to back): Andrew, Joe, Dan, Evan, Orla, Colum, Catherine, Ryan, Glynn and Rachel.
Christmas in the flat.
Standing: Curtis and Philip.
Left (front to back): In-Ho, Brian, Niamh, Herkmin, Minjung, Claire, Cillian, Francesca and I.
Right (front to back): Andrew, Joe, Dan, Evan, Orla, Colum, Catherine, Ryan, Glynn and Rachel.
St Patrick's Day. L to R: Colum, Curtis, Catherine, Shannon, Colum's friend (?), Orla, Ryan and Rachel.
St Patrick’s Day. Colum, Curtis, Catherine, Shannon, Colum’s friend (?), Orla, Ryan and Rachel.
Preparing for In-Ho's birthday. Minjung, Curtis, Cathal and Brian.
Preparing for In-Ho’s birthday.
Minjung, Curtis, Cathal and Brian.
Exploring the Interwebs! Michael, Shannon and I. (Snap taken by Curtis)
Exploring the Interwebs!
Michael, Shannon and I.
(Snap taken by Curtis)

These (and possibly some others) are the people who will most likely be mentioned in future posts, as these are the people that affect me most on a day-to-day basis. For now, though, I must sign off as it is time for me to make a polite appearance in the kitchen to greet my friends (or possibly just put music on in my room and listen to that instead).

I hope you all have a great week.


First Steps into the Blogosphere

Hello, world!

This is going to be quite a new experience for me: I have had Blogs before, but they only lasted a week at the most because I really had no idea what to write about. Well, now I do know what I want to write about. I want to write about me. More specifically, I want to write about my life as a young person dealing with social anxiety and anxiety in general, as I know that these are illnesses that affect a whole bunch of people and I know that many of this whole bunch of people can feel awfully alone.

Here’s the thing. I’m not a victim. None of this is weird for me. I’ve had trouble interacting with other humans since I was a kid, and have been having panic attacks and other symptoms for 4-5 years. Yes, I spent a lot of my teenage years feeling very sad and alone, but by the looks of things that’s just what being a teenager is like!

Now, I am 18 years old, and a (rather young) first year student at Queen’s University Belfast studying English with Creative Writing. I have new and wonderful friends in the flatmates I have been placed with, and they help me so much because, other than actually labeling my mental condition, I haven’t hidden anything from them.

This blog is going to chart the ups and downs of student life not only as a sufferer of anxiety, but also as a normal kid because, after all, that’s all I am.

This is my life, this is my blog, this is me.

Image (note: I’m the one in green!)