Me and my health: Maria McManus on her lifestyle
Poet and playwright Maria McManus (53) has just brought out a new book, Available Light. Maria lives in Belfast with her husband Martin Johnsson, an electronic engineer. She has two daughters from a previous marriage, Aislin (30), a PhD student at Queen's University, and Orla (25), a law graduate who lives and works in Edinburgh.
Q: Do you take regular exercise - and if so, what?
A: I like to walk most of all. I prefer to be solitary or just with my husband, a friend, or a dog if I can borrow one. It is great for clearing the mind and somehow the process of walking helps to organise my thoughts, too. It is good for thinking and I feel as though I can think well at walking pace - so, if I have a block with something I am working on, to get some time in the fresh air and to just be moving and thinking, or paying attention to what is happening in nature, really helps.
Q: What's the worst illness you have had?
A: By far the most debilitating was an episode of clinical depression in the late 1990s - there were a lot of life-events piling into a short period of time. In some ways, becoming depressed was a healthy and legitimate response to the big things that were going on, such as bereavement, a house move, a change of job and radical change for family life. It's not possible to keep going on, with work and all that stress and it not have an impact. It was a long, slow process - I still had to live through those times, and it all took a long time.
Q: How healthy is your diet?
A: In the round I eat well ... though I am also overweight and I don't like that, but I don't find it easy to make change that makes a significant difference fast enough so I become demotivated. It is difficult to shift the weight and keep it off. I am in my 50s now and it seems very easy to put on weight. I will have to up my game by eating less and moving more. I really like fruit and vegetables and I like fish and meat, too. My metabolism is sluggish for sure.
Q: Do you have any bad habits?
A: I don't really have much of a sweet tooth, but I like crisps.
Q: Do you drink and/or smoke - if so, how much?
A: I don't smoke now. I have done so in the past, on and off, but I haven't smoked at all in 18 years and couldn't imagine doing so again. Giving up was one of the best things I have done in my life, and now I couldn't contemplate it. As for alcohol, I really like wine and the occasional G&T. In saying that I have cut alcohol consumption right back to being very occasional.
Q: Do you take any health supplements?
A: No. I have had my bloods done recently and they were really good, so I don't feel the need for any supplements.
Q: How do you take time out?
A: I like to read or walk or go to the cinema. Relaxing in the bath is also great - it's a luxurious thing to do.
Q: How well do you sleep?
A: I sleep really well and I appreciate that very much. It's a recent enough thing for me; I'd say I began to sleep properly in the last six years or so.
Q: Do you worry about getting old?
A: I am thinking about the lyrics of a Bob Dylan song, My Back Pages. 'I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now.' This could be my anthem. My life has gotten better the older I have become and in particular over the past six years or so. If I worry about anything, I worry about being well enough to enjoy older age, but I never lose sight of the privilege it is to have a life and, above all, quality of life. I don't mind getting older - I quite like it actually.
Q: What is your go-to product/habit that keeps you feeling healthy?
A: Sleep. Solitude. Time to reflect. I need a lot of quietness, silence and time to reflect. I am far more introverted than I ever understood when I was younger. We are conditioned to within an inch of our lives to be action-oriented and highly interactive, outgoing and so on. I have learned that is really stressful for me. I need time alone, or at the very least in really calm and quiet circumstances, to just 'be'. I keep a journal and, as an anchor practice, for writing and for work, it is essential.
Available Light is published by Arlen House with the assistance of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland National Lottery Fund