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Tuesday 7 February 2023 Dublin: 6°C
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Opinion Losing the election hit so hard I thought I might never recover
When I heard the vote count, I felt like I’d been thrown off a moving train, whipped, dragged and tortured.

ONE MONTH ON and to my own great surprise, strength returns. Losing the election hit so hard I thought I might never recover, yet here I am, less than a month later, back drinking coffee from my Fianna Fail mug. Who would have thought?

My first count total came in at just under 500 votes – no great result for an election candidate, but it was my first time out. There was always that excuse.

The day the results came in remain the worst memory. Sitting at home tuned in to Mid West radio, a knot in my stomach awaiting the first count, the announcement for the first tally figures came in – and I was floored.

“Geraghty Joan, 300 and something votes”, rang the voice of Padraig Hughes. In the delivery of this bombshell, I didn’t catch how much the something was. It didn’t matter. What mattered was how it compared to the other candidate results being announced, and their first tally counts were nearer to 1,000 votes. I remember feeling power leave my body at this point.

That single pronouncement probably did more damage than any other aspect of my bid to be elected to Mayo County Council. Even though the commentators were quick to note that two more Westport town boxes had yet to be opened – crucial territory for me – my brain had registered the 300 votes as my official result and nothing could alter that. I felt like I’d been shot.

I felt grief-stricken

People often say the physical pain that follows grief is utterly unbearable and while nobody had actually died, grief-stricken was how I felt. I simply could not have imagined the severe effect such a public failure could have. Nor had I anticipated the physical trauma.

Literally, I felt like I’d been thrown off a moving train, whipped, dragged and tortured. A dull ache surrounded my heart. All I wanted was to find a hole and bury myself so deep it would keep the rest of the world out.

Immediately, I fell in to a state of paralysis. Barely could I manage to perform, even on a level of automation – being there for the kids, returning to work a few days later after my ‘holiday’. I could not speak, could not think straight. What had just happened?

Within hours of the official first count result I was over at the count centre in the TF Royal Theatre, prepared to face the music. My arrival generated a distinct hush. Almost like the seas parting, I was able to walk seamlessly through the line of punters as though I were invisible. Nobody spoke. Nobody moved. Not one person dared say the first word. I saw someone I knew in my party and pointedly said hello. He said hello back and that was it. It was as though any previous history we shared instantly evaporated.

The walk of shame

So commenced what I will always remember as my walk of shame. I forced myself to enter the count centre, my poor husband and 10 year old daughter in tow. Sorrowful glances passed my way. Still nobody spoke.

I pushed on and met Tereasa McGuire, my Westport running mate in the Fine Gael party, whose first count result was a hugely respectable 1,000 plus. I congratulated Tereasa who commiserated and offered me charity and kindness I will never forget. I wanted to do anything to make the story not about me. I never wanted the story to be me again.

We lingered wilfully in the count centre for maybe an hour – if even. It felt hellish. I was weak, demoralised, looking for support. I had let myself down. Let the party down. Let everyone down. I never expected the ships to turn so soon. Where were my political allies? Where was courage?

Outside, Joe Lavelle and I shook hands and reciprocated mutual votes of condolence. We had both scraped the bottom of the barrel but between us 800 West Mayo voters had said yes. Joe waxed philosophical about our courage at putting ourselves forward. At least we had tried – didn’t everyone love a trier?

Keeping my head down

I felt an urgent need to retreat to the bosom of my family, to be ensconced with our young children, all of us wrapped together tightly, protective and protected. That is basically how I remained over the next two weeks; struggling to maintain my composure at work, keeping my head down, otherwise going AWOL.

The pain continued and that was the worst part. It proved debilitating, raising a heave in my heart every time I moved. I feigned normality, donned my running gear, headed for the outdoors. Nothing worked.

I forced myself to walk around town, avoiding eye contact, especially avoiding anyone or anything to do with Fianna Fail. I was toxic, tarnished, finished. No words of solace could console. I harboured dark thoughts; methods of escape, places to hide. So many had been let down because of me. There was no way out.

The pain was gone

Then one day, around week three, I noticed the pain was gone. Whatever had been endured had just as suddenly vanished and my energy levels returned.

I got to work cleansing body and mind; invested in a healthy diet, ran for miles and enjoyed a genuine sense of gratitude for all this free time to enjoy as I liked again. The campaign trail had been a gruelling one. For three months solid I barely surfaced for air. Day and night we called on doors and debated topics of interest with thousands of people. After a while it became one big blur. Every house looked the same but no one looked familiar. My brain reached overload.

What had I been really been expecting in this election? To romp home and head the poll as the unknown that I was? Truth be told I never even dared imagine getting elected. So many odds and forces were against me.

So why did losing hit me so hard? What exactly caused me to spin on my axis and lose the power of ‘me’?

I’m not sure I have the answer for that yet, other than to surmise that politics has woven such a tight grip around me I know I can’t escape. Losing the election threatened my place in politics, my very identity.

I think the fact that the first tally count was so low was the real issue. At the end of the day I am so thankful to the near 500 people who did vote for me. I still want to work for you.

The desire to remain in politics

This week our first post-election Fianna Fail meeting was called and I was strong enough by then to answer for myself about what happened. As it turned out that wasn’t necessary, as the meeting went off completely the opposite to what I had expected. There were no fingers of recrimination pointed my way. The general thrust was towards fixing party strategy.

Three weeks ago I would have said I would never again run for election and I would never again be involved in Fianna Fail because they wouldn’t want me. Now all I know is that I will very much remain involved in Fianna Fail because I still love the party and want to work for it.

I also know my mettle is stronger as a result of what I went through and that it has indeed been a character-building experience. I have also learned so much from defeat; much, much more than I ever knew I could learn. Mostly I understand now that putting yourself forward is worth the risk of losing because losing teaches you so many lessons. The biggest lesson of all is that you can recover from loss and losing. Despite yourself, the real you will eventually resurface again.

Would I recommend it, encourage people – especially women – to go into politics? I would have to say no. Definitely no. It is not for the faint-hearted.

At the same time, if politics is for you, you won’t have a say in the matter. A love of politics will win through in the end. Here’s to future wins and losses.

Joan Geraghty was an unsuccessful candidate for Fianna Fail in the 2014 local elections in West Mayo.

Read: Who is your new local councillor? Here’s a list of everyone elected

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