Along the Way with Author Roberta McDonnell, PhD

Roberta McDonnell, Author PhD

Photo Credit: Roberta McDonnell

There are a good number of people who obtained schooling and professional training in a field. What never ceases to motivate me is the fact that some of them are willing to share what they know and do it so creatively. Roberta McDonnell is that kind of person. Having started in the mental health nursing field, then onto full time education to study psychology and social anthropology on a doctoral level, Roberta decided to begin a blog on the experiences she had and the people she encountered throughout her careers. Several of her publications can be found there. She remarks: “These experiences have shaped my interests and inspirations today and I draw continually from those resources in current writings as well as in ideas for future projects.” Roberta is led by the conviction that literature in all formats is a priceless human gift and her utmost contributions in her field are bound to inspire people to be their own authentic, joyful selves.

I’m really glad we got connected, Roberta, and I appreciate your willingness to share about your career experiences.

Would you start by rehashing the particular event that inspired you to start a blog?

Good question, Sandra! After coming out of my last job as a health researcher, I rekindled my interests in literature across several genres: poetry, novels, new age health approaches and positive psychology. There was also a lingering idea that I might launch a second career as an author and producer of inspirational literature and materials, though to be honest it felt like a pipe dream to begin with. And yet I knew how much literature was helping me to cope and furthermore to grow and come alive as a person, so I went on a search for ideas and information as to how I might realise this vision. Firstly I took extra courses in counselling skills as a top up for my years of experience in mental health nursing. Then I discovered the Northern Ireland group Women in Business and attended some of their seminars and workshops for women thinking of starting out. One particularly outstanding facilitator suggested I start a blog and that WordPress would be right up my street.

Oftentimes, us as readers will take a blog at face value, not always knowing the creative challenges and blocks that the authors encounter. Surely you had something to overcome when you were getting started on your projects. What do you personally find challenging about blogging? 

The greatest challenge for me is deciding what to put in and what to leave out. Ernest Hemingway conveys this in the iceberg principle, a concept stating that what you leave out is just as important as the material you keep. My take on this is that, like poetry, you nearly need to make each word and each sentence be as trim as possible yet work within the overall theme of the post and the blog. Staying on topic is also a problem at times and I find I am continually re-working the themes and titles even, trying to keep to the general intention but explore interesting strands at the same time–I guess this is more or less every writer’s dilemma! Another challenge is being consistent with posting on a regular basis and I am still working on this. Again it is making the decision as I tend to have ideas every day about possible posts but dither around trying to choose one idea and run with it. Discipline is probably my greatest challenge then, I do tend to float and flit across many interests–very Geminian 🙂

I relate to that completely and I have heard about the iceberg principle.

You wrote that you recently read the book by Eoin McCabe, Open: How Learning to Live from the Heart Changed Everything. Can you list some specific takeaways from this book that you think are going to positively impact your creative expression?

Absolutely! I could list many but a few are, to me, priceless: Firstly, from the outset I was gripped by the author’s relentless curiosity, his search for an authentic way to be and to live. This comes through because of the particularly narrative mode of writing in the first half of the book especially. Secondly, very early on, Eoin’s book emphasises the important role that our thoughts play in our quality of life and emotional state. He demonstrates how being stuck in a relentless cycle of sensation seeking and being bogged down by negative emotions is a trap, but one which we can climb out of by adopting different thinking habits (more positive and self-accepting for instance) and by employing a number of very practical tools. For instance, it’s useful to stop blaming the world and look at how you can make changes in your own life:

  • Start working at what you love and feel a deep purpose in instead of sticking to what you think you should do, perhaps just because it’s available and you’re considered to be ‘good at it’
  • Recognise and circumvent any limiting belief or behaviour patterns, crowd them out with new, better habits
  • Find a way to implement meditation and mindfulness as a daily routine, whether in traditional sessions, in nature walks, in libraries, in houses of worship or indeed anywhere that feels sacred to you
  • Witness the suffering of others and finding a way to contribute to their support and healing
  • Stay in touch with your feelings, let them breathe but use positive thinking and positive action to deal with and control them (Diversion – see Dr Eric Maisel on ‘meaning over mood’ i.e. keep going anyway, stay focused on meanings and intentions)
  • Think about a journaling habit, it helps to discharge emotion and clarify ideas and visions

Overall peace comes from ‘finding patterns and learning lessons,’ in a nutshell, in addition to self-insight and self-acceptance. Then your creativity can emerge and you will know what to do next. I love this summary: “The best self-help course available to us all is life itself and the best teacher we can learn from is the person we are within each moment. All insights and lessons about who we are and how we can heal are forever coming at us through the everyday encounters in everyday living. We just have to pay close attention.” It reminds me of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, who had the secret for getting home all along! So self-acceptance, self-exploration, meditation and mindfulness in the moment seem to be the keys.

Those are powerful insights. It took me a while to pick up on that theme in the Wizard of Oz.

On your blog, there are a few entries with titles such as “Journal Me Happy” and “Journal Me Calm.” Is this a series? What sparked the vision for it? Where do you see it going?

Actually yes it was meant to be a series and I do plan to build on it. In fact probably my next book will be an information manual on creative journaling for mental health recovery and promotion, so I should really do some more posts on resources and techniques – thanks for the reminder! This sprang from, again, my own experience of writing a journal during a period of convalescence which led me to discover the books and articles quoted in the post, as well as lots of inspirational quotes and blogs which I make little notes about, print out sections etc., and stick them in. Mine’s a bit scrappy but I was never neat and probably never will be! But I really find a great lift when I look back over my journals, I think in a way a blog is something similar. Even posts that aren’t brilliant and could have been better or more polished, they still make me think, well that’s where I was at the time and maybe someone got something out of it anyway. There are loads of journaling resources online, just search for ‘journal prompts’ or ‘motivational quotes’, and in fact journaling has turned into an enjoyable and uplifting hobby for me. Another set of fantastic resources are the free 21 day meditation courses  from the Chopra centre, which also have a journal facility online to chart your experiences. I love it and find it really useful (I do skip the occasional day, though there is a five day catch up period). One potential problem I would point out is that there is so much available nowadays, it’s easy to get swamped or to switch from one system to another. I have found it’s best to stick with one course or system at a time, as benefits come with practice and familiarity. Then you can branch out and try new stuff as the need arises. Finally, journaling is a tremendous channel for self-development and healing; I really would recommend it in all walks of life, whether its finding out your true path or helping yourself to heal from an illness or trauma or just coping with life and finding joy and peace in every day.

List one or several of the quotes that you find particularly life-changing.

1. Dr. Carl Jung: “Who looks outside dreams, who looks inside awakens.”
2. Anne Lamott: “You have to make mistakes to find out who you aren’t.”
3. Voltaire: “Life is thickly sown with thorns and I know no other remedy than to pass quickly through them.”
4. Anais Nin: “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”
5. Mary Pickford: “You may have a fresh start any moment you choose.”
6. Steve Jobs: “I want to put a ding in the universe.”
7. Goethe: “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”
8. Unknown Zen Master: “Leap and the net will appear.”

There are so many! A fascination with the number 8 makes me do these kinds of lists.

Let’s play popcorn: Mention 1-3 other bloggers/blogs you follow on (or another platform). Tell me why these people/blogs are striking to you. What do they prompt you to do? What value do they add to your life?

As well as your own of course, Sandra, Jean Raffa’s blog Matrignosis on WordPress has been of much inspiration for me. I love Jean’s warmth, sincerity and openness and find her dream posts especially interesting. Being a fellow Jung fan, she has taught me so much and I think her insights into the need for humanity to integrate the masculine and feminine powers is spot on.

Social Bridge by Jean Tubridy is a WordPress blog I have also been following with great interest as the stories and images are poignant with Irish history and culture, as well as addressing current issues too.

Jeremiah Stanghini on WordPress writes with a fascinating knowledge and extreme creativity on ideas for human survival and the management of social systems. His posts are different and kind of edgy, slightly off beam maybe, but that’s why I like them and I am certain he is onto something. Watch that space!

Thanks for sharing those links. Those writers seem very talented and creative. It has been a pleasure sharing this conversation with you, I might add. Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?

I am almost twenty-five years married to Fintan and we have four fantastic daughters. Without a doubt they are a major source of joy and motivation for me.

It has been great speaking with you Sandra. Thank you for this opportunity to be in conversation and thank you, too, for your uplifting and wonderful work.


For more information on Roberta McDonnell, visit her blog. You may also contact her on FacebookLinkedInGoogle+Pinterest, or Twitter. View her other work on and Nearly But Not Quite Vegan

Photo courtesy of Roberta McDonnell,

If you would like to be a part of the Along the Way series, you may send me an inquiry.


8 thoughts on “Along the Way with Author Roberta McDonnell, PhD

  1. Hi Roberta, I read this to learn more about you, one of my favorite blog followers. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that you cited Matrignosis as one of your favorite blogs! Many thanks, my sweet Irish sister, for your kind words and inspiring example! Jeanie

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