I have written a lovely [long] blog about my friend Gleb, an artist I met in St Petersburg. I wanted the blog to look as exciting as Gleb’s work, so I really went overboard with the formatting.
This post is a second draft. The first draft was so self-indulgent that I deleted it out of spite. If the first one was deemed too much and this one has achieved a glowing acceptable, just imagine how much too much the first try was.
Dearest friends, relatives, and that one guy who likes everything I post immediately, making me sure he’s never actually read a blog of mine but just gets off on giving me a little bump of serotonin (big up),
Here it is, the next instalment in the series of very long and very depressing posts I intermittently use to curse your feeds. Today we’re gonna be discussing
and how much they can help and hinder in one’s journey to mental healthiness.
I wanted the word antidepressants to be glittery on a rainbow background but I don’t think that WordPress has developed that functionality yet.
First, though, a couple of notices:
If you hate the jokes I try to make (and who can blame you!) but love reading about how much I despise the inside of my eyelids, this link will take you to an archive of everything I’ve put on here about Living With Depression.
This post will contain references to depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation and self harm. There are currently no graphic sex references, but I may add some erotica or a tasteful nude later to undercut the misery.
I don’t think many people read this blog who don’t know me personally, so that trigger warning might be a bit pointless. Even so, I’m trying to get into the habit of posting warnings more consistently. I read something a few weeks ago that contained a graphic self harm reference and it really knocked me over – I wouldn’t like to do that to anyone.
When I wrote a very long post about depression a few months ago (this boy), I specifically avoided talking in detail about medication. I mentioned that I’d been taking Citalopram since I was a teenager, but I didn’t talk about its effects very much. As the post clocked in at an eye-numbing five-thousand-and-something words, it strikes me as an act of kindness that I refrained from adding even more blah.
That probably sounds disingenuous, and it is: when have I ever shied away from giving you, my beloved readerate, too much information to comfortably digest? There’s a reason my average sentence is sixty words long, and it’s not because I’m a genius. I had a couple of explanations as to why I decided not to spend much time talking about my relationship with medication, aside from the above lie about not wanting to bore you.
Firstly, I didn’t have much experience with meds and it felt wrong to disseminate information that could potentially be wrong. I still don’t have much knowledge outside of a few hours’ Googling and personal experience, but now that I’ve tried two different antidepressant prescriptions, I think that I have something slightly more interesting to say.
Even so, I’d like to underline that I don’t have any medical knowledge and that my experiences with antidepressants are certainly not universal or representative. In fact, one of the things I’ve learnt from my Googling and conversations with doctors is that people’s reactions to antidepressants and other neuroactive drugs are hard to anticipate. (More on that later.)
Please don’t take my perspective as universal, especially if you’re considering starting antidepressants.
Secondly – and I’m on the fence about whether theorising about your own neuroses counts as armchair psychology (a punishable crime) – I think I was afraid to specify what antidepressants I was taking. On a subconscious level, I was worried that defining my medication and dosage would quantify my mental illness and that people would look down on me for not having severe enough depression. I sometimes have a similar feeling when people see my self harm cuts/scars/marks – I worry that they’re thinking: All that fuss over that?
I told this to my flatmate once when we were having a semi-drunken heart-to-heart in our living room. He said, “That’s backwards,” which I think is the best response to something that’s so blatantly nonsense. “Yeah, that is backwards!” I said. Now when I catch myself thinking along those lines, I think “That’s BaCkWaRdS,” as loudly as possible. (Thanks, Aaron.)
Those are the two things that have prevented from writing about antidepressants in the past. I’ve been thinking about doing a post like this for a while now, especially over the last couple of weeks, when the effects of Sertraline have started to become more noticeable, and, in some cases, invasive. The transition from one kind of SSRI to another has given me a slightly different perspective on the whole sorry mess*, and what do we do when we have something to figure out? We write a very long blog about it!
*whole sorry mess is code for Ro Daniels’ mindstate
My relationship with antidepressants is quite long, which you would expect from someone who was diagnosed with depression checks watch five years ago. It was when I first started self harming that my mum took me to see the GP. My memory of that time, like my memory of most of the worst times of my life, is very hazy, but I remember that I was firmly against the idea of being treated for a mental illness. I think Mum had to all but carry me to the car, but I imagine that she had to all but carry me to lots of places, because I was limp and lifeless most of the time.
We went into the GP’s office together when my full name flashed up on the announcement thing. She wanted me to have a sense of ownership over my health so Mum sat down discreetly by the door and let me try to tell the doctor what was wrong. I could barely get through a
“Things have been really hard recently,”
before I started crying. To be fair, that is to this day the exact phrasing I use to describe the periods of time when I want to pull my skeleton out of my body, and it seemed to do the trick. Mum took over explaining what I meant by that while the doctor gave me some tissues and made me a cup of tea and got out a pack of leaflets about crisis hotlines and so on. That wad of leaflets is very familiar to me now – I get given one whenever I get a new GP or therapist or similar – but that was probably the first time I’d ever seen Samaritans’ branding.
Like loads of people, I had been very resistant to the idea of antidepressants. My mindset was causing me and everyone around me lots of pain, but it seemed wrong to chemically change the way I perceived the world. After all, I thought, this was what I was honestly experiencing, and I thought that taking antidepressants would put a filter over what I naturally understood, that it would distort the truth – I was sure that the things I experienced without medication were fundamentally more real than things I would experience with the help of artificial serotonin.
I told this to a friend of my Mum, who paused, and said, “No, it’s what the depression is telling you that isn’t true. The medication will allow you to see what’s real.” Now I understand that she’s absolutely right – that depression is a distortion, and my outlook on life when depressed is not more truthful because it occurs naturally. At the time, I was worried that people were trying to force me to see the world in an unrealistic way.
My trepidation wasn’t helped by the fact that no one seemed to know how antidepressants worked. I thought this was because the people I was talking to were inherently lazy and didn’t care enough to do research about the drugs they were pushing on me; however, having tried to do some research about drugs on my own, and having spoken to even more GPs/therapists/misc. mental health professionals, I now understand that very little is actually known about neuroactive medication.
I don’t feel like I made the choice, when I was 18, to start taking antidepressants. I was by no means convinced that they worked. Still, we left the GP that day with a prescription for 10mg/day of citalopram and a bundle of leaflets about what to do if you wanted to commit suicide. (As in, leaflets about who to call, not tips.)
I stayed on citalopram from when I was first prescribed it when I was 18 until three months ago. We started at the lowest possible dose, 10mg, before increasing to 20mg and then 40mg a day. For a short period of time we lowered the dose back to 20mg to see if it would help make me less drowsy, but the reduction coincided with a more difficult period so we raised it to 30mg and then all the way back to 40mg.
Citalopram is an SSRI or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor. It’s among the antidepressants GPs are most confident prescribing because it has relatively few side effects and seems to work well for most people. I had a look at the NHS page about SSRIs to make sure I’m not spouting bullshit, and it seems to confirm that no one really knows why they’re effective:
It’s thought that SSRIs work by increasing serotonin levels in the brain.
The page goes on to say that increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain has been observed to correspond with a reduction in the symptoms of depression.
My experiences with citalopram were mixed. On the one hand, I do think it helped level me out and mitigated some low mood. Another positive is that I experienced very few adverse side effects on citalopram, apart from drowsiness. On the other hand, it didn’t prevent me from feeling shatteringly awful at times, and the consequences of missing even one pill were brutal.
That sounds unbalanced against citalopram, but when you’ve been depressed for a while, being levelled out is meaningful. When the dosage was first increased to 40mg, which was the level that helped me the most, I remember waking up one morning and lying absolutely still in bed, enjoying the sensation of being OK. All of the fuzzy background noise and itchy thoughts and aching emptiness had cleared out of my skull and ribs and I felt luxuriously empty. I felt able to experience the world around me in a more rich way than I had for ages.
The euphoria at feeling OK didn’t last all that long – I quickly started to take it for granted. Citalopram raised my base level from dreadful to alright, which allowed me to participate in society and to do things. It definitely changed my life, but it didn’t eliminate my symptoms of depression or prevent me from experiencing suicidal thoughts on a regular basis and the compulsion to self harm almost constantly.
Forgetting to take a dose of citalopram could be quite serious, even if I missed a single one. I don’t know how much of this was placebo, but my mood would plummet, leaving me too low to put on socks. I also regularly experienced something my doctor called “brain zaps”, the sensation of electric shocks in your body and head. Again, we don’t know what causes these, but they suck. They’re uncomfortable, and if you associate them with being depressed, they make it hard to distract yourself from feeling down. I’d occasionally get brain zaps at the end of a long or stressful day – my pet theory is they’re a symptom of all the extra serotonin runnin’ around my brain being used up.
It’s probably natural that I most often forgot my antidepressants when I was feeling great, but this somehow felt especially unfair. My joyful moments felt far and few between, and were often marred by a comedown that you’d be unlucky to get after a serious night of partying, as well as the proverbial electric chair.
After I had my infamous new years’ 2019 mental breakdown, I spent more than the usual amount of time opposite a doctor or mental health professional. I think that part of the reason I had such a crash last year is because I’d been horribly ill for a few days and hadn’t been able to keep down water, let alone citalopram. However, medical professionals, my mother, and I were all disappointed to note that my mental health didn’t return to its pre-breakdown levels even after citalopram had been back in my system for a long time – even though I had started psychotherapy. This was a concerning sign that citalopram was no longer working for me – if it ever had.
Mental illness is tricky because it’s hard to define a metric by which to measure how someone’s feeling. When the GP prescribed me citalopram back in 2014, she* said that in four to six weeks I should be feeling more positive. I definitely did feel more positive. But did I feel enough more positive to suggest that citalopram was the ideal drug for me? It’s hard to say. It’s also tricky for people who’ve suffered from depression for their whole adult lives, because it’s hard to know what constitutes a healthy experience – so how do you know what you’re aiming for?
*that’s right, the GP was a woman all along.
After talking to my GP, a therapist, and my brother, it seemed like it was time to try a different drug. The process of changing from one antidepressant to another is not straightforward. For one thing, the GP can’t know which antidepressant you’re going to respond better to, so it’s a gamble that you’ll feel any better than on your current medication. For another, you can’t just stop taking one kind of drug and start another; my experiences with brain zaps after missing a single dose proved that. If I cut citalopram out in one fell swoop, I risked being zapped to oblivion. For a third thing (if a third thing were needed), antidepressants typically take a few weeks to be effective, meaning you can experience a relatively long time of not being medicated to the ideal level – first when you reduce the dose of your original medication, and then when you begin your new one. It did not promise to be an easy time.
We decided to wait until I moved back to Sheffield to start this process. Although I’d be dealing with the not-insignificant stress of moving country, starting uni, and meeting lots of new people, I would be much closer to a support network that could intervene if things began to look too zappy. Accessing help would be easier than in Prague: my mum lives an hour away – the university provides a lot of pastoral care – they speak English at A&E.
Not necessarily the best time to switch meds, but certainly the least worst time.
The alternative we plumped for was sertraline, the next in the family of SSRIs. I asked the GP whether it was useful to try a drug that was in the same family as the one we were rejecting, but she said that some people react differently to similar medications. We don’t know why.
I had to continue taking a reduced dose of citalopram for a week, and then begin taking sertraline alongside citalopram for a week, and then switch to just sertraline.
This is a very complicated system and I am a renowned idiot.
It’s no surprise, then, that I instantly fucked up and started taking double the dose of sertraline I was supposed to – I had it in my head that I was supposed to be taking two pills: first two 10mg citalopram pills, then a 10mg citalopram and a 50mg sertraline, and then two 50mg sertraline tablets. In actual fact I was meant to stay on one 50mg sertraline a pill a day.
Inadvertently doubling my dosage of sertraline really did hit home for me how important it is to listen to your doctor carefully and write down everything she says*.
*or “he says”. It’s 2019. Men can be doctors, too.
I only realised my mistake when I gulped down the last two pills in a strip, reached for the next one to put by my bed, and saw that the box was empty. Panicky, imagining having to deal with withdrawal symptoms from sertraline as well as my scheduled withdrawal symptoms from citalopram, I got an emergency appointment with a doctor I didn’t know and was given a new prescription and an understanding smile.
In the few weeks I’d been illegally taking 100mg of sertraline, I’d been shocked by how quickly I’d felt its effects. They hit me suddenly. One day I came home from uni and felt so exhausted that I lay down on the rug downstairs without taking my shoes or backpack off. I’d been feeling drowsy all day, but this was something else. I felt physically numb all over and a little high. “Holy shit, it’s working!” I said out loud. “What?” said my flatmate, who was sitting with his headphones in. I couldn’t feel my toes. I crawled (literally) to my bedroom and slept for hours. When I woke up, my mind felt like a smooth flat stone. My body was heavy and tired, but I didn’t mind: I was so relieved not to feel depressed.
My whole life, even when I was little, I’ve had a recurring fantasy that one day I would sneeze blood or something and have to be taken to the doctor’s, and that the doctor would scan my brain and see, like, a worm or a bug or a gnome living there fucking shit up.
And the doctor would say: “What’s that doing there?!” and take it out. And when I woke up from anaesthetic I’d suddenly — be — normal. All of my anxieties, the heaviness in my bones that made it hard to get out of bed, all of the things that made me feel different from other people would be gone. I would be effortlessly OK all the time; I wouldn’t have the barriers to communication I’ve always felt; I wouldn’t be the self-conscious burden who found everything so difficult, even the things everyone else could do easily. And I would think: “Ohhhh, it wasn’t my fault. I had a brain gnome.” And that would explain it. And I’d be fine.
For a couple of weeks, I thought sertraline might be the proverbial gnome-removal-service. I thought I would be normal, OK.
Now that my body has started to get used to sertraline, I can compare it to citalopram better. I think that sertraline helps me feel less depressed than I did on citalopram, but the side effects are pretty gnarly. The initial wave of SSRI-numbness was so lovely that I got my hopes up that that would be what life would be like from now on – but just like with citalopram, that euphoria has been short lived.
I would say that sertraline has improved my mood on a day to day, but it hasn’t prevented occasional very severe bad days – as my family, housemates, and local medical professionals can attest. Maybe this is to be expected when I’m on a relatively low dose – maybe the medication can filter out the slightly-bad-feelings but can’t cope with the very-bad-ones. Maybe that’s how SSRIs work.
The doctor warned me that I would probably feel increased anxiety as I changed medication, and for a while as I was getting used to sertraline. I wasn’t phased by the prospect – I thought I knew what anxiety felt like.
Oh, man. It’s been really shit.
I am so easily stressed that recently I’ve been considering it a success when I can sit in the same room as someone. I’ve always been a little bit socially anxious, but this is next level – I’ve been panicky and overwhelmed at most social events I’ve been to, and it’s hard to resist the temptation to self-medicate, especially when being slightly intoxicated seems to take the edge off.
It’s manageable when I’m with someone I especially trust and feel comfortable with and the environment isn’t too intense, but even then, a very slight thing can make me spiral. When feeling anxious, colours have been sharper, sounds have been louder and hurt my head, and physical contact has felt like an attack. When I’ve met people unexpectedly over the last few weeks, I’ve been so flustered I’ve struggled to speak. Uni has been difficult.
This is a fucking drag. I really like people (usually) and I (usually) enjoy being around them, even if I feel awkward. This is especially true of the people I know in Sheffield, who are all gloriously friendly and (usually) a joy to be around. I feel like I’ve lost my ability to walk, or something.
I should probably just say to people, “Hey! I’m feeling extra anxious. I’m not avoiding you on purpose,” but I don’t want to because thinking about having that conversation makes me want to set myself on fire.
The aftermath of seeing people has been really hard – it feels like something that I have to recover from. Even after relatively successful interactions with people I know and like, I’ve felt compelled to self harm.
Quite a significant exception to this is that last weekend I went to a party and had a really good time for a few hours. I think this was manageable because I was with some of the best people I know and because I’d been drinking, and looking back it was a pretty pretty good accomplishment.
Despite how pleased I am with how that went now, directly after I felt like an incredible failure because I left early; and I lay on my bed and thought through everyone I knew and liked at the party and thought about what they must think of me and how much they must dislike me and what a worm I am. Looking back, I’m ashamed to have thought that way, because these are some of the nicest, most sound people I know, who go out of their way to make me feel welcome and comfortable. Like, genuinely notice when I’m looking nervous and look after me. At the time, though, the idea that I was universally despised (and for good reason) felt very real.
Anxiety aside, I’ve experienced some grim physical side effects with sertraline, like weight gain, reduced ability to orgasm, and sleeplessness. Honestly, I’m most annoyed about the middle one. Who needs to be rested and thin when you can cum?
All of this sounds pretty awful, and these side effects might lead you to wonder why I don’t throw sertraline in the sea and take the SSRI that doesn’t really work rather than the one that makes me actively anxious. Good question!
I went to speak to my doctor about it and she said that it will take a while for my body to get fully used to the new medication, and that side effects often diminish with time. She said we could change now or we could wait a few months and see whether my body and sertraline get their act together and start behaving like grownups.
For now, then, I’m still taking the anxiety pill and trying to develop techniques to deal with the (hopefully) interim effects. Expect updates.
I would definitely recommend antidepressants; despite their flaws and side effects, they have enabled me to do things I wouldn’t have managed without them, like putting on socks.
Love you all,
I am so tired so so tired.
I don’t know if this is exclusive to Sheffield, but lots of people I know here report an incidence of Six Dinner Sids. For the philistines amongst you who aren’t familiar with Inga Moore’s timeless classic (4.33 stars on Good Reads – pretty impressive), the titular Sid enjoys six meals a day by turning up at various houses along his street looking hungry and adorable. I probably should have mentioned at the top that, although some people might read him as a metaphor for Greed, Sid is a cat. At least, he appears to be a cat in the illustrations – who knows what Moore was intending when she conceived of him.
Our house is by no means free from the plague of feline interlopers. The street we live on is terrorised (and I mean that) by a ginger creature who apparently belongs to Mr and Mrs Not Next Door And Not The One After That But The One After That One. Barely a day goes by that a plaintive mewing isn’t heard outside our backdoor. Our neighbours – as well as my housemates – have grown wise to the cat’s overwhelmingly malevolent nature, so it falls to me to fling open the door and let Pure Evil in.
The cat’s name, our neighbour told me once when we left our houses at the same time, is Arthur. We agreed it was a shit name for a cat, swapped some more remarks about e.g. the weather and went our separate ways. It was a successful interaction.
You know how vampires are only legally allowed to bother you if you invite them into your home? If my relationship with Arthur has taught me anything, I’m now certain that I would be easy prey for any creature of the night that fancied a snack. This is how it would go:
Vampire: Can I come in?
Similarly, whenever Arthur yells outside the back door, I fling it open for him and greet him with open arms, despite the emotional and physical pain he’s caused me in the past.
I know what you’re thinking: “Ro, that cat literally looks like the epitome of cuteness. How bad could he be?” Actually, that was your second thought. Your first thought was of course, “Ro, holy shit, your photography has got even better. You truly have mastered your Canon 350D, and are certainly not overusing the super-wide-aperture settings. Incredible stuff.” Hey, yeah, you’re right. But let’s not focus on me.
The cat is the most horrible and frustrating creature I’ve ever met, and I once dated a girl who believed that the beans in a full English should be served in a ramekin. In lots of ways, Arthur is not dissimilar to the unnamed and in no way made-up ex. Both of them have luscious red hair and spend similar amounts of time licking their own limbs.
He is spontaneously violent and extremely needy, but his concept of personal space is complex and unstated. He seems to decide arbitrarily when a stroke crosses the line into being unreasonable touching. He is merciless in his retribution and has scratched and bitten me many, many times. He invariably crawls into my lap and digs his claws into my thighs, seemingly to provoke me into yelping, bothering him, and therefore justifying further violence.
Cat lovers have told me that I’m clearly not reading his body language correctly, and to them I say, “Do you always blame the victim, or is it just when the perpetrator is cute?” Also – the first thing you learn in Cat Language 101 is that purring = happy. This motherfucker purrs up to and even as he gouges my hand for daring to stroke him in exactly the same way I stroked him before. He occasionally gently bites me when he’s very very happy, but I have no way of knowing in the build up whether it’s going to be a Bite of Praise or a Bite of Punishment. The former is a gentle nibble that I find comforting and – yes – somewhat invigorating; the latter is a great way to help me reach my target weight as Arthur speeds away with 30g of my flesh.
He is a monster. I am certain he has been sent from hell to test me.
Once again, I can hear your questioning voice in my mind: “Ro, if this cat causes you so much pain, why do you keep letting him into your life?” It’s a good question. Why do I keep putting myself in the path of Arthur’s arbitrary swipes? Well, if I’m honest, dear reader, I do see a lot of myself in Arthur. Consider the similarities:
Both of us
- sleep all day and cry when someone tries to move us;
- consider biting a symbol of fondness;
- are fabulously beautiful;
- react badly when people boop our noses;
- crave affection but lash out when people get too close;
- have poorly defined boundaries;
- and shit outside.
I sense a kindred spirit in Arthur, and to banish him would be to banish a part of myself. Also, I’m mercilessly exploiting his image on my Instagram because – guess what? Cats can’t sue you.
Reader, as I’ve mentioned a couple of times, I’ve recently returned to Sheffield to complete my undergraduate degree. I’m in my fourth year of Russian, Czech and Polish and – yes – it’s as fun as it sounds.
As a consequence of having taken a little two year study break, I have completely forgotten all the soft-skills a student needs for academic success. I can barely hold a pen, let alone adequately cite my sources. This noble motivation was what led me to open the dusty folder on my Google Drive enigmatically labelled “thinking shit” and scan through my two-year-old lecture notes.
The following is an unabridged copy of the contents of a document called “06/03/17 the role of marriage” and is the result of a two-hour literature lecture that I fully enjoyed – clearly.
I am not responsible for the parts that don’t make sense. What the hell does being flung like a booty call mean? I don’t know, and I don’t know if the Ro that wrote this knew either.
The role of marriage
Marriage is a lame duck intended to hide us underwing and underfoot and understood. Right, he said, holding his property firmly by its left wrist, but marriage is the cornerstone of that which dearest we hold – society.
I turned left and gazed glassily at the squiggles on the board – leftovers from another lecture. Barbara Holzer, it said, and below it was scrawled an oldfashioned map of something colonial. The room was taller than it was wide and the windowsill was too high; when I craned my neck, I could only just catch a glimpse of blue; through it was zooming a plane, crowded, no doubt, with tiny cans of coke and life jackets.
My own son would be born here, under the university desks. Entire generations of my family would live and die in this very room, lulled by the soporific musings of a doctor (pHd) who peaked in a stuffy university lulled by the soporific musings of a professor, and who has spent his years here trying to replicate things that weren’t real even when he first experienced them.
No, I chided myself. There is no such thing as real and unreal experiences. What is is. So I think to myself now, snuggled and cosy in my too big jumper knitted by unseen needles, reality is for made-up people.
Emma has chosen her question poorly; Sam already presented on it, and he did extremely well. As far as I know, and I do know a fair few kilometres, he got a first, and indeed a good first. That said, she seems at ease and confident. 45 per cent of success in presenting is stopping anyone from hearing your voice shake. The ancient inuits had an interesting technique: they would spend four hours singing vibrato to shake the shake from their vocal chords – a far less barbaric technique than that of the Turniply Burnipers, who surgically removed their larynxes, ironed them, stuck them back in with a dab of honey. These days, people don’t go to such lengths. At most they might take a shot of strong spirit before speaking; however, most people simply trust the fates to steady their voice and guide their thesis.
she said, loudly.
An amourous sigh shook the room – far from enamoured, I was thrown sideways. I landed badly in a heap of snuggly jumper and refill pad – my entire being had been flung like a booty call.
Failure is as failure does, I mumbled through bloody lips, blinded by dust, deafened by nonsense, all but muted by my rapidly swelling tongue. I added, enigmatically, “I have seen the best minds of my generation muted by madness; howling, crimson, naked.” The stolen words were sour in my memory; they had expired, were long past their sell-by date. Hyphens tore at my clothes. A swan smelled moving water. Rain ate rooftiles and spat out umbrellas like so many bats struck down midflight.
I recalled something, then forgot it like a dream running out of my ear.
I recalled Camus living how he could in a malheureux pays. I chose to invert the word order and not to italicise to avoid any suspicion of pretension; or, in the original French soupcon de pretension.
I grow old, I grow old, I wear the bottom of my trousers rolled.
This is meant to be a pun on Evelyn Waugh’s classic novel, Brideshead Revisited. I don’t know if it was a good punning choice because – and I don’t like to admit this – I’ve never read Evelyn Waugh’s classic novel, Brideshead Revisited.
The Good, The Bad, The Clichéd
Has the “Hey did you know I lived in Prague?” bit stopped being funny yet? Oh, it was never funny? Well, anyway…
Did you guys know that I lived in Prague last year? Well, it’s true. I spent a full sixteen months in Mother Prague’s claws before returning to Sheffield to find and exact revenge on the man who killed my father.
Not true; but it sounds better than the reality, which is that I had to come back to finish my undergrad degree or face >£20,000 of debt. I will still have to face >£20,000 of debt, but at least I will be a graduate and therefore – in theory, at least – several percentage points more employable.
My transition from Prague to Sheffield can be illustrated using the same terms I’d use to describe my legs: not all that smooth, but fine for the autumn. Here’s a run-down, a sum-up, a drive-around my experiences over the last couple of months.
There can be no denying it: Sheffield and Prague are very different places. Aside from lots of trees, lots of pork and an aggravating bus system, there’s very little uniting these two cultural capitals. Sure, you might be able to imagine Sheffield cutlery on the same dining room table as Bohemian glassware, but outside of this dinner party of the mind there isn’t a huge overlap to cling on to. Moving back to the UK after having become acclimated to Czech culture presented a few challenges.
I’ve mentioned this on this blog before, but Czech people love to stare. Man, there’s nothing they like more than good old peep at passersby. At first I found it uncomfortable to catch people gazing at me like I was a beautiful and unusual specimen, the likes of which had never been seen before in Central Europe. (That’s not to say I wasn’t a beautiful and unusual specimen, the likes of which had never been seen before in Central Europe, but I expected people to keep their awe to themselves.) It didn’t take long for me to get used to the constant peering.
A few months in, I was no longer surprised by people’s unabashed looks, and didn’t even baulk when they didn’t drop their gaze if our eyes met – a habit which had shocked me at first: in the UK, if you’re caught gawping at someone, it’s pretty much high treason not to blush and look away or pretend you were actually really interested in the brickwork just behind whoever caught your eye. I was roaming Prague like an absolute pro by the time I had to leave country, looking at people in the faces day in, day out. Sure, my eyes might have watered from returning my peers’ stares, but other than that I was golden.
In the UK, it feels like people conceive of public places differently. There’s more of a sense of personal privacy, which is why it felt like such an invasion when I first noticed people looking at me in the way I look at my dog when she burps. People in the UK like to feel as if there’s no one else on the street. We tend to act like strangers don’t exist, or like they’re just objects to be navigated like bollards with legs. Not to say this doesn’t have its advantages – it’s nice to be able to block people out – but sometimes it makes me feel like I’m invisible, like I don’t take up space in other people’s worlds. Sometimes it’s nice to be a bollard and to be surrounded by other bollards you don’t have to interact with, but it is – naturally – a bit dehumanising.
There have been a handful of other cultural differences to contend with. Part of me thinks I’m too much in my head, and these differences aren’t as pronounced as my mind is telling me.
Uni isn’t the best, and I’m feeling like my milk frothing skills have evaporated – not that they were ever that impressive at the best of times. But! There are lots of bright sides to look at. I love my flatmates and their friends, and that makes coming home feel cheerful rather than a trudge. Lots of people have made extraordinary efforts to make me feel welcome and included, despite my (if I do say so myself) fucking irritating neuroses.
Entering into an already established friend group has been an interesting experience. Being nervous around lots of new people whose relationships I don’t understand has made me feel more like an observer than a participant, but this particular group has been overwhelmingly kind and open. I feel like it’s OK to be a bit of a stony presence around them when I’m feeling anxious.
On balance, then, good things!
Like most people, I spent my teenage years in a constant state of embarrassment. I felt somewhat guilty about my own existence and did everything I could to limit my impact on others, suppressing my more obnoxious quirks and wearing dull colours to try and physically blend in with my surroundings. It felt wrong to take up more space in the world than was absolutely necessary.
Let’s play the fun game of comparing Rosie from secondary school with the twenty-two year old Ro penning this potential masterpiece:
|Small Rosie||Physically the Same Size but Older Ro|
|– Blushed easily||– Only blushes when it is culturally insensitive not to|
|– Afraid of mirrors, selfies||– Obsessed with my own self image (see instagram)|
|– Terrified of being noticed||– Craves the attention of peers, strangers|
As you can see, Small Rosie was clearly more self-conscious than PtSSbOR AKA me_irl. Whilst I value introspection, teenage me was so self-aware that my very existence felt burdensome. Not so anymore.
Sure, I have my off days, but when asked to place myself on the egg scale I’d rate myself a solid Good Egg. What can I say, the people love my branded mixture of low-effort comedy and occasional incredibly long treatise on The Black Cloud. The public seems to respond to my daring mash-up of low talent and high self-belief. Passersby and peers alike are drawn to my brave fashion choices like moths are drawn to cliches.
I know I’ve used that moth/cliche gag before but I love it so much and I do what I want. Expect to see it again.
In the spirit of honouring self-improvement and immortalising self esteem, here’s a list of things that used to weigh on my soul. Whereas I would have cringed at the mention of them, these are now sources of (at worst) ambivalence or even (at best) pride.
having big rips in my trousers
When I was at school, I thought showing off a bit of knee was shameful. Not because it demonstrated my hatred of shopping or financial insolvency, but because it was just a bit too tryhard. It’s hard to exude an air of cool apathy when you’ve very obviously invested your spare time in making your trousers look worn in exactly the right kind of way.
Nowadays, I’m unrepentant about trying very hard at lots of things, including spending a long time figuring out exactly where to slash my trousers. YES, I tore the bottoms off these jeans on purpose. YES, it took a while to figure out where to rip. NO, you can’t have my autograph. Just keep moving.
my shit czech
A mere four years ago, when I first started my journey into the Czech language, a large part of my self-image was founded on the idea that I was a masterful linguist who could absorb foreign words and grammatical structures like sponges absorb spilt coffee. My long, long journey into Slavonics has taught me that I am an averagely capable language learner who can absorb foreign idioms and constructions like sponges absorb gravy. Some of it goes in, but most is left to congeal on the work surface.
In this metaphor, the sponge is my brain, the gravy is the target language and the work surface is a foil to my consciousness.
The great thing about spending many years studying something you’re not very good at is that it engenders a certain humility. In Sixth Form, my Pride was my Downfall, in that it made me quite a cunty person. I was so intoxicated with the idea that I was great at languages and studying in general that I forgot that the most important language human’s can learn – is the language of kindness.
Now, because I’m no longer embarrassed about saying things wrong, or obsessed with the idea that nothing I say could be wrong, I’m a much more communicative person, and – if I do say so myself – at least 20% easier to get along with.
how few followers my blog has
Sure, there’s only like 10 of you reading this – but you’re absolute gems and I couldn’t fault one of you. If I had the chance to swap you for a readership reaching the millions, of course I would do it. But I would take the ad revenue from such an upswing in popularity and buy you all one (1) beanie baby or similar novelty plush. And, at the end of the day, isn’t that what reading blogs is all about?
I haven’t written anything in almost a full calendar month and gone a full lunar month. Reader, I’m sorry. I know you rely on my droplets of wisdom at least bi-weekly to keep your Ro-levels within a medically advisable range.
Here’s what I’ve been doing instead of blogging:
- Editing pictures of concrete buildings to look like backdrops for Soviet propaganda posters (see above);
- Learning about Ksenia Sobchak’s 2018 presidential bid (for an oral presentation that I just now fucked up);
- Participating in a wholesome collective of like-minded dwellers (by which I mean – cooking team teas with my flatmates);
- Bothering pigeons;
- Experimenting with new drugs (got prescribed new SSRIs);
- Refining my taste in lime ‘n’ soda (fresh lime > syrup);
- Ignoring voice mails.
As you can see, I’ve been very busy and I’ve spent a lot of time doing interesting things. Also, not insignificant is the fact that we don’t have Wi-Fi at home yet. How can I be expected to produce the same bland content when I can’t pen my masterpieces from the comfort of my bed?
Still toddling on,
Reader, we can all agree I’m at the top of my game, professionally, academically, and socially. As everyone knows, life is made up of these three components, and, yes, I’ve reached the peak of success in every aspect of my existence. Observe the following thoughts:
It’s a universal truth that a successful professional life is marked by sudden, violent and unplanned career changes. In the last year, I’ve received money for
- teaching English,
- writing dumb stupid words,
- serving coffee,
- shrugging off bed bugs,
- writing smart words,
- pretending to care about the fashion industry,
- putting words in one language into another language, and (who can forget)
- being just absolutely adorable and generally universally attractive.*
*I mean I got tips for being cute af.
As you can see, my professional development has been as tumultuous as it has been completely healthy and great. Everything that’s gone on has happened entirely on purpose and I’m at peace with my plans for the future. No, I’m not worried I’m going to wake up one morning, middle aged, and realise I’ve had eighty jobs in six years. What was the question?
Ah, learning. Truly the thinking man’s McDonald’s, as I often quip to my fellow students. Just as fast food is the stuffing of greasy nourishment into your stupid face, learning is the ramming of fatty words into your dumb head. I can’t think of a better metaphor, and I doubt anyone else could either.
I’m back at university now, having failed to find a suitably rich husband in my two years on the Continent. Back at Plato’s bosom, as I remarked to a fellow student on the tram. “Who are you?” the student replied.
I’m a full-time student once more, and, as we all agree, doing something all the time means you must be good at it, engaged with the process, and in control of your decisions.
As far as achievement goes, I read a whole book about referencing last night, so I have a lot to be proud of.
Ah, romance. Truly the sensitive man’s McDonald’s, as I often quip to people I’m trying to seduce. Just as fast food is the stuffing of lipid beef into your fat mouth, romance is the ramming of destructive feelings into your congested heart.
You might think success in romance should be characterised by e.g. having a stable, loving relationship, bringing out the best in the people you’re with, raising an otter together e.t.c. e.t.c. e.t.c.. No! That’s bullshit. True success in romance, as I mutter every night when I tuck myself in, means being fine with being single. Why win the game, when you could just not play it? And, about 30% of the time, I think being single is great. So, you know. Doing just fine, aren’t I.
Yes, I feel comfortable saying it: I am at peak Rosie right now. My life is almost without any drawbacks. If someone begged me to name something I’m not happy with – and, reader, I sense that you are doing that – and I managed to prevent myself from saying something glib about depression, I would be hardpressed to put my finger on anything.
Reading back that sentence, I realised it basically means: “I love my life! If you forget about the crippling mental health disorder.” More high quality introspection from Ro Daniels. You are welcome.
If that same person got quite cross and insisted that I try harder to name just one fucking thing I would like to improve about my life (and I avoided saying something flippant about brain chemistry), I would have to admit that I’d like to improve my skills as a writer.
“But Rosie!” I hear you exclaim. “You’re already such a talented writer. Your work has been featured in such varied publications as your school magazine and your friend’s blog. You have already reached the peak of literary achievement. I was thinking about liking and sharing your blog. You write dialogue so well.”
Yes, and thank you, reader, that’s all true. I am a genius. Unfortunately, whilst you and I seem to be in agreement, the public at large has yet to buy into my crushingly depressing brand of comedy writing. And, yeah, you and I both know that those philistines ought to change their perspectives and not be so closed minded, but even so – I find myself wondering whether my universal unpopularity might be down to me actually, deep down, being a fairly shit writer.
In a display of sycophancy that still makes my toes curl (although, I insist, I was being sincere), I asked the editor of Oko! to give me some writing tips. After all, I thought to myself, if he can make me – notorious land developer that I am – care about conservation in the Tatras, he’s clearly a talented boi.
I wanted to link you directly to the superlative article, but I couldn’t figure out how to do. Just read the whole goddamn magazine, you know you want to.
Leigh recommended I practice and try to write about things I love. He said that he’d always loved English at school, from which I understood that he’d had a childhood full of books and scribbling stories in the back of his exercise books. I reread the article of his I’d particularly liked, and it did seem to me that I could sense the author’s excitement – although, thinking back, the six coffees I’d had might have been giving me heart palpitations. Passion oozed out of the website into my little eyes.
This is great advice for anyone with legitimate interests and passions. I was sure that following Leigh’s advice would improve my literacy no end, but doubts were running through my mind. How can you write about what you love if you hate everything? What if you’re dead inside? What if, like me, your main interests are cuddling bread and thinking about Death?
“You’re being silly now, Rosalind,” I said out loud, scaring the other people in the lift. “There are many things that you love.” I slammed my hand on the emergency button, and in the time it took fireofficers [the gender neutral term for people who put out fires] to cut us free from the elevator, I compiled the following list of things I love. Be prepared for lots of content about…
- dark liquid (coffee, beer, the moisture you get from squeezing moss);
- cranes (paper, feather, industrial);
- punching people when you see yellow cars.
I can hardly wait!
It’s done: suitcase packed and unpacked, goods byed, ports passed. I’m back in the greatest of Britains, the most united of kingdoms. In the space of (heck) five days, I’ve changed country, time zone, and jumped between two cities. I have savoured the most Czech of all flavours (Too Much Višňovka) and the most Sheffieldest of tastes (Too Much Abbeydale Stout). I have said bye to a whole bunch of beloveds, spent time with friends I haven’t seen for years, and met what feels like millions of new people. I’ve bought a bus pass.
Reader, I’m tired out.
People mentioned the perils of reverse culture shock to me before I left the UK for the first time two years ago. Frankly, I was too worried about classic culture shock to pay any attention to their warnings. Why would I sweat about reintergrating into British culture when I had to face up to the daunting task about losing my Britishness in the first place? It seemed like skipping a step.
Besides, I thought to myself, I am inescapably British. No matter how hard I try, and no matter how much I will wrinkle my nose at my own passport and curse the Queen under my breath, I fit into British society as snugly as a bone china cup slots into its saucer. The phrase “citizen of the world” hits my middle-class liberal ears beautifully, but even I know it doesn’t convey anything meaningful, except highlighting what a twat I am.
And, sure, I am still English. This is true beyond any doubt – it says so on my passport. I must be English because I have an opinion on Marmite and what order the milk goes into the brew. Besides, I was undoubtedly a foreigner the whole time I was in Prague, and I’ve only lived outside of the UK for a measly two years. To claim to be more European than Mancunian would be misleading and silly.
Even so, I’ve been struck by how different everything here is. I feel utterly, completely lost. I’d got used to being a foreigner in Prague, but being a foreigner in Sheffield is another thing altogether, and entirely disconcerting.
I feel like there’s a disconnect between me and the people around me – I’m not sure what words I have to say to make them understand what I’m thinking. I had got very used to the rituals and habits of living in Prague, when I was supposed to smile at people, what I needed to say when I came into a building, how to tip and how much to leave. I feel like all the people skills I’ve picked up over the last two years don’t apply to Sheffield residents. My cheery ‘hellos’ whenever I enter a cafe or shop, for example, seem to upset people more than ingratiate them.
A massive thing is feeling a bit invisible here. This is, I’m sure, because I’ve not found a coherent peer group yet and because I’m not really doing very much in the day, but it’s also a bit related to cultural differences between Sheffield and Prague. People really stare at you in the street in Prague, no matter what you’re doing. This, of course, is upsetting for any English person, bred to avoid eye contact and pretend not to notice anyone else existing in the same space as them. I won’t lie: I found it quite rude to begin with, when I first moved to Prague. I was constantly anxious there was something on my face to draw all of these searching looks.
Somehow, in my year in Prague, being looked at on the street stopped bothering me. I got used to it. It was just a way of being sure that I was really there. Now I’m in Sheffield and people are consciously keeping themselves to themselves, I feel uneasy. I’m not sure that I’m really here. I have to look at my reflection in car windows to make sure I really am taking up space in the world.
These teething problems aside, I’ve also been struck by how much I benefited from not understanding stuff in Prague. The amount of effort I had to exert to glean any meaning from even the clearest and simplest sentences coming from the most familiar and friendly mouths meant that I didn’t even try to understand what the lady on the bus was saying. It was much easier to feel calm and centred in myself when I let 90% of what was going on around me flow past me without engaging with it.
I feel like I don’t have the option to do that now that everything is in English. I cannot stop myself from feeling invested in the lady on the bus’s phone conversation with her boyfriend. I can’t ignore the people on a shit date sitting behind me in this very cafe. Reader, I understand the news. I feel emotionally spent before I’ve even started talking to people that I actually know and care about.
Socialising in a second language suits me quite well. If you can’t understand everything your friend is saying, and if you can only express a third of what you’d like to say, everything’s necessarily simplified, and that takes a lot of the anxiety out of it. When saying anything is a success, you can’t worry about whether you’re saying anything of substance.
The only antidote to this, of course, is time. I’ve only been here ten minutes and I’m bound to be feeling a bit unsettled. Keep on keeping on!
Something my flatmate said to me as I was writing this mopey drivel illustrates what I mean.
“Who sends texts these days?” I moaned as my phone chimed.
“What do you use, WhatsApp?” he said.
“English people like texting,” he said.
This is what I’m talking about.
Is suffering worth it if it means you can create something meaningful? Will grass grow out of the cracks in me?