“You’re always asking questions in your mind”.
So says an Italian girl when out on a date with me on a cold February evening.
I laugh. “What do you mean?” Although I know what she means.
“In your head, you’re always thinking about something, you’re never just looking at what’s in front of you.”
Ok, so first of all, how dare this person so instantaneously identify and articulate one of my many deep, deep flaws.
Jokes aside though, she is correct. I’m very easily distracted. I don’t mean to be, I’m working through things in my head a lot of the time, and that makes it hard to concentrate. Real life is hard and real people are difficult to interact with. My brain is much safer.
But this has been an ongoing issue for years now. Even with people who don’t know me well, I have a reputation for being “not all there” “In my own world” etc. I figure this is just part of who I am. It’s inconvenient, but it is what it is.
You know those screenshots of tumblr posts which get shared on Facebook and Twitter and other social media? So happens I’m looking at my phone one day and I see one of those, in which someone is talking about thinking up fantasies about themselves whenever they’re walking somewhere on their own, and they want to know if other people do it. Someone comments saying that what they are describing is called “Maladaptive daydreaming”, and that it’s symptomatic of various mental disorders.
And I’m like “Wait, what?”
I google it. Maladaptive Daydreaming is a term which was coined Eli Sómer, Ph.D., in 2002. (source: http://www.medicaldaily.com/maladaptive-daydreaming-what-it-247629). It’s typically a symptom of a series of mental illnesses, as opposed to an illness of itself. It can be described as an addiction to fantasizing. The symptoms include:
- difficulty completing everyday tasks
- difficulty sleeping at night
- an overwhelming desire to continue daydreaming
- performing repetitive movements while daydreaming
- making facial expressions while daydreaming
- whispering and talking while daydreaming
- daydreaming for lengthy periods (many minutes to hours)
This describes my entire existence for the best part of over a decade.
It’s almost wierd how accurate it is. Friends have commented on it. Partners have been driven to extreme frustration by it. I show the list to my flatmate and he says “Wow, that is like, a literal description of you as a human being”.
I can’t emphasise how much this has taken over my life. It makes concentrating on anything immensely difficult. It causes extreme procrastination, and it means that being fully present in conversations is a real struggle. The only time spent not daydreaming has been when in extremely emotionally intense situations, either conflict or romance. When I’m not in those situations, that’s what I tend to dream about. Not only does this cause distraction, but having a steady stream of intense emotions spiking in my brain leads to issues of its own.
But I thought this was normal. I assumed that everyone did this – me maybe slightly more than others, but I assumed that this was just part of having an internal dialogue. I knew it sometimes got in the way of me doing things, but I never realised it was an issue which most people didn’t experience to the same intensity. And because I didn’t realise it wasn’t normal, I never realised how much of an issue it was.
Two years ago, I started looking into the possibility that I could have PTSD. As I researched, I also looked at other trauma disorders such as BPD. Whilst chatting to an ex boyfriend about it, he suddenly got very frustrated with me. “Why do you need a label for this?” he asked. “You know some of your behaviours which are unhelpful, why can’t you change them and without needing to label it?”
At the time I struggled to articulate why the label was important, but I feel like this realisation is a pretty good example of why it’s useful to have labels for our behaviours and experiences. For years and years and years I’ve assumed that I had some form of undiagnosed learning disability, possibly dyspraxia or ADHD, and that my difficulty in concentrating on various tasks was down to these. Finding out that the daydreaming was in and of itself an issue meant that not only could I identify it but I also could work out coping mechanisms to prevent it, which I was unable to do when I didn’t have the label to identify it.
Here are some examples of coping mechanisms which I’ve developed:
- Making a real effort to listen to what people are saying, especially when hanging out (as opposed to just being in the house). Trying not to use phone during conversations.
- Giving up drinking. This is relatively new, and I’ve done it for multiple reasons, but one is that I can no longer use alcohol as a way to buffer social anxiety. Which means that I have to connect with what people are actually saying and make the effort to reach out to people. So far it’s -Horrible- but it will be worth it.
- Writing. I don’t write as much as I should, but I’m trying to get better. A lot of my daydreams revolve around me wanting to say things I can’t say, and this causes what I think of as a word block in my head. Once I write these thoughts down, I immediately feel better because I’ve been able to process them and that means I don’t need to work through them in my head anymore.
- Just refusing to daydream. Easier said than done at times, but being aware of it as a problem has meant that I can tell myself to stop it when I do notice myself doing it. I’ve also got better at clearing my mind before I go to sleep and avoiding the temptation to dream instead.
After just two weeks, these are the situations where I’ve seen the most improvement:
- When out with friends, particularly close friends.
- When I have something to concentrate on.
- Before sleep.
Meanwhile, these are the situations which I’m still struggling with:
- When I’m on my own
- When carrying out menial tasks (cooking, cleaning, etc).
- Situations which create social anxiety
Even accounting for those times which are still difficult, this has already seen a huge improvement. I’m finding myself more enthusiastic and productive in forcing myself to do things. I’m less inclined to avoid even boring tasks. I’m actually engaging with the world around me and not constantly thinking about where I would rather be, inside my own head in situations which will never come to pass.
So that was a story about me working on my mental health and being successful. Here’s a song:
I’d take you to the smaller towns
Flattened cobblestones with poor grip
You’d carry on regardless
Enjoy the river
Drink beer beneath a canope
Wear a hat
I built a life after you
In unexpected places
And grew and grew
You’ll never know how proud you’d be
Or how short five years is
Maybe in another life
I find you where I least expect to
Maybe in another life
I don’t have to
Disclaimer: animals are animals and also individuals and projecting human intent onto their behaviour is never going to make much sense, but this was fun to write.
Cats are the poster animals of anarchism.
They’re independent, mischievous and demonstrably don’t give a fuck about any rules, all qualities which we often think of as being inherently anarchistic. As Earnest Hemingway once said ‘No animal has more liberty than the cat, but it buries the mess it makes. The cat is the best anarchist.’
Anarchy cat is a recognisable symbol which is available for purchase in both sticker and in patch form. There’s even a Facebook group called “A place for anarchists to post pictures of their cats in” (if you haven’t liked it already, 10/10 would deff recommend). Popular anarchist phrases are sometimes reappropriated into All Cats Are Beautiful (ACAB) and No Dogs No Masters. Cats are like, our thing.
[Anarchy cat: Available in both sticker and patch form.]
Dogs, meanwhile, are not anarchists. They’re good pals, sure, but they’re daft, clumsy and notoriously pack animals with, many believe, a fairly strict adherance to hierarchy. They’re also known for being obedient, and their complete adoration of their human owners (along with the concept of ownership as a thing) doesn’t really tie in too well with the whole “No Gods No Masters” thing.
So the surface it makes sense. But let’s think about this. What are we actually trying to say here; that cats embody the most anarchist principles and cats are independent and self reliant. So, logically, the same should be said of the ideal anarchist?
Well, I mean, sure, if you’re an asshole.
Meanwhile, let’s think a little bit more on dogs. Dogs are loyal. They have strong values and they stick to these. They protect the ones they love and, assuming they’ve been treated well, they are full of love and joy for most creatures. They are caring and adventurous and have excellent instincts. These are all excellent and valuable qualities for anyone involved in community organising. Obviously the point about obedience to owners is fair and correct – but that’s a human imposed quality, not something inherent to the animal’s nature. What’s more, in many cases (historical species based oppression and domestication aside) the relationship between human and dog companions is give and take, as human companions will provide care, warmth and sustenance for the dog companion, which in my opinion helps us to develop better qualities in ourselves which are vital for community action and support.
[Famous Greek Anarchy Dog Loukianos fronts negotiations with riot police in Athens, Greece]
Anyway, my pal Rory tells me that pack hierarchies in dogs only usually materialise in domestic situations and in the wild they become much more non-hierarchical.
When you think about it, cats are those kind of creepily slick dudes who turn up to protests with a sign up sheet and stand at the side looking slick and not really doing anything to help.
But dogs? Dogs are your slightly mangy pal who always brings a full pot of food for the free community potluck. Dogs carry compost and wood to help in the local shared guarden space. Dogs phone up their pals following their “I’m really mentally ill, halp” status to ask if they what them to come over and do the dishes.
Dogs are the anarchists who won’t betray you. Who won’t make excuses when you call someone out for abuse. Who will do everything in their power to help out those who are in trouble. Who will research wage inequality laws and do boring shit like fill out complaint forms.
Cats are libertarians.
Dogs are perfect.
Hemingway was lying.
All Cats are Bastards.
Here’s a song.
TW: Depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, suicidalness
Depression can be feeling slightly sticky all the time even though you showered and put on clean clothes because somehow everything is effort and your skin seems to want to sweat constantly.
Depression can be passing out fully clothed at midnight and waking up at 8AM and sleeping all night long and still being to exhausted to move.
Depression can be drinking endless cups of tea to try and assuage how exhausted you feel from all the crying you did today.
Depression can be speaking out loud when there’s no one around to work through the conversations you’re trying to have in your head and one minute being calm and collected and the next being a crying, screaming, self harming mess on the floor.
Depression is the catch 22 of new relationships, where you’re scared of them losing interest because you’re mentally ill, but also if you had reassurance from them that this wouldn’t happen then that would assuage some anxiety and therefore make you less stressed about being mentally ill.
Depression can be feeling desperately that you just need someone – anyone – to kiss you, to breathe the life back into you. Like longing and drowning and gasping for air and feeling like you’re sinking all the time. But in reality, what you’re searching for is the short term serotonin hit and even after you latch on to that high, the low is still waiting for you.
Depression can be wondering if you should tell people you’re sad, but knowing you won’t even know how to follow up questions about you being sad, and knowing that people probably won’t be able to help so the whole thing is useless anyway and there’s no point.
Depression can be your whole being and your whole self and it can be a small part of you. It can be a scratch or a hole in an otherwise healthy brain, that just refuses to stop talking, to stop poisoning you.
But you can be happy and have depression. You can be laughing with friends and socialising. You can be upbeat. You can feel upbeat. And also deeply sad and isolated and lonely. You can be both at once because being happy is not the same as not being sad.
A friend once told me that depression was like having all of your thoughts flying at you at once and not knowing which one to listen to first.
Another once said it was like being lost in a fog, knowing that there are things you need to be doing, like getting up, getting dressed, getting washed, but not being able to remember how to do these these in any order.
Most friends just tell me it feels like being a useless waste of space.
Depression, for me, can be a tiny, tiny part of my brain, behind and slightly below my left eye, that feels like a stone or a knot, and all it does is secrete sadness. And it feels like really needing to throw up, but in your brain, except minus the feeling of relief when you do throw up because you can’t throw up depression and you can’t even cry it out it just comes more and more and more. And sometimes sadness is all it gives you, and sometimes there’s words like “You can’t do anything” and “No one wants you” and “Everyone hurts you so reject them before they reject you”.
And sometimes just “everything is pointless and you should kill yourself”
And it’s the reality, and it’s the reality that suicidalness is complicated and more than that, it can be passive. Your brain can tell you to kill yourself, but you’re not going to, because killing yourself requires a plan, and requires action, and the reality of death is still terrifying even though it might be your brain’s answer to the pointless sinking of life.
And depression is really fucking boring. So boring I can’t even be bothered romanticising depression anymore. I can’t make it into poetry and weave pretty words around it or turn it into an inspirational story or a soundbite. It’s just there, making you feel shit.
And sometimes depression is being held by a friend whilst they kiss your forehead and repeat the words “I love you, I love you” over and over again and you crying so, so hard because you can’t comprehend how anyone loves you because you know you’re not lovable, you haven’t been for a long time.
And sometimes depression is being told that people like you and making a dumb, deprecating joke about it and making things awkward but really you just don’t know how to comprehend that you could be respected and wanted by other people.
And sometimes it’s being surprised by how understanding people can be. It’s being held by people you never expected to be held by and it’s not having to explain why you can’t move as anything other than “I’m sad”.
Depression is something I used to feel all the time and now I only feel for a few days, every few months. And it’s hard to remember that it will go away but it does go away. And sometimes depression is just my brain’s way of telling me that the situation I’m in is a bad one and I need to change it. And sometimes by “Kill yourself” what my brain means is “Get out of here”, and there are other ways of doing that, me and my brain just need to work together. Because neither of us wants to die, really.
I don’t know why I wrote this. Here’s a song:
We can’t wait for this year to end.
It’s not your imagination. In the first three months of this year, we saw a huge increase in celebrities (“Notable people” as the BBC puts it) passing away (Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-38329740). Admittedly the number has actually dropped back to normal levels, but the damage is still done.
And we feel sadness. For some, it’s serious – people have died who really affected us growing up, even if we didn’t realise. And their mortality hits us like a block of ice to the stomach. To others, it’s become a joke or a parody. “2016, when will you be satisfied??” But the joke has gone beyond satire, and suddenly everything is starting to seem a bit strange.
And between that all, you get people who can’t be bothered with it at all. “You didn’t know these people”, they say. “How can you be sad about them? This is unhealthy”.
And is it unhealthy? That’s what I’m starting to think about.
We probably do over identify with people we haven’t met. I recently had coffee with a guy I met at the Fringe, who has accumulated a certain amount of fame. In fact, a friend of mine is a huge fan of one of his youtube channels. And to me that’s funny, because for me he’s this funny, charming dude who likes coffee and plays guitar hero and is overall just chill and normal, so I ask him; what it’s like to have fans?
“So weird”. He takes out his phone. “I was at this party in New York, and after I left people were messaging my friend like ‘Was that the guy from the show?’ People will just tweet me saying things like ‘Just saw you walking on 58th street’. And it’s nice, but what am I meant to say to that? ‘Yep, that was me. Walking around. Existing.’”
And that’s it because of course, these are just people, walking around, existing, doing stuff with their daily lives. Like, sometimes to entertain myself, I try to imagine what Obama is doing right now. Walking around. Chilling. Not thinking about, and yet painfully aware of, the fact that almost everyone in the world knows who he is – that some mad blue haired girl in Scotland is thinking about him right now, imagining what it’s like to be him. But I digress. The point is – we build these people up, into things which they are not, and that is true. And to some extent, perhaps it is unhealthy. Because we end up not with the full understanding of who that person is – but the snapshot, the public persona, and we assume that that is them and who they are. And in some ways, we don’t think of them as human. Perhaps they are not even mortal. So when it turns out that that is not them, and who they are is different, and more than we first realised, often there is a sense of betrayal. How can they be human, like you or I?
But do people deserve to be looked down on for this?
I never listened to Wham! Or Prince, or David Bowie. I vaguely remember seeing Star Wars as a kid, but never knew much about Carrie Fisher. So honestly, all this celebrity stuff kind of passes me by. I don’t really get it.
But I do spend a lot of time thinking about death. I work in a care home, so a lot of my day to day life is spent forming close emotional bonds with people who will likely die soon. What’s more – people close to me tend to die. That’s been a part of my life for over a decade now. And those close to me who haven’t died – well, usually they’re grieving. So I’m surrounded by grief and I’m surrounded by death. And I don’t want to call myself the resident expert on death or anything – but, well, it is kind of my area.
So here’s the thing; I can’t comment on how healthy or unhealthy our overall relationship with “Notable people” is. But what I do know is – you cannot have grief without love. Because grief is love – it is the loss of it. And if you love something, you’re going to grieve it, at some point. And if you care about something, if you let it into your life and it shapes your thoughts, your ideas, your hopes and your ambitions, then the loss of that hurts all the more. And of course it will hurt. Even if you never shared breathing space with that thing. And if it represents something which helped you cope in this world then you will feel that loss, as you felt that gratitude. For many people, that was Prince, that was George Michael and that was Carrie Fisher. And that is not shallow, it is not wrong. You grieve something – that’s the price you pay for loving it, the pain you feel from losing it. There is nothing wrong with that. It’s inevitable.
I read someone saying that people are cunts because they only care about famous people. “Fuck everyone dying in Syria, right?” I wonder – I have stronger emotions about my dad dying than I do about Syria, even though I recognise Syria as a bigger tragedy. Am I a cunt because of this?
(That’s a rhetorical question. The answer is no.)
So I dunno. Ultimately, you feel how you have to feel, and loss will always hurt. You will form connections to people who you feel like you can understand, even if you never meet them. And that’s fine. Be considerate, understand that they are human, understand that having someone you’ve never met speak to you like you’re best buds might feel a little uncomfortable. But if you feel grief over the loss of someone you never met – that’s ok. That means you loved something. That’s kind of cool.
You’re not my usual type
I’m used to broad and
sharp and deep
And clearly masculine
Which you are
But not quite.
So I haven’t learned my lines yet
A better actress than I let on
But the role of the lothario,
Only sticks for so long
Before I start to crack
Beneath expectations I created
And I am revealed
I’m running for a plane and I am crying.
It’s a stupid reason to be crying. I have tried to buy something using the last of my Czech coins, which unlike notes, I won’t be able to change once I come back to the UK. But my sleep deprived brain wouldn’t do the maths properly in my head and I kept picking up more items than I could afford. Eventually, I put all the money into the tip jar. The salesperson doesn’t want me to. “Please”, they say, “Just buy something”
And then I say a stupid thing. In an attempt to be blasé, I say “It’s fine, I will literally never be in the Czech Republic again”. And then I start to cry.
It’s a stupid thing to say and blatantly untrue. There is no reason that I couldn’t come back to the Czech Republic. But I suddenly remember the pleasing size and shape of a 50 CZK coin and immediately regret throwing them aside so thoughtlessly.
On the plane, I read my book, Prague in the Heart. It details almost 200 true stories from the city which took place over the last 2 centuries. I read about a man who set himself on fire in protest of the soviet occupation. I read about how Nazis stormed the University of Prague following student demonstratons there, and how 1,200 students were sent to concentration camps, and this is where International Students Day comes from. I read about the construction of a statue of Stalin overlooking the city, which was torn down and replaced by a huge metronome, each movement of which is intended to represent a minute lost to communism. I remember reading about how, when soviet tanks first appeared in the city, Czech civilians had no weapons with which to fight them, so instead took a different route; swapping around the road signs to confuse them. This action ultimately failed, of course, but they must have known it was going to. But that wasn’t the point.
I arrive for my stopover in London. I am surrounded by images of Big Ben and the Eye. All grand spectacles intended to show off our wealth. Hungry, I go to buy food, and find that the only thing I can eat is a mezze platter for 8 pounds. The falafel is too spicy to eat.
I get my second flight to Glasgow, which takes less than an hour total. The bus from the airport to my house has gone up to £5.
I go home and promptly pass out in bed. My partner comes to visit me and we hug as I fall asleep on them. I have no idea how to feel. I tell them “I cried in the airport like a fucking dweeb” and they give me a hug.
The next few days are supposed to be days of rest, but I’m not very good at resting. I meet up with old friends, have a BBQ in the garden, go to a meeting for a local queer film collective, talk to my old boss about some freelance work. I visit my boyfriend in Edinburgh and dance with my partner at a queer club night. I have brunch next to the park I grew up playing in. I cycle as much as I can and it is glorious. Everyone asks me the same question.
“So is that you back then? For good?”
I don’t have any concept of “for good”. I am 24 years old and dreaming of Thailand and Vietnam, of Copenhagen and Iceland, of all the places for me to visit and live and grow and grow and grow.
I’m out in the early evening with a pair of jeans and a light jacket, and I’m so cold, it’s knocked the energy out of me and all I want is to be curled up somewhere warm and cosy, and I ask myself; “How does any country get by with being this cold?”
In Prague the weather has been over 30 degrees every day and there are thunderstorms where you can literally feel the pressure drop out of the sky and a friend and I sat one day whilst I was hungover with the windows wide open just listening to the rain and feeling the temparature dissappate and I felt like I could breathe again. And in Prague every household has at least 8 different types of tea, including 3 flavours of green tea, and no one ever thinks you’re strange for asking for it, and everyone owns a dog and the cats are all well trained and friendly, and everywhere is easy to get to and your travel ticket covers you all across the city, even to the airport, and all the travel announcements are in English and in Czech and sometimes in German and Russian too and in Prague, you are never more than 5 minutes walk from a vegetarian restaurant, and never more than 10 minutes walk from a Vietnamese restaurant, and because there’s a lot of Vietnamese food, it’s always really easy to get tofu when you want it and I used to make my friends tofu scramble and completely change their minds about beancurd, and soy milk is available even in tiny little corner shops, and faux meat can be found in almost any supermarket, and in Prague you can buy a bus ticket to Vienna for just 15 Euros – on the day! You can walk home late at night and never have to worry, strangers leave you alone, and catcalling is almost non – existent.
One night, someone asks me: “What was wrong with it?”
“Nothing was wrong with it. I just didn’t want to live there.”
Something must be wrong with it if you didn’t want to live there”.
I remember the stories of repression, of resistance, of strength and cunning, of constant reminders of a city which survives, collecting within itself debris and relics of centuries gone by, and feel painfully in love.
I remember friends and faces of people whose paths I never would have crossed otherwise, lessons that I learned and the faith I got back that maybe, for the most part, humanity isn’t completely off track.
I remember the person I was a year ago and how much I’d needed to get far, far away from Scotland to even begin to learn how to breathe again.
Nothing was wrong with it.
I just didn’t want to live there.
In Prague, almost everyone I know has had something stolen during a night out. It’s the only city I’ve ever been burgled in. Sometimes it was so hot, I couldn’t breathe or move and the exhaustion caused me to sleep in and miss my classes. One time, on the tram, a man getting off decided to push my head to the side, rather than moving arm around me, deliberately giving me whiplash which lasted several days. The beaucracy in the bank is exhausting, confusing and tedius. English teachers are essentially on 0 hours contracts and that’s worrying at times. It seems as though no one really understands how to get a work permit. And no matter how beautiful or breathtaking or just plain fucking cool it was, I could never feel at home there.
It’s easy to idolise places when we leave them. You can’t live everywhere forever, that’s obvious, but the point of an experience isn’t for it to last forever, it’s for you to learn and build from it when it happens, and after, wherever you want to do it. Prague isn’t in my heart, but it’s in my bones, and that doesn’t mean I have to stay there.