Category Archives: January Blues

Feeling SAD?


Another January in this goddam ‘city’. I have been hoping, trying, to leave for the past year. And now I know that I will be here for at least another year, it’s not exactly making me do the happy dance.

However, the reason we have postponed our ‘go to live in Valencia’ plans is a deliriously exciting one for us. We have finally decided to get married after our 18 month engagement. As the wedding will be at Lake Garda on 1st September 2015 (this year!) we, especially I, thought that planning a wedding and moving abroad in the same 8 months might be a little much. I want to enjoy planning our wedding.

Still, remaining in York means another year of slogging through the dark days, of which there are way too many. For the past four years I’ve suffered quite badly with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This is more than feeling a bit down/tired because of the dark mornings and afternoons in midwinter. This is fighting back tears every morning as I get ready for work; not wanting to bother seeing friends (on the rare occasions that they’re free); being plagued by insecurity and self doubt; feeling overwhelmed and stressed by tasks that wouldn’t even register if it were June; feeling like my head is full of cotton wool and being unable to think clearly. Then, towards the end of April/start of May, like magic, I start to feel normal again and come back to life.

One of the things that makes living with SAD frustrating is how unsympathetic people can be. “Don’t let the weather control your mood,” I’ve heard people say. Firstly, it’s not just the weather, it’s the lack of light. Secondly, it’s like telling someone with a sprained ankle not to limp; something beyond your control is affecting the way your body or mind works. ¬†Although the exact biology of SAD is still being explored, it is thought that the lack of light affects the body’s ability to produce melatonin and serotonin and can disrupt circadian rhythms.

Last year I was dreading the onset of Winter so much that I had to consciously repress any thoughts of it. I experience a regular feeling of hopelessness; of being suffocated and feeling like everything, including myself, is heavy and grey. So last year I tried to think of the nice things that happen in Winter: hot chocolate after a cold day out; snuggly nights in with films; Christmas (or Yule, for me). I also bought myself a small lightbox/sunrise alarm in October. This has definitely helped- incredibly so in the first few weeks. But January-March always seems to be the hardest time, even though midwinter has passed. Perhaps because it often coincides with the inevitable unemployment that stalks EFL teachers in the UK. There’s nothing like looking for jobs that don’t exist to dampen your spirits.

Thankfully, the lightbox has taken the edge off the worst of the symptoms. I am also making sure I exercise regularly (something I’ve always done) and eat less sugar. I have added a link to the British SAD organisation to raise awareness.

I was a midsummer baby. I feel alive when the sun shines, even if it is winter sunlight. That is why I am always happier when I’m living abroad; sunlight makes me feel alive. And it’s not just me.


The Last Free Generation


I am frequently frustrated by technology: the touch screen of the smart-phone; the remote desktop which I cannot access from home: the myriad instructions that I need to write down in order to operate an interactive whiteboard. My sister would call me Luddite; I would say’ “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I have an (inherited) smartphone, I have a Macbook, I recognise the value of technology in society, but I am also aware that technology does not make a society.

Teaching 16-18 year olds 3 years ago on my PGCE, one of the (many) frustrations for me was the almost constant use of mobile phones in class. No wonder these kids were re-sitting their GCSEs…One day I said to them, “You know, I had more freedom than you could ever dream of when I was 17.” Eyes were raised from the tiny screens ‘hidden’ under the desk to gawp at me in disbelief.”What?”
“Because,” I stated simply, “I didn’t have a mobile phone.”
“But you need a mobile!”
“How can you be free without one?” and so on. Their shocked responses at least reassured me that they occasionally listened to me.
“Well, when I went out for the day (or night), I was out. No one could contact me or hassle me or bombard me with messages. I was out until I got home. The day was my own.”
The class, who were usually gobby little shits, were for once, speechless. Perhaps it was realising that their 28 year old teacher had once been a teenager, but I like to think that they were imagining another life; the life my sister and I and all our friends had. We were the last free generation; the generation that grew up in the 90s without Facebook or mobile phones; a time when twitter was something that birds did and having a word-processor at home meant that you were posh. Mobile phones were just the beginning, though.

I read somewhere that a smart way of spying on people is not to rule them with an oppressive regime or create fear and paranoia by watching their every move. Rather, simply invent a website that keeps tabs on almost every aspect of people’s lives, and then convince them that this website is a great way to socialise with current friends, as well as make new ones. Voila! No need to force people to sign up to it- with the right marketing everyone will actually want to be on this ‘social network’! While I do recognise the benefits of being able to see photos and the lives of friends and family abroad, I am sure I am not alone in believing that this benefit is far outweighed by all the negative aspects of social networking.

Firstly, there is the fact that many people put every aspect of their lives online: relationship status; what they ate for breakfast; how many minutes until they get home. 1. Most people don’t care- your life is not that interesting.¬†2. Why do you feel the need to do this? Would you go up to a stranger in the street and tell them about your private life? Probably not. So why do it online?

Secondly, social networking is inherently anti-social. People do not speak to each other when they are in the same room, instead sending messages to someone else. Why not actually phone or visit that friend? Communicating online has made people lose the ability to hold a normal conversation with another human being. While people are busy networking online, they are probably sitting at home, alone, when they could be out living real life in the real world.

Social networks breed loneliness while giving powerful corporations and total strangers even more power over us by watching our every move. While some people can use social networks in moderation, many cannot. I myself would lose 40 minutes drifting through friends’ photos, sometimes smiling, sometimes wondering why I hadn’t been at that particular event, when all I had intended to do was send a quick message to someone. As a person who can be easily distracted and struggles with getting places on time, I decided to deactivate my Facebook account. It was hard, for a month, but I am so much better off without it.

For me, Facebook wasted time, made me sad and pissed me off with amount of utter shite people put on there. Three years without Facebook is one of the lasting steps I’ve taken to reclaim some of my pre-social network freedom. I grew up in the last free generation. There will never be freedom of that sort again, but at least I can retain a small piece of it by living a real life, offline.

The Last Time


The last time that I lived in York without maggots of doubt nibbling away at my core feels like a lifetime ago.

Essentially, it was a lifetime ago. Back then, I lived in a house that shook when buses drove past; a house that practically had fault lines running from the door frame to the ceiling. There were two staircases and one of them led to nowhere. We had a red brick for a lock behind one of the bathroom doors. There was no kitchen bin, just a black bin liner which one of my ‘creative’ (male) friends would periodically hurl through the window of the first floor kitchen instead of taking it outside. Eleven of us lived there.

Back then, I was living on a student loan and a part-time job. I had to buy the cheapest of everything in the nearest supermarket and I always ate leftovers the next day. I used to buy ‘posh’ bread when it was reduced to 20p a loaf, and stick it in the freezer. We drank special offer alcohol at student nights, and if we had no money we drank other people’s pints, left carelessly at the side of the dancefloor. Our feet stuck to the carpet as we moshed at the Thursday rock night.

Back then, it was a different city for me; alive on weekdays and dead to me at the weekend. It was filled with a magic that pulled me back like a magnet from any other city that I visited. I could stay for weeks, sometimes months, without leaving the medieval, magical ambience of York.

Now, now it is different. The city is no longer my playground but a trap. A trap which ensnares us with its smooth, middle-class inertia. Now, the walled-in whiteness bores me, frustrates me, has lost all its charm. And the question that everyone, everyone keeps asking, “So, are you settling down; are you staying for good?” sends me mentally searching for my passport in a panic. For why would anyone who has lived outside these walls think that they could shoehorn themselves back into such a tiny, white space???