I’ve been back in the United States for about a week, and I’ve spent most of that time trying to “re-acclimate” myself to being here. The common phrase for this discomfort is “reverse culture shock,” but what it actually entails varies from person to person.
This isn’t my first time experiencing reverse culture shock, as my year abroad wasn’t the first time I’ve lived out of the US for an extended period of time. I think any trip abroad takes some readjustment when you come back — jet lag is the most noticeable cause of feeling out of sorts, I suppose — but coming back after living in Brighton in 2008 and after living in Manchester just this year were very different from shorter trips abroad.
I’ve been putting off writing this post because I know there is no way that a few paragraphs will be able to encompass everything I want to say about my year living in Manchester.
I came to this city looking for absolution, or at the very least something that would give my life meaning once again. Whether that something would be football or my master’s program I really didn’t know or care — all I wanted was a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
Have I found it? Not really, but I don’t say that negatively. Over the course of the past year, I’ve learned there is no one thing that will make my life worth living. The older I get, the more I start to understand that I have to look inward for that purpose, that motivation, that meaning. I have to believe not only that there is a reason for me to get up in the morning, but that the uncertainty and the doubt that often plague me are okay.
Our lives are series of symbiotic relationships.
Depression has been a constant companion for half my life, a kind of parasite that feeds off low self-esteem and anxiety.
I’ve sought ways to cure the depression beyond the daily doses of my SSRI. The danger is always there of giving in to the medication, of letting it solve everything for you, at least for me. And so I seek solace in other ways: through a friend, a relationship, an addiction.
England has been all three of those for me. Once upon a time when I came to this country, I felt like everything was right. But I grew up and inevitably that relationship between myself and England has changed.
It’s taken me months of living in the UK again to come to terms with the fact that I have changed irrevocably. To take a page from the book in the title: as a girl, I was the child in Silverstein’s classic and England was the tree. England gave me its pieces of history and pop culture like so many apples I pulled from a tree of life. In 2008, I felt like I gave back some of what I got from England. I gave it my joy and my heart and my mornings and afternoons and days. It’s the closest to a reciprocal sort of happiness I’ve ever felt.
This time when I came, I think I’ve asked too much of England. I’ve asked to cut down the tree and build the boat, as if that will solve my problems.
We know how Silverstein’s book ends: the child, now an old man, visits his giving tree only to see a stump. As adults we understand the selfishness of what a child asks, but how can children understand the destruction they will cause? I’m not that old man yet and England is not a stump. It’s altered; there are fewer branches and fewer apples for me. But there may be a day when I come back and there’s nothing left except a gnarled wooden seat in an empty forest, the trials of a life having passed me by.
At that time, I hope I will have the presence of mind to sit and rest.
It’s been over 5 months now, so not only am I almost halfway into the second semester, but I’m also almost halfway through my year-long master’s program here at the University of Manchester.
I haven’t done the best job documenting my time here, preferring to tweet inane comments about the weather, about football, about drinking cheap Pinot Grigio by the bottle. It’s hard for me to believe that by this time in Brighton, I was preparing to leave in a month, whereas in Manchester I still have so much to do.
It’s been almost two months since I wrote in this blog. It’s also just 2 days shy of the 3-month anniversary of my arrival in Manchester. If my life were an hourglass, the grains of sand would be falling faster than the rain that’s been pounding against my window and the pavements this past hellish week of late autumn.
I’ve found it hard to write anything lately, which is why I haven’t written here in so long. I’ve thought of so much to say — about my friends, about my classmates, about football, about my course. I’ve wanted to write about all the minutiae of daily life. I’ve wanted to write about my research, my ideas, my hopes for the future. Yes, I’ve begun to hope again that there is a meaningful future, certainly a miracle. When I felt that I’d be resigned to uncertainty forever, I regained some sense of purpose. I just find it hard to articulate any of it.
I reached my one-month anniversary of arriving in Manchester on Saturday in smashing fashion.
Looking back on the past month, I naturally ask myself where the time has gone. Sometimes I feel like I’ve been here forever, but most of the time I still feel like the new kid. I’m not sure what areas have yet to click into place because it’s, well, not so tangible as that. In some sort of abstract way, I feel like I don’t quite fit… yet.
My first week of classes is done. I suppose I am a proper postgraduate student now.
I spent most of my first week sick and in bed, wanting to be outside. There’s that early anxiety when you first arrive somewhere that if you’re not as busy as humanly possible that you somehow will cease to exist. The last thing I want to be right now is invisible. I’m content to be in the sidelines, never the center of attention, but I don’t want to be alone. And yet even in a thriving university with 40,000 students and a city with many, many more than that, that’s how I’ve felt these first couple of weeks — desperately, depressingly alone.