Today has been hard. I tried to take a test for a job I applied for, but struggled with it; I’ll have to finish it tomorrow. I was depressed anyway, and thinking that I can’t manage to do a PhD after all, then flipped back to having ideas, then to despair again. I feel like I’ve spent the last two days moving back and forth between agitated/energetic “I can do it” and passive despairing “I can’t do anything.” Maybe my psychiatrist was right about there being a bipolar element in me, I don’t know. Then I spent about two hours with my parents cleaning my old flat. I think I probably had higher tolerance than my Mum for dirt, or less time/energy for cleaning (although she usually has a paid cleaner), which embarrassed me. I didn’t have much energy or motivation for cleaning today, but struggled through and handed back the key to my landlord, so I guess I’m officially back to living with my parents.
I thought I should really start to write up my notes from my holiday in New York, so here goes:
Sunday 5 August
The flight to New York was OK. I read quite a bit and tried to write some notes for a book I want to write, but the plane was not really an environment conducive to work. There was an issue with the shuttle bus to the airport when I landed which worried me, but I got it sorted.
The hotel was fine, but had seen better days. I had to ask for a safe and a fridge to be put in my room and the WiFi in my room was patchy and I often went to the library downstairs to connect to the lobby WiFi, which seemed to work better. My room window faced a courtyard with high walls on all four sides, so no natural light came in. But it was all hygienic and there were no cockroaches or rats, so it was good enough.
Because of US laws about importing food, I had to buy food when I arrived rather than bringing anything in. The hotel receptionist didn’t seem to know where to suggest other than Whole Foods, which I suspected would be expensive organic stuff and I was right. However, I desperate, so I got bottled water, fruit, milk and then – joy! – discovered kosher bread, cereal and peanut butter upstairs.
I had some culture shock on arriving in New York, although I’m not sure why. I’ve lived in London all my life, so a big city should not have been such a surprise to me. I suppose I live in the suburbs and commute into town when necessary and even when I worked in Canary Wharf, the skyscrapers there aren’t like Manhattan, completely blocking out the sky. Maybe it was just exhaustion, anxiety, stress and mixed feelings about the thought of seeing E. in person, but I felt close to tears in the shuttle bus, although I did feel better after getting settled at the hotel and having something to eat.
Monday 6 August
E. and I were both running late, but eventually met. We spent much of the day in Central Park, looking around and chatting. It felt a bit weird that this was the first time we had met in person. Afterwards we did some shopping in the area and had pizza for dinner. It was a quiet day, but I wanted that to deal with jet lag and culture shock.
An amusing story: over lunch, E. told me to believe in myself more. Then in the afternoon we went into a Jewish bookshop where I picked up a book and opened it to a random page, which was a chapter entitled, “Believe in Yourself”. I bought the book, although not because of that.
It was a very good day, slightly marred by my getting a bad headache/minor migraine in the evening, possibly from dehydration and I couldn’t take anything because my solpadeine was still in my hotel room and I didn’t know which American painkillers are safe to take with my anti-depressants.
Tuesday 7 August
E. and I went to Ellis Island by boat via Liberty Island, although we didn’t get off at Liberty Island. I was really disappointed when planning this trip that the Statue of Liberty was sold out, but I think it may have been for the best, as I’m not sure going inside would have added much. It’s just a statue, really.
Ellis Island was fascinating, though, and I felt it struck a good balance when talking about things like Nativism, slavery, treatment of Native Americans and so on. It could either have glossed over these things or turned into a politicised privilege-checking fest, but it wasn’t either of those. I don’t know much about pre-twentieth century American history, so the exhibition about population movements in North America was actually more interesting to me than the one on Ellis Island itself, some of which I had heard elsewhere.
The weather, like the previous day’s, was hot and humid and it really stayed like that for the whole of the trip, although things got slightly cooler and less humid after thunderstorm on Tuesday evening. The only place I’ve felt so humid is the tropical greenhouse at Kew Gardens (the London one). It was very tiring being out in the heat and humidity and that perhaps contributed to my getting more tired and doing less than I would have liked over the week.
E. and I went for kosher Mexican food for dinner. I hadn’t had Mexican food before, so that was a good new experience.
Wednesday 8 August
I woke very depressed and anxious, so anxious in fact that I lay in bed for about two hours thinking that I was physically ill because I felt so nauseous. Eventually I forced myself to get up, far behind schedule, but I managed to get out on time, if only because I had planned a late start anyway.
I went to the United Nations and had an interesting tour (the General Assembly seemed to have a smaller floor space than it seems on TV), although I was disturbed by the fact they went out of their way to side with the Palestinians against the Israelis even where it was not really necessary. For example, out of all the international conflicts in the world, there was only one that got its own (big) display, Palestine (it didn’t even say Israel-Palestine, just Palestine). Then in the gift shop, one could buy postcard of the national flags of every UN member state, with the caption, “Britain”, “India” and so on. Only one said “State of X,” the “State of Palestine”, even though there is no such internationally recognised state. It’s just petty, really.
Afterwards, I went back to the hotel to pick up some things, as I hadn’t been allowed to take much with me to the UN. I ground to a halt for an hour or two, lying on the bed until I got the energy to go out again.
I was thinking of taking a bus tour of New York, but I wanted to see the New York Public Library first, thinking it would not take long, but I ended up staying for a long time. I have never seen such an ornate library! I was scared to look around because it is a working library and perhaps I should have been bolder to see more. I popped in to an exhibition on sixties radicalism, but I found it triggering for me, as all political stuff seems to be these days. I feel I don’t really fit in anywhere on the political spectrum and that everyone will hate and reject my opinions, one reason why I’m nervous about thinking of doing a PhD in a subject as politically-coloured as cultural studies.
I managed to walk to a small kosher restaurant for dinner. The food was great, but it was really crowded and noisy. In fact, I found New York as a whole much bigger, louder and smellier than London. A really bad place for autistics/Aspies, in fact. I’m OK in much of London, which may just be experience and the knowledge that I can go home at the end of the day, but New York was a very difficult experience for me at times in terms of sensory overload. Still, I navigated my way around the city by myself for the first time and didn’t get lost, mugged or run over, which I think is a win.
To be continued…