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I’ve lived in Berlin for nine months now and I have stopped thinking of myself as “learning German”. Instead, I hunt daily for German I still don’t know. I enter new words into a flashcard app on my phone and slowly the proportion of German-yet-unknown-to-me diminishes. If I happen to emerge from this process a Germanophone, well and good. But I have never achieved anything by obsessing over a long-term goal; I need to be having fun in the here and now to see any sustained project to completion. All the same, I’m easily amused. My flashcard app delights me.

I moved here last summer from London, where I had essentially lost my mind. (This rationale doesn’t go well in small talk, so I tend to claim instead that I wanted a change of scene.)

 At the time, my debut novel had been published two years earlier and had garnered a lot of attention. That might sound like a dream come true – but over the months that followed, I was driven progressively more insane by my chronic inability to say no. I tried to be thankful for the deluge of media requests and speaking invitations and told myself that most people would regard it as a nice problem to have. These “most people” grew in my head and soon they adorned my every thought. Most people have harder jobs and could do mine in their sleep. Most people don’t miss all their deadlines, then extensions on those deadlines, then extensions on extensions on extensions. Most people manage to both do their work and see their friends, at least when pandemic restrictions allow. Most people can get out of bed each morning without a million internal rounds of “What’s the point?”

I would never speak to anyone else in this manner. I’m not “anyone else”, though. I’m me, and I’m not allowed to struggle, make mistakes, or miscellaneously be human. (The cruel irony is just how many other people silently subject themselves to the same double standard. But I wasn’t thinking clearly enough to remember that in London, on account of the having-lost-my-mind thing.)

Two things can be true at once. You can be achieving a level of career success that many equally deserving people would love to have – and it can also be giving you a mental breakdown.

For as long as I could, I denied that anything was wrong. From decades of masking my autism throughout my childhood and adolescence, I was used to hiding my difficulties and criminally neglecting my own wellbeing in an attempt not to burden others. But by early 2022, I could no longer even vaguely pretend to be holding things together. The nadir came when I couldn’t sleep for three whole days, by the end of which my feet had very sexily swollen, I twitched at background noises and my own voice sounded as if it were coming from several meters away. After finally managing to sleep on the third night, I woke up 16 hours later to several missed phone calls. Someone from my literary agency had come to a nearby coffee shop with a contract I urgently needed to sign, had waited in vain for an hour. At lunch with my agent later that week, I broke down crying. “I don’t know why I can’t do things any more,” I said.

I was being driven insane by my chronic inability to say no

Around that time, I visited an Irish friend in Berlin. The idea was to relax for a few days, return to London, carry on with life.

My first night in Berlin, I took the tram in the dark, carried my suitcase up the communal stairs in my friend’s prewar apartment building and slept more soundly on her polyester couch than I ever had in my London double bed. In the morning I walked around the neighbourhood, enjoying the wide pavements and abundance of trees. The fresh blue light made the world look new.

 Source: TheGuardian/Lifestyle



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