When Life Gives You Lemons…You Read About Them

With summer well and truly underway, I’ve been trying to catch up on some reading…in between working five days a week of course! Being a literature student means I have to read a lot, very fast; and you can’t always fully enjoy these books knowing that a 2,500 word essay worth 50% of your grade is attached to it. Therefore, whenever I get the chance, I like to read something a little different. A bit more fun, more relaxed, and certainly not related to any sort of meta essay question.

Whilst browsing the library the other week, I came across a book in the travel literature section titled ‘The Land Where Lemons Grow’, by Helena Attlee. It has good reviews from reputable sources, so I decided to give it a chance. Oh, and it’s about the lemon gardens of Italy, a country with which I have a slight obsession with.

I’ve been reading the book for a little over a week now, and I can genuinely say I’m really enjoying it. It doesn’t follow a traditional narrative structure, and each chapter jumps around in different parts of Italy where lemons are the root of their culture. Attlee explores the history, and in a way the future of these special citrus gardens and their importance to Italian heritage. However, she does it in a way that isn’t ‘articly’ or long-winded; an entire book about Italian citrus fruit may sound boring, but Attlee surprises you with connections to the Mafia, WW2, even important scientific discoveries. After just a few chapters, you’ll have a strange new-found respect…for lemons!

Each page transports to the lemon scented gardens of Italy, basking in the beautiful sunshine and supplying endless amounts of Limoncello. The book works well in those days where summer seems to be over here in England, and also for the days where the heat comes blazing back. To all in need of a refreshing, relaxing summer read, I’d definitely recommend. However, be warned – you may find yourself frantically loading up SkyScanner to find the next flight out to Italy!




To Medicate or Not to Medicate?

After a recent visit to the doctor to discuss my medication, I got to thinking about my views on medicating depression and anxiety, and whether my opinion has changed since taking them myself.

Initially, I was reluctant to take any form of medication for my moods. I’ve been properly suffering from depression for about three years, yet as I said have only started taking tablets in the past six months. Like many, I was scared. Scared not only of the side effects, but the stigma that came attached to them. I should be able to sort this myself, shouldn’t I? Why wasn’t counselling working as well as it should? Would I have to be on them forever?

Eventually, after crippling anxiety attacks earlier this year, a visit to the GP finally persuaded me that I needed something to help me along the road to recovery. I was put on a low dose of a common antidepressant, and one that is usually prescribed to sufferers with anxiety too. The doctor warned me straight away that I would have ‘an awful headache’ during the first week or so of taking the tablets, but apart from that ‘very few people get side effects’. After hearing from countless friends about their own awful side effects (which is partly what made me avoid antidepressants in the first place) I knew to take this piece of ‘advice’ with a pinch of salt.

The first week was by far the worst. Yes, the headaches came, but so did everything else. I had no energy, was completely knocked out, couldn’t eat without feeling sick, and was constantly dizzy. In short, I felt shit. ‘It will get better’, was all I kept telling myself to push through the first few weeks. After just a couple of weeks of being on them, I went to Australia for the second half of my year abroad – probably not the best timing, I must admit. The side effects let up a little, but instead the low moods and the anxiety returned. Instead, I found myself wishing for the days when I was zonked out and didn’t have to deal with it. Eventually, I got my dose doubled, and after a week or so with a constant headache, the silver lining seemed to come.

By no means did antidepressants cure me alone – it takes hard work, persistence and a whole lot of patience to get through the bleak days of a mental illness like depression. Thankfully, I can now say I’m in a much better place than I was back then. In fact, so much so that I actually went to the doctors recently to ask about cutting my dose down. OK…so I hadn’t told her this but I’d actually been cutting it down for about a week now due to not having enough tablets to last me until my appointment…my bad!

Despite me informing her of how much better I felt, she suggested that I stay on the higher dose, as it was ‘safer’ and meant that I could fully make sure I was recovering. I didn’t argue, I mean she knows best right?

So, for the past week or so I’ve been back on the higher dose, and honestly, I’m thinking of cutting down again. Going back to taking double has made into a lifeless shell of myself – I’m getting migraines, have no energy, and I feel completely numb. Not happy, not sad, just numb. And I’m convinced it’s because I’ve upped the dose again. ‘Numbing’ my feelings may have worked in the earlier days when I was really anxious and down, but right now it’s just masking all the happy thoughts I’ve had recently!

Anyway, it got me thinking about this strange relationship I’ve had with antidepressants, and how it’s overall viewed in society. I’ve gone from hating them, to loving them, to accepting them, to kind of disliking them again. Why are they something that is viewed with such caution today? Surely, if we are unwell, we should take something to sort it and it should be OK, not only with other people but with ourselves? And, if we tell a doctor we feel better, we should be able to make our own decision about whether or not we still need it, right? I don’t have any answers to be honest, as like I said my own views on medicating mental illness is so contradictory; antidepressants helped me back then, but now I’m worried that continued reliance will hold me back…

Nevertheless, I’d love to hear your own journeys with medication, opinionated or not! Leave a comment below 🙂

Understanding the World Through Literature: A Quest We Should All Undertake

Recently, I was watching TEDTalks (for those that don’t know, the popular YouTube channel in which anything and everything is discussed. I was fortunate enough to attend a Local TEDTalks in Tucson last year) when I came across something that really inspired me. Don’t get me wrong, nearly all the speakers inspire or ignite some kind of awe in me whenever I watch their videos, but this one seemed to speak to me on a more personal level. It was titled ‘My Year Reading a Book from Every Country in the World’, hosted by speaker Ann Morgan. Being a literature student and an avid reader (aiming to get through at least one book a week), the talk really hit a nerve, and made me question just how varied my own reading choices are.

Ann Morgan highlighted the obvious problem with today’s modern world readers: that nearly all books consumed are by writers in developed countries, mainly the UK and the USA. Now, I’m an American Literature student, so take pride in trying to read as much of the diverse American literature that I can get my hands on, but I had to admit that Morgan had a point. Following this, she undertook a mission to read a book from every single country in the world. Of course, some books were easier to obtain – namely those from European countries. However, she spoke of the struggle of trying to track down English-translated copies from poorer parts of the world, places where their literature had previously never been translated into another language. Nevertheless, her stamina and ambition to finish what she started is inspiring, and she even contacted local translators when this problem arose.

I won’t say too much else about the video, as I believe it really is worth a watch and something you should muster your own conclusions on, but I will say this: The comments on the YouTube were surprisingly critical, saying that Morgan could not possibly learn about an entire country through one book, that she picked the wrong piece of literature, etc. It seemed that people set out to challenge her efforts to simply expand her readings and give other world literatures a place in her bookshelf. Sure, she cannot learn everything about a place from one 500 or so page book, but is it not commendable that she is even attempting to delve into the unsung chapter of ‘foreign’ literature – that is, literature published outside the usual North American/British spectrum? Personally, Ann Morgan’s challenge is something that I have always wanted to undertake, as I truly believe a piece of literature can shape your understanding and identity in one way or another. It is true that other countries are not given full recognition for their works, whilst English-speaking writers thrive worldwide. We would certainly all benefit (and contribute to the global book market) by picking up say a Filipino, South African, or Argentinian novel and connecting ourselves more so with the global community.