Loopy, Lonely and Lost

How do you judge a life? By what means do you measure success, meaning or fulfilment? How do we know if we’re doing it right, or if it’s passing through our fingers like grains of sand, falling useless to the floor?

Whatever unit you use, wherever you set your benchmarks, I’m not doing brilliantly. If it was anything other than my life, I’d be tearing it up and starting again. But I’m too much of a cynic to believe that reincarnation is the answer.

I am either incapable of loving  or incapable of being loved. Possibly both. When I was a child I looked around at all the adults I knew and came to the conclusion that marriage was inevitable. I saw my parents’ miserable relationship and hoped for something better. In my teens, my friends started falling in love and I pitied them. It made them so boring. As my social circle expanded I realised that marriage wouldn’t be imposed upon me. I could do nothing, and avoid it.

That was fine with me. I was going to have enough on my plate with my career. For a long time I thought I’d be a teacher. It seemed perfect for a child with surprisingly little imagination, to dream of following most of the adults I knew into a career that would keep me in the same environment I spent most of my time.

As I got older I thought maybe it wasn’t such a great idea. Interested students were one thing, but I was afraid of the idea of having to engage, inspire and discipline the ones that weren’t so easy to teach. And I’m glad now, that it never happened. Some of my favourite times in my current job are spent training and advising people, I still have the love of explaining and demonstrating. But that’s small groups of adults, and not all the time. The thought of standing in front of 30 kids and teaching them every day makes me want to run away.

Then I thought, maybe some form of academia? I had so many inspirational teachers at college who made me feel like a genius. The one who compared my essays, at the age of 17, to those of a visiting PHD student. The one who told me all about Elizabeth Anscombe, and how I reminded him of her when I challenged people’s assumptions. The one who bent over backwards to get me on gifted lists because she couldn’t believe no-one was pushing me or offering me those extra opportunities.

But academia wasn’t for me. You know I messed up at university. I still enjoy a debate sometimes but I know I don’t don’t have the intellectual rigour.

So I find myself in a job I’m pretty good at, which I never dreamed of doing. I enjoy it often, but don’t feel like I’m going anywhere. I live in fear of redundancy, in a business that loves a restructure. I receive endless praise, but little in the form of progression or pay rises in line with my performance. I deal with beaurocracy and incompetence and I try to make things work. It would all be so much easier if other people cared and were efficient. I try because I can’t not, but it doesn’t fill me with drive or ambition or satisfaction.

I always knew that whatever I did, I was going to write stories in my spare time. I knew I was a writer. I read so much, and when I had to write for school it was always so well received. I would be a novelist. It didn’t matter if I was successful, it just had to be a part of my life.

It’s so long since I wrote anything. I have a friend who’s a musician, he says he can write music easily, but struggles with lyrics because they feel too personal and he’s afraid of sharing too much of himself. He can imply feelings through music but explicitly stating them us too difficult. When he said that, I could have cried. Would have done, if not for my own problems with disclosure. I have a heart full of feeling but the thought of even alluding to something that feels real somewhere associated with my name makes me terrified. Good writing draws on real feelings, and mine are buried too deep. Drawing them out is too painful. And what else is there to write about?

Professionally and creatively unfulfilled, then, but others in that situation still have purpose. Often it’s their children. They might have little else, but they have offspring. I never could decide how I felt about procreation. I’d hide behind politics (the world is overcrowded enough) or logistics (I didn’t have a home in which to raise a child) or, with people I could trust, personal history (I’m scared of turning into my mother) to avoid thinking about what I actually wanted.

I don’t even know if I can have children. My mum struggled to conceive and already I am older than she was when I (her youngest child) was born. I feel like all I have to do is wait and the decision will make itself for me.

It’s sad though, isn’t it? I know I’m not old in the grand scheme of things, but already my life seems to be filled with closing doors. I feel a fundamental biological yearning to hold my child in my arms. I know it’s just hormones, and I don’t trust it. It’s not a sufficient reason. However nice it might be to derive some meaning in my life from a new person, it feels selfish to even want it. I know I didn’t ask to be born.

It’s all moot though, really. I can think of it all I want, mourn the loss of opportunity, but it’s not like parenthood is exactly a likely thing to happen. We’re back to the unlovable thing again. I’ve always known I’m ugly. It’s hard to not notice that you’re physically unattractive. But plenty of ugly people find love. I’m repugnant in a deeper way.

My personality scares people. Too relentlessly logical, too much cockiness mixed with too much insecurity, and an unfortunate habit of delivering insults as jokes. I’m impatient, introverted, cynical, sarcastic. I talk in hypotheticals and puns and literary or historical references, anything to avoid dull small talk or having to express my actual feelings. I’m an expert in appearing to open up but not actually sharing anything about myself. I close off with the slightest provocation. I repel people without trying, and often I try as well.

There have been opportunities – brief, infrequent, long ago. Connections that, for a time, felt like they may mean something. But I messed them up. Groucho Marx said “I don’t want to join any club that would accept me as a member”, and I can identity with that. The more you like me, the less I like you – you’re showing poor judgement. I shut you out.

I don’t even know if it’s a problem, being alone. Just because I’m noticing it, feeling the empty space around me, that doesn’t mean I don’t need or want the space. It’s just another area of my life where I don’t feel like a proper person.

I know I should be happy and grateful. My health, my family, my home. And I am, truly.

But I don’t feel like I have any impact on the world. My life means nothing, and when I die no-one will look back on my life and think about me or what I did or what I meant to them.

I will be forgotten so easily. It feels arrogant to wish I wouldn’t. I have no connections and no narrative and no influence. The futility of my life makes me sad, but it’s how I’m made – there’s no alternative.

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So much has happened since I last wrote here. So much of it positive, but I am still the same person.

I guess the headline news is, I bought a house.

I feel incredibly privileged to have been able to do so. It took seven years of living in my parents’ house,  by nature spending very little because of my inability to socialise or get really interested in anything. This blog is testament to how difficult those years were, and although I know I struggled to achieve this, still I feel something akin to guilt when there are news items about how difficult my generation find it to get on the housing ladder.

It’s a beautiful little semi-detached in a quiet neighbourhood, with a sunny little garden and lots of space to store my books. I’ve been here for 8 months now, and it’s changed my life.

I get on better with my family, not having to be with them all the time. My mind has room to think and grow and just be my mind in all its complexity without having to hide or apologise. I finally feel there’s room for me to be me. All day long, no conflict. Just cups of tea and good TV and a soothing silence.

It’s the best decision I ever made.

In order to do it, I had to break it up into the tiniest of steps. And I didn’t tell anyone about it outside my family. I couldn’t have coped with the regular well-meaning enquiries. It would have made me panic.

Instead, it was smooth and straightforward and stress-free. But I never found the right time to tell anyone. My family knew, of course. And over time I told a couple of friends, who both came to visit a few times, making me so happy. But people at work? I don’t know why. I guess I felt like it was none of their business. I guess I liked having a secret. When people think you’re an adult living with your parents, they make certain assumptions about what your life is like. It amuses me to secretly know that every element of their assumption is wrong. It comforts me to keep myself from people. To not be known. Being truly known has always terrified me.

But slowly the secret has built inside me, and I should know by now that secrets breed anxiety.

For months I didn’t care. Walked to and from work every day, thinking – if I bump into someone, I’ll tell them the truth. But I never did bump into anyone, and to tell the truth I timed my commute to make it less likely. Occasionally on weeknights taking a stroll up to the local shop to pick up bread or milk. Popping to the bus stop at the weekend and going into town.

But one day a colleague drove past me, and called to ask what I was doing in the area. That was my cue, but I lied. Said I was visiting a friend.

As time’s gone on, my world has shrunk. I’m scared of leaving the house.

Initially as a response to the hot weather, I started commuting by taxi instead of on foot. I can afford it, but obviously it’s a waste of money – I can walk it in less than half an hour. But I’m getting increasingly panicky at the thought of walking again. Even in the taxi, I’m scared someone will see me. I’ve been doing more and more shopping online, trying to eliminate the need to go out.

I see my parents most weeks, go round for Sunday dinners etc. They come and fetch me, and on the journey to their house I am constantly alert, ready to pretend I’ve dropped something and duck down on the off-chance we drive past someone I know.

I am so happy in my house, but so anxious about leaving it. I’ve been deliberately avoiding socialising, because I’m scared someone will offer me a lift home.

My sleep pattern’s sliding, too. The weather and the season haven’t helped – it’s too warm, too light, never truly night. I can’t get to sleep and I can’t stay asleep, waking up ridiculously early most mornings. I take the opportunity to go to work early, changing up the times each day, so no-one sees me arriving by taxi too many times, and asks me why I haven’t got a lift anymore. Then, more often than not, I work to my usual finish-time, working up to an extra hour each day. I don’t want to draw attention to how early I’m coming in, in case they ask more questions.

When they notice my changed hours, I just say I’m not sleeping properly. Blame it on the heat. Nobody knows me well enough to know how dangerous a lack of sleep can be. They nod and smile and say they understand. I’m already at the edge of my nerves, jumpy as hell and easily startled – a while ago I gave a colleague a pretty bad fright by actually screaming when he came up to speak to me without me noticing. Getting into habits of obsessively tapping hands and feet in certain patterns, quick and agitated and pointless, struggling to stop. Veering between shrill laughter and quick, creative wordplay, and bleak irony and silence.

Feeling reckless and angry. Voicing the things that piss me off, rather than just thinking them. Answering everyone quickly and sharply, destroying everyone with a tongue like a blade. And all the while longing for peace and home. Dreaming of locking the door behind me, kicking off my shoes, finally feeling free.

I know I’ve done this to myself. I desperately want to turn back time and make myself act like a normal person for the past year. Or I find myself thinking, maybe it’d be easier all round if I just got another job.

But things have been going well. I got a promotion earlier this year. People are always so kind and full of praise. They say such nice things about my ability to do my job, and how much they trust me to do it well. But every time they say these things I doubt them more, and retreat a little more inside myself, and wish they’d shut up.

I don’t want their attention. I just want to be invisible.

It’s all I ever want.

 

I feel like my life and moods are bouncing along down a pipe. When I hit the top, I am effervescent, ambitious, chatty, imaginative. I buy shit I don’t need and I get impatient at the slightest delay, but I get things done. When I hit the bottom, I am slow and tired and afraid. I hide from people and mumble and don’t remember how to do anything. If I get the bottom of the pipe at the right angle, I add a cynical sense of humour, which people seem to like. (Here’s a tip for anyone feeling moderately miserable: say exactly how you feel about yourself and the world, but say it in a sarcastic voice. People mistake it for wit, and sometimes it buys you a little bit of good will.)

The pipe is not ideal. It could benefit from being smaller, and from my journey through it being less bumpy. But it has a ceiling, and a floor, and between those boundaries life, for what it’s worth, goes on.

And then, every now and then, without warning, the floor gives way, and I am in freefall.

I’ve got a head full of self-destruction and very little else. The unpalatable truth is that I just don’t know how to live. Time goes by and I’m getting worse, not better, at being a human being.

Things that were once easy, or at least bearable, are gone from my life forever. I don’t socialise. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I have literally no friends. Seriously, no-one. And I don’t mean, there are people in my life but I don’t think they care. I mean, I can’t actually remember the last time I left the house for the purpose of socialising. I go to work. Occasionally, I wander around some shops on my own. That is the extent of my life.

Increasingly, I am a burden to my family. I know they expected to be rid of me long before now. But most of the time I can’t even leave my room. Being around my relatives is draining and infuriating, but I’m afraid that being alone would allow me to completely grind to a halt.

You see how hard it is, finding reasons to keep going, when I have no-one and nothing? I don’t even feel like I’m really here anyway. I don’t know how to reconnect with my life.

 

It’s been a while. A long time, really. I’ve been doing okay but I just haven’t had many words.

I’ve had a few triumphs, but didn’t have the confidence to mention them. I can’t say I’ve achieved something without my brain screaming that I’m a stupid arrogant show-off who’s never really achieved anything anyway.

I’ve had a few challenges, but didn’t have the energy to mention them. With enormous and exhausting effort, I remain functioning, but it doesn’t leave much room for anything else.

I live a life filled with regret. If I could go back in time, talk to my past self, I’d have so much to say, but the gist of it would all boil down to: Do everything differently. Don’t fuck it up.

My life is so small. Markers of time are difficult. Birthdays, New Years. What am I doing? I feel like I’m just idling away time in Death’s waiting room. Surely there is more than this.

I have nothing and no-one. I have a job, but it’d be a stretch to call it a career. I have my family, but they have each other too, and I think they prefer each other to me. I have acquaintances, but not friends. People I like, people I get on with, but no-one I’d ever dream of daring to need.

Everyone I know has careers and houses and partners and children and pets and hobbies and fucking…hopes, dreams and aspirations.

I have nothing.

What the fuck am I doing? It’s too late now, already, to sort things out – even if I had the energy and the money and the know-how – it’s too late to be normal. I don’t mean I’m abnormal in an interesting way. I’m not quirky or creative or inspired. I’m abnormal in that I don’t have a life.

I don’t have a life and I don’t know how to have one. And all I have to look forward to is more of the same.

Gaaah, I am depressed.

Just, awful. Like the ceiling is bearing down on me and I’m breathing stale air in an ever shrinking space.

I went out with some people from work and got a little drunk – not terribly so, just a little tongue-looseningly tipsy. As I head into depression, my sense of humour tends to get very bleak, and combined with the alcohol everyone now thinks I’m hilarious, full of these dark jokes that make them laugh, but I am mortified and can hardly look at myself in the mirror.

I know things are getting bad when I just feel like I have nothing to do. I don’t want to be with anyone, I’m exhausted but can’t sleep, and I just sit here on my computer passing time, but I can’t even think of things to Google. Nothing is interesting.

I’ve been given a bit more responsibility at work and I’m getting hugely anxious about it. I just want to run away and hide in the toilets every day, but I can’t admit that because the responsibility is just my job – either I do it or I don’t, but if I don’t, what is even the point of me?

I feel like I can’t breathe and I can’t move and I can’t think, and this will never change. I’m too scared of everything. Nothing has meaning and there is no hope. I’m sorry. Just how it is.

I’ll be okay. I just don’t particularly want to be.

Posted on: September 17, 2016

When my mother found out I was being treated for a mental illness, all those years ago, she cried for hours. She made some fairly insulting assumptions as to the cause of my problems (“Have you fallen out with one of your friends? Is this about some boy?”), threatened to try to force my doctor to breach confidentiality (“I’m your mother, I have a right to know the details”) and told me that I was ruining her life.

I was 19 years old, suicidally depressed, self-harming, pretty out of it on anti-psychotics, and had no fucking clue about how to get from one day to the next. And she made it about her. About her feelings, her opinions, and her curiosity. In the months and years that followed, she’d bring it up with a callousness I couldn’t believe was accidental. If I expressed an opinion she disagreed with, she’d tell me I was “going mental again”. Once, she casually asked, “do you remember when you were depressed?” in the middle of a family meal in a packed restaurant.

My mental health became yet another stick for her to beat me with. It became yet another way I’d let her down, and something she could hold over me, and bring up in any situation she pleased in order to silence or humiliate me. Maybe it was my punishment for refusing to give her the juicy details she wanted. Maybe it was my punishment for daring, for once in my life, to have feelings, to admit to having a problem, or for confiding at any level in someone outside the family.

I am not an emotionally open or expressive person. If you’ve read any of my blog you’ll be aware of this. People I have considered close friends have often referred to me, without malice, as unhuman and robotic. And, taking into account a number of factors, including the way medication and getting help in general made me feel and the way my mother had reacted, I decided to stop getting help and stop expressing any emotions in my day-to-day life. In making that decision, I closed myself off even further.

There are great black holes of emptiness inside me, where other people would have feelings.

Now, my mother is dying. Or at least, she says she is. To put this in perspective, she’s been saying that she’s dying for most of my life. It’s never happened yet, but it’s the kind of prediction that comes true eventually. And all she talks about is death. How she’s going to die in pain, how terrified she is of death, how this is the fault of everyone in her life, as if we all have magic wands that could cure her of her illness and we’re just refusing to wave them out of stubbornness.

And I feel very little. I’m struggling to come up with any kind of sympathy for her. When I was ill, I was expected to comfort her and look after her and apologise to her. Now she wants me to do the same because she’s ill. And I just can’t find it in me. I just can’t bring myself to hold her hand and dry her tears and listen to her problems. Not anymore.

She says I’m cold and unfeeling and heartless and cruel. I can’t bring myself to care.

There is a distant niggling worry that this is an attitude I’ll come to regret. That she will die and I will be overcome with grief and remorse and wish that I’d done everything she asked and agreed with her more.

But I feel that there is so little space in which I can exist. So much of my life is filled with her and her problems that I’ve had to make my own personality wafer-thin in order to just fit into the family. It just can’t be scraped away any more.

 

I am anxious, almost to the point of paranoia. It is very, very frightening.

I’m struggling to distinguish between what is real and logical and what is absolutely not.

Yesterday, I took a walk down to the local shops. I thought it would be nice – a leisurely stroll on a sunny Bank Holiday.

Then the ringing of bells. A couple of bicycles passing by, I step to one side and the riders say thanks, then they’re laughing to each other and I know it’s about me.

Then shouting. Some comment from the open window of a passing car and again it must be aimed at me.

A rush of blood, my face red hot, I’m staring straight ahead, there’s ringing in my ears and my hands are shaking but I keep walking, straight line, don’t let anyone see me flustered.

The cyclists stop, they look like they’re about to enter a house, but the idea gets planted in my head, they are going to attack me as I walk past. They are going to hurt me and steal my belongings. I speed up, and grip my bag more tightly.

Nothing happens but the idea is growing and I can’t stop it. Someone is going to harm me. I can’t pretend anymore that I’m just a normal, calm person on a gentle stroll. I’m jumping at every sound, and there are so many of them – voices and vehicles, horns and alarms, a total cacophony and I am so confused and afraid.

Swapping my bag from hand to hand, got to keep it unpredictable and swerve it out of the reach of passers by. Two men cross the street towards me, they’re talking to each other and I think I hear bag and I look up, startled. One of them looks me straight in the eye and I can feel the hostility. I am so afraid and I don’t know which way cause and effect works – am I afraid because people are acting oddly towards me? Or are they acting oddly because I, in my fear, am acting oddly first? Head down, handbag slippy in my increasingly sweaty grip, I scurry on.

I walk past a pub and someone walks out of it and heads in the same direction as me. My head is just ohshitohshitohshit over and over. I’m rushing across roads, hardly looking for traffic, and using the town like a shitty TV spy, checking reflections in windows to make sure no-one’s too close.

I make it to the shop I wanted to go to and I calm a little, feeling safer. But I can’t shake the feeling of being watched. I feel like everyone who walks past me is looking me straight in the eye all the time. I feel like I’m acting differently, moving slower so as to be more understandable to my audience.

I find some clothes I think I like and I go to try them on. The shop has recently been refurbished, the fitting rooms are new and as soon as I’m in there it’s fucking obvious there are cameras and spyholes and it is just plain old not safe or private. I’m in a mirrored box and the feeling of being observed is magnified.

So I leave the fitting rooms, dump the clothes, have a little walk around the rest of the shop. I find something I like and am about to buy it but then I get to the tills and a cashier looks at me with what I think is a knowing expression – so, okay, not safe. I leave.

I’m on my way home when I reach a bus stop. I wonder vaguely when there’ll be a bus to the city centre, if maybe being somewhere bigger will feel less weird. Before I can pass the stop, the bus in question pulls in. This is so obviously a sign – Bank Holiday buses being so infrequent, and one appearing as soon as I think about it – that I get on without thinking.

Every shop I enter, I am followed. Sometimes individuals, more often pairs and groups, always different. They stop when I stop. When I look at something, they’re looking at the thing behind or next to it. When I leave the shop, they disappear into the background and are replaced by others.

Outside one shop, there’s a teenage boy on the phone. He’s saying something – a funny and memorable phrase, something I’d normally be committing to memory for a funny anecdote later. Five or ten minutes later, when I leave the shop, the boy is still there, and he’s saying the same thing. Exact same wording and inflection and it’s like a code phrase he’s saying when I walk past him, alerting someone to my movements.

I try to calm down but it’s impossible. I’m panicking so badly that I can hardly breathe, I’m standing in the street with all these hostile strangers and I’m mentally noting the location of the police officer I can see standing at the other end of the street, so I can shout for his attention when the inevitable terrifying catastrophe happens. And then I start thinking maybe he’s not really police, maybe he’s in disguise and he’s really the one I need to avoid.

I step into another shop and am so overwhelmed by the feeling of wrongness, that I shouldn’t be there, that I turn around and walk straight out.

Straight to the bus station, in the hope that home means safety, and the bus is right there, again, full of people who look like they’ve been waiting for me, and I swear the universe is trying to tell me something, I just don’t know what.

There is a dog on the bus, a calm, old-looking dog with specks of grey in its fur and big, dark eyes, which, I swear, watch me all the way home like the dog, too, is in on the great secret that I’m not party to.

I get home and I’m jumpy and panicky and pacing about my room, then my brother goes out and I am overcome with vivid and horrifying images of him being involved in terrible accidents. I think of what I want for him, how I want him to return home. Safe, healthy, happy. I say it to myself. And then I’m chanting it

Safe, healthy, happy. Safe healthy happy. Safehealthyhappysafehealthyhappysafehealthyhappy.

When I’m with my parents, I can’t say it out loud as they’ll think I’m mad, but I just know it’s important to keep it up, it’s like a prayer or a mantra. So I’m tapping out the rhythm of it with my fingers, over and over and over again.

I go to bed and I can’t sleep. I lie there restless and wide awake until long after my wish has come true and my brother’s returned home.

I’m so on edge, I can’t wind down. I’m living right at the furthest reaches of my sanity and it is exhausting and scary and I don’t know how to make it stop.

I’m just about holding myself together enough to be able to interact with my family and go to work. Occasionally, people are commenting that I’m acting a little differently. I’m giving in to the little things I sometimes get obsessive about, and I’m tapping the rhythm of safe healthy happy quite a lot.

Argh. I am actually going mad, aren’t I?

 

 

 

 

Hello

My name is Laura. I was once told that I have cyclothymia. This blog is mostly where I write about living as a person with extremes and instability of mood, and the history of a life that led to the development of those symptoms.

I complain a lot, I'm very repetitive, unreliable, and I tend to contradict myself.

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