Loopy, Lonely and Lost

I’m several months into my job now, and I’m still sure it was a good move. Quite apart from the fact that I firmly believe that moving on is almost always the right thing to do, practically everything about how my new employer works is better, more effective and healthier than how the old company did things.

Everything is peer reviewed, and people always provide each other with feedback, and it’s all constructive with very little by way of blame culture. And this is good, it’s everything I’ve been saying for years that I wanted. I spent so long receiving only praise that I lost sight of my strengths and weaknesses.

I have meetings with my manager every week or two and they’re overwhelmingly positive, the kind of management meetings I’ve been used to. She tells me all the good feedback she’s had for me and praises my abilities and achievements, and I give awkward thanks but feel nothing other than a faint relief that my mistakes aren’t being highlighted.

I’ve been working with a new supervisor over the past few weeks and he’s big on feedback. Not cruel or nitpicky or abusing his power, he’s just a man gently pointing out what I could do better or how he’d do things differently.

Here’s the thing, though. Tell me I’m brilliant and I’ll blush and avoid eye contact and not really believe you at all, and complain that you don’t give me anything to work on. But tell me I’m wrong or could do better, and I shrink away from you in horrified shame.

It’s not nice to admit it. I believe in feedback. I think it’s important. I want to improve. But it makes me feel so useless.

And I think the reason praise never really affects me, other than to make me feel faintly embarrassed, is because I expect to be good at things. With things that I commit a lot of time to and place importance on, like my job, I expect to be great. I expect to be the best. So if you tell me I’m the best, I shrug it off. It’s not recognition I want, just the satisfaction of doing something well.

When I was 15, a teacher told me in amazement that she’d marked an exam I’d taken and I’d got 113 out of 114. My immediate question was, “what did I get wrong?”

I expect myself to be 100% right, 100% of the time. And it really is an expectation, not an ambition. Maybe normal people hope for 100%, but realistically expect something more reasonable. I see 100% as a baseline. Achieving it is a relief, but not a particularly impressive accomplishment. Falling short by any margin is a disappointment, a failure, and embarrassment.

But who am I, to expect 100%? It’s not even like I feel pride or achievement. I see 100% as not drawing attention to myself with silly errors (which is why I get so uncomfortable if I achieve 100% or anywhere near and then someone does draw attention to it). It seems so cocky to assume I’m capable of doing that, to see it as my minimum requirement.

Holding myself to a higher standard than I hold anyone else is in itself a sign of ridiculous arrogance. If I had a more realistic view of myself and my abilities, everything would be easier.

It doesn’t show me in a good light. That I’m so fragile I struggle to take any criticism, that I believe I’m better than that.

And I think about how uneasy and worthless I feel, and how much I worry about tiny mistakes and how much all feedback makes me cringe, and I think about it in terms of imposter syndrome.

And then I think, you crazy, arrogant bitch. Only talented people get imposter syndrome. Some people genuinely are just useless.

I take the feedback. I cheerfully agree to make suggested changes. I use my body language and tone to let my supervisor know I’m not taking it personally, even though I totally am (sometimes he suggests something and asks if I agree, like he’s worried I mind his opinion and wants me to feel it’s collaborative. I recognise his kindness but resent being patronised). It’s not his fault that a perfectly reasonable comment can send me spiralling into self-loathing.

I felt like this for a while at my last job. And the one before. Eventually I got good enough to not have to feel like this.

I hope I catch up to that stage soon.

Hey

Posted on: September 22, 2019

So, some things have happened.

At the beginning of the year I got the news that I (along with all of my colleagues) was going to be made redundant sometime next year. The uncertainty and the constant looming threat made me anxious, so I decided not to wait, to forfeit my redundancy money and move on to a new job if I could find one.

I got a job. 35% higher salary than my old one, at a bigger, faster-paced company. I’ve been there 4 months now. It’s going pretty well – it’s hard because I don’t know what I’m doing so much, I’ve gone from being an expert to being new, and there is a loss of control involved in that. But, stable employment. A sense of momentum. And I’ve received a lot of positive feedback.

One of my greatest strengths is my ability to shrug off a part of my life like an old coat, and pick up another. I know it comes from a fairly unhealthy place – it’s my lack of connection with other people, my obsession with self-sufficiency, my icy cold core that allow this to happen. But it is one of the things that’s kept me alive so long – the way I can step out of one situation and emerge completely free of it, unencumbered, and step into something else.

I’ve established a new routine. Everything is in place. I have some security.

I do feel pretty lonely though. As I age I get more and more trapped between the fear of being alone and the fear of letting anyone in.

I know I’m a little down because I’m feeling sad that no-one will have anything to say at my funeral. I’m not planning to die any time soon, but death feels like a very real and terrifying prospect and I know I haven’t achieved anything. I’m afraid of dying and leaving no mark whatsoever.

Sorry. This took a turn.

It doesn’t take much for me to spiral downhill. Even after all this time, after so much improvement.

Maybe it’s the time of year, which always makes me cynical and bleak. Maybe it’s my cold, which has my head all stuffed up. Maybe it’s my mother’s once again deteriorating physical and mental health. Maybe it’s the weight of secrecy and lies. Maybe it’s my increased responsibility at work, my fatal flaw of never saying no which leaves me under so much pressure with no recognition or reward.

Probably all of the above.

I’m not suicidal. I’m self-aware enough to know I can’t kill myself. But am listening to sad songs and hearing death in each of them. Let my mind rest for a moment and it’s filled with images of self-harm. Panic racing round my head and I’m crying for the first time in longer than I can remember.

I know I just need to wait it out. But I wish I was strong enough for it to never happen.

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.

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.

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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