The Existential Crisis: Zombie, zombie, zombie

So, I was asked for an update on my, “fascinating” life.  Which is not at all fascinating.  For the past few months, my life has only existed internally.  I have barely gotten dressed in the past four weeks, and have been- though trying on occasion not to be- at my quietest and most reclusive.

I am in turmoil about my life choices, and I feel at a crossroads but have no idea which way to turn.

This will be a serious and extremely naval-gazing entry. Better out than in, and it would probably be best to write it privately, but the desire for a human connection is partly fuelling this.

When my friend died when I was fifteen, I had dreams about her for years afterwards.  She was a zombie, dying but not dead.  There was a house opposite me in Belfast whose wall I used to kick balls against.  A fence, and on this fence, standing, greening and broken looking, was Vicky.  In my dreams she stared, and I ran frantically around the house, trying to wake my mother who was endlessly asleep on the sofa, begging her to help me, to save me from Vicky who became closer and closer every time I looked out the window, threatening to swallow me and place me up against that wall.

I have had similar dreams since my dad died in 2006, again, dying too young and in a way that felt morally illegal, that made no sense to me, like Vicky’s sixteen year old suicide.  Only this time he lived in a small outhouse on the grounds of the garage near my home.  He was, like Vicky, exiled from me but close, dying but not dead.  His real-death was undone.  He was living under the radar, hidden but there. And the same greening but talking, moving.

We went to visit him in the outhouse, in my dreams.  We got food from the garage for him (where we got most of our food in real life, but in my dreams, I took to him, like convalescing, feeding him up, to get better and recover from immutable, eternal dying and death, as though he would come to us.  I woke from those dreams afraid and intensely lonely). Sometimes I dreamt he was in his bedroom, watching TV, but the same rotting thing, but still, my father.

Recently, the dreams have returned, almost every night.  Sometimes it’s my father, sometimes my friend Brendan, who died in 2007.  It is never people who died naturally, nor those were old.  It’s not my grandparents.  I think when people die of old age and natural causes there is an acceptance of it.  Old age can be as fruitful as youth, and I do not think that being old lessens your worth as a human being, nor the tragedy, inherent, in death.  But peaceful ends to a life lived is less sad, to me.  Less sad than sixteen and suicide, less sad than forty seven and liver failure and less sad than thirty two and accidental overdose.

Brendan is in my old bedroom, the last place I saw him.  I have a lot of regret about him as at the time of his death I was more self obsessed than usual, and, in the wake of my dad’s recent death from alcoholism, unkind and unsupportive in many ways about Brendan’s drinking problems. I regret this more than I can explain. I feel the need to carry his flame and memory but am also aware that is unwanted by those closest to him (my role in this, not the carrying of memory).  So I won’t go into the dreams, but there are similar to the ones I have about Vicky and my dad.

The effect of these dreams, or rather, the probably catalyst, is nightly panic attacks about death, dying and waste.  It takes me a long time to sleep, and then I sleep in (I still take medication that makes me drowsy) because I am studying my husband’s still face and suddenly bile rises in my throat and terror propels me, screaming, to the other side of the room. His stillness is an affront to me.  He is not still, should never be still.  Will be still. Hopefully after me.

I think about not being here, not being anywhere, and curse the day I picked up Philip Larkin for articulating so well something I cannot, something I realised I did not want to.

My perverse reaction to this is to go and sit in the kitchen and smoke.  Actively siphoning away my life. I know the nicotine is keeping me awake longer, but I still can’t go and lie down and be taken to a sleep where those are my dreams. I wake up every day and feel afraid and uncomfortable.

I am still in some senses depressed, and I am probably more fragile than I should be as I completely forgotten to take Lamictal over the holidays, having not made it part of my routine yet, and the addition of new strong chemicals into my body (and out again, then back in) is messing with my head.  I had about two weeks peace and relative okayness and then this fragile self reappeared, and here I still am.

But I am not depressed in the sense I can’t conceive of a future.  I can, too far, from here until death, and understand clearly why people commit suicide to wrench a control in their lives as I feel that way now.  That is not a threat, it is how I feel.

Because of my state of mind I am mentally rewriting my own history.  I wanted to write an entry here about 2012 and say that the kindnesses of people on our wedding day (and in the preparation) renewed my faith that people are good when Britain at the moment is saying people are bad. But my immediate and eternally self-obsessed reaction to that is instant rebuke.  “You haven’t appreciated kindnesses before, you didn’t even acknowledge them as kindnesses and you have been unkind yourself.  You do not deserve those kindnesses”. It is silly.

Likewise, because of the horrible way our wedding day ended (a huge family fight, one I got drawn into, one I bitterly regret being drawn into), I can’t think of our wedding day.  I forget the rest of the day- the loveliness of it- and am fixated instead on that event, which in many senses, is wholly natural.  Everyone was pissed, it is a fraught and emotional event, it’s almost to be expected.  But returning home to the mess and then it bleeding into our honeymoon- we both felt it was wrecked.  Both acutely aware that THAT WAS IT, our wedding day, and that is what we remember.  Angry at ourselves and everyone is, to the pint where we have no photos of our wedding day anywhere in our flat and we have argued over it many times.

The sensible thing to do is to write that off and remember the brilliance of the rest of the day. But again, here is my brain: But you didn’t spend enough time with Robert.  You were so caught up in it you treated it basically like a good night out in the pub. We barely danced together. It did not go how you imagined, even you imagined it, to an extent, as though you were a different person, a person who does not smoke in their wedding dress and leaves early to a song and a wave and not in the last taxi, drunk, but elated. But I very much wanted to be that person on that day. THAT day. It is just one day, after all.

Again, it is silly.  We said our vows, meant them, it was beautiful and we had an excellent time at the reception.

It is the THAT WAS IT-ness of it, combined with my negative state of mind, this fog I am struggling through, that I have before, because this happens to me, I get elated and silly and snap decisions, I get depressed and can’t even decide to leave the house or what to eat. They are my seasons.

The, THAT WAS IT-ness is this continuing creeping of the one-life thing, and it is ending, a second at a time.  Instead of embracing that I want to run from it. Instead of hugging my husband and seeking out people, I am retreating.  Instead of making decisions, I am dithering. These zombie dreams are amorphously jellyfishing into my day-to-day consciousness.

There is the large question of my course.  I know it seems overly dramatic but doing this course (I am a mental health nurse) has shaken me to my core.

I have a very strong feeling of responsibility and affinity with people who have mental health problems.  Not just because I have my own but because there is moral, ethical and social things surrounding it that matter to me, deeply.

It is, “my area”.  And yet, the one-on-one, emotionally laborious job of mental health nursing is something I am not strong enough for, and nor it is my strength.

I (how many times will I say, “I” in this post?) am a serious and analytical person.  I think carefully about everything I do.  In my sound mind I am not in the least bit impulsive.  This is another paralysing factor and one I am aware of being more paralysing than usual lately because I’m not in a great state of mind.

This feeling of responsibility is far too much for me. Because I know of the awesome responsibility and the impact I could have on peoples’ lives I am petrified of doing things wrong, of making a tiny misstep.  I would be a good nurse (and have been a good student) but my analytical nature and the fact I am overembued with a sense of guilt and hold myself to high standards means that I think about every little thing and think about what I could have done better and worry about the consequences. For the past year and a half I have felt this way every day I have worked to the extent it affected my relationships, my sleep, my sanity. We are taught about ethics and ethics have been what have loomed large with me.  And because I have been quite involved in activism I do find navigating this space between me as a person and me as a boundaried nurse painful.

I am an analytical and careful person who cares too much about the things I do, hyper-aware of my own feelings and empathic to others’: and this will never change; it is who I am and in other areas of my life it serves me well and is a virtue. In my relationships being aware of how I feel and how other people feel is what makes them harmonious and what resolves conflict when it arises.

When I come home, I want to be alone.  I do not have the emotional energy to cope with someone elses’ feelings (like my husband’s) and this is not a good thing. I also have so much academic work to do that I also do not have the time.

I am also too internally-looking, too analytical and too into writing (and reading).  The writing strength is not showing in this entry, I know, but is my strength. I want to use my strengths to help, listen to, write with, work with people who have mental health issues, their families, friends, through laws I care about, through injustices I see, using my strength, and not by dragging myself through something I am not strong enough to do. I AM more selfish than that, even if I am uncomfortable with it. I am probably too narcissistic, too.

There are the limitations I do not want to accept but need to.  I simply cannot work shifts because sleeping is a vital component in my sanity, and one that recently has gone off kilter and it shows, one that did and I had to go off sick to sort myself out.  In that time, I did some part-time hours to build a routine and that was my happy few weeks.  I can manage things, anything, as long as the hours are remotely regular and I keep some sort of balance, which I find extremely difficult in what I am doing.  And much advice has been given to me, but I appreciate it, but it is something I cannot state enough, along with the above. People keep saying just carry on and get your qualification, but I am quite sure (but again, how much of this is due to my state of mind?) that I will not get that far because of all the above.

So, I must stop, or interrupt.  I haven’t gone into the past two classes because I cannot face doing so. And because I have this responsibility, or a delusion thereof, I feel as though I am being selfish, and I don’t like that.

It is extremely hard to let go.  Particularly amongst this feeling of, “THIS IS IT, THIS IS YOUR LIFE”.  I have worked my arse off.  I did a course before this so I’d have the qualifications to do nursing and it in some way made up for the fact I dropped out of my A-levels due to illness (and oddly, I still have anxiety dreams that I miss the exams, particularly history, for some reason).  I have invested so much time in it that it is difficult to walk away from.

There is also the fact that nursing becomes an identity.  The nurses and student nurses I know proudly identify themselves as such and it is partly because it is such an all-consuming course and because you have to wear this identity with conviction when caring for people.  It is also what you are recognised for as you work; beyond and before who are you outside.  All your personality traits are linked back to your being a nurse.  It really is more than a job and as a course it is far, far more than I was expecting and prepared for.

So stopping a course that I want to seems like a small thing to do, but to me it is massive. I am terrified I will regret leaving. I enjoy(ed) the identity too.  We are all composed of different identities; who we are to friends, who we are to family, to our colleagues, to our lovers. My first identity is as a writer and someone who has a strong desire to connect and express, but the identity of a student nurse/future nurse surpassed the other identity; of someone who was sick, someone who was on benefits for a long time.  An identity that, against my own principles and judgment, I found shaming.

It is also not wasted time. I know this. I have learned so much, and grown up a lot. But I am worried I will grow to resent it because of the impact it has on my health and life.

It is why I have been sitting staring at my CV for the past week, because that part of me is overwhelming to me. I need to get a job before I can do anything as I have absolutely no safety net whatsoever and we need money. And there is the rub number 76: my other responsibility is to my family. My family unit now, which is my husband and I, and my future hypothetical family, such as our children. I like to be independent, to earn my own money and to support myself and I also find joy in supporting others (another reason it is hard to walk away- I have a genuine love for the people I care for. Unconditional positive regard, as they call it). Having grown up poor and with parents who struggled to provide for us, I am afraid of doing that to another person. We turned out okay, but growing up was a grind. And I do want to have children and be in the position to, someday.

Our plan was that Robert would work part time and be a house-husband the rest of the time and I would be the person who works full time and supports us. I am far more, “career minded” than he is.  He sees a job as a means to an end whereas I want to work in something that I enjoy and find meaning in. He does a lot in his spare time; I have not had spare time in almost 2 years with which to do anything in. Nursing to an extent gives me the opportunity to support us and it is another reason I find it hard to leave.  I need to find something else that will give me that opportunity; to whit, a job.

My ideal plan is to work full time in a job I care about and return to university part time to study psychology. There are vague plans of clinical psychology in the future but it is mostly because I am interested in it and because working full time and studying part time suited me before and the thing I get a lot of happiness from is coming home having learned something.

So, this is mammoth entry updating you and something I felt like I needed to get out of my system. I would also really appreciate people not being personally abusive as I am being very hard on myself as it is right now. I guess this is just needing to be heard as I feel sometimes I am going mad here as I say I feel one way but am being told I do not feel that way. Because I am being so indecisive, I guess it is easy for someone to say that.

In brief, I wish I could be more in the moment. Wish I could just enjoy things, not worry, but I do. I do because I am aware I am at a time when the decisions I make are going to affect the rest of my life.

Anyway, phew, there you go, a big post. Hope everyone is well.

14 Responses

  1. No abuse from me, lovely; just *gentle hugs* & solidarity. Kinda meaningless, I know, but didn’t want to leave without saying something…

  2. You have just described the past four or five years for me. I was depressed for years and then suddenly became obsessed with finding some sort of purpose, a job that I was meant to do, that I was good at, that I enjoyed. Then, at 23, I had my daughter and am now a stay at home mum for a 15 month old little girl. I love my daughter with everything I am, but its recently got to a point where I feel as though i’ve lost all sense of myself and was thinking of getting back into work, but this is where I’m stuck. I want something thats mine, that gets me out of the house a few days a week but I also cant bring myself to leave my daughter. All I’m struck with is a sense of ‘i only have a certain amount of time with her, she’ll only do these things once, ill never get these hours back, shes getting older all the time and when she doesnt need you anymore, you’ll regret being so selfish’. I cant win. And as much as people explain that its good for me to get time away from her, vmy brain says ‘no its not, cling onto these precious moments, dont let her have to be with out you for one second. Dont regret anything, dont make any mistakes and DO NOT REGRET ANYTHING’. Regrets are a big thing for me. Things I cant change or do over and I’m stuck with having done or said.

    • Regrets are what I fear most, but hooray, for some reason, instead of embracing life I am just hiding in a corner.

  3. I hope you feel better soon and find a job that lets you study part-time. I hope your dreams go away. *big hugs* I wish I could offer something more positive than just saying that I’m thinking of you and wishing the best for you. I’m sorry about that bit of your wedding going wrong. If it helps, maybe you could think, “A wedding is just one day, but this marriage will last the rest of our lives.” (Sorry if this counts as advice. I know it’s so easy to give advice on other people’s problems.)

    I have that feeling too – that life is going by so quickly, that I’ve got so many things wrong in the past, that certain experiences were a test that I failed. Sometimes when I look back on my past all I can see is a long train of mistakes, even though logically I know that isn’t true.

    I didn’t want to be all egocentric, but I thought it might help if you knew that somebody else feels the same or a similar way.

    • No, it’s good advice! It’s advice I am giving myself but finding it so hard to accept. And thank you, it does help to know someone feels the same way, I feel as though I am going mad sometimes.

  4. WoW – firstly imagine my arms around you giving you a hug and telling you, in a calm motherly way, that its all going to fine, you will get thro this, you are ok.

    There’s so many issues here, I am feeling overwhelmed for just reading it so I imagine you’re pretty overwhelmed at thinking about it.

    In all of it, may I be so bold to say that, there appears to be no acceptance and allowance for your mental health condition/illness. You speak of ‘your career’ and future desires and what you hope to achieve with no provision for our/your curse. There’s no doubt of your brilliance and enthusiasm for goals, yet I feel as if this is just another fight with your ‘self’.

    The reason I say this, is because for the last 30-odd years, I have got up, mostly day after day, going to work and striving to operate this broken machine without any care or provision for the brain that drives it. Part of my recovery has been down to the acceptance of understanding that brushing my condition aside and just carrying on ‘like a normal person’ is not working and never will. Oh yeah, the old Mag fights this new resolve, but I have now built up a coping and grounding network that helps me to care for me first before I can, in turn, care for my family and then care for the, now limited, work I love to do. It’s about realising that this condition/illness can be managed but only by acceptance and making huge allowances and I really believe that if you get the priorities in the right order and work them in the right order that you can achieve a more realistic goal, eventually. The biggest part of my recovery has been just this. So my advice is to stop fighting and feeding this – get off the rollercoaster – understand your REAL limitations and then adjust what you need to. This might mean a massive rethink about your career – doesn’t mean you’ve wasted anything – you know yr bright enough to do this but let YOU be the patient – this illness isn’t going away. Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

  5. Seaneen, it all really depends on how you see yourself. The “I am a failure” googles depression puts constantly over your eyes are very selective; they make you fail to notice what I clearly see: in 20 something years of life you were able to build a world of very strong, very rich relationships – starting from your husband, syblings etc- in spite of all your limitations. And no, that is not ‘off topic’ because in the long run the ability to build relations reflects also on the CV, trust me on that. Let me say from the point of view of someone who suffers from a minor form of depression, that I deeply envy you that ’empathic-sociability’. At almost 40 I can really see where depression crippled me, socially and emotionally. That is not your case. I know (I can imagine) that your social life is probably much more messy that you can express on these entries, but I do think likewise it is pretty much impressive you were able to connect with so many people so far; and I am not talking about the blog and your ‘followers’, I mean your family-friends. In the very least, give yourself that credit; and be aware that even though your illness impairs you in some areas, in others you were pretty much a hurricane/phenomenon of your own special kind.

    Take very much care.


  6. Have you thought about taking a leave of absence from your studies so that you can preserve your options? It doesn’t seem like a good time to make major decisions about your education and future.

    Re: work – I’ve found that there is no ideal career, just work that is acceptable based on a number of factors, including benefits. For example, I would rather work as a shorthand court reporter (boring) than as a miner (scary and physically demanding.) My associates thought the same way – that work is a means to an end, and that satisfying experiences occur away from work via hobbies, family, friends, travelling, etc.

    At a minimum, you have the gifts of communcation and empathy, Seaneen, and I think would make an amazing psychiatric nurse. (My mom was a psychiatric nurse during most of her career and was quite judgmental of people with mental illness – fancy that!) You could do an awful lot of good supporting emotionally fragile people as you genuinely care about them, wouldn’t judge them, and know what it’s like to be in their shoes. Don’t underestimate the strength you can share through genuine empathy.

    Also, we mustn’t assume that other people feel well most of the time. In my experience, most people have situations and issues, especially as they get older, that make it difficult to work. Perhaps they have no option and just carry on, making the best of it. I am an introvert and would rather hide away in my cave any day than go out into public. However, practical considerations like making a living propel me into the outer world. Once there, I become somewhat desensitized and get on with the business at hand. Forcing myself to get out and participate in life is actually beneficial. It takes my mind off the kind of negative and anxious thoughts that consume me otherwise.

    It may also be the case that you are not suited to full-time work and that Robert may have to assume that role. He seems well suited to it as he doesn’t attach much emotional meaning to work. Perhaps you can work part-time at nursing and part-time as a freelance writer. You ceratinly have a gift for writing and perhaps a local newspaper or magazine would hire you to write an advice column or a column about mental illness. That would be exciting as it might involve research (learning new things) and expression of opinion. You might also be able to study part-time to obtain a degree in psychology.

    Seaneen, you sound like a perfectionist, and that results in indecision, procrastination and, left unchecked, the failure to realize goals. I have struggled with this obsessive-compulsive aspect of myself too. For example, when working on my B.A., I would research the heck out of an assignment – I love that part of the academice process – only to freeze when having to commit words and ideas to paper. It was so bad that I would wait until the eleventh hour to produce something and, even then, I could only do it knowing that any mark was better than zero, so I really had nothing to lose.

    I’m sure less conscientious people (perfectionistic) succeed in nursing, and perhaps that’s why they succeed while truly gifted, sensitive people like you drop out. If you choose to continue in nursing, please find a way to desensitize yourself. You would be an awesome nurse, and that kind of a career is so satisfying when patients improve, get back to their lives and are grateful for your part in their recovery. Imagine how it feels for a patient to be cared for by a judgmental psychiatric nurse? How could such a person faciliate real healing? At the psychic level, at least, I would think a person could feel the nurse’s unspoken judgment and end up feeling worse about herself. True warmth and compassion cannot be faked.

    Re: nightmares – It’s an awful reality of bp disorder that nightmares are more intense and nasty than nightmares generally speaking. My daughter recently experienced similar nightmares, which are greatly troubling. Just yesterday, she saw her psychiatrist and had her Zeldox increased to the highest dose. Shortly after taking the increased dose, she felt calm, sleepy and was able to fall into a deep dreamless sleep. She awoke this morning feeling better than she had in a long time, and in fact, was able to go in to work on short notice and work a shift in a good frame of mind.

    I truly wish you would enquire about Zeldox, Seaneen. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. It may be known by another name in the U.K., but it’s likely to be available. It’s a new gen anti-psychotic, and could really make a difference in your life. In my experience, most drugs are available internationally since drug companies want to recoup their investments as quickly as possible through the largest possible distribution.

    Finally, thank you for sharing your thought and feelings. They are truly a gift to us, your readers. I wish you nothing but the best!

  7. Think of you often Seaneen, still follow your blog as much as I can. Don’t have much words of wisdom but just my personal opinion. I think you’re right that your ‘area’ is mental health’ but I don’t think it’s nursing. I came to the same decision myself 3/4 years ago. But I also know people like you and I have so much to give because of our experiences, it just finding the ‘right’ job or thing that we enjoy but won’t bring us down. Some stress is good but when your study or work is seriously affecting your life you have to take a step back and make a new plan. Most of my plans are made loosely because they usually don’t go the way I plan!
    Much love to you! And apart from all the negative stuff that happened at your wedding, from the pictures I’ve seen you looked beautiful, and I’m not just trying to flatter you, that’s just the truth!

  8. I’ve been wanting to start a blog of my own for quite awhile but I’m terrified. Mostly because I’m not a writer and not sure if I will be able to express myself as you have done so well. I’m a nurse in my forties living with bipolar disorder. I’ve come to a crossroads in my life (and in a major depression at the moment ) where I have feelings of panic when I think of returning to nursing due to something that happened to me while working a case. My employers more worried about losing money than my well being. At the time ( even still) where it was easier just to try and forget and detach myself from the trauma of what happened to me than to fight back. I hate this illness. It will never go away and I hate the times (such as now) where i cannot function at all. The basic functions of daily living such as showering, brushing my teeth, getting out of bed are a challenge, a chore. Why couldn’t I just be normal? Why does society have to put a labels on everyone that’s different? Some labels are accepted more than others; however the label “bipolar” may be more widely known than it was ten years ago but excepted… I think not! It’s not information that I tell people about myself.. due to the social stigmatism associated with “I’m bipolar”.. Every time I have ventured to tell someone I have regretted. It’s a label I fear will never be accepted.
    Thank you for your blog! It’s comforting to know I’m not alone …..

  9. I’ve been wanting to start a blog of my own for quite awhile but I’m terrified. Mostly because I’m not a writer and not sure if I will be able to express myself as you have done so well. I’m a nurse in my forties living with bipolar disorder. I’ve come to a crossroads in my life (and in a major depression at the moment ) where I have feelings of panic when I think of returning to nursing due to something that happened to me while working a case. My employers more worried about losing money than my well being. At the time ( even still) where it was easier just to try and forget and detach myself from the trauma of what happened to me than to fight back. I hate this illness. It will never go away and I hate the times (such as now) where i cannot function at all. The basic functions of daily living such as showering, brushing my teeth, getting out of bed are a challenge, a chore. Why couldn’t I just be normal? Why does society have to put a labels on everyone that’s different? Some labels are accepted more than others; however the label “bipolar” may be more widely known than it was ten years ago but excepted… I think not! It’s not information that I tell people about myself.. due to the social stigmatism associated with “I’m bipolar”.. Every time I have ventured to tell someone I have regretted. It’s a label I fear will never be accepted.
    Thank you for your blog! It’s comforting to know I’m not alone…

  10. Thanks for sharing your stuff. Selfishly, it helps me to read other people struggle too xx

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