This is something I wrote in 2010, when I had a nervous breakdown and lost my mind for a while.
I’ve actually published the full version of this as a book, which you can buy here.
Summer seems to be coming early this year; it’s bright and warm in April. I love the sun; it always seems to make things better. Except this year, it doesn’t seem to be working.
I have always felt as if I didn’t quite belong. Never quite accepted; never quite popular; never quite cool enough; not pretty or clever or slutty enough to fit in with any particular group. At school I felt inferior to everyone around me, like an impostor. My friends were all way more intelligent and beautiful than I was. I tried to be like them, but it never quite worked. When I left I didn’t maintain contact with most of them, and those I did still see never seemed particularly thrilled by my presence. People left school and went off to universities in far flung places, and I stayed put. I would find out after the fact that people I thought were my friends had come home for Christmas or Easter or all summer and met up, had parties, got blind drunk, and had a fantastic time; but they’d not called me, I’d not been included. It hurt me every time, but I had never really expected them to call any way; I had never been one of them.
I’d always felt an outsider, but that never made it any easier. It was never through choice, I just didn’t know how to cross that line, to be inside the circle instead of outside looking in. That feeling of being an outsider is getting gradually worse though, more pronounced, as if I am further and further removed from the people around me. And I’m starting to care less and less about it…
I go to work. I sit at my desk and stare blankly at the computer screen, waiting for 11 o’clock when the sandwich man sets up shop downstairs. At 11 o’clock I go downstairs to the break room and buy a can of Coke and a Kit Kat. I go back to my desk to wait for lunch time. I drink most of the Coke and force down two fingers of the Kit Kat. This takes me two hours. the rest of it sits on my desk, going stale in the air conditioned office.
At lunch time I walk into town. Most people use their lunch hour for eating, but I’m not really into the eating thing right now, and any way I have started to enjoy the feeling of emptiness. It’s some sort of physical answer to the way my brain has been feeling for months now. I wander around aimlessly for an hour, waiting for it to be time to go back to work. When an hour is almost up, I head back to work and sit at my desk, staring blankly at the computer screen, waiting for it to be home time.
I walk home slowly, because I know what comes next. I walk up the path to my house with a sense of sinking defeat. When I get in, I wait for it to be bed time. I sit on the sofa and stare at whatever happens to be playing on TV. I go to bed, sometimes sleep, and mostly wait for it to be time to get up again. When I am up I wait for it to be time to go to work and begin the cycle all over again. It’s like Groundhog Day, except there’s no Groundhog. And no Bill Murray. And no hint of a laugh.
I am alone.
I go days and days without speaking to anyone other than in meetings at work, or coffee shop assistants. I begin to fear the weekends with the sort of dread usually reserved for root canal surgery. My phone doesn’t ring; nobody wants to spend time with me on the weekend so I’m just alone with my thoughts. My thoughts are not very nice these days.
I think I must have some sort of poison inside of me that people can sense, and it makes them steer clear. I’ve lost count of the number of boyfriends I’ve had who have just upped and left without even bothering to make an excuse or let me down gently; they sense that poison, and they’re off.
I don’t want to be like this, I want to fit in. But I don’t know how.
My manager starts taking me into meeting rooms and saying things like: do you really think work is the best place for you right now? … If you want to go home early, just let me know … Perhaps you should go back to your doctor … It won’t affect your sickness record if you’re signed off work again … Other people have noticed your weight loss and are concerned. I respond that no, I don’t want to go home. There is nothing wrong with me; I have no broken bones or bleeding wounds; to go home sick is a ridiculous idea. I soldier on, making everyone feel uncomfortable, and feeling a fraud whenever I capitulate and leave work early.
Eventually, after several suggestions from my manager, I go to the doctor and am signed off work for a week with stress. I feel like an idiot, being signed off work with something as frivolous and 21st Century as stress. I go to the gym, and one of the ladies there tells me, be kind to yourself. And this is what I try to do: lay in the garden and read a book, go to the gym, go swimming.
When my week is over, I go back to work. The manager takes me into a meeting room and asks if I really feel I’m ready to come back. What am I supposed to say to that? I tell him I’m fine, work is the best place for me, it’ll take my mind off my problems, I’ll be okay if I can just get my head down and carry on. He tells me that if I need to leave early for any reason then just to say so. I scoff; why would I need to leave early? There was no good reason for me to be off in the first place; I only accepted the sick note because it was offered and I fancied a bit of a skive in the sunshine. I’m fine. Aren’t I?
A couple of weeks later, I am decidedly not fine. I am not sleeping; I feel sick all the time; my IBS is playing up terribly after years of being fine. I’m miserable, I worry about everything, all of the time, and I can’t concentrate. I’m fairly sure the shortness of breath I’ve had lately is actually panic attacks.
I have a half-year review with my boss. He tells me there is nothing wrong with my work, and I disagree. I tell him I feel like I’m just coming in and waiting for home time, I don’t actually contribute anything and feel like a fraud. He says nobody has noticed that I am any different, though he did notice a change a few days ago. He is very nice about it. He is worried about me. He says if I feel like I can’t come into work then it’s fine but I just need to let him know so that he doesn’t worry.
I come out of the meeting and email a friend. We’ve been emailing back and forth all day; she’s probably the only actual real life person I talk to honestly about stuff. To the untrained eye, she may seem a bit hard and unsympathetic, but really she’s the only one who doesn’t pander to my attention seeking. You know, the sort of person who will listen to you moan about how absolutely terrible everything is, and the world will surely end, and then pats you on the back and says “never mind, you’ll be okay!” She tells me, “truthfully, I’ve never known anyone to be as “not right” as you are today. Please go home.” So I do. When this girl thinks there is something wrong, there is something wrong.
I don’t know how to fix this or make it go away. My boss seems to be the person most concerned for my wellbeing, and he has said to me more than once that he thinks I need to do something, before I have some sort of proper breakdown. He says he doesn’t think work is the best place for me to be. What sort of person has to have this sort of conversation with their boss, because there is nobody else they can burden with it? There must be something so badly wrong with me as a person, and I am unable to figure out how to fix it or change it. I don’t even know where to begin. And I’m not sure I have the energy either. I’m lost. And I get the distinct impression nobody out there wants to find me, either.
Perhaps I’m not just being a drama queen; perhaps I’ve not just read too much Plath; perhaps I need to sort my shit out here. So I go back to the doctor and I tell her I think I need some help or something. It’s a weird appointment where I sit in the chair and pick at my fingernails and fail to make eye contact and then cry any way. She gives me a leaflet for a counselling service. You call up and make an appointment for a screening interview, where they assess how mental you are, and then you’re either booked in for counselling or sent on your merry way with some leaflets.
We’ve been here before. I’m not enthralled at the suggestion, but I don’t want to seem ungrateful so I take the leaflet and try to smile. I don’t want this nice lady to think she hasn’t solved my problem in the 10-minute allotted time slot.
Then she does a questionnaire with me where you answer questions about how you’ve felt for the past two weeks. Apparently there is a scale from 1-27. I score a 21. She tells me this means I am severely depressed, and so I leave the surgery with a leaflet in one hand, and a prescription for Prozac in the other.
Then I go back to work and have a panic attack and get sent home.