My Existential Crisis
I walked into the bathroom to splash water on my face. I was a nervous wreck–an actual nervous wreck. Not like “I’m a nervous wreck waiting to see who wins ‘Dancing With The Stars.” An honest to goodness nervous wreck with shaking hands and a racing heart. It was the day that Pete died, he hadn’t died, yet we knew he would die that day. How do you even begin to move through a day when you know your best friend is alive when you wake up, and he won’t be when you go to sleep that night?
Nervous energy raged through my body. This was something I’d never had to handle, something I’d never even come close to experiencing. Trying to make decisions for Pete, for my kids, for our families, for myself. Trying to communicate with doctors, trying not to shut down completely, and feeling like the center of attention–not wanting to be–just wanting to spend every last second holding his hand.
I left the hospital room and paced between there and the waiting room which was full of family and close friends. I’d check on everyone, then check on Pete. Back and forth. Back and forth. I could hear the clock ticking in my head, every single second.
I don’t really want to go into further detail, but I do want to describe the level of stress I felt that morning. I went into the restroom near the waiting room. I just needed to be somewhere completely silent where I could catch my breath and hear myself think. I stood in front of the sink, washed my hands and then splashed water on my face. When I looked up at my reflection in the mirror, I did not recognize myself. I was shocked. I closed and opened my eyes and I still didn’t recognize the face. It was like I’d had some sort of mental break. It was frightening. I tried several times to connect with the person in the mirror, and it simply wasn’t happening. I left the bathroom and didn’t mention it to anybody. Throughout the rest of the day, every time I went into the bathroom or encountered any sort of mirror, I refused to look because I was afraid it would happen again, and I still had no explanation for what was going on. I also didn’t have any time to focus on myself. All my energy was going into Pete and my kids.
The intensity of this first experience was never repeated–although I didn’t really test it. To this day, my reflection doesn’t appear quite right. I think that that day changed me so much that somehow things have gotten out of alignment on a fundamental level. I finally confided in my daughter, Sean, a couple of weeks after Pete died. I mentioned what had happened and she immediately told me that it sounded like an existential crisis. (Her philosophy degree had paid for itself right then and there!) There are lengthy definitions of existential crisis but I’ve interpreted them mostly to mean that I encountered too damn much reality–that stress and reality had flown toward each other at high-speed and smashed together in my brain–and I disappeared. No matter how much control I tried to exercise, there comes a point where things just snap. I’ve also heard it called Depersonalization Disorder. Regardless of the name it was helpful to understand what had happened, albeit after the fact. It alleviated some of the worry just knowing that I hadn’t actually had a nervous breakdown. Stress is a wicked thing that can have horrible effects on the mind and body. I’m always aware of that, and I try to do things that will help alleviate the stress running through me every day. There are many ways to cope, but that’s a blog for another day. As scary as it was, maybe I should be grateful that I looked in the mirror that day. Maybe that was the valve that let just a little bit of the stress escape. Perhaps if that hadn’t happened, my pain, stress, etc... would have manifested some other way. But I’ll stop there–I just remembered–Pete didn’t like hypotheticals.
Have you ever had a “mirror moment?”