What it feels like…to have a breakdown

When I wrote last month about what it feels like to be ‘friend dumped’, I was surprised by how it resonated with people. I found it so helpful to work through emotions relating to that issue and free myself from them. So I thought I would look at other ‘difficult’ issues that have affected me emotionally. Hopefully it can help us all.

I don’t use the term breakdown lightly. In fact there is still some doubt in my mind as to what I actually went through, (breakdown was used by my counsellor), but I know that it was big. I suppose I use a variety of terms to do with my mental health rather interchangeably; emotional instability, unhappiness, depression; for me they are all aspects of the same thing.

Mental breakdowns are not really on the medical radar, in reality they are the crisis of a mental health problem, rather than a diagnosis in their own right. But they are in our vocabulary, so we need to understand them better. I am sure that there are others who have had different experiences of a breakdown, this is just mine.

I have never received a formal diagnosis for my mental health problems. I went to the doctor once, was given a quick depression screening (I have serious issues with those scales!) and sent off with the feeling that I had been wasting the doctor’s time, and hadn’t been listened to. Never mind that for me, even to consider, asking for help was the biggest red flag that something was wrong.

I could never face going back, for that humiliation again. But also because I didn’t want anything to be wrong with me. I just wished and hoped that I was ok. But I really wasn’t. And it all came to a head, about 15 months after that visit to the doctor. That intense episode, where life went up a creek without a paddle. There were three key things that characterised my breakdown.

Inside world
I think the hardest thing for me to accept, is that to everyone on the outside, I looked like I was doing just fine, I was normal, but on the inside I was being destroyed by my harshest critic (myself) and a massive helping of negativity. The result was that on one hand, all my energy was expended, doing what I felt was expected of me. But that was it, the bare minimum.

And on the other I was bled dry by this, exhausted so that the second my husband walked in through the door after work in the evening I would walk away and upstairs to bed. And at the weekends, I would leave him with our girls. The crux point came when he was about to go away for a week on business and I remember him, torn in two, worrying that I couldn’t ‘step up’ anymore.

I felt locked in, imprisoned in my own world. I know that all along I was kind of looking for someone to rescue me, but I couldn’t even ask for help! Now I know that you have to rescue yourself, but you have to break down that barrier between the inside and outside worlds, build yourself a community of people who understand you and let them in.

I was numb, I was blank. I wanted to talk, to let it out, but it was like there was a solid barrier, a weight, in my chest that stopped my words passing through. I would toy with words in my brain, to see if they said what I wanted, and then I would see if I could get them to pass that barrier and out into the world. I wasn’t very successful mostly and it just resulted in arguments.

I barely cried, and if I did it was an outburst and then gone. I just stared into space. I didn’t read. In the day I would mindlessly watch television, to distract me from my thoughts. I didn’t feel very much, and this in the end was something that I spent a long time discussing with my counsellor after I began seeing her. I couldn’t equate sensations in my body to emotions in my head.

Now for me, mindfulness and meditation have become a part of my life. I try to give myself times during the day where I am present in the moment and in my body, I try to link my body and my brain. I have embraced my creative life, so that I can express myself better. I have increased my awareness of the world outside me, and am less absorbed in the negativity that is my ‘default’.

There was also another reason that we argued. In my head I thought my husband and my family would be better off without me, that I was dragging them down. I felt hopeless and I couldn’t see a way out whole. I used to prod and poke at this idea that I became obtuse and difficult with my husband, in some senses trying to provoke a negative reaction.

I often thought about leaving the family home and going to live somewhere else. And when it was really bad I feared for my life, if that isn’t broken then I don’t know what is. I realised that I had to drag myself back from the abyss, or my life would no longer belong to me. I would become lost either in a fog of medication (I’m not against medication, it just wasn’t for me), sectioned, or dead.

In the end I decided I didn’t want any of these options and the only way out was to rise from the ashes of my self-destruction. With the help of my husband (because I wasn’t strong enough) I sought the help of a counsellor. My only realistic escape was to find a way of dealing with the demons; that inner critic and that negativity, to learn how to face them once and for all.

If any of this sounds familiar to you I urge you not to do this alone. This place feels so dark, but I promise there is a way out, however bad it seems. Ask for help. Allow yourself kindness and time; to think, feel and just be. Writing this has emphasised again to me how far I have come, that it was just something that happened to me and now it is in my past. You can be whole again.


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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Mummy Tries says:

    Well done for sharing this Alice, I’ve no doubt that it will help lots of people.

    My experiences were different, because they occurred before my kids came along. There are definitely some similarities though. Holding it together, not always for me granted, and heavily relying on drugs and booze as a crutch, but I did hold on to well paid demanding jobs throughout everything.

    My doctors visits always resulted in anti-depressants, but I know a few people who have basically been through what you’ve described here.

    I think ultimately, after having a breakdown, we have two options. We can address the issues that caused it and start piecing ourselves back together, or wait for the next one…. Because there will always be a next one of we don’t xx

    1. Yes, my breakdown was partly related to having children, (although also other family issues going on at the time) so there will inevitably be differences. I too carried on my very demanding job, I have no idea how really, only that I have always put others before me and I didn’t want to let people down in my skewed perspective. That is the biggest lesson – that we can’t look after others if we can’t look after ourselves. I absolutely agree that if the underlying issues are never tackled then another breakdown will be heading our way. I just hope that by talking about it, it can help, even if it’s only one person. Xxx

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