For more days than I care to remember over the last 22 months, I’ve felt that a “nervous breakdown” was imminent. Since most people envision a nervous breakdown differently, I’m going to elaborate further so you understand what I mean. Sometimes “nervous breakdown” is used to describe a stressful situation in which someone becomes temporarily unable to function normally in day-to-day life; when life’s demands become physically and emotionally overwhelming. Symptoms may include calling in sick to work for many days in a row, avoiding social engagements, missing appointments, having trouble following healthy patterns of eating, sleeping and hygiene. If that’s the definition I was to use, I’ve had many in my life, and a continuous “nervous breakdown” for almost two years now. That can’t be right…it has to be worse than that.
The expression is tricky because it isn’t a medical one, nor does it indicate a specific mental illness (although often people associate it with depression and anxiety). I suppose I’ve always envisioned hospitalization when I think of a nervous breakdown. Upon reflecting on that thought though, I question what type of actions would lead up to needing a treatment facility…threatening or actually hurting others or myself? That hasn’t been a struggle of mine so in that case, does it mean I really haven’t been on the brink of a “nervous breakdown”? Has it been that on my worst days I’ve just felt I was at a breaking point? And that I was depleted and didn’t have any more resources to give the pain and the pressure of life? I typically feel the same set of emotions right before my inner dialogue says, “it feels like I’m about to have a nervous breakdown”. Those emotions are being sad, feeling judged, being lonely, feeling guilty, and feeling unhappy.
So upon reflection, what do those emotions have in common? They all really focus on the negative; on what’s going wrong in my life. I’ll provide an example of how I’ve shifted in and out of the “nervous breakdown” mindset from time to time. When I first met my pain psychologist I felt out of control of my pain, my job, my relationships…my entire existence. She helped me to get a grip and take control over the things that I could. Having her support, and feeling understood gave me the power to not stay trapped by the emotions for too long. There have been periods where I’ve felt a lot less sad, judged, lonely, guilty and unhappy since then, but what I’ve learned is that it’s not completely behind me. Recently, I decided to take a day trip by myself to a large local city nearby. My plan was to wander around and just enjoy the beautiful day, but things turned ugly once I pushed myself beyond my limits. I went too long without taking medication & eating; I also walked longer than I ever should have and before I knew it I was spiraling out, telling myself I might have a nervous breakdown. I was feeling sad over the fact I wasn’t able to painlessly accomplish the goals I had set for myself (pity party for 1). I felt so alone because I physically was, but also because I didn’t think anyone would understand how serious this was to me if I called a friend and explained what was happening. I felt guilty that I had done this to myself, guilty and angry; I kept telling myself “you should know better than this!”. I felt judged by others as I stood with tears streaming down my face in line for the train and I anticipated judgment from anyone I would tell about how my day started off nice but took a dark turn. Finally, I was unhappy, unhappy that my “nice little day out” turned into a mess.
God…could I be any more self-involved? I mean, that’s what I’m thinking as I write this now, reflecting on the situation, but when the pain and emotions were high, I wasn’t able to pull myself out of it. As unpleasant as it was to learn, that trip was a lesson on how I need to treat (and not treat) myself moving forward. I pushed myself way beyond my limits and I was foolish about my ambitions. Rationally planning my day would have been the smart decision, and will be the tactic I employ moving forward. So how did I get unstuck from the weight of the emotions after the day had ended? Well I moped around for a few days following the day trip feeling pretty terrible until talking with someone that reminded me I was focusing all of my energy on the wrong emotions. Without being insulting the individual told me I hadn’t mentioned one thing that went right about the trip, or that was positive. And it’s true; the negative outweighed the positive in my mind as the priority to labor upon. Why was I doing that? I know that there are so many people in worse condition than I am, and I know that I am lucky to have been even able to wander around for the little time I had in general. Why must I compare myself to the completely healthy and fit? It seems to only make me aware of what I can’t do. Instead, to pull myself out of the “nervous breakdown” moments I need to pause and count my blessings. I need to list in my head the things I am grateful for, or write them down on a piece of paper and lastly, not forget to take some deep breathes.
Stage 2 (if I really want to get myself out of the funk) requires that I get up and do something for someone else. It’s so easy for me to stay wrapped up in my emotions and inner dialogue, especially when I’m home by myself all day and have limited interaction with others. I get trapped in my head and if I tell myself my situation is bad enough or is never going to get better, then I’m doomed. I’m not giving myself much of a chance at all to get better with negative thoughts acting like poison. In addition to the pain, I also experience terrible stomachaches & nausea, migraines that completely take me down, severe heartburn and awful sleep patterns. All of those symptoms make me feel sick, and lately I’ve been thinking that I’m sick because of the pain. What I’ve come to realize is that I’m sick because of how upset I’ve been getting myself, and that it’s within my power to tame some of the bad side effects I’ve been having. It is in my control to feel better, maybe not pain free, but certainly better and I owe it to myself and the people I love to try. So over the next few weeks I’ll be counting my blessings, trying to nip any pain spirals in the bud, and reaching out to help others in order to get my mind off of my situation and prevent whatever “nervous breakdown” I fear could happen next.
Sending you healing vibes,