I would like to share with you a piece I wrote around a year ago that I only shared with one person at the time. It kinda made me want to throw up after I wrote it and you can bet your ass I had a good, hearty cry afterwards. Self compassion is a bitch, my friends. I started this blog because I felt like it was time to share this story and everything that came after it.
I have, probably naively, been banding the words ‘nervous breakdown’ around to describe what happened to me eighteen months ago. It seemed like the right phrase to use, I felt it aptly outlined what I had been through, but I felt like a bit of an imposter using it. I’d been afraid until this morning to actually look it up and find out what it meant. Plausible deniability. But it turns out I’ve been right all along. I did have a nervous breakdown. My mental health collapsed so spectacularly that I stopped functioning as a whole person. I stopped going out socially, spending every waking moment feeling compelled to work, quite possibly to prevent me from facing what was happening. I eventually stopped going to university, as the last few times I managed to drag myself in to lectures or meetings, I had tears streaming down my face, my mind was so noisy that I was often incoherent and barely able to form sentences. People would ask me if I was OK and I would desperately try to fight back the explosive feelings trying to burst out of every orifice. I knew they knew I was lying. So I eventually stopped putting myself in places where others were.
I stayed in my apartment, but to this day I have no idea what I was doing. I couldn’t work by this point, it was impossible to even think, let along try to study or write. After a day of endless panic attacks, I would awake, bolt upright, at 3am having another. Chest pounding, hyperventilating, mind screaming in distress followed by an hour of sobbing and helplessness. I would call my lover at 4am, telling him I should leave him, that it was unbearable. I stopped cleaning myself and my home. I would pace around the house clutching my chest, considering suicide. I think the only thing that I did manage to do was feed the cat twice a day. Somewhere inside me I knew that his suffering was less deserving than mine.
I woke up one morning, heart leaping out of my chest. This was it. I was actually having a heart attack this time. I lurched out of bed waiting for the pain in my left arm to join the beating organ tearing it’s way out of my torso. I fumbled around for my phone, I went to call for an ambulance. Then something shot from the back of my mind. Was this really a heart attack? Instead of dialing 911, I found the number for my counseling service on the fridge. I asked to speak to a counselor that I had been visiting with a few months before. By some act of cosmic coincidence, she was that day’s crisis counselor. She talked me down out of my panic attack, told me to put some clothes on and come straight over.
Everything else is history really. That was the day I decided to go home. I started putting wheels in motion immediately. A week and half later I arrived home in England to a room full of people who, at 5am, literally queued up to hug me.
If the piece above seems unfinished, that’s because it is. The friend I shared this with at the time pointed out that it wasn’t an end, it was a change and the change was enough. It marked the beginning of the next chapter.
Every journey through mental health recovery starts with a Big Event. For most of us, this event is terrifying and life-changing and leaves us feeling bewildered and broken. Every Big Event is a personal hell and sadly, not everyone makes it out alive. If you are fortunate, like me, the Big Event in your life has lead to an ocean of self discovery, meaning, vulnerability, magical moments and unprecedented strength. Or maybe you skipped the hippy bullshit and just got your life back. Or maybe you’re just OK, that also works.
My journey is by no means over, as I write this I am attempting to rid myself of antidepressants for the first time and I am still trying to keep the Bad Feels in check (Work-Life balance LOL). It’s an every day kind of deal for me, some days being much harder than others, but over the past few years I’ve built a hardcore set of coping strategies, backup plans, emergency ejector seats, cat cuddling techniques and some badass hobbies for blanket fort days. I also have a completely wonderful set of friends, not to mention an outrageously talented and seemingly endlessly supportive boyfriend who all love me through good times and bad. Whatever stage you’re at, I hope that you can find something useful in the posts to come; I would like to share some of the things I have learned – and will learn – along the way.