That Time I had a Nervous Breakdown – Talking about Mental Illness, Part 4

I’ve been writing about my experience with anxiety and depression on this blog for the last several weeks. In general, things are better. I sleep better. Medication and therapy are doing their jobs. I’m feeling like myself.

I’m at a point where I look back at the last thirteen weeks and think “Whoa. I went through some shit, didn’t I?”  Well, yes. Yes I did. Up until recently, though, I hadn’t really given a name to what I had gone through in those early weeks. I would speak about it and say, “During this current episode…” or “In this anxiety and depression spiral…” I think I found pretty ways to tidy up my experience because subconsciously I wanted to make sure others would respond with compassion and understanding and not with Oh god! What is WRONG with her?! By the way, no one has been so douchey as to look at me like I’m some poor bedraggled head case (but try telling that to my wonky brain.)

I was a little surprised that I didn’t automatically flinch and go on the defensive when last week at breakfast, my mom started a sentence with “When you had your nervous breakdown…”

Nervous breakdown?  Nervous breakdown. Yep. That sounds about right. That night, I ran the conversation by my sister (as I always do when my mom and I have been together):

Me: Mom said I had a nervous breakdown.
Sis: Well… you kinda did. The term is stupid, but I think you had a bit of a crisis.
Me: It was pretty bad looking in from the outside, wasn’t it? Because it was pretty fucking shitty from the inside.
Sis: It was bad. [insert appropriate David Tennant super sad face in the rain gif]

The term “nervous breakdown” has zero clinical meaning. It’s not a diagnosis. It’s a colloquialism. Though I’ve used that term in the past, it wasn’t until this experience did I finally understand what it meant.

If my brain and my psychological state were an electrical system (because they kind of are), I guess you could say I blew a fuse. I became so overwhelmed by anxiety and stress and my emotions that I just shut down. I spent two weeks in such an extremely heightened state of anxiety that at some point my brain just tripped its breaker and said, “That’s it. I’m done.” Then came the depression.

I had been depressed before, but nothing like this. This was very different. This was the kind of feeling that the only safe place for me was under my blankets in bed. I felt exposed and raw any time I was out of that nest. I forced myself to pick up my children from school every day, but as soon as we came home, and I handed them snacks and the TV remote, I was back under the covers.

I began to fear being alone. I didn’t want to be alone with my thoughts. My husband was able to work from home for several days a week. The days he had to go into the office were days that I had appointments with my therapist or my NP. I didn’t have to be alone for long periods of time.

I stopped eating. I stopped caring about how I looked. I stopped doing things I enjoyed. I was so, so tired. I crawled into bed each night just as soon as the we put the kids to bed. Sleeping was safe. When I was asleep, my mind was turned off.

I seriously considered finding an inpatient treatment program to check myself into and my beautiful husband said that if that’s what I needed then we would find a way to make it work. (I didn’t tell him that I had been looking at this super swanky facility in San Diego that probably cost half a year’s salary, but he would have been supportive if I said I had to go there.)

Sleeping too much. Not wanting to do anything. Feeling down and disconnected. I’d been to these places before. I knew what they were like and that I could get out of them. What I didn’t know was this time I felt a despair that was like nothing I had ever felt before in my life. It was so profound. I have never had before and did not have any suicidal ideation during this crisis, but in those brief moments of the most intense and absolutely unrelenting feelings of complete hopelessness, I understood.  I got why suicide feels like the only possible answer to make the pain stop. I felt it in the deepest parts of me. I don’t have the right words in English to really describe it, but it is incredibly powerful. It terrified me.  Somehow I would pull myself back from falling into that abyss but sometimes I would wonder if I would be able to the next time I felt that despair.

I’m thirteen weeks out since my breakdown (mental health crisis? Burnout syndrome? Crackup? I kind of like crackup. LOL!)  I’m moving forward. I’m coming back to myself.  Sharing this story is mostly for me. I don’t want to forget about this because I don’t want someone else to ever wonder if they’re the only ones who’ve been through this pain. I don’t ever want my children to wonder if they’re completely alone in having mental illness should they go through what I’ve been through. I also want to share that mental illness doesn’t make one unfit or broken or weak.  I’m still kind and funny and intelligent and sarcastic and creative and capable.

And I’m strong. So strong.