While “modern” psychology seems to deny or ignore the concept of the “nervous breakdown” it still exists in common parlance because it is a simple way to describe a sincerely difficult issue.
The main issue is that the words “nervous breakdown” do not actually tell you what the true diagnosis is. It can be anything from a specific and genetic chemical imbalance that leads to psychosis, or it can be an acute attack of some trauma based illness.
What it describes, particularly to the layperson, is a situation. In essence, the person’s life has become so overwhelming, so stressful, so painful that the person literally cannot function in concert with the rest of the world. It can range from the stereotype of the depressive (i.e. can’t make themselves even get out of bed) to a total disconnect from the real world, in an effort to escape the overwhelming stimulus.
In my particular case, I have had a total of four of these in my lifetime. And only in relation to the most recent one (the one I’m still fighting), have I ever given myself the grace to take things one day at a time, and try to become healthy again.
My very first nervous breakdown is actually quite normal for some college students. I attempted to take too much of a credit load, striving for a double major in two creative fields, that I simply overloaded my ability to succeed in any of my classes. But, somewhat because I was first in college in the late 80s/early 90s, there was very little counseling support from my supposed “college adviser.” So, I ended up not going to classes, and eventually was forced to drop out. I immediately got a job, so I pushed all of the emotional and mental issue down deep inside, to focus on the reality of having to make a living.
Things went along fairly normally. I met and married my ex-husband, and we developed our life together. Then came my next breakdown, this time triggered by the death of my best friend, and the death of my youngest brother, at a time when my ex-husband was ALSO mourning the death of his father (yes, his father abused him in many horrid ways, but there is still an impact on someone when their father dies – in this case, it meant I had even less emotional support than my ex-husband was ever able to give me). This destroyed my life for quite a long time. I tried, though, to put it behind me like I did with the first one. Repressing all of that was not my best choice of self-care.
Then came the one around the same time as my ex-husband’s last attempt at suicide. Since all of the symptoms seemed to point at my work being the issue, that’s what I focused my attention on. Obviously, it was the job that was the problem. Now that I have 20/20 hindsight, the reality becomes crystal clear for me. The anxiety, the high blood pressure, the stress – it all came down to having just as much stress in my day job as I had at home. One set of stresses was hard enough, having non-stop stress day and night was too much.
Now, I’m in my last one, which started approximately around the same time that our first wife left us. And while I had not yet hit rock bottom, I can see that they were poking up through the fog even then. It took another six months for me to crash down on those rocks.
I’m still pulling the pieces together from that crash. I don’t have the ability to think as clearly as I used to. Self-care sometimes just doesn’t happen. Sometimes sleep is the only thing I can do.
But the one thing I’ve promised myself, and that my sister supports me in dealing with, is that I am going to take the time it requires to FULLY recover this time. No repression, no stuffing things deep inside so I can take care of other people, no giving everyone else all of my energy and time and life. And, because I’ve put it off so long, and repressed so much, I can’t see that changing any time soon. I’m STILL finding new places where I’m broken. I’m STILL finding pus-filled wounds in my soul and heart.
And for once in my life, I’m going to take the time I deserve to heal.