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Bouncing Back from a Breakdown: An Honest Approach

Is bouncing back from a breakdown completely even possible? I think so-though your shell will be tougher.

By: Dr.Eeks

Bouncing back from a breakdown isn’t easy. In addition to restoring your mental and physical health, you will need to potentially restore your reputation, relationships, job or school status and perhaps most importantly, a healthy view of yourself. Stigma against those who suffer breakdowns will complicate and interfere with this restorative process. People may judge you (even people who say they love you and even when they say they’re not) and you’ll judge yourself. You’ll lose opportunities, money, friends, jobs and romances. You will relapse along the way. Bouncing back may feel more painful than the breakdown itself, but with a forgiving, mindful, resilient outlook and a sense of humor, it can be the most rewarding journey of self-discovery and self-love.Bouncing Back from a Breakdown

I experienced a breakdown while a young medical student that took me on a wild, provocative, dangerous ride. I don’t know exactly why I broke down, but I can speculate. My depression and eating disorder (bulimia) made me feel like an emotionless, heavy blob with lead pipes for limbs. The antidepressant I was prescribed didn’t help- instead it made my emotions feel like shoes stuck in gum…I felt like I lost my ability to express myself. My brain stopped processing information so I went from a top student to someone who could barely pass. In addition to the stress of med school, I had a frightening experience with a roommate. I felt unsafe in the apartment and couldn’t sleep, even after barricading my bedroom door each night. Sometimes I would sleep in the library after hours of studying just so I wouldn’t have to go home. This led to chronic insomnia, which fueled my depression which fueled my bulimia. I also didn’t like medical school as much as I thought I would and started questioning my career choice, at a time when I felt trapped by impossible school loans and the expectations of others. After a terrifying car accident in which my jeep flipped sideways on my way to a morning lecture, something inside me snapped. I impulsively quit school (even though the Dean tried to stop me and told me no one who isn’t failing quits school), got a large tattoo on my back, flew to California and met a man on the beach. (If that sequence doesn’t make sense to you or feels dangerous to you…,that’s a good thing!) And as twisted as fate can appear at times, that man taught me more about how I needed to heal myself from bulimia than any therapist, while also being a dangerous con-artist with a long list of violent and sexual crimes…who I eventually had to escape. You can read about my experience in my  book Manic Kingdom, though I must warn you: It is not a feel-good read. It probably won’t make sense to you. It is not comfortable, and it is not about finding answers to your problems. In fact, it’s mostly about letting go of the need for answers and accepting uncertainty. (And many do not like that.)

That is the “abstract” of my breakdown, for I spared you all the colorful, sordid, weird details. Bouncing back from my breakdown is an ongoing, tough learning process. It’s hard…and I often stumbled and felt like giving up. No one gave me an instructions manual or prepared me for the work I’d need to do or the feelings I’d have to face. Consider the points below my high-level experience. I cannot give you an instructions manual either (because everyone has unique struggles, capabilities and support systems…and there is an element of unpredictability innate to the come-back process) but maybe someone can benefit from my honest observations below:

Damage control dominated my initial phase of bouncing back. I had to pay overdue bills, find a place to live after being evicted from my apartment, call worried family members and friends, find a lawyer, visit a doctor for scary health checks, etc. I was lucky to find a few kind souls to help me control the damage.

Fear wasn’t my enemy. Fear helped me escape a dangerous man in my life and jumpstart my journey towards recovery. Without fear, I wouldn’t be here today. Being fearful of ending up in a similar situation to my California one continues to motivate me to stay on the path to health and restoration. Some people will tell you fear is only a bad thing. That’s fine- it’s their opinion. But I’m not one of them.

I stayed on track by learning to ignore the rumor mill and avoid uncomfortable questions-as much as I could. Most people don’t deserve to know everything about me, or you for that matter. Whatever their motivation, I’ve learned that most people don’t ask because they think it will help you. After my breakdown, rumors flew and folks pried into my business. It’s human nature (we all can be a bit nosy)-so be prepared for it. The only thing I could control was my reaction. I was often polite-sometimes smiled with a mouth tense like a hairband- and offered silence. I understood that I didn’t have to talk about it to satisfy the curiosity of others and that my focus needed to be my recovery. That said, there will be times when the questions, the speculations, the tiptoeing around you and the rumors will bring you down and derail you. It’s okay, it’s life–but you will have to fight to not stay there.

You will be judged. Perhaps there will be gaps in your resume, your education, a colorful dramatic event, a run-in with the law, or a sketchy romantic partner in your past. These things can and will hurt you, especially if you are “trying to get back on a horse” and get a job, go back to school, date someone, etc. Don’t underestimate the importance getting a job or going to school can be for your recovery process- they can provide both financial stability (which is huge), a routine, independence and a purpose. My advice here is, again, no one has to know everything about you. Talk about what you feel comfortable talking about. If you are struggling to find a job or get accepted into a school, don’t be afraid to “embellish” your resume. (Don’t lie, of course–but really highlight the good stuff you’ve done, and maybe come up with a creative way to explain any gaps.)

Get a dog. A dog will be your source of unerring companionship and devotion. A dog will keep you on a routine. A dog will love you unconditionally and a dog will teach you to embrace the little things in life. (And I trust you will do the same for the dog in return.) Looking back (and forward), I recognize that there are painful moments in life that don’t allow words or human energy to work-moments that only the reassuring, warm presence of a dog by your side can confidently guide you through.

It didn’t happen over night, but I forgave myself. After my breakdown, I was so overwhelmed with shame and guilt…just thinking about some of the things I did made me want to claw off my skin or wear a bag over my head. Gradually, through running, meditation, yoga, mindfulness and surrounding myself with empathic souls, I learned to forgive myself and others. Understanding the importance of self-forgiveness after my breakdown turned me off to “cancel culture.” Some call it accountability culture. Whatever you call it, cancel or accountability culture is toxic to everyone involved without forgiveness being a big part of it. Without forgiveness, it’s just another fire-and-brimstone religion.

Shame creeps: It’s not as if you’ll never feel shame again…but with time, it’s creeping effect won’t have such a strong hold. Understand that there will be moments, perhaps when you are pensive, hormonal, upset, vulnerable or suffering from lack of sleep, when you will reflect on parts of your breakdown that cause shame to creep in and around you-wrap you in a blanket of thorns and weights-and hold you still. Those close to you won’t understand. You might worry when it seems longer than usual. It’s okay. Sometimes the blanket lifts itself, sometimes you remove it and sometimes someone else comes along and does it for you. But the blanket will lift.

Self-care has morphed into a trendy, wellness buzzword, but I had to prioritize it-even to this day. Before my breakdown, I never understood how much sleep impacted my mood and ability to think straight. In the Army, “sleep was a crutch!” In school, staying up to study late was a badge of honor. Staying up late to party meant you were cool. Now I realize that sleep is essential- it is necessary for optimal physical and mental health. Research shows us this-there are studies showing that if a person only treats sleep issues, a person’s depressive, PTS and anxiety symptoms significantly dissipate. Now I try to sleep well each night, otherwise my mood will darken and my brain won’t process well. When I don’t sleep well (it happens) I’ve learned to not make any big decisions. Sleep is so vital to wellness, I’d almost call it another word for sanity: Without sleep, there is no sanity. I also exercise daily, get into nature as much as possible and eat healthily. Yes, this sounds like oft-repeated common sense…, but you’d be surprised by how many people don’t do those things.

As cliché as it sounds, I needed to learn how to love myself. I don’t believe there is one true path to self-love. Some are born with it. Some find it spontaneously and others find it gradually. Some find it with the help of a friend or therapist and some find it on their own. Before my breakdown, I was like a robot programmed to seek approval. I don’t think I ever thought I was loveable as is.  So I spent a lot of time alone in a meditative state getting to know myself. And killing all my performative false selves. Once I genuinely knew myself, I was able to genuinely love myself.

Eventually, I learned to laugh at myself. No matter the timing, humor heals. Now I’m able to look back at the “crazy” things I did during my breakdown and laugh. Heck, some of the more bizarre things I did make for great stories. I’ve come to realize that it’s OK to acknowledge the dramatic and humorous components of breakdowns, not just the sad, scary and traumatizing ones. We just can’t let the breakdowns define us, or let others define us by them.

Over time, I knew to expect and accept setbacks, even big ones. I don’t like the word “recovered,” because it feels dishonest. I still have bad days and I still struggle, and that will always be the case unless I get a new mind. But I love my mind and the trend is upward, so instead of telling people I’m “recovered,” I prefer to say, “I’m trending upward.”

Finally, I learned how to get comfortable with ambiguity and the unknown. Someone asked me to write a self-help book about recovery, and I declined. I’m no expert, and the truth is I don’t exactly know why I broke down, bounced back or found sanity again. I can’t pinpoint specific reasons. It could be something genetic, circumstantial, spontaneous, gradual, dietary, chemical or even pure luck. It could be something that a traditional therapist calls dangerous or unlikely. It could be one thing or a hundred things. I could experience another epic breakdown one day for no apparent reason at all, or it could be smooth-ish sailing from here on out. Letting go of needing certainty and reasons helped me become a more peaceful and adaptive human. While self-help books are honest gestures, as is me writing this post, they can’t fully address each person’s unique individual experience. There is something very powerful and freeing about being able to confidently say, “I don’t know.”

 

Hey, thanks for taking the time to read Bouncing Back from a Breakdown.  Maybe someone out there found it helpful. I hope.

Eeks

 

To read my book Manic Kingdom, a True Story of Breakdown and BreakThrough, click here.

 

Feel free to check out some of my other musings from the blog:

My Long First Date with Death

One Response to “Bouncing Back from a Breakdown: An Honest Approach”

  1. Now I DO want to read your book, and hope you are safe and in P.A. These things do tend to heal themselves, and again, for myself, the soul produces healing contents, though, as Jung teaches, the unconscious contents can flood the conscious mind, and must be integrated, which means as you say, a coming to know. It can become a sort of dreaming while awake, which can occur in a right and a few different wrong ways.. I left school one semester, and almost did not make it back, I suppose because I had loved and lost, and tried to love again, and was ascending into high studies at the same time. Lovers are like two halves, then, for the one who does love, it is as though the missing half must grow from within, and it can be unbearably painful till then. The social isolation called \”stigma\” does not help, but is not our fault. Most souls never do come alive, and again, for myself, the mysteries are in the scripture (like John 3 with Romans 6). Penance seems crucial too, sacrifice and humility, reverence and such. Those things are true and most important, and the world cannot distinguish between these and madness. There is knowledge in the soul, asleep in most, a quest in those awakening. The contents un-integrated are the manifestations called madness. It IS dangerous: my Aunt Virge, grandmas sister, had a \”breakdown,\” when her husband left her, and spun out her time in an institution drugged. The drugs can make it permanent, as it seems, preventing a natural integration that does occur with time. But I should not speak here at all, since I was not asked what an iatros is or what the -iatry in psychiatry means. You know why I have spoke! And wish you well-mm

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