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“Sometimes our lives have to be completely shaken up, changed and rearranged to relocate us to the place we are meant to be.” Life on Purpose – Mandy Hale
When I had a nervous breakdown, I was in a bad way. The world I thought I knew had fallen apart. I was supposed to be something else, someone else. Life had passed me by and gradually the world seemed strange and unfamiliar. I had spent my whole life gearing towards an acting career but it never happened. Instead, at 40, I found myself doing nothing of what I wanted to do. I was eeking out an existence in menial jobs, I was economically struggling, and had achieved so much less than I had dreamed of for myself. In my eyes, I was a complete failure. I had to seek new definition outside of the world I had tried to create for myself and I was terrified. However, while in the throws of despair and on the verge of suicide, little did I know, I was undergoing a complete metamorphosis.
Retreat as in abstain
I see breakdown as a warning of failing biochemistry. Retreating or abstaining from biochemical compromise is paramount. Without basic and healthy bodily functioning, everything else falls by the wayside. It’s weird. Many people focus on illicit drugs and alcohol as conduits for poor brain chemistry. However, my addictions were cloaked in social acceptance.
At one point, I was consuming up to eight coffees a day. Caffeine is responsible for depleting dopamine, one of many brain chemicals that stabilize mood. Even on antidepressants, I had no motivation, either physically or attitudinally – a sign of lower dopamine levels.
I had been on a wealth of medications throughout my life, experiencing a host of ghastly side effects or no response at all. I honestly believed I was medication resistant. A breakdown forced me to investigate better medication but abstain from relying on it solely. Serotonin based medications (SSRIs) had made me angry, excessively happy, extremely hyperactive, and caused hunger cravings that saw me reach a size sixteen. Serotonin noradrenaline Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs), which target both noradrenaline and serotonin, had virtually no side effects for me. As I began to feel better, I prepared to do the work on other aspects of a healthy lifestyle – abstain from physical idleness, decrease caffeine consumption, decrease junk food, and face my emotional legacies.
Retreat or back away from socially toxic transactions
Negative social interactions seemed to haunt me. I had numerous poor social experiences growing up — in school, workplaces, in public, where I lived, and sometimes with judgmental or opinionated mental health professionals. As a budding performance artist, there are even famous people with whom I have had toxic interactions. For whatever reason — unsupportive parents, loneliness, isolation, guilt about my own mental illness — I allowed these people into my life. During my breakdown I kept ruminating about why I had done this, feeling utmost guilt and shame. Eventually I saw it as an instinctive warning to protect myself. Regret hasn’t gone entirely. The feeling of enmity does sometimes feel universal, especially as some people I know have achieved fame. However, a permanent lesson has been etched in my mind, to not engage with people on this level again. This is the legacy of giving too much of yourself away.
Create a retreat or sanctuary for the mind
Even with biochemistry and interpersonal transactions in focus, I had to create a sanctuary for my mind. For me, the overarching catalyst for anxiety is feeling unsuccessful. In 2004, Alain de Buton, British-Swiss philosopher, penned the book Status Anxiety. In western society, people’s happiness has become measured by other people’s success and respective status. Such external instability has created an incremental rise in body dysmorphia, cosmetic surgery, excessive consumerism, depression, superficial social interactions, and the breakdown of social cohesion. The best advice de Buton gives is to stop making comparisons, practice both economic restraint and small indulgences, and exercise gratefulness. I have begun to practice these things constantly.
Todd Patkin, author and writer of the online article, “15 Things I Learned From My Nervous Breakdown, and They Can Help you Live your Best Life,” comments that his breakdown made him re-evaluate the ethics of television. For Patkin, excessive television viewing creates a distortion of humanity through celebrity and advertising, making us more cynical, depressed, narcissistic and socially isolated. I limit how much television I watch or anything that produces an extremely negative mindset.
In my breakdown, I have found a grain of wisdom or truth that also makes me stronger. I have discarded more and more of the things that are no good for me. I refuse to feel shame anymore. This is wisdom in motion. It is not easy. It takes courage to become the person life has in store for you. Am I an actor? No. I’m a writer, mental health educator, and sole proprietor.
A breakdown is the ashes of your former life weighing on your wings. With each flap of the wing, you dust yourself off, get up again, you rise better than ever.
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