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Oh, this nervous breakdown?

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Inspiration for Overthinkers

August 28 · Issue #59 · View online

Tackling stress and anxiety, one experiment at a time.


“One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.” — Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness, 1930

In my late twenties, after being dumped by a long-distance boyfriend and fired from a job I hated in the same week, I stopped being able to function. This shift happened suddenly, a tremor leading quickly to an earthquake. I stopped sleeping. I didn’t know and couldn’t talk about what I was feeling. Numbed and exposed, I was no longer able to care for myself. Even buying groceries felt insurmountable. 
I fled home to Ohio, and I was lucky to be able to do so. You don’t really know vulnerability until you’re waking up in your parent’s condo as a 27-year-old, unsure of how to support yourself and fearful that you may be stuck on their couch for the rest of your life. My future felt like a big empty yawn, my present a black hole.
Over the next month, I slowly came back to myself. My mother said, “I can see the color returning to your cheeks.” I went to see a psychiatrist with my father — I remember him sitting next to me, as confused about what was happening as I was. Dad did everything he could to help, including making an appointment for me with a local Toledo, Ohio career counselor. I stumbled through my interview with this nice woman who took notes like “Likes to read” and “World Wide Web?”
The internal pain receded slowly. I’d wake up early in the morning and see my parents sitting next to each other in their side-by-side reading chairs, Dad with the paper and Mom a crossword, drinking coffee and whispering to each other. The constancy of their habits was soothing. That same psychiatrist gave me a new medication called Paxil, and it seemed to help too.
Over the next few weeks, I started to grow a new kind of shell. Bit by bit, I was able to make eye contact with people I didn’t know. I started sleeping again, short naps getting longer, then overnight. The earthquake had passed, and what remained was the cleanup. Eventually, I returned to the West Coast and started over, making the kinds of life changes required for the next phase of my life. 
For years after that, when I thought about that month, I described it (somewhat flippantly) as “some kind of nervous breakdown,” never really thinking too deeply about what that implied. Something had happened, I got through it, end of story. A part of me knew it must have a meaning, but I never stopped long enough to figure out what. I broke down, I stitched myself back up, and I carried on. End of story, right?
Lately I’ve been reconsidering my experience. I’m starting to see it differently as I witness other people—friends, family members, characters on television shows, in novels, in politics, in sports—going through something similar. What happened no longer seems like the bizarre aberration it did when I was younger. I’ve seen friends go to the ER for what turned out to be panic attacks and loved ones breaking down in physical pain as a result of their mental state. Despite how common the experience seems to be, I’ve never heard it described the same way twice. I’ve listened closely to therapists who use terms like “an anxiety event” or “a depressive and anxiety moment” or a “disordered nervous system.” Is that what it is?
I want to know your thoughts
I want to know your thoughts
This is a topic that truly fascinates me, and one that merits more thought and investigation. Why do we not have language for the moment of an emotional breaking point? I’d love to continue to explore this topic in future newsletter if I’m not the only person who is confused and intrigued by the ways emotions can overpower our bodies and minds.
Please let me know if you’re interested in that — your feedback keeps me going! Just respond to this email with a single line saying, “I want to learn more too” or whatever, and I will keep digging! Either way, dear fellow beautiful voyager, I hope you are doing well, wherever you are right now.
Love, Meredith
Love, Meredith
Reading Nook
4 Books Every Introvert and Overthinker Must Read 4 Books Every Introvert and Overthinker Must Read
Hangout and Talk
Episode 23: The Zakar Twins on the Beautiful Voyager Podcast Episode 23: The Zakar Twins on the Beautiful Voyager Podcast
Get Out of My Head: Inspiration for Overthinkers in an Anxious World Get Out of My Head: Inspiration for Overthinkers in an Anxious World
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