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Putting the pieces together

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Inspiration for Overthinkers

September 25 · Issue #60 · View online

Tackling stress and anxiety, one experiment at a time.


“A nervous breakdown (also called a mental breakdown) is a term that describes a period of extreme mental or emotional stress so great that the person is unable to perform normal day-to-day activities.” - Dan Brennan, MD, Signs of a Nervous Breakdown, WebMD

After my last newsletter, I heard from so many of you about your own experiences with what society tends to call “breakdowns.” While I am just at the beginning of my exploration, I’m starting to see that what fascinates me about breakdowns is how much we struggle against this type of turning point.
I lived in a small town in Italy a lifetime ago. On Sunday evenings, after dinner, everyone in this town would leave their homes to do a “giata” (also called a passeggiata), where they would walk the main streets of the town, greeting each other and catching up on local news. One peculiarity of the town walk particularly fascinated me: A certain bench was uniformly understood to be the giata’s natural turning point. This was the moment and place where everyone would turn and head home. I loved to sit on that bench and watch people casually switch directions. The Italian word for this turning moment is buried in the recesses of my memory, but the feeling of it isn’t.
It felt like water swirling.
It felt like water swirling.
Switching directions is not something most of us do naturally, but in their evening giatas Italians accepted the direction switch with grace and beauty. I admired this.
Some of us have more chaotic relationships to turning points. Check out, for example, the results of the poll I ran in my last newsletter: Out of 284 responses, 218 of us are acquainted with the very un-giata like emotional breakdown.
These results  surprised me and were higher than I expected.
These results surprised me and were higher than I expected.
Even more powerful were some of the written responses you all shared:
  • “Keep going. This is worth looking into. My medical folks didn’t have a real or firm explanation when I had my life-altering time … Suddenly living in my high school room with my folks when I was 28.”
  • “I’m in the same situation now. 29 and living at home after the end of a relationship and job.”
  • “I am going through a very similar case of trauma right now, but more severe one.”
  • “My dad had something he called a nervous breakdown and he thinks it was one event but we still feel the fallout 20 years later. Both my parents didn’t have words for these things or defenses didn’t allow them to find words.”
  • “I had a nervous breakdown that resulted in a stay with my parents while I put the pieces back together this summer.”
  • “My 2nd cousin is in the midst of a ‘nervous breakdown.’ Many tests and they can find ‘nothing wrong’ so that is what they call it.”
  • “I typically refer to it as a breakdown, or hitting the bottom, but I love ‘The Great Reckoning” because that definitely describes my experience of punishing myself for an extended period of time and then dealing with the mental and physical fallout. For me, this involved a long decline toward rock bottom, emotional numbing and strange physical ailments along the way. After I got to my parent’s house, the numbness started to wear off.“
I really want to thank each and every one of you who took the time to respond to the survey and share your stories. Your notes have pushed me to continue my journey with this topic.
I don’t love the term breakdown, but I’m not yet sure what else to try to call it. Perhaps I should try to create of map of breakdown types, bucketed into different genres and named accordingly, e.g. The Great Reckoning vs The Anxiety Apocalypse vs The Turning Point. If you have thoughts about this, please write me back!
In the meantime, dear beautiful voyager, enjoy your Saturday. I hope you get to lounge around a bit and soak it in,
Love, Meredith
Love, Meredith
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