I’ve written this post about twenty times in my head. I think I knew it needed to be the one I wrote next, maybe because it kind of anchors everything else I’m writing about, and also because getting it out of my head and onto ‘paper’ might help it become clearer for me.
On the first May Bank Holiday weekend last year (2018) I had a mental breakdown. There’s no other way to put it, and it was exactly as it sounds. My brain broke, and didn’t feel like it started to even slightly fix itself until 6 months later.
Bit of background… In 2007 I had a breakdown, the only thing that has ever come close to this. That one resulted in loss of identity, the breakdown of a relationship, dropping out of university, and losing the job I got subsequently. Looking back, it took me about two years to recover ‘fully’ from that, and I (possibly naïvely) thought I had a reasonably good handle on my mental health. From there I started a job in 2010, got promoted in my time there, met my now-husband, went on the mortgage with him, started training as a counsellor, pulled off a really nice wedding day, and adopted a fluffy cat. I also got into running. I had occasionally flare-ups of anxiety and other symptoms and thoughts that I knew weren’t rational, but I learned to manage them and eventually they would go away.
Now, at the time, what happened last May seemed to come out of nowhere. I was newly-married, had a lovely family around me, had good friends, was successful and well-respected at my job, I was excelling in my counselling training. I’d even just landed my first placement as a trainee counsellor. All good, yes? Hmmmm. So, I’m just going to list a few things that weren’t quite so rosy, looking back.
- I was pushing myself to run two spring half-marathons, training through physical illnesses, and I ran the Sheffield Half with a chest infection.
- I was pushing myself to get top grades in all my counselling assignments.
- I was ruminating a lot on our wedding and if everyone had enjoyed it. Beating myself up because I had drunk a LOT of wine.
- I loved my job, but I was taking a lot of emotions home with me from the young people I worked with, no matter how hard I tried not to.
- I was trying to be a perfect wife, have a perfect home and be a good cat-mum to Stella.
- Some issues with a friendship, that I had long found difficult, were coming to a head.
- I had stopped taking the Pill, and had come off my antidepressants – both of which because I was thinking we SHOULD start a family soon.
- I was getting physical illness after physical illness.
- I was trying to convince myself that I was fine, despite all of the above.
*DISCLAIMER: NONE OF THIS WAS ANYONE’S FAULT. EVEN MINE. THINGS HAPPENED, AND I RESPONDED IN A CERTAIN WAY, AND MY BRAIN PROCESSED IT ALL IN A WAY THAT RESULTED IN A BREAKDOWN. ONCE AGAIN: NO ONE’S FAULT. NOT EVEN MINE. ESPECIALLY NOT MINE.*
The straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back came that first Bank Holiday weekend. I had kept working all week through a nasty illness, when I finally gave in and went home on the Thursday, visiting the doctor on the Friday. I was told I had sinusitis and oral thrush (one of the most revolting things I’ve ever experienced) and given antibiotics. By the Saturday, I was feeling my brain start to ‘wobble’ – a lot off irrational thoughts about time going too fast were creeping in, by the Sunday I was getting upset worrying that something would happen to my Grandma or my cat. And by the Monday, there is no other way of saying it, I was borderline suicidal.
It was like all the light had gone out in my mind. Nothing was okay. I wasn’t safe inside my own head. I became terrified of trying to fall asleep because of how vulnerable I felt when I closed my eyes and was left with my own shapeless, black thoughts. I stopped sleeping. I stopped eating. I cried buckets and didn’t even know why. No one knew why. Even though I had dealt with mental illness before, this was so much worse than anything I’d ever experienced, and it left me terrified, robbed me of any confidence I’d built from being ill in my twenties, and led to long months of misery, with very little respite.
I still find it hard to talk about or write about, but it happened, and for a long time I was in denial that it had. I had always prided myself on knowing quite a bit about my own mental health, and it was like it had snuck up behind me when I was least expecting it and gone ‘A-HA!’ I clearly had been kidding myself all those years. I had worked with young people, teaching them how to look after their own internal environment, and suddenly I felt like a massive fraud. I had to take sick leave from my job immediately and other not-very-nice things happened that I’m sure I will eventually write about on this blog.
I was speaking to a friend last night in light of Mental Health Awareness Week, about how physical and mental health are so closely linked, and how holistic any treatment or conversation needs to be. There were so many contributing factors to what happened to me last year, but I am sure that a lot of it was physical- I was run down, changing medication, and was given an antibiotic that has had ACTUAL PROFESSIONAL PAPERS written on how it can cause depression, anxiety and even suicidal ideation. I don’t believe that any one thing was responsible for my breakdown, but I do wonder if I hadn’t been prescribed that antibiotic at a time when I was vulnerable, maybe things would have been different and maybe I could have pulled myself back from the edge. Maybe. But then, maybe last year needed to happen in order for me to get my BPD diagnosis, access the support I now have, and start to figure out even more about my own mental and physical health. So, y’know, my health. It’s all just health.
One thing I did learn from my breakdown is that this kind of thing can happen to anyone, literally anyone. I knew more than most people about mental health and psychology – having learned a lot from being ill previously, and also from my counselling training. I knew about self-care, and knew all the typical signs that my own health was failing. But it still got me, really badly, and really suddenly.
I was not, and am not, weak just because this happened to me.
I broke down. And now I am slowly putting my new self together.