Friday, 20 May 2016

On Taking Charge of Your Own Breakdown

It is one particular Monday that you wake up - no, that's not right. It is one particular Monday that your still-sleeping brain acknowledges that it must surely be morning, approaching the time the alarm clock is set to brutally screech its demand for attention, and responds by regressing to the terrible-twos, yelping: 'no! no!' and a distinct feeling of panic shudders through your body.

Yes, my friend, you are experiencing the first symptom of da downz.

You drag the time in bed to the moment you absolutely must get up, and then a little further. You resent your job, your own lethargy, every life choice you've ever made, as they all seem to have led to this point of having to rip yourself out of the cocooning comfort of your duvet. You agonise over your morning routine - you know what makes your day start in a positive, upbeat manner - vigorous exercise, a shower, a healthy snack, and off you trot, all light-footed and gay, ready for anything the day may dish out.

In reality your eyelids are heavy and your bones feel rheumatic, you try to shake off this blanket of sluggish darkness but all you manage to do is crawl to the sink, splash some water on your face, scrape the toothbrush over your teeth and threaten your hair into some sort of order. You open the fridge door gloomily and stare into the abyss. Nope, I don't deserve any of this. There is a glimmer of energy during which you, almost robot-like, pour yoghurt and muesli into a bowl with some fresh strawberries and feel vaguely ok about it. This prompts you to further optimistic action such as not wearing yesterday's top, even though it smells alright, but to reach for a clean, smart shirt and pair it with something sparkly to go on your ears and round your neck. I am woman.

You cast your mind back to the weekend - it's been a lovely, relaxed one, with just enough activity to feel it wasn't wasted, but not too much madness to have caused undue detrimental effects. True, it's Monday. But some Monday mornings transpire so much more smoothly. What's going on?

In actuality, it's difficult to diagnose. Nor does the cause really matter. It could be a knock-on effect from a rogue interaction the previous week - yes, there were some events which brought on mild distress. Perhaps some oddball hormonal changes you're not even aware of, the body being its usual Pandora's box of unpleasant surprises. It could be physical over-exertion at your chosen sport. Change of seasons, time of month, tension with friends, worry about family, blah blah blah, on and on and on. The important point here is to recognise this is no usual Monday blues, but an emotional crisis.

Still, it takes a while longer to fully acknowledge it. Throughout the day, you feel so tired that you could, in fact, drop down and sleep where you are. On the train. At the traffic light. Right there under the desk. At work, you try to drown it all out with tasks at hand. You take comfort in exchanging a few texts with friends and family. The fog, however, remains, and you try to downplay your nihilistic exhaustion and push on.

Experience had taught you that your usual routine of after-work sports is guaranteed to make you feel better. You love it all - the art of it, your training buddies, your sense of engaging with yourself, the tangible progression as you train.

But every fibre of your being rebels and stomps its foot sulkily - no. I want to go home. I want to go to bed. I want to speak to no one.

You get home, feeling guilty and ashamed of neglecting your own ambitions, abandoning a dedication to yourself. You avoid contact with those you share the living space with. Within moments you are in bed again, snacking on what could only be described as minimum effort but vaguely healthy comfort food - no point in making yourself feel any worse by going off course completely!  - and by 8pm you're nodding off, hoping that the morning will provide succour.

Ha! No such luck... a night of disturbing neurotic dreams and restlessness awaits. You awake in the same state as the previous day, exhausted and grumpy, but with one small advantage - now you know. You understand what's happening - this is an emotional crisis. It is pointless to fight it, as that would simply make things bad, worse, unbearable. Trying to push against a breakdown will only be fighting fire with fire, when currently what force you could muster is hardly a worthy opponent anyway. A reed versus a mighty oak.

Fine, you say, it's happening, and the thing to do is to just let it. Allow it to do its thing. Observe it happening, empathise, let yourself feel it, but not spiral with panic. Take a single step, achieve one small thing. Then another. Be present. Accept the circumstances will necessitate you forgoing a few duties - things that matter, even - but at the end of the day life will still go on if you rip up your itinerary for a few days and say to yourself, the self that is demanding care - what would you like to do?

All at once, with that realisation, with that surrender, you feel better - relieved, as a relationship of trust has been re-established with yourself. I am taken care of, by me. You are no longer frantic with the effort of fixing it, forcing it better, or even pretending it isn't there, but at peace. Breathing more easily, time slows down, the fog lifts a little. You look around - no great damage has been caused. Yes, you are still sluggish and a reluctant participant in life, but you know this too shall pass and you have taken the reins by relinquishing control.



  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Mike, i know you have. And i think most people have, it's much more common than most realise... unfortunately we're still being sold the idea that "happy" should be the benchmark to measure our mental wellbeing against. It's just not realistic, and a guarantee to feel like we've failed somehow. I believe coping with it can be achieved relatively easily, if we just accept it as part of our spectrum of emotions, rather than denying it's a legitimate state of mind.

  2. Hi Yasmin,
    such a good way of describing and coping with this part of us. Accepting our own ups and downs! fx

    1. Thanks Farah, I find one of the most empowering things (slap me for using that word please) is being completely transparent and honest with yourself about what you're going through x