The Unraveling – Some Thoughts After A Nervous Breakdown

Suddenly your life stops. All you know is that you are not okay. All you know is the fear. All you know is that your body is shaking, violently, as you sob. You are overwhelmed and scared of everything. In my case, I kept saying that “they” were going to find me and hurt me physically.  It took me about 30 minutes to get out of bed. I couldn’t eat anything and felt like I was 6 years old again; it felt like all the tears I ever wanted to cry were flooding my face. I got dressed as though I was going to class but after Googling “signs of a nervous breakdown” and walking outside, I knew going to class was not happening. The whole time I was scared – I did not know what was going to happen to me. I had this thought that I was going to lose my mind and collapse, that this was the end of my sanity and I would never be able to function the same way again.

I know mental wellness is not easy when you have been struggling with it for a long time. I have been anxious my whole life. I only know moments of complete peace and calm swimming in a sea of anxiety and depression. And somehow, I can be incredibly calm and level for others, which has made me a great doula. The paradox of my life.

I kept saying for weeks now – my nerves were shot. Way too much for this body in this lifetime. If I had the desire, I could tell you down to the most minute detail why I had a breakdown. Everything from childhood trauma to depression to moving a godawful amount of times post-college to sexual violation and everything in between would do it. I’d go as far to say that estaba mala de los nervios – one of the ways a nervous system disturbance is described in the Latino culture. Mostly women dealt with their nervios. It was a common expression for the women around me when I was growing up. I never got an explanation and still knew what it meant based on how upset and anxious the person was who spoke the statement. At 27, this was the first time I used it to refer to myself.

I used to contemplate how terrible it must feel to lose your mind. I sat in the Dominican Republic on a rocking chair after staring into the eyes of a photo of the woman who birthed me. I could read her sadness, her dissonance. The picture told  me that her illness had begun years before the diagnosis.

When you walk up the hill coaching yourself not to lose it in the middle of the busy crosswalk, reach the hospital and sit in the mental health unit knowing that more than ever you had to speak to your therapist immediately, it feels beyond terrible. I could not speak without sobbing into a tissue. Even communicating with the receptionist was a task in and of itself, trying really hard not to break down in the waiting room.

That morning, my therapist saw me and after some talking, he realized I was having a panic attack/nervous breakdown. He suggested hospitalization for a few days after I told him I wanted to just sleep and pass out for a while. I was initially against it when he mentioned Ativan. We spoke some more and he came back to the fact of the matter – I needed a long time out. He mentioned the hospitalization and medicating me for it. At this point, I was game. I just wanted to rest and stop shaking so much. He said I had been too strong for too long and need help. Finally, someone outside of myself understood this. I’ve been taught by society that as a woman of color, I apparently don’t have time to fall apart. Which makes me angry because goddamnit, I can’t be strong for this long. And not breaking down doesn’t make anyone much more stronger than me. As a matter of fact, regardless of whether or not I made “time” to “breakdown”, it was already happening.

I spent about 8 hours in the hospital. I admitted myself until I knew my fiance could come and get me, as I did not know about my safety if I left the hospital alone. I didn’t know anything actually that day outside of the basic facts – where and why I was there. It’s a trippy feeling to be in a hospital gown and pants for most of the day, in a room alone on a bed with the sweetness nurse I have ever had the pleasure of being cared for. It was my first time spending that much time in a hospital as a patient.

The discharge paperwork spoke about Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I haven’t been officially diagnosed and yet, every single symptom and the entire description fit what I have been feeling for all if not the majority of my life. The desire to “relax and not worry about it” has been something extra challenging to learn. It was a “fucking finally someone understands I don’t worry because I like to” moment.

I feel a lot of things as I recover from last week. I feel embarrassed, like I should have been able to keep my shit together for longer. As though mental wellness and lack thereof is a weakness and I failed the strength test. I have had moments of not knowing what to do with my life anymore. I picked up all my shit, closed all the chapters where I was and moved yet again. Part of this has felt discouraging, as it has thrown off my aspirations for the future. And strangely, beneath all those feelings is relief. Is the knowing that finally other people outside myself understand that I truly do need help, that I’ve been doing this alone for too long and I need a break.

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