5 years ago I had a nervous breakdown.
There it is.
Those of you who know me will have heard the story, many were with me for the aftermath. Some of you will have had no idea.
Autumn every year since has been tinged with memories of that incredibly dark and torturous time. When I kick leaves about in the cold crispy sunshine I remember the weekend I ran a 10k race and finished my MA thesis draft in the middle of October 2005. I had been mentally and physcially hanging on for those two things to be complete. Then I fell apart.
The clues to a breakdown had been there when I look back. Always someone with a lust for life and an energy to create, get out there, do stuff, I had moved quickly from leavung university to carving out a suuccessful career in graphic design and business development. I had many hobbies, playing my violin, gigs, reading, yoga, running, and plenty of drinking with friends. At a young age I was earning well and ploughing energy into business meetings, running my own networking groups, and doing a part time MA to boot. I suffered, as I still do, from endometriosis, a condition with imcumbant emotional complications, extreme fatigue and chronic pain which hindererd my usual level of energy.
I had a fantastic well paid job, East End loft flat which I loved, and my partner. I thought I finally had it all.
The cracks started to appear when panic attacks arrived in my life, an unknown factor in someone for whom confidence and popularity has always come so easily. Realising there was a problem I sought to fix it with a fabulous therapist who combines NLP with hypnosis to tap into that muddled subconscious. Alarmed that I was to spend 20 minutes a day using relaxation techniques when down time wasn’t part of my vocabulary, I put the techniques to use and began to feel some improvement.
Fast forward to the weekend I mentioned in that October of ’05, and my elation at completing a run wth endo and managing to write my thesis on top of a busy schedule. Beers were consumed in a gloriously sunny Autumn Sunday in my local pub in London Fields.
From the very next day I was unwell. Flu, at first, then immense fatigue and labyrthinthitis, for which I was eventually signed off from work. I began to experience panic in a way I never had before – the thought of getting the tube and going to the office felt immensely overwhelming. Leaving the house to get supplies was a task. Before long my depression was all consuming and I was cut off from the world in the flat I so loved, exhausted and unable to get out and about on my own. I was isolated, lonely and low.
My partner had been unable to deal with my slide into the mire. We had a relationship which bumbled along; after 5 years and living together I thought this was what it is to be in a couple. I had always hoped he might, you know, actually show me more affection than he did but as far as I knew we had a ‘normal’ life and my cravings for someone to show enthusiasm about me and who I am was probably just a little more than I deserved.
As I became more and more unwell in mind, body and soul, he spent more and more time with a friend to whom he is now betrothed. I could see it happening, and I wish them both the very best as they know – they are lovely people and it’s all water under an old bridge – but at the time it was a catalyst to my sinking despair.
Realising this was more than just physical illness, I knew I needed help. As I turned to my partner with the plea for aid he left, running straight to his future wife.
Bereft, and against my irrational wishes my dad saw my crumbling desolation and swept me up to stay with my family out of London. Ostensibly for a couple fo days I allowed myself to be cocooned in love and affection. I never went back to London to live.
Over the next few days, weeks and months I was in the early stages of recovery. In that winter I would sit, unable to listen to music, read or engage with people in a vacuum of myself, echausted, fragile and losing weight rapidly.
My family rallied to my side, my sister letting me stay in her room, my stepbrother never letting me look sad for more than 5 minutes without making me smile somehow, and my dad doing his very best to steer me around the obstacles of breakdown and deepest depression. A workaholic and addictive personality himself Dad had burnt out in his 30′s and knew exaclty what this was.
We developed a start chart system. On days I managed to wash and get dressed we had a star. On days I was able to leave the house and go for a walk we had a star. I was literally learning to live again, slowly and painstakingly fighiting enormous anxiety and exhaustion which accompanied my demise.
Over the weeks I knew that depsite the medical intereventions I now had in place and the support I now felt, I could not promise my wonderfully understanding employers that I could return. When leaving the house was arduous in itself, carrying out my previous job as I did now felt way beyong my reach, so I quit.
In the space of a month my bubble has burst. No job, no flat, no boyfriend, no me. My belongings were all in storage and at the age of 29 I was living back with parents in my sisters room a shell of my former bubbly self.
My friends were simply amazing. They called every day, came to visit in my countryside retreat, and were with me throughout my darkest moments. I felt loved, wanted and welcomed for the first time in so long, and despite the traumas of heartbreak and the rollercoasted of woe I was strapped to, I began as the winter set in to know this path was right for me.
I had known something was going to change in my lfie and my intuitions are usually right. Although I had nothing, I also had a blank page. I had family, friends, and time. I has fed, loved and warm. I was finally being looked after, something I now know I had wanted so much. Slowly but very very surely I began to rebuild.
Fast forward through 5 years of recvoery later and I am nothing like the girl I used to be. I am now self employed, running my own design, editorial and trends business. Had I not left my job I doubt I would have had the confidence to quit and start something by myself. I am a mum of twin girls who I adore, and I live with my amazing man who loves me the way I never thought was possible. He has know me throughout the years, has been there in my life as a friend and beer buddy, a witness to my triumphs and tumbles and he loves me despite, and because, of all of it.
Mental health is a scary subject. It has been a long road to get to where I am now, and because my endometriosis still causes me pain depression is far from being absent in my life, although I am working on it – this time with more help.
Friends who have been through anxious times have know who to call. Family who suddently have episodes of panic ring because they now I have been there too and can lend an ear. When I talk openly about my experience suddenly so many people I know have had similar episodes; usually spirited, creative people the thing we have in common is that the balance we had was wrong and just tipped over the edge enough to enter a whole new realm.
All of us now live a different life.
Balance is key, and something I wil lalways need to work in given my tendency to dive into ideas. I still take on too much, I still push myself too hard, but I now have a partner with his eye on me rather than every other female in the vicinity, I have my children to bring me sunshine every day, and I have experience which rings alarm bells of that Autumn to help me remember to go easy.
Change is traumatic and stressful but lifechanging and immensely powerful. My life path turned a very sharp left and I am so incredibly gratefuel that it did.
So why the overshare?
Because people out there are going through it now. People know someone who is struggling, or maybe you have been there yourself, and its nice to know you arent the only mental, lonely freak in the world.
It didn’t kill me and it has made me stronger. So, when I see the younger me distraught and distressed in my minds eye I comfort her. The best was yet to come, and those leaves made way for Spring.