I had a mental breakdown. Fueled by the stress of many jobs, family and internal emotional distress I completely broke down. I couldn’t concentrate on anything. I couldn’t remember conversations I was in the middle of. I had trouble remembering faces and names of long standing friends. I would spend hours driving around trying to remember what it is I was supposed to do. My brain became useless for anything but surviving from day to day.Because of all the stress I couldn’t sleep. I was mixing vodka and xanex in unsuccessful attempts to get some rest and relief. I masked all this for as long as I could. And then I couldn’t.
Four years ago I had a busy church, charity work, a business consulting job, writing gigs and an occasional photography business. In addition we had four busy teenagers with lives filled with music, sports and church activities. I worked hard from early morning until early morning. I cleaned the house in the middle of the night, often mopping and doing laundry until 1-2 in the morning. I worked until my chest hurt and would curl up in a ball on my office floor until it stopped.
Since a young age I have worked to exhaustion. Church, school, work, family – balancing it all precariously and not always successfully. When I was in high school a science teacher told me that I was not the kind of person who burned a candle at both ends but the kind who broke the candle in two and burned all four. For the entirety of my life people have asked me what I was running away from that I would work that hard.
I resented those kinds of comments because I loved working and loved my jobs. I was good at them and they gave me deep satisfaction. The real question isn’t if I loved working it is WHY I loved to work so much and why I needed to keep up that busy pace. I was convinced I wasn’t running from anything, until I crashed.
Working hard wasn’t without it’s benefits. People gave me accolades and recognition for being successful and working so hard. I was highly regarded in my work but I was, in fact, running. Running hard to out run a burden I carried with me everywhere I went.
After four years of intense treatment I now know that I was in fact running. My busyness kept the emotional pain of a tragic childhood from me. If I was busy I didn’t have time to consider myself. But then I couldn’t outrun the past anymore. My brain and nervous system won’t allow it. I was arrested by crippling emotional pain and fatigue.
My brain will never recover from that breakdown. My memory hasn’t returned to full capacity and my concentration remains stilted. I struggle to read a book, trying to remember characters from page turn to page turn. Throughout the day I often have to pause to remember details that should be easy to recall. I exhaust easily and cannot handle groups of people or lots of frantic activity. I have to make accommodations just to go out in public and interact with the world. I have been repeatedly warned that if I crash again I will not come back to even the working capacity that I am at now so I work significantly less. I work smarter and I focus on my own self care.
But I am missing a part of my self esteem. I found value in being known and receiving atta-girls from my work. My other-esteem craves someone to call me out and pat me on the back for something. I feel like I have disappeared from the sight of the living, breathing, thriving world.
I want to be happier, more settled and more satisfied with my new way of life but that will be a longer time coming. I will wait for that patiently.