Tag Archives: mental

Part 2: Running away from your problems isn’t always a bad thing

14 Apr

In my last post on having a mental breakdown I ended with the idea that in order to survive a mental breakdown you must face your problems. Now I’m going to tell you that I coped with my mental breakdown by running away.

I know, I totally contradicted myself there. But hear me out.

I am running away from my problems because I can only draw one type of tree.

Wait, wait! Stay with me! Let me explain.

I recently read Creativity Inc. which was written by the founder of Pixar Animation Studios, Edwin Catmull. In the book, Catmull discusses the importance of being able to see outside of a particular paradigm or way of thinking. This is something that can be facilitated by a creative and positive environment (the specifics of which I won’t get into, just read the book, it’s worth it).

For example, if I ask you to draw a tree you will visualize a particular type of tree such as a maple or an olive tree. That is your model for what a tree is. Some people are able to shift their default understanding of a tree, to allow it to encompass other types of trees. Additionally, they can see and draw the tree based on the area around the tree rather than the tree itself (i.e. the negative space).

I found myself living in a reality where only one type of tree existed and that tree was all there was to life. There was no negative space, no alternative. And when any other type of tree came in the mix, I couldn’t accept it because it challenged my entire worldview.

So what did I do to overcome this? I changed my world. By moving myself into a new environment, I allowed myself to see more trees. I detached myself from my problems so I could gain greater perspective and learn to accept.

(Okay, so my analogy is lame. Whatever, you understand what I’m trying to say. I’m going through something, gimme a break.)

What it feels like to have a mental breakdown

14 Apr

I pride myself on being smart. Intelligence has always been the benchmark of success for me, something for which I have been consistently praised. Those who know me well know that my modus operandi is one where logic trumps emotion. Being smart and being a good problem solver is such a strong part of my identity and my self-worth that when I am faced with a situation that I cannot think my way out of, it bothers me to my core. And because I don’t place much value to emotions, I push my way feelings down, away from my coveted brain, so I can focus my energy on fixing.

When the unresolved problem visits me again and again, it lingers on the sphere of my consciousness. It taunts me and sends me on a downward spiral. The more I fight it, the more it pulls me down. I can’t help it. I have a neurotic compulsion to obsess and fix. It’s how I’m wired, it’s how I was socialized, and it’s what I consider to be normal. If I can’t solve the problem, then I have failed and I am an idiot.

Working within this all-or-nothing and everything-rests-on-my-shoulders paradigm of thinking, I recently I had to face the reality that my mental capacities were being threatened and that I was becoming stupider. I was expending too much brainpower trying to fix an unfixable problem and suppressing my emotional problems. And that’s never a good thing.

I finally reached a breaking point and because I have neglected things for so long, I’d like to finally share what it feels like to have a mental breakdown so you won’t make the same mistakes I did.

Here’s what you can expect:

You can’t concentrate

You can’t really focus on any one thing because so much is going through your mind. You check out and stare into space frequently become tired easily. You also get lost driving home on a route you are very familiar with.

Your emotions become unregulated

Because I was never good at addressing emotions as they came up, when I hit my breaking point, my emotions spilled out of me like projectile vomit. The majority of what I felt was anger or sadness, and that’s mainly because I don’t really understand how other emotions feel because I never gave myself the freedom to feel in-between emotions like disappointment, sadness, vulnerability, abandonment, joy.

I would become livid at a coworker for not responding to my email within an hour and cry while watching Keeping up with the Kardashian’s reruns because “before it was just Kourtney alone dealing with Scott but now it’s Kourtney AND Mason”.

Yes. This is what it got to: crying during the Kardashians. DON’T LET YOURSELF GET TO THIS POINT!

You are consumed by negative thoughts

I spent a lot of time imagining intricate and disastrous scenarios.

I would imagine a scenario where family members die and I’m unable to cope, or I would imagine losing control of my car and crashing it into a pole (this is while I am actually driving). Similarly, I would imagine myself falling and breaking my ankle as I’m going down a set of stairs, or imagine being told I have an incurable cancer and only have a few weeks to live.

I couldn’t stop these thoughts. I think it was my subconscious trying to tell me that what I was going through was as important as life and death and I couldn’t ignore it anymore.

You have fucked up dreams

Not only are you haunted by negative thoughts during your waking hours; you can’t even be at peace while asleep. I have had a few sweat-inducing nightmares in my lifetime, but nothing compares to what I experienced in the past while.

One particular dream shook me.

I am on vacation with my sister and we are on a beach. In the horizon there is a tsunami coming. We have to climb up a hill to get away but we aren’t going to make it in time. My sister is scared and begins crying because she can’t swim. I tell her to climb a nearby tree with me and to hold her breath when the water hits and to hold on tightly. I tie her to the tree and then tie myself and try to calm her down. 

Then I look down and there’s a baby in my hands. I think, ok, I need to protect the baby. I hold onto the baby and tie the two of us to the tree.

When I look down again, my mom is on the beach. She can’t swim either, so I have to untie myself and bring her up and tie her to the tree as well. 

The water is roaring towards us and then I wake up.

The more things slip out of control, the more you fight back and try to tighten the reigns

When I woke up from my dream, the first thing I did was look up what it meant to have a dream about tsunamis. According to Google, the water represents your emotions and feelings, and by watching the water approach you, you are essentially seeing the effects of your buried emotions. Tsunamis are caused in the real world by changes under the surface (i.e. earthquakes) and symbolically this represents fundamental changes in you and your life that you must accept. Moral of the story: you need to let the water hit you.

I didn’t like that answer and my first response was to shake my head like nah man, fuck that, and Google “how to survive a tsunami” as if I could change anything. Bad news folks, if you don’t know the water is coming there isn’t much you can do but get hit by the waves.

If you want to survive, you’re eventually going to have to face your problems. Bring them the surface and address them. Let the tsunami hit you and trust you can swim.

So how am I going to face my problems? By running away.

Read more in part 2.