A few weeks ago I had a breakdown. It was pretty spectacular. A masterclass firework display engineered by a consummate pyrotechnic expert. No expense was spared as multicolours rained down from the sky in all shapes and forms.
This episode was like something I never experienced before. I lost myself. Albeit just for a moment.
The horror that followed it was no lesser a firework display. The dismay at being what some would basically call a complete twat was overwhelming. 'This is not me' I kept thinking; in shock. 'I don't act like such an idiot normally'. "No you don't, Mel" my friends reassured me. (They've known me for decades and would probably gleefully count out my embarrassing and twattish behaviour to anyone who would listen, so it was reassuring to hear this from them.)
I knew that deep down I wasn't mental (well not unless you count my 14-year-old self's frequent trips to see East 17 in concert as being mental. Embarrassing? Certainly). I had simply experienced a tough few years and, after a tricky relationship, I couldn't cope - it pushed me over the edge.
I broke up with my fiancée. No easy task, but not the end of the world. It was a relationship during which I felt psychologically reduced to a shell of my former self. I had experienced a stressful several years as a carer, and had so many projects on the go I couldn't breathe.
"Forgive yourself" was another phrase that I heard a lot of. Knowing that this level of despairing was not my usual self and never wanting to feel like I did over the past few weeks, I've decided to take myself on a journey to, as my therapist friend would say, "learn to love myself" (although I don't think I'll be able to hear that sentence without sniggering like a teenager), but what I would call "to stop being a twat".
When the fireworks occurred, I was truly exhausted and got to the point where I couldn't see or hear anything around me; the world went grey. It was like a sandstorm had suddenly entered my brain just at the worst moment and everything was too much. I started drinking and I descended into darkness. In one fail swoop I felt like I had ruined everything.
Just to be clear, this wasn't simply depression. It's more complex than that. This was an anxiety, exhaustion-fuelled paralysing breakdown after which I sank into a hole for several days staring at countless episodes of Friends (first time I had ever found this show faintly amusing) half aware of what I was watching, wearing the same clothes for days (I hadn't any others with me) and finding that a walk into the back garden left me exhausted and returning to my bed, in optimal Virginia Woolf mode.
Now I've regained some energy, the next few months will be dedicated to working myself back to health. Nay, better health. Right now, I don't now how I'm going to do that. I have short term memory problems, I'm sweating so much through the night that I wake up looking like I've just had a shower with my curly hair doing it's best Diana Ross impressions, and I've been unable to speak in coherent sentences for longer than a minute.
One in four people experience stress, anxiety or depression in their lifetime. It would be much easier for us to survive these issues if there wasn't such a stigma around them.
Us one in four would find it much better for our health if we could call in sick and say that we're suffering from a bout of stress. Instead we often feel forced to make excuses that are deemed as 'OK' and are, thereby, unable to address the real issue with our bosses properly. But what excuse can one really give that allows off enough time to recover? Three week long flu? Smallpox? Four weeks of diarrhea? (Rest assured you will never encounter any questions from your boss after revealing that humdinger.)
Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of - whether we experience it for one week of our life or suffer from it our entire lives. I want to prove it by providing this diary of my recovery. I'll outline my experience of therapy and attempts at other methods to reach an improved me. Warts and all.
I'm scared. Petrified really. I am at the beginning of this and have no idea what's going to happen. Just the thought of this piece being published sends me into a panic.
I'm also excited and hopeful that these therapy sessions and my attempts at mindfulness are going to help provide the coping mechanisms to lead a more contented life. One thing I do know is that I cannot return to a few weeks ago; I don't think I'd survive if it happened again.
If you've experienced something similar, please do leave suggestions for recovery in the comments below.
Next time: The aftermath of the breakdown and my attempts to change aspects of my life to achieve better mindfulness.