Any time you have to go inside of your head, pull out the unpleasant thoughts therein and try to smooth them out with the intention of producing something articulate, it hurts. But I want to talk about these thoughts because they are important. They matter. This is my story, but I hope that it resonates with you, and that if you’re experiencing something similar, you will know that you are not alone.
Very recently, I experienced a nervous breakdown which involved my professional career path. On the surface, it was quiet. There were no hospital stays, no public meltdowns. My brain, always a train that was chugging along steadily in the workplace, started speeding up and racing down the tracks. I couldn’t slow it down. I tried. I did everything I could, but it was just not enough. Nothing could stop the spreading sensation of my mind mumbling, “oh no, oh no, this is happening, oh no” at all hours of the day.
All breakdowns are unique, but this is what I went through, how I felt: The world was rushing all around me and I found it impossible to move forward, even inch one baby step ahead. That single step took all of my energy to make and it left me exhausted. When you have a nervous breakdown, you’ll make mistakes, constantly. You will feel as though you are suffocating all the time. You may not be able to think, much less do anything, because you will be so scared.
I berated myself for feeling this way. There seemed to be no contentment, no ability to feel at peace, just an overwhelming sense of panic whenever I thought about the day ahead and its endless to-do list. This list filled me to the brim with despair. I knew that this feeling would not be shaken free, no matter what I did in my spare time to feel better. It surrounded me until I felt like crumpling into a ball, a shell of my former self, wondering when, if ever, the lowest points would ever come to a stop.
This breakdown cost me my job. But my horror was coupled with relief because I knew I could not keep going at that pace. I had been teetering on the brink of burning out for months and before 2014 was over, it arrived.
Burnout is something that nobody ever envisions occurring to them in the workplace —many of us go to college, study something we love, graduate, and start working in that field. As lost as we may be at first, we tend to find a path by the end our scholastic career, right? Well, in these last few months, I reconsidered my dream career: writing. I had ended up in social media, and I just wasn’t entirely happy. Social media was kind of a career I fell into. For a time, it was fun. Then it became all encompassing. Your entire life measured in staring at your phone, at the computer, at a series of screens with tweets and statuses and comments and likes and responding back as quickly as possible so others knew you were there. You were present. You were on. But you never turned off.
For me, there was no work-life balance, just a work-work life. My personal life disappeared. I felt like I had hit my low point daily and I struggled to hang on. Maintaining that struggle was my own twisted way of convincing myself that I must love what I did, otherwise what I was doing there? That gave way to making me wonder how I ended up in this profession and if I wanted it to define me in the end. When I couldn’t answer that, I knew it was time to start over.
If you feel like you might be experiencing similar breakdown feelings in your line of work right now, know that it doesn’t have to be that way. Here is some personal advice.
The better fit for you is out there.
Starting over is terrifying, no matter how old you are or what field you’re in. In almost every case, it means going back to an entry-level position and paying your dues all over again. Don’t see this as a setback. This is good! You will learn so more about yourself by pursuing what you’re passionate about more than you will standing still in a place that isn’t working out.
Seek advice from those closest to you.
The worst thing you can do if you are in the midst of having a nervous breakdown is to suffer in silence or assume that everyone can tell you’re upset. They can’t. Reach out and tell those you love that you’re struggling. Talk to family, friends, your HR department and your mentors. Nobody can tell you exactly what to do next, but they can certainly be there to offer support and encouragement.
Quitting, getting fired and/or moving back home doesn’t mean you ruined your life.
It’s the advice my father gave me when I was let go. He told me not to beat myself up over what happened because where I was simply was not a good fit for me. Your entire life is not ruined because you quit your job, were fired or had to move back home. You are not the first person to do any of this and you won’t be the last. You have to do you. This is now about your happiness, your mental health and well-being and not about the company you were previously with.
Don’t worry that anyone you’re friends with on social media sites will judge you on what happened either. Writing that feels superficial, but we live in a world where the good and bad of the lives of those we know plays out publicly before us in real time. It’s impossible to avoid sharing it sometimes, but sharing your story doesn’t mean that you’re looked at as a massive screw up. There is so much support to be found in speaking up, I assure you.
You’re not weak if you burn out.
Our society pushes for women to constantly be climbing up the ladder to break the glass ceiling. It never does much to say what happens if you get tired of climbing and want to go back down again. Burning out is not a sign of weakness and nobody, absolutely nobody, is immune to not having it happen. We’re people, not machines. Time to rest, recharge and regroup is necessary if you want to be happy and content with where you are in your career and in the world.
You are smart, bright and creative with a good heart.
Please remember this, above all. Say it to yourself every morning. Write it down in a visible place. Carry it with you everywhere you go, in a planner, saved on your phone, framed on your desk. Surround yourself with people who will reaffirm this.
Life after a breakdown doesn’t mean an immediate return to normal, if there’s ever a return to the same place you were once in at all. Searching for a new job, moving in a new career path direction and figuring out your place in the world next will take time to do. It will have its moment of loneliness and rejection, but all of this will be quite fortuitous because you will learn and grow like never before because of it.
“Give me a place to stand and I will move the earth,” Homer wrote in The Iliad —yours is not a place in this world that is inconsequential. The past happened. It’s done. And you learned from it, good or bad alike. You do matter and you will do beautifully. Don’t let the fear of the present unknown take you away from everything you could become in the future.
There is no such thing as an ending in this world, just beginnings.
Image by KC Green