How I coped with having a nervous breakdown at work

It started off as a nagging feeling in the bottom of my stomach, as if I was about to vomit but my throat didn’t know it yet. Then my fingers got the message and I started tapping and scraping my nails against my palm. Uncontrollably. Nothing about this was voluntary; especially the hallucinations. I had to ask the colleague next to me if there were bugs in my water; I had to turn my back to the desk the other side of me because, no, the chair was not swinging violently without aid. I was just having another breakdown.

It wasn’t the first time, which is why I expected to feel more prepared. It won’t be the last time, but I wonder if I’ll ever get used to that feeling. The attempts on my own life are never far away when this starts. I just never thought I’d be making those attempts in my office’s bathroom.

In 1-2-3-4… and out. Everyone always told me that breathing was key. I’ve been seeing professionals about these issues for years now, and if I had a dollar for every time one of these doctors told me to breathe… Well, I’d probably be able to afford a better one by now. As much as I feel that it’s easy to tell someone to breathe and feel satisfied that you’ve done your job, it’s good advice. The secret is, it’s not about the breathing. It’s about the counting. Slow down. Concentrate on every breath: it’s going to help.

I’ve always been really good at burying my head in the sand. About everything, which is why this feels so alien to write. But I recently spoke to someone about my perceptions; the way I feel judged by my co-workers and that they think I’m lazy because of my mental health issues. They asked, “Why do you think they think this? You realise you couldn’t possibly know what they’re thinking, right?” And just like that. It clicked: I don’t know what everyone else thinks or feels, I just know what I think they think. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it made a big difference to the frequency of my panics. It’s easier to keep it together when you realize it’s a chemistry issue, not something inherently wrong with you.

It’s also important for me to check in with myself. I’m a slave to technology—I recently started using an app track my mood. The one I use is called Pacifica. It asks me three times a day how I’m feeling and I have the option to explain what I’m doing/why I feel a certain way. The day before yesterday, I forgot to do it, and I was a noticeably more shaken.  Sometimes when I ask myself how I feel, I don’t actually know, and I have to think really hard to decide; am I okay? Plus, because my moods change so drastically and so frequently, it’s good to write a little note along with my feelings and play detective on new triggers.

As an added bonus to this, journaling has been ridiculously helpful for me; when I’m ignoring my feelings, I can’t follow any other steps, and writing it down forces me to externalise what’s happening in my head. I do my own little adapted version of Morning Pages…except at night. Which might totally dispel the original idea, but it’s when I can make time in my schedule. I set up a little altar in my bed (while my partner snores loudly). I listen to something empowering, light a candle or switch on the fairy lights and usually, before I know it, I’ve written seven pages in thirty minutes. It’s wonderfully liberating, and although I feel like I’m writing nonsense, I wake up refreshed and like I’ve worked out some of the issues that were building up on me.

“Self Care” is a term thrown around a lot lately. It’s about doing exactly what makes you happy. For me? It’s a long bath with Lush products and American Horror Story on my iPad. It means something different for everyone, and yes, sometimes it’s a bit cliché. But if dragging the old Super Nintendo out of the loft and going mad for Donkey Kong makes your heart skip a beat, just do you.

[Image via Searchlight Pictures]

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