Guest post: "I had a breakdown - and it's nothing to be ashamed of"
Vicky Charles argues that open discussion is the only way to end the stigma surrounding mental health
Single Mother Ahoy
Posted on: Wed 01-Jul-15 16:27:55
(33 comments )
I remember walking a local nature trail with my mother when I was 21, and her casually mentioning that she used to walk along the same path with my grandmother when she was small, "on Sundays, when we used to visit Grandad in the Old Manor."
Old Manor was the local psychiatric hospital. A sprawl of Victorian buildings hidden behind a tall brick wall, it was scary and imposing. Whenever anyone acted at all strangely, local people would joke that they would "end up in the Old Manor." It became defunct in 2003. Its brick wall was knocked down and it was replaced by modern buildings that are light and unthreatening. Still though, people round here talk of ending up in the Old Manor.
That walk was the first time my mother had mentioned my grandfather's stay there. Apparently he suffered brain damage after a motorcycle injury and was in there for a long time recovering. But nobody ever spoke of it because, you know, the Old Manor. Crazy people.
When I was 29, I had a massive and life-altering breakdown. My boss all but physically removed me from my desk, telling me "I am very worried about you; please go to the doctor and get yourself signed off. Don't come back until you are ready." I spent several months in limbo while my GP attempted to get me onto the correct dosage of the correct medication. All of the drugs seemed to have the same bizarre side-effect – a combination of suicidal ideation teamed with lack of inhibition. The result was many serious and lengthy conversations with anyone who would listen, in which I calmly put forward my case that people with depression should be able to go to that clinic in Switzerland and end it all.
As well as feeling depressed and miserable, we also feel shame. It's a dirty little secret, something to which we must never admit. This stops us from seeking help, and so we suffer alone, scared to ask for help.
People in my family don't talk about important things. Four years into my recovery, my mother has still never had a proper conversation with me about what happened that summer. If it's at all uncomfortable, we put it to the back of our minds and do our best to pretend it's not there. That attitude is not the exclusive territory of my family, though. Everyone does it. Nobody wants to be thought of as bonkers, unstable, crazy.
I read a memoir recently in which a man traced his grandfather's military career through the Second World War. He reached a point where the man had been sent to a hospital in India, and then there was a gaping hole in the record. Historians told him this was because his grandfather had been sent to Deolali, the hospital from which the term "doolally" comes. Because of the stigma attached to being sent to that particular hospital, the records of his time there would have been burnt.
I have written at length about my breakdown. I forgot how to live my life, and even now cannot recall how I passed most of that summer. I think it's important to tell people about that, because I know I am not only one. I remember meeting friends for lunch and quietly admitting that I had been taking antidepressants. Four of the five people around the table said, "me too."
And so we come to that statistic: one in four. One in four people will suffer with a mental health issue, and the most common is depression. But as well as feeling depressed and miserable, we also feel shame. It's a dirty little secret, something to which we must never admit. This stops us from seeking help, and so we suffer alone, scared to ask for help lest the three in four think we're crazy.
Well, guess what? I went crazy. Properly, unashamedly, batshit crazy. And then I managed to claw my way out of that hole, and get on with my life. I don't look crazy now; I don't act crazy, and as far as I know, nobody has caught it from me. I am able to string a sentence together; I'm even able to raise a child alone while running a business. Life does not end when our mental health falters; it is entirely possible to recover from a breakdown, and I am living proof. I am not ashamed of my breakdown; I am proud to have come out the other side. Perhaps if people can see that a mental health problem is not the end of the story, they won't worry so much about admitting to their own.
By Vicky Charles
brave article, thank you vicky, good luck to you
Great piece Vicky. My dh had a breakdown a few years ago, and was off work for 9 months. His family never asked once how he was doing, and have never mentioned it. Friends have swept it under the carpet too.
I've had 2 breakdowns and it's hard to talk about, on the one hand it does need to be talked about to break the stigma but on the other hand it's hard to be the one actually breaking the stigma. I've lost friends because of my depression and it still hurts now.
I have been out and loud about my breakdown, I blogged about it
here if anyone wants to read it
and tell people all the time. It shouldn't be a dirty secret and it makes me ragey that it still is so I'm fighting that in my own small way by writing about it.
Thanks for sharing your story.
Brilliant article. Having had depression and anxiety I absolutely agree we should talk about mental health issues freely. Should my children ever suffer the same I would not want them to add shame to the list of things to deal with.
Well done Vicky - really brave to talk about it, although it shouldn't be, which is purely societal convention! Amazing strength to have clawed your way out the pit. I recovered from acute postpartum psychosis - but I had a LOT of help!
Well done to all of you to write it. It shouldn't be stigmatised, and you are leading the way.
They say the truth shall set you free... In my case it was when I admitted I was going to hit a wall. Nine months off work. Very unsupportive care by local health trust. Made thing worse.
I have to admit I find it hard to articulate my experiences. I mostly feel overwhelmed.
My truth is that I've ridiculous expectations of myself and until I put these to bed I reckon I will always have a problem with depression
My personal qualities of sensitivity, empathy, listening & loyalty don't seem to count for much anymore
I have had two breakdowns. The last one was four years ago. It was so bad I was unable to return to work. I never want to sink that low again, so I have accepted that I will be on medication for life.
I have always been determined to be open about my mental health, even though I have to steal myself to tell people on occasion. I can see people's estimation of me falter when I tell them of my mental health history.
A few years before my last breakdown I had cancer and was off work for sometime. When I went off due to my last breakdown a lot of people assumed it was the cancer returning. They would come up to me and be open with their concern etc. when I corrected them, and said I was actually "going batshit crazy", their demeanour changed immediately. They were embarrassed, didn't know what to say and soon made their excuses and left.
What I find interesting is,if you are open and honest about being on medication etc, many people will quietly tell you that they too are on medication, but they don't want anyone to know.
This situation does need to change. I try to do my little bit whenever I can.
I agree the stigma must be broken. I had a breakdown around 11 years ago and have had two episodes of PND since. I am sick of how this stuff never gets spoken about. I'm perfectly lucid, have a good job, 3 kids, do normal things and yet I feel utter awkwardness if I ever mention it to people outside of my immediate circle. But I do still mention it, it's a part of my life, it's part of who I am and while I'd not wish it on my worst enemy, I refuse to be ashamed that the chemicals in my brain stopped functioning properly for a period of time, through no fault of my own!
This might be an ignorant question, please forgive me, but what does a breakdown actually mean? A friend told me he had one , but I didnt really know what it meant. I just listened but wasn't sure what it meant? Best wishes
I think it's different for different people but for me it was a total inability to continue with daily 'normal' life. The first time I was hospitalised as I was suicidal. The second time I self harmed in front of my 2 year old son. I wasn't hospitalised but was under the crisis team and was able to stay at home with my children.
Just to add, I was surprised the first time when they told me I'd had a breakdown, I imagined something dramatic (think Arthur Fowler smashing his house up in Eastenders) whereas for me it wasn't like that at all. This is something perhaps that also needs addressing.
Thanks for posting this.
I too had a break down in 2008.
For me it was an inability to function and a clear and rational thought that the world and my children would be better if I wasn't here.
I would talk at length about reasons why I shouldn't be here and clarity of thought was frustrating as no one agreed with me, BUT I WAS RIGHT.
Well I wasn't but I really didn't know it at the time.
I now know that the drip drip of MH issues started far earlier, but it was just my normality.
So I found that I needed help and the psychiatric team at the hospital were great.
3 years of breaking down all my "known's" and building up the real me who was hiding and frightened was amazing.
DH didn't tell anyone at work what was wrong with me but they knew I was ill. I found it frustrating that he didn't share it with them, like he was embarrassed. However, he was so amazing with me, he forgave me for putting him through hell, coming home each day not knowing if I had killed myself or not.
Anyway, After many years of therapy I now know that my MH will be my soft underbelly. When I am run down, tired or stressed it is the first thing to go. I have to recognise it and clear my schedule and calm the fuck down.. Batshit crazy is the perfect phrase.
I talk openly about having a breakdown, and suffering with ptsd. it is a long term condition in my opinion and I need to have a support network there.
If people run for the hills I can't stop them, I just hope for their sake that they never become a statistic.
Thank you for sharing.
We all have a mental health, it should be easier to talk about.
Thanks for sharing. Very true.
How does one get anyone to agree you're having a breakdown if people around you continually minimise what's happening, ignore the crisis points and refuse to acknowledge what's happening and only engage with you when you pretending to be normal again?
It's like so many things. It's not true unless others around you believe in it...
That's what I'm struggling with at the moment. I think I did have a break down in jan, no matter what others pretend.
I agree with the OP. However, I think it is harder, in some ways, if you suffer from, e.g., dysthymia, mild addictions, from an eating disorder that does not make you dangerously underweight. You might not get "better" anytime soon (or ever, in fact), and your condition is likely mild enough to not be highly visible or quantifiable (like a breakdown), thus your mental health problems are seen as imagined, or as sheer laziness. Long periods of feeling below par will make you have absences or not be as productive as you should and could be, so you will live in poverty and/or lose your job. Adequate care and help is not available, so you're left to limp along when medics shrug and offer to change your meds again with likely very few potential benefits, but lots and lots of negatives..
It's not real unless others believe you. Oh yes, I agree with that.
There is no/limited support out there. Having it out in the open changes nothing is the support isn't there. Which it isn't.
Thank you for sharing this. I've had two breakdowns and some people wouldn't dream of mentioning them despite knowing I'm happy to talk about it - I find it annoying because if I'd had two bouts of cancer (and the mortality rate for severe breakdown is higher in many cases) then people would ask how they could help and how I was doing. Instead there's a silence. I think it's seen as mental weakness
My eldest son has a breakdown earlier this year I think. He's severely autistic so it was an added complication, but he became unable to function. Unable to communicate at all and unable to go out without rocketing anxiety (he's always loved being out and active).
There was a specific issue for him which we were able to fix and he is slowly regaining his life. I have never suffered from anxiety, but seeing how it affected (& affects) him has given me a greater awareness.
I struggle with the medication side of things as he can't talk, so I find it hard to be sure it's the right thing for him. I want to try him off it soon so I can be sure that continuing to give it is right for him.
I think you are right that it should be talked about Vicky - especially within families. I think maybe things are changing and it's becoming more acceptable to talk about it.
How do I know if I've had a breakdown? I sometimes feel I just can't go on anymore, but then there doesn't seem to be any other option and there's no help coming, so I do go on. But it never really goes away.
That is the difficulty. The breakdown doesn't allow you to go on at all, so you end up in a hospital or cared fir at home. But having any less than that leaves you going on while feeling hopeless and dead inside, possibly for years. That is, IMO worse. Everybody thinks you're fine because you drag yourself to work and get through the day somehow to keep your children clean, warm and fed..
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