About 5 years ago I had a physical and mental breakdown. At the time I didn’t realise quite how ill I was, as I had a complete disconnect from reality. I was exhausted, my body was fighting back and I didn’t know how to cope with this mentally. My physical health (I have ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia) deteriorated to the point where even speaking caused palpitations and tremors.
The lead up to this breakdown was a particularly stressful time. I was battling anorexia, I was fighting an appeal after having my health benefits removed, my husband had just been made redundant and I was scared I was going to lose my home. I couldn’t understand why my body and mind were failing, I felt like they were betraying me and I didn’t know how to cope.
I was so exhausted that even when resting I had adrenaline coursing through my body, I was in constant fight or flight mode which caused even more exhaustion, made it impossible to rest and sleep, and also heightened my anxiety to a level I had never experienced in my life up until that point.
To try to understand what was happening to me, and in an attempt to ground myself in reality and save my sanity, I started writing a diary.
It’s been over 4 years since I wrote in my diary. I put it aside, too scared to reread what I had written, fearing my raw thoughts and feelings would trigger another breakdown. But I now feel strong enough to face these fears in an attempt to understand what caused such a catastrophic event in my life. What was my mindset? What were my fears? How did I rationalise it? How did I survive it? What will I unearth? What will I learn?
The following are some excerpts from my diary:
“The last 6 months have been horrendous. I didn’t realise how mentally and physically ill I had become. My body and mind, after years of stress, anxiety and abuse have given up on me. I’m just surprised it didn’t happen sooner. I’m coming to realise ’the signs’ have been around for years. All problems are linked to anxiety and control, ‘FEARS’ I am fearful of everything.”
“I know I have come a long way but the journey is far from travelled. I should have seen the signs three years ago.”
“Well, I’m learning a lot of very hard lessons about myself. Time to accept I’m currently losing my lifelong battle with anxiety. I need a chill pill, I need to lighten up.”
“Haven’t slept in days. My ME/CFS Is horrendous. Not surprising when sleep and rest are the most important things for recovery. I keep forgetting and confusing words, it’s quite comical really.”
“You are safe, You are calm” [I used to repeat this to myself over and over again when I felt like I was going to die, it was my mantra and the only thing that kept me alive.]
“I’ve got to get over the notion my body is trying to poison me. I’m lucky it’s working at all after what I’ve put it through.” [I had forgotten about this, but I think it was linked to my anorexia. Anytime I ate it aggravated my IBS and caused so much pain, I felt like my body was attacking me.]
“Just when I think I’ve got the hang of something my neurotic mind starts questioning it, it’s my anxiety causing everything.”
“I need to sleep but every time I close my eyes I see the demons.”
“I’m going stir crazy in the house, I need to escape.”
“I stayed comatosed all day trying to avoid a panic attack. Even the slightest movement causes dizziness and palpitations.”
“I didn’t realise how detached I’d become from my own body.”
“I haven’t written in a few days because I’ve been so weak, exhausted and depressed. I truly hit rock bottom. Every little improvement I make only makes me realise how ill I was in the first place and how far I’ve got to go.”
“The last 6 weeks have been the longest of my life. I have been in a daze, out of touch with reality. Sleep deprivation along with anxiety, exhaustion and pain drove me to hit rock bottom. Suicidal thoughts are uncontrollable, I’m not sure I’m strong enough to survive this.”
“I put too much pressure on myself. In my attempt to do ‘anything’ to make myself better, I have pushed myself to break, physically and mentally.”
“My muscles are burning but I keep shivering. I’m so scared I’ve done irreparable damage and this is what my life is going to be like from now on. I cannot contemplate the rest of my life in this torture”
“You f*cked up again!”
“I’m not sure how much longer I can put up with this pain. I need it to stop, I need a break, I would try anything at this point. Please make it stop.”
“I managed to stay calm enough to sleep after taking sedatives, diazepam and sleeping tablets. I know, not good, but I was desperate for a few hours peace.”
“It’s now 6am. I’ve been keeping calm and trying to sleep for the last 8 hours. All I’m achieving is getting more tired, shivery, panicky and frustrated.”
“I’m gonna take today as it comes, no expectations. I’m shattered so hopefully I can just rest and keep my anxiety at a minimum. I’ve given up on thinking I can tackle my anxiety on my own, that will come with medical treatment – just keep it at a manageable level.”
“If I can just stay calm and get some sleep tomorrow will be a better day”
“You’ve come so far, don’t be so hard on yourself, you are doing the best you can.”
“You ARE strong enough to survive this”
What comes across from these words and my handwriting, is how desperate and manic I was. I wrote pages and pages of rambling text, desperate to expel the constant barrage of thoughts from my head, hoping that if I wrote them down, my mind would give me a break. But the more I wrote, the more active my brain became. I was riddled with guilt and convinced it was my fault I had become so ill. I wish I could go back in time and give myself a big hug and say “You have done nothing wrong, it’s going to be ok”.
Even with the trauma I was going through, I am amazed at how positive I was still trying to be. I have always been an optimist but I don’t know how I found the strength to continue to fight through the pain, fatigue, insomnia, confusion and all the scary symptoms that came along with the breakdown.
I ultimately realised, that to get better I had to stop fighting. It was the accumulation of years of fighting my own body and mind that had lead to my breakdown. I now know the importance of rest, self care and reflection, but at the time resting seemed like giving up. Once I stopped fighting, the depression set in, but I will save that discussion for another day. I have come such a long way since those dark days and I often underestimate the achievements and positive steps I’ve made. I don’t give myself time to pause and reflect on the strength it took just to survive. I don’t give myself credit for the life challenges I have survived and continue to battle. I’m still very ill but I’ve come so far and I’m proud of myself for that.
So, from now on, I will take time out from each day to reflect on how bad my health was and how far I have come. It’s an important part of my recovery, which up until now I have neglected. I urge you to do the same. You may not be as far along on your journey as you want to be and there may be times when you take a few steps back, but please celebrate all your achievements, however small. You are doing the best you can. Take care x
“Don’t wait until you reach your goals to be proud of yourself, be proud of every step you take.”