Four years ago I had a nervous breakdown. I wasn’t hospitalized, but that doesn’t matter. It was a mental health crisis.
One thing that’s important to know is that a nervous breakdown doesn’t just happen overnight. There’s a slow build. For me there was an event that caused the slow build to speed toward the cliff. The event? Getting a new beagle puppy.
We’d been looking for the perfect baby beagle for about a month. A few pet stores and the local animal shelter. Then we found this sweetie. She was the perfect pup for us. We named her Sophie, after the little girl in Roald Dahl’s The BFG.
I had never had a puppy before. Or at least I’d never been responsible for one before. For some reason my husband and I decided getting her right before he went out of town for work was a good idea. My thoughts were that I would need to leave work early to get the kids from the bus (usually his job) and that would give me an excuse to come home early to walk the puppy.
My husband was gone the first 3-4 weekdays we had her. He didn’t realize how little I knew. I didn’t know about crate training. I barely slept. I was hysterical texting him throughout the day and night. I had no idea how to stop her from peeing or biting or how to get her to sleep. It was winter so it was cold at night when I took her out. It was hard to fall back to sleep. She cried all night.
At her first vet visit I mentioned her sleeping issues. They said her crate was too big and that a smaller sleeping area would help her sleep better. We also got one of those beating heart puppies to keep her company. That helped immensely. But as far as my mental health was concerned, the damage was done.
Even after my husband got home, I wasn’t sleeping. I wasn’t eating much either. I lost about 7lbs in the week and a half leading up to the breakdown. My husband was worried I was dehydrated or malnourished. Did I have a virus or a parasite or something? He thought it was physical. I knew it was mental. I knew I was breaking down. But I didn’t know how to stop it.
What’s so frustrating about severe mental illness is that it makes you unable to see how to get better. I had a psychiatrist, I was on a mood stabilizer, I had a bottle of Ativan in my purse for emergencies.
It never occurred to me to call my psychiatrist or take an Ativan.
Not even the day of the breakdown.
It was a Monday. It was my day to run home at lunch to walk and fed the pup. We had a staff meeting at 10:45am. When it was my turn to give my status, my speech was slurred. I apologized for it and a co-worker joked that it was okay, they knew I was tired from the puppy. I knew that wasn’t it but smiled and laughed anyway.
I still have no idea how I drove all the way home and back without getting into an accident. In the afternoon, after more frantic texting to my husband, I decided I needed to go to the ER. I wanted to be admitted so I could sleep. But I didn’t want to go alone.
My own mother was living out of state (and would have made it worse in the long run). My husband had two kids under 9 and a new puppy to deal with. I had no friend I felt comfortable asking for help from. So it was ask his mother to deal with the kids and puppy or ask her to sit at the ER with me for hours. We decided on the latter.
When I called she wasn’t home. I left a message with my father-in-law. I was so upset sounding that he called her cell phone and she called me back before she got home. With tears in my voice I told her I was having a hard time and needed to go to the ER and would she meet me there. She said yes.
We sat there for hours. I cried in triage that I just wanted to get some sleep. I had blood drawn and got an IV for dehydration. I wasn’t sick, I was exhausted. Exhausted from anxiety and the puppy and work and kids and the unresolved trauma from my childhood that I was carrying but had no idea existed. I was broken into pieces I had no idea how to put back together. I just wanted to sleep. I thought that would fix it.
When they were checking me out, I told them that if they didn’t help me get some sleep I’d be back there the next day. I probably sounded like a drug addict. “Take two Ativan and 50mg of Benadryl and then call your psychiatrist in the morning”. So simple, I was just too sick to figure that out on my own.
I went back to my mother in law’s house, took the medication and slept for nearly 12 hours. I stayed her house the next morning. She got me some of those Odwalla smoothie drinks for breakfast. Early in the afternoon, she took me back to the ER so I could get my car and go home.
When I got home we got more smoothie drinks for me to put some calories into my system. I drank those for months afterward. My psychiatrist was able to work me in fairly quickly and advised I take the Ativan at night for sleep. I took .5 mg of it every night for about 2 months (more on that in a later blog). The 25 mg of Benadryl I took for about 18 months, even though after all that time it wasn’t doing anything. I was too afraid of not sleeping.
In the weeks after the ER visit I started therapy with a cognitive behavioral therapist and started to get real help for the first time in the 16 years I’d been in therapy.
Four years later I still am not all the way better. I may never be. I try harder now than I ever did in the years before. What I learned in therapy, the techniques, about my own childhood, would change me forever. It helped me deal with the sudden illness and death of my estranged father in the summer/fall of 2017 and the murder of one of my sisters in June 2019. Without the breakdown, I may still be in the hospital from one or both of those events.
For that I am thankful. I could not have handled those things or this pandemic without the nervous breakdown.
Sometimes things need to break before they can be healed.