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Tiny Revolutions №56: Say You Want a Nervous Breakdown
we-ell you know, we all want to drop out of the world 🛌
Hi, I’m Sara, and this is Tiny Revolutions, a weekly-ish dispatch of personal writing and links about becoming who you are. Reply anytime, I love to hear from you.
There’s a new article in The Atlantic that argues that we should bring back nervous breakdowns. “It used to be okay to admit that the world had simply become too much,” says writer Jerry Useem, who laments that this once-common phenomenon is no longer the “culturally sanctioned respite” it was in the first half of the 20th century.
“The past year has made clear the tremendous emotional and social damage that accumulates when whole populations get pushed beyond easily endurable limits,” he continues. “Alcohol consumption is up; drug overdoses are up; reports of anxiety and depression are up. Even once this pandemic wanes, its psychic effects will linger.”
Having had a nervous breakdown of my own in 2009, I am here to tell you that I… completely agree! In my case, I was 33, I had what looked like an amazing life, and I was so deeply miserable and hopeless that I had reached a point where I simply couldn’t do it anymore. “It” being everything, of course. I found myself incapable of going on for one more second.
I didn’t go to an institution but I did have to take a sudden leave of absence from work, and I embarked upon a pretty intense of course of therapy for a month or so, after which I cut back to weekly sessions that continued for years.
I’d had been working a series of well-paying jobs for years prior to it happening, which meant that, in addition to some savings I had, I was able to collect a decent amount of disability from the state, and it was a sufficient amount to stay afloat while I got my shit together. Altogether, I was out of work for about a year.
It was a weird era, but I’m grateful it happened. It marked a turning point in my life – an acknowledgement that I could no longer deny that I had a chronic condition (depression, anxiety, seemingly inexhaustible amounts of existential angst) that required management. Not that that meant that I immediately got good at managing it. More like I just could no longer pretend that I didn’t have to.
So that’s what I’m doing, and every year since I’ve tried to get better at adding to or being more consistent with doing the things that help. If you’ve been reading this newsletter for a while, you might know that writing it is one of the things that helps me feel better. Sharing what I’ve learned and what keeps me going and gives me faith and hope that it’ll all be OK. Or that it already is.
All of this is to say that if you’re struggling right now, please get help. Call a friend, make a therapy appointment, hell, email me. There are always options and there are so many people who have been there are now ready, willing, and able to help.
While I don’t regret having the experience of the breakdown, in a perfect world I would never have gotten so far gone as to reach a point of inability to function. No one would.
A friend recently tipped me off the to the fact that the National Alliance on Mental Illness offers free, peer led support groups for any adult who needs them. If you can’t afford therapy right now, this is an incredible resource.
“You must find your own way. Unless you find it yourself, it will not be your own way and will take you nowhere. Earnestly live your truth as you have found it – act on the little you have understood. It is earnestness that will take you through, not cleverness – your own or another’s.”
“I'm reminded of the Preface to Jim Harrison's wonderful book of poetry, After Ikkyu. He talks about when he first began studying Zen in "a state of rapacious and self-congratulatory spiritual greed." I have been that. I am that. And I see similar effects in others who consume all of this political noise relentlessly, assume they have it and everyone else all figured out, and want to address the world with every bit of their impregnable superiority. "There was no more self-referential organism alive than myself," Harrison continues. "A potato that didn't know it was a potato."
We are all potatoes. There is the strength of humility in remembering. We can maintain strong convictions and have disagreements. We can get radicalized and fight the power and all that. But we don't have to be jerks about it. We don't have to close our minds and hearts to the idea that maybe we can learn something from everyone, if only by imagining ourselves in their shoes. There absolutely are times to take to the streets, to stand our ground. But sometimes what is required is a simple act of listening.”
Speaking of Love…
“For when you’ve put up with a lot of shit from someone and you did it because you thought there was a chance that if they would just change slightly, just do what they said they were gonna do, it could be great, really great, but you finally give up and you’re crushed but underlying that you mostly feel relief, like, whoa, go fuck yourself times 1,000.”
Find out what song this refers to in this playlist I made a few years back of “songs for various points on the relationship spectrum that aren’t usually celebrated with red roses and candy hearts.” Window Seat: A Valentine’s Day Song for Wherever You Are
The silent Zoom work sessions continue. Come join us and let’s be alone together as we slowly chop our wood and carry our water. Tuesday night from 7-8 PT. RSVP here.
Another week! Let’s do it.
p.s. You are not alone.
p.p.s. Thank you for reading. As wise people tell me, sharing is caring.