Photo credits: Julia Kaczmarek
I have found that human beings are dangerously good at pushing themselves to keep going in spite of any circumstances that might negatively impact their day-to-day responsibilities. We simply suppress the ‘emotional inconveniences’ and carry on doing what is expected from us. This particular skill has become so well developed that it is now the standard: shove it all down if dealing with it will impede you from completing the task you have been given. So we keep pushing until we inevitably reach a breaking point.
Breaking down happens to all of us; we all reach a point of burnout so intense that we no longer know what to do with ourselves. Most of the time it results in unusual behaviours, such as the inability to get out of bed, falling into depression, increasing social anxiety, unusual eating habits, or even behaving in a completely scandalous manner that is unlike our usual selves, like losing our patience and exploding or falling into deep silence and isolation. It tends to come as a surprise to everyone – even ourselves – when we finally break down, exactly because we have mastered the skill of suppressing all the unpleasantness. We all know how breakdowns put us off track and how dreadful they are, but I hope to shine a light on the positive aspects of such a negative experience.
These last few months were very harsh on me. After an intensive summer, full of partying, building friendships, travelling and working, I knew I was going to feel exhausted and was actually enthusiastic for the school year to start again – I missed having a solid schedule and real responsibilities. But I did not expect to feel so drained. I spent the first week of September back home and slept for the first two days. Somehow I could not keep myself awake; I would constantly doze off for a quick power nap every couple of hours. At first, I assumed that it was just the built-up exhaustion, all the sleepless summer nights finally catching up to me simultaneously and my body requiring some rest. However, even after days of prioritising sleep, I still felt enervated all the time. My anxiety began to creep in rapidly a few days before my flight back to Amsterdam; I could feel that I was not prepared to return to the hectic lifestyle the city provides. This way of living which I used to adore and embrace now felt too exhausting and daunting and anxiety-inducing, and my entire being begged against it. That was the moment I realised that I was perhaps dealing with a breakdown.
It became clear very quickly that it was most certainly a breakdown. All the events that happened before and during summer promptly caught up to me; all the feelings I previously did not have the time to process, all the stress I thought I had gotten over, and all the emotions I did not have time to work through began to reemerge. Everything came crashing down in one enormous wave, triggering other personal issues to resurface. Dealing with everything at once was intensely exhaustive; everything felt strenuously overwhelming. I found myself sleeping for too many hours because I simply did not have energy and the simplicities of life that previously vitalized me began to feel gloomy and debilitating. Being emotionally aware and honest with myself about how I felt was helpful when coming to the conclusion that I was not doing too great. Nevertheless, recognizing that you’re on the verge of collapsing is not the easiest realization.
I believe a lot of people misunderstand what is actually happening in our bodies and minds when we break down. They happen because we do not allow ourselves to relax; we keep tensing and pushing through everything that could impose an ‘unnecessary’ challenge on our daily lives. Many believe that breakdowns happen randomly – I can guarantee that they do not. When little (and big) things pile on top of each other, eventually it will no longer be able to hold its stability. Even the most carefully balanced tower crumbles under great pressure. The same goes for us humans – we push everything down for as long as there is room, and then it all floods in at once in an all-consuming wave that overpowers us. We all go through tough situations that require an extended amount of time to process and truly recuperate from in a healthy manner. When you don’t give yourself this much-needed break, eventually you snap. This is your body’s way of desperately begging for health, your mind’s attempt to force you into an uncomfortable process of self-understanding and development. It’s a frantic last call for a reboot; to look at the code, find the error, deal with it and press restart.
In spite of its inconvenience and unpleasantness, a breakdown can be an opportunity for a great amount of growth. It forces us to process everything that has been brushed under the rug and to acknowledge the emotions and situations we have actively chosen to ignore. Theoretically, it is much simpler to deal with life’s challenges as they come, but our conscious minds are extremely reluctant to confront the harsh realities of life; it likes to ignore the undesirable emotions, the dysfunctional relationships, the awkward situations. Furthermore, it is easy to classify these situations as ‘unimportant’ or a ‘waste of time’ as a coping mechanism; I see this daily in many of my peers and colleagues that, in this day and age, with the huge amount of responsibilities, work, university, extracurriculars, etc, everyone is always so busy that they feel guilty when they decide to take a day to rest. Nevertheless, I believe that it is extremely important to allow ourselves to feel these uncomfortable emotions and make the effort to get through these undesirable situations so we can learn how to cope with negative emotions and develop healthy coping mechanisms. In this demanding world, it is crucial to become emotionally mature and stable.
Essentially, a breakdown is asking for a change. A change in routine, a change in perspective, a change in behaviour. For me, this meant rebooting my sleep schedule, rethinking my priorities and allowing myself to actually feel everything I most certainly did not want to feel. I decreased my work availability and shifted my focus to my university courses; I began cooking my own healthy meals again, increasing my veggie intake; I surrounded myself with friends who provided me with the comfort and safe place to rant and recharge. However, my biggest change was sleeping early and waking up every day at 6h30 in the morning and pushing myself to go out for a morning run. The determination to feel better was stronger than the desire to stay in bed, so I actively chose to make the conscious effort to go out in the 9-degree October cold. Seeing the sunrise was also a huge incentive.
Rearranging my entire life felt like filling up my lungs with refreshing breath, which helped me immensely. Since I had reached a point where I had so many thoughts all the time, this new schedule helped me compartmentalise them. I admit that dealing with everything was extremely draining; all I wanted to do was fly back to the comfort of home and turn it all off, but I was aware of the importance of going through this process. I knew it would be an opportunity for self-discovery and growth. Allowing these feelings to reach the surface level was not easy; for weeks I felt like I was constantly about to burst into silent tears from being so overwhelmed and emotionally charged. Going through this situation forced me to rethink relationships and priorities, helped me get a bit more in touch with my emotional side, and prove to myself that despite the challenges, I can muster up the courage to stay afloat.
I recognise that I was lucky enough to know that I could pull through without any professional help and that I had a wonderfully supportive environment. I am eternally thankful for my friends who let me ramble endlessly about the same topics over and over, who reassured me that I’m not insane and am just going through a rough period, who were able to effortlessly cheer me up despite everything. Focusing on university and learning new skills occupied my mind in such a purposeful manner that it kept me motivated to study even when it was the last thing I wanted to do. Committing to my daily runs helped me clear my mind, feel more in control and recollect myself. Reaching out to my family provided me with a sense of comfort that I desperately needed. Effortless activities with my close friends helped me not to isolate myself whilst still requiring just the right amount of energy that I felt I could put in.
I strongly believe that speaking up about these topics is important, especially as we transition into this time of the year when the days become shorter and colder. As ‘seasonal depression’ starts to kick in, it’s important to provide reassurance that your feelings are valid and that suppressing or ignoring them is unequivocally more challenging than giving yourself a genuine break to allow yourself to process it all. I’m a strong believer that everything will turn out okay, and if it isn’t okay yet, then it isn’t the end.
I once read somewhere that we all have a bit of ‘I want to save the world’ in ourselves, and it’s okay if you only save one person: yourself. I admit that I’m still in this learning process, but I also want to acknowledge that even if the underlying issues are still there (and some will remain with us forever), you get better at coping with them and their impact on you becomes unquestionably smaller. So consider this your sign to take a step back, let out the breath you’ve been holding in and remember that it’s okay to let your emotions flow through. Be honest with yourself and with others, speak your mind respectfully and allow yourself to open up; at the end of the day, this will only improve your relationship with yourself and with those around you. It’s okay to give yourself time to recharge and sort out your priorities. Remember that even the strongest towers crumble under great pressure. It’s okay to let yourself fall apart, just as long as you can build yourself back with stronger pieces.
This article does not wish to invalidate anyone’s feelings or emotions or diminish anyone’s struggles; it was used as an emotional outlet for the writer. Please remember that it is okay to reach out and seek professional help if you are struggling.
Written by Laiana Farais