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How I Came Out of a Nervous Breakdown

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Someone told me there was no literature on this and asked me to write about my experiences since my first collapse was when I was 9 years old. When I was 44 it happened again and finally when I was 51. I never received any medical attention or sought any over these years. I just finally saw the pattern of my life and realized “Hey, I’ve been through this before.”

At 4, as an only child living in a house with my grandparents, I showed great musical promise and started lessons. Within a few years I was polished enough to enter a contest. The prize was lessons at the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music available only to gifted students. My mother and grandmother decided nothing would do that I must win this, heading me to a music career.

I was lazy and unmotivated as most kids are, but it clearly was their agenda and not mine and like all children I wanted to be obedient or at least keep the peace. For months I was beaten, badgered and forced to practice long hours. It all came to a head in the spring when I had 2 violent, terrifying identical 2 nightmares in a row. A giant huge spider hovered over my bed and threatened to crush me to death. I never told anyone at the time of the dream. I don’t recall anyone much listened to me anyway.

Exhausted but ready, I did win this contest, beating out a 17 year old boy.

But the victory was pyrrhic, not for me, but for my family. I remember thinking, and can recall it today, ‘well, this is their contest, they won it and they can have it.’ I vowed never to take an interest in music or anything else they could ruin. I went to the conservatory but soon left as my teacher saw I was only going through the motions. I did this, of course, to avoid additional beatings.

I emotionally divorced my family at that time. I remember standing in the middle of the living room when I was 15 thinking, I am going to have to raise myself. Of course I was not doing all that great a job at it, but I knew I was little more than an actor in someone else’s drama. BUT, I did learn some work standards. I married as quickly as possible and left home.

Now we jump to when I was 44. I had been working night and day, trying to save my marriage, and completely unaware of what was happening. My husband’s business was in a state of disrepair, he eventually had to close it, and he was living almost entirely off my inheritance and alcohol. I received not a dime of this – nor from his earnings for 9 years. I guess that lesson of sticking to the bitter end I had learned as an elementary student.

I was doing everything in my power to keep the family in tact, and so the money was not important. At least not until I had this epiphany, “He married me for my money and when it was gone so was he.”

Things came to a head in November of 1982 when he got dead drunk and tried to seduce an acquaintance at a party. The poor woman was terrified. I realized this 26-year marriage was over.

I went into some sort of mental state where I just “did” what I knew to do. God showed me the giant black spider was my baby grand piano on which I had practiced so many hours. And here I was, back in this situation again. Every bit of energy and hope had drained away. This is the point where people ask me, what did you do to change things.

First I did not go to a doctor. I avoided them at all costs. I believed as a child that adults were not my friends and not on my side. I never really got over this.

But my daughter was getting married and I needed to sew a dress. It was quite a complicated pattern with a difficult lined collar. The more I worked on this (and mind you I have no real talent in sewing) the more I got some of my personality back. The wedding was a success but that marked the end of my marriage for good. When people ask “Can this marriage be saved?” I can guarantee you the question comes way too late for the couple.

The same thing happened again in 1989 when I was overworked to the point of exhaustion, and life piled in on me again. But this time I saw the pattern and just sat down in a rocking chair on my porch and looked at the Blue Ridge skyline. I ended up losing my home, but as a close buddy said, “You never lost your sense of humor.”

I’ve concluded, and you may have another idea, that satisfying work is the cure here. I was physically pressured beyond my limits. Apparently I have unlimited mental endurance, but not physical. I have learned to stop cold now when I feel my body failing under me.

I was the cause of my problems. I made 3 false assumptions. (1) that if I worked hard and pleased my parents I would be rewarded (2) if I worked hard I could save a marriage and (3) if I worked hard I could save my home.

I hope this helps someone else pull out of a breakdown. Don’t hit the bottle or the drugs. Sit in a chair and think about who and what you are. Whatever it is, it may not be what you thought. Then go on, take a better path, and rejoice in the end.

1 Comment

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