The Small Nervous Breakdown
I had my small nervous breakdown a week after the first-year anniversary of the death of my mother. I call it small because unlike what I’ve seen in the movies, my breakdown was slow and quiet. It started when I moved into a new apartment, where I rented the master bedroom and thought that even though I hadn’t processed the loss of my mother, I was properly running away and finally had my own bathroom.
I didn’t think anything was particularly wrong with me when I stopped being able to sleep. I blamed it all on the persistent noise coming from the neighbor’s bedroom, whose TV seemed to be going at all hours of the night. I took melatonin, listened to music, even talked to the guy whose TV I believed was causing me what I now know were daily panic attacks. The break came a month later, when I finally, completely, stopped sleeping. I called two friends and asked them to take me to the emergency room.
I don’t remember what happened at the hospital besides being pumped with Ativan which finally gave me relief and being told that I will be given 7 Ativan pills for the week and had to see a psychiatrist immediately. The nurse who spoke to me kept asking me if I was considering harming myself, and I didn’t know how to answer her because even though I didn’t want to hurt myself, I was praying for a speeding bus or truck to just turn off the light of my life. I said no, so they let me go with my Ativan.
The first psychiatrist I ever saw was very gentle. She said that the trauma of losing a parent is one that is unlike any other, and people who go through this trauma at such a young age specifically need help. She explained to me what Prozac was, and when I asked her if it was going to change who I was as a person, she said, very tenderly, that I had already changed, and in order to figure out who I had become (I’m assuming she meant, motherless), I needed an anchor to root me in reality, so I can finally digest it.
I took my first Prozac pill that day, in 2009. 20 mgs of relief. I finally started sleeping again, and existing in the world without always being in extreme emotional anguish. I decided to face my pain, and after a few months of adjusting to medication, I moved out of my apartment and flew back to Palestine, where the root of my pain lived.
My life went from before and after mom, to before and after my small nervous breakdown. I so appreciated that breakdown because it tore down the false reality I had painted for myself. It made me realize that I was going through a very long and difficult journey, with no clear end in sight, but the only way out is through. Always.
I think of myself on that tiny hospital bed in the hallway waiting for test results. I felt so small and so alone, and so unique in my pain. I felt like no one had ever felt this sad before (false). I wanted to peel out of my body and leave and be someone else. I felt those feelings again this past week and a half, my first week and a half without anti-anxiety medication, but I know this time that my pain isn’t special, that this journey is also difficult but has an end in sight.
I also know that losing my mother wasn’t the only trigger for my anxiety. Before my mother died, I was cleaning her room and found a print out about panic attacks in her bedside table drawer. Of course, I didn’t ask her about it, because the idea of my mother freaking out was too much to bear. A few weeks ago, my aunt randomly told me that my grandmother had extreme anxiety and couldn’t pick her up from the airport after a year of travel because she thought she would pass out.
For a lot of people, mental illness is inherited from parents and grandparents, just like cute button noses or curly hair, but we don’t want to come in terms of the history of our mental illness, because this particular inheritance feels too heavy and unshakable, but maybe if we decide to take a deeper look at our strange grandparents or crazy fathers, we can not only understand our own brains better but cultivate compassion for actions that might have hurt us in the past.
Mental illness is terrifying, I know. It feels terminal, unfair, unconquerable and never-ending, and in a lot of cases it is, but it can be managed through therapy, medication, and most importantly, honesty. I will be writing about my journey with medication, and now, without it. I hope when you read this you feel less alone, less ashamed, and less debilitated, and take comfort in the fact that all our experiences are shared and repeated, and it’s really wonderful to have common pain because that also means that we get better. In the world of mental illness, none of us are special, and what a blessing that is.
Tala’s Mental Illness Dictionary:
Melatonin: natural supplement to treat insomnia.
Ativan: hardcore sedative (love it).
Prozac: slow-release antidepressant, meaning that you take the pills and they build up in your system and take a few weeks to work (also love it).