A Guide for Those Who Are Drowning (A.K.A. surviving a mental breakdown)

This week, I decided to change up my listening material on my morning commute. Exciting stuff, I know, but hang with me. Wednesday morning, I heard this religious speaker relay a story of a man, who was swimming across a lake with one of his children, that was sucked under water by the weight of the water saturating his shoes. The man was able to kick off his shoes; he and his daughter made it safely to the other side of the lake. The speaker ended the story with this.

“At times we may all feel as if we are drowning…”

I, thankfully, have not experienced drowning in water, but I am too familiar with drowning in life. Since this is a common, but not often discussed, experience, I am sharing this guide, in hopes that it is helpful to you.

  • Be self-aware- most mental breakdowns typically come with some type of warning signs, which can include physical sensations like face tingling, stomach butterflies, feeling “heavy” or thoughts like “I am not good enough” or “I can’t…” Other factors, like being hungry or hot, will make you feel even worse, so keeping track of how you feel can  help you mitigate the impending breakdown.
  • When you recognize the warning signs, get somewhere private and comfortable ASAP- While having a breakdown isn’t something you should necessarily feel ashamed about, embarrassment from melting down in public will probably add to your discomfort. My favorite places to be when I am melting down is on my bed, buried in a blanket or in my bathtub while the shower runs over me, and if I am in public, I will excuse myself to sit either in my car or a private restroom until I can recompose myself enough to finish my work shift or errand.
  • Allow yourself to feel all the feels- If you are having a meltdown, it is safe to assume that you have lost the fight against whatever feelings you were trying to suppress, and that is okay. Your brain needs to process whatever is triggering your meltdown, so you can move past it. It won’t be pleasant, but you will feel better later. This step also includes giving yourself permission to cry as ugly as you need to, which has the added benefit of helping your body relieve itself of stress hormones.
  • Know that this is not the time to make life altering decisions- The likelihood that your brain is in a “fight or flight” resembling survival mode is pretty high right now, which means that the part of your brain that deals with rational thinking is not functioning like normal. If you are having breakdowns frequently and you know that work, relationship drama, etc. is causing them, you may have to make some big changes in order to feel better in the long term, but those decisions need to wait until after you calm down and can think clearly again or you could make a decision that you will regret. I feel the need to explicitly express that this includes the decision to commit suicide (1-800-273-8255 is the suicide prevention hotline number. Store it in your phone before you start feeling bad and call them before acting on any suicidal impulses).
  • You will feel drained after the worst symptoms pass. Make sure to drink plenty of water, eat a simple snack, and be extra kind to yourself. Try to relax for the next few hours and, if you can, go to bed early.

It may take some time and considerable effort, but you will feel better. Hang in there. I believe in you. I’d love to read any other suggestions you have, in the comments below.

4 thoughts on “A Guide for Those Who Are Drowning (A.K.A. surviving a mental breakdown)

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