Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Advice to a Friend

A friend of mine was having a particularly hard time of things a while back - anxiety, primarily.  She had, like I, experience a nervous breakdown, and it felt like it was hitting her again.  (By the way, a good illustration of a nervous breakdown - or part of one, anyhow - can be found in the movie Katy Perry:  Part of Me right at the end - symptoms can be found here).  While I was writing my Master's thesis, a doctor told me that I was having "what they used to call a nervous breakdown".  Well, I'm here to say that it's still a very reasonable definition and should still be used regularly.  Because they happen all the time.  The nervour breakdown has not disappeared, even if the label is used less often (mind you, I don't know what it might have changed to).  There's nothing embarrassing about having a nervous breakdown - it means you've hit your limit - and each of us has our own limit, believe me.  And that's all that it means.  It means you can no longer handle the situation you are in and you need to back off and maybe make some careful changes in your life.  My friend's initial reaction was to want to immediately change big things in her life to fix the problem - something most of us would want to do. 

Here is some unsolicited advice I gave to her and that might someday help you or someone you love.  She asked me to re-send the e-mail to her today - I sent it in January, but her computer crashed and she lost the e-mail.  I was touched that she wanted to still have it and refer back to it.  And I thought if it was good for her, it might be good for someone else, too.  Parts italicized, in bold and underlined have been changed to maintain anonymity:

Hey. It came to me after I wrote yesterday, that I needed to pass on some advice that I've given a few other people:

Please wait until you're feeling better to make big life decisions.

The totally understandable inclination is to want to change everything right now to make things better. But the truth of the matter is that your emotions are coming from a place that isn't real right now - and they aren't being created by things happening outside of you. If you can wait until you feel better, you'll make more balanced decisions.

Case in point: before a person in my life went on antidepressants, she was in a really bad place. A friend of hers had given her some Tryptophan pills (I'm not even sure exactly what they were), but they were sending her on an incredible emotional roller coaster. She'd be okay for a while (like an hour) and then be thrown into depression until she took the next pill - and she was taking 5 or 6 a day. It was a wild ride and we were all in one place visiting with some people for a few days. At the time she wanted to divorce her husband because, in her mind, he was causing all of her pain.

Here's the thing: Your job (family, relationship ... whatever, fill in the blank) is not causing your pain. Your brain is causing your pain. The way you treat your job (family, relationship ... whatever) is exacerbating that ... as is the stress you allow your issues to bring to you

I chose to be in a position where I didn't have a huge commitment to work. And that helps me. But it doesn't fix it. It just helps me manage it.

The friend I was addressing in this e-mail and I were in a car together and in an uncharacteristically vulnerable moment, you said something like: "I keep busy so I don't have to deal with my life" - those weren't exactly the words you used, but the sentiment stuck with me. At the time you were, as far as I know, not yet on an emotional roller coaster - at least you hadn't hit the wall. But I'm sure that particular statement was very true. You need to face some stuff in your life - you're the only one who knows what you need to face, but you need to do it. Which probably means slowing down significantly and taking on some pretty serious subject matter in your brain (perhaps with the help of a counselor?).

If it means changing/quitting jobs so that you can have the time and presence to do that, then do it. But please try not to make that decision until you feel a little more balanced.

I'm here if you ever need to talk.

Love you

Here's the thing - your brain senses pain and wants it to stop, so it tries to figure out what it causing the pain.  But since it is coming FROM the brain, the brain can't see it and looks everyhwere else.  So you have to calm the brain down, become more relaxed and centred, and take a real break before you can make the changes that will help the most.

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