When I was 17, I struggled with severe depression. I could send myself into a tailspin within seconds. It got so bad that I agreed to be admitted into a hospital to get help. I used to believe that it was only going to get worse, and that there was no hope in my future. There was a period of time that I’m surprised I survived.
This was the time frame that I learned to embrace the breakdown. Like many others, I used to do anything I could to avoid the breakdown, but learning to embrace it made me see breakdowns as good things. I wasn’t going to hit an emotional bottom. I was going to break through a barrier that was holding me back. It is empowering to be in charge and head down a downward to have a break through. I say I’m getting ready for a growth spurt. The bigger the spiral, the bigger the growth spurt. Learning this skill did not keep me from experiencing dark times, but it helped me see that the dark times would pass as soon as I got what I was meant to get out of the situation. A lesson could take a day, month and sometimes longer. It really depended on how stubborn I was being and how tight I was holding on to the problem.
Growth spurts are what I call my emotional break throughs that lead me to better places. I usually have something great happen after one of my breakdown to break through episodes. After I embrace the breakdown, which is feeling all the feelings that are going through me. Sometimes I am hit with a lot, all at once. Those are my category 4 hurricanes. Next, I look at the situation from other perspectives. I’m not going to lie, I had a great role model for this part. We lovingly refer to my mom as “Pollyanna”. She modeled the skill of looking at things from a much brighter and less sinister angle. I remember getting so annoyed when I wanted to stay in a bad mood. Eventually, I came around and realized it wasn’t that bad. It’s funny watching my kids’ reactions when I do it to them. The best part is, they have now started to keep me on track too when I slip. After that, I look at the lessons in what’s causing me stress, anxiety, and/or depression.
In my early thirties, I was introduced to the work of Byron Katie. A friend gave me a CD series called, Making Your Thoughts Work for You By Dr. Wayne Dyer and Byron Katie. I had already done a lot of work on this, but her methods are truly amazing and easy to use. There are tons of videos out there of her work. Her method is brilliant. She even has an easy to use worksheet on her website. Katie’s way of looking at a perspective is a tool I use on a regular basis when I get triggered by anybodies actions or words. For the parents out there it is a great tool and a great way of life to teach children. It gives us great tools to see our children clearly and teaches them to take personal responsibility, while not getting caught up in what my mom calls, “awful-izing”. It doesn’t mean it won’t happen, but just like anything else it plants a seed. When they are ready, it will grow.
Another thing that works for me was suggested by my first sponsor in AL-ANON. She said to stand on a chair and look at the room from a different angle, then do your daily routines in a different order. My favorite was to change the order I put my foot in my underwear. I had to literally put a note in my underwear drawer to remind me to get out of my head and make different choices. I’m in my head a lot! I am one of those people who have to do a lot of work to get out of my head. I love hiking off-trail to help me with that one. When I have to pay attention for sticks, snakes, and direction, my mind stays clear!
I have worked with a lot of people on the topic of personal growth and I can share a couple of observations about what has kept myself and others in the vicious spin cycle longer.
- We try to run away from it using people, places, or things. I have used the busy world of doing, relationships with my children, family, and friends to keep me distracted from looking at myself. I have seen others use excess alcohol and drugs. In my experience, it never works to solve problems. Create problems, YES! Solve problem, No! I learned that when I feel over emotional about something I avoid alcohol completely or keep it to one glass of red wine in a relaxing environment. The relaxing environment part is essential.
- There is something about the chaos that makes us feel comfortable. Here’s an example: I used to be in a relationship with a lot of yelling and name calling. I was always on edge. I never knew what was going to come next. The reason it was comfortable to me is because it was what I experienced as a child watching my parents’ relationship. There was a normalcy in it. It took a lot longer to break that pattern than it did others. I had to consciously study healthy relationships and surround myself with friends in healthy relationships.
I’m sure there are other reasons, but for me, these are the ones that always stand out. Don’t be scared to feel everything that comes up. This can take time. This is not a quick fix. If it doesn’t work, go deeper. In the beginning for category 4 breakdowns it would take me a month or longer to get through it all, and some days were downright ugly. As I have practiced the skills and have learned to spot warning signs, I can tend to get through the process in about a day. But, not all the time. Around three years ago, one of my breakthroughs was from a failed relationship that was a carried pattern of many failed relationships. I had tried before to go deep, but it obviously wasn’t deep enough. I had to deal with childhood shame that was buried deep down. That took a lot of time and tears to get through. If there is shame involved, face it. If there is guilt involved, forgive yourself. If there is anxiety involved, get present. Anxiety comes from fears of future, and future in not predictable (at least for most of us). If there is anger, forgive them. Don’t forgive for the other person, forgiveness is personal. Repeat the mantra, “Breakdown to break through, breakdown to break through!” I will share my break through reading list soon. First, I have to do some digging.
Most importantly, treat yourself kindly from a loving place. It has been said many times by many different people, “We are our worst critics.” We are all doing the best we can with the tools we have been given. You deserve love and compassion just as much as all the people around you. Cry, scream, let it out! Stop running and embrace the breakdown.