It's not you. It's the world.
First of all, almost everything I want to say is in this article from The Atlantic: Bring Back the Nervous Breakdown, but I’ll say it all anyway.
A couple of months ago, for the first time in over a decade, I visited a psychiatrist. Psychiatry has its place, and I think it’s dangerous and mean-spirited to deny people medication that helps them, even if that denial is the guise of well-meaning judgement. Like, if someone would just do more yoga or exercise or change their diet, or see an acupuncturist, they wouldn’t need to be on meds. Please, let’s do away with that entirely. My experience is that I can do all of those things, and I do, and I still benefit from the help of psychiatry. Mostly, I think, we're probably saying these things to ourselves.
The problem isn’t psychiatry, although psychiatry plays a role. The problem is society. Our entire society is set up to put people into various hierarchies. It’s called the patriarchy and white supremacy. Another of these hierarchies has to do with mental health. Give someone a diagnosis. Pathologize their internal experience, make it abnormal. Stigmatize and label the very essence of who they are, their way of expending and conserving energy, their emotional lives, their thoughts. Call it mental illness. Could we instead acknowledge different ways of being as an integral part of the vast human experience?
We need the non-normative. We need the alternative viewpoints. Our society has decided to pathologize this, I believe in an attempt to keep people in their place, to keep the status quo, the standard, to keep those who conform to male WASP values in power and with all of the resources.
Fuck all that.
Without nervous breakdowns, without what would now be considered bipolar or depressive episodes, we would not have most of our art, our music, our books. We would, perhaps, not have much entrepreneurship nor all the great things that result from huge bursts of creative energy.
The nervous breakdown is simply a reset of the entire system. We all need a reset sometimes. Back in the day, if we had the means, we could go away to a sanatorium for six months and rest. It did not require a diagnosis. We could go to a beautiful place where someone else cooks the meals and makes the beds and all we have to do is lounge on an Adirondack chair by a lake and recoup our senses. Doesn’t that sound great?
But instead, our culture values other things: work, production, being active and busy, being strong, all things that exacerbate what ails us. Can we all just take a deep breath and admit that sometimes we are fragile? Sometimes we fall apart? Sometimes, we have a nervous breakdown. No need to pathologize it. It’s part of being human.
In other words, sometimes we all need a rest.
But the word “breakdown” implies that there is something that, afterwards, can be built back back up, and we can build it back how we want it. This could be seen, once we are through the painful crisis phase of the breakdown, as an opportunity. We retreat and come back new.
In case it’s not obvious yet, I’ll admit it. I’ve had a nervous breakdown. I have not been able to really work or create in any meaningful way for months. My nerves shattered.
I believe I’m back. During this time, a vast reorganization has occurred. I am rebuilt, and I believe, better than ever. My yoga practice is more consistent and gentle than it’s ever been. I have lost interest in most things that happen on a screen. I am no longer planning the next exciting trip. Instead, I crave consistency and stability. After moving to a new city, a year in, still feeling unsettled, I want to stay. It’s time to land. Most importantly perhaps, I know myself a lot better, including the newfound knowledge that I too am fragile.
Fragility requires exquisite care. Society has not been set up for us to care for ourselves in this way. Who can take off months from work? Very few of us. I can’t, not really. Most of us have to perform at least at a maintenance level in our professions. Some of us have families.
But maybe we can make a conscious decision to suspend any need to grow or improve in any way. Maybe we can be okay with simply keeping the pieces together as best we can, at least for a while.
For instance, making decisions is exhausting. Do we need to decide anything right now? What decisions can wait? What about new projects? New projects take our life force. Sometimes it’s well worth it, but if you are experiencing a nervous breakdown, or are simply fatigued, are there projects that feel urgent that can actually wait? My guess is that most things, unless the house is on fire or the children are sick, are not that urgent at all.
Can we create our own personal sanitarium? Can you clear a space for your mat and your bolsters, and keep them out. Resist the urge to roll up the yoga mat and put away the bolsters. Find a gentle movement class and do it as often as you can. Take a nap and walk slowly with no destination in mind. Get into nature as often as you can, and don’t feel like you have to climb the highest mountain. Or climb any mountain at all. Reclaim the value of a stroll.
And finally, let’s normalize the vast array of internal human experiences. Let’s not categorize and create hierarchies of mental health. Feel free to take the pill if it helps, but don’t worry too much about the diagnosis. We’re all just a little off.
It’s not you, afterall. It’s the world.