How I deal with mental breakdowns

This piece is written by my dear friend Jayme, at Rayne’s World. I have been linking to this piece for over a year and a half. I link to it in comments on other blogs and I repeatedly reference it here on this blog. It’s linked to on my about page as a story of recovery as well. This blog entry from Rayne’s World, I believe, is indisputably my favorite blog post of all times from any blog anywhere. It is certainly the most profoundly meaningful and memorable to me.

So now as I ask for guest writers I thought I’d ask Jayme if I could repost her piece here and she graciously said yes.

Jayme is an incredible human being who was institutionalized for 20 years and experienced all the profound dehumanization that goes with that. She tells her story here. I think the number of people with a history like hers that end up escaping the system is very very few. But that is what Jayme did and she did it with such awesomeness and grace and complete transcendence. She is one of my biggest inspirations and she is always there for me when I need an ear even though she is now working more than full-time running The Peer Wellness Center in Georgia. She is also one of the most genuinely happy human beings I’ve encountered. We’re talking someone with real, solid, good mental health whose very life and expression is contagious.

The reason this piece means so much to me is because it is in essence the meditation I practice much of the time. For me now it’s not just emotional stuff I must embrace and accept, but also the gross physical pain, discomfort and debilitation that I also try to meditate on deeply.

Here are Jayme’s words of wisdom:

As most of you already know, I refuse to take any medications for mental illness, even though every doctor I’ve seen has stated that I need to be on medications for the rest of my life. That is why I no longer see doctors. So what do I do in a crisis situation? How do I deal with the symptoms? This question was asked the other day, and I realized that I needed to write a blog post about it. My answer is highly unconventional, yet I feel it’s long overdue.

Before I answer, let me describe the symptoms I experience. I hate the word “symptoms” by the way because they are simply human experiences, yet for this post I’ll use the term because it is the psychiatric term used in diagnosing specific, unwonted human experiences.

Depression. When I get depressed, I can’t get out of bed. I have no motivation to do anything. All I can do is cry and think about dying. Life has no meaning whatsoever. I find no joy in any activity, and even lying in bed is painful. There is no escape. Nothing helps. I can’t tolerate any social situation, and I don’t answer the phone or the door. It’s a miracle I am still alive today because suicide is the most comforting thought I carry. It allows me a sense of power amidst all the powerlessness that depression brings.

Anxiety. When I am feeling anxious, life becomes overwhelming. I cannot handle noise or movement. It makes me want to scream and lash out and stop the chaos in any way possible. I feel jumpy and desperate and totally out of control. When I get this way, I can truly identify with the person who goes on a shooting spree. That is hard to admit, but it is so true. Again, that fantasy allows me a sense of power amidst the powerlessness that anxiety brings.

Dissociation. Dissociation, for me, is very similar to being in a state of shock. Everything around me becomes surreal. It’s like I’ve been thrust into another reality where nothing is like it was before. Think of a time when you first heard the news of a loved one’s unexpected death. That is similar to what dissociation is like for me, except there was no death. Also, my memory gets really bad, and time becomes warped and distorted.

Those are my three primary experiences and symptoms that have been diagnosed by psychiatrists since 1982. The actual diagnoses vary, depending on the psychiatrist, and some of them include Major Depression, Dissociative Identity Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, PTSD, and the list goes on. I’ve also been diagnosed with illnesses that have nothing to do with the symptoms I described. You see, once I got into the system, I developed other behaviors simply from the side effects from the medications I was given or from trying to survive in a psychiatric hospital or day program. These added behaviors were diagnosed with things like Chronic Undifferentiated Schizophrenia, Borderline Personality Disorder, Schizo Affective Disorder, and the list goes on.

These are the reasons I do not believe in the existence of mental illness. The system simply can’t get it right, most likely due to the fact that there are no scientific tests for any mental illness. Psychiatrists — and NAMI — will tell you that brain scans show differences in the brain chemistry of people with these illnesses, but hey, they failed to stop the medications before scanning the brains. Those scans are of chemically-altered brains! Other explanations are possible, too, like childhood trauma, which is the most prevelant occurance in people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness. But this whole brain-chemistry topic is for another post. It gets pretty involved.

So what do I do when those symptoms occur that I described above?

I embrace them. I honor them for what they are and I feel them for all they are worth. If I am depressed, I feel the depression as if I were being paid to describe to someone what depression is like. I describe it as I am feeling it. I don’t try to distract myself from it the way everyone advises me to do. I hear things like “Take a walk, call a friend, go out with friends, exercise, do anything except feel the depression, you are only dwelling on it and it will make things worse, and for godssake don’t isolate!” I used to feel so guilty for not being able to follow their advice. Not anymore! I will dwell on my depression. I will isolate. I will remove myself from all of society and I will treat myself to whatever my heart desires. That usually means isolating and wallowing in depression and crying my heart out for no reason. There is movement in crying! There is healing. I cry as deeply as my body will allow, and the exhaustion that follows is the most healing experience of all. And “healing” does not mean that the depression is over. It may be around for a while, and that is okay. It is not something that needs to be healed. Depression is simply another human experience, and by god, I am going to experience it!

So what happens when you stop trying to cure depression? The only thing constant is change, and that includes depression. It is always temporary, and you can count on it.

Allowing depression to run its natural course ultimately allowed me to become a more compassionate and empathetic human being than I ever was before. These traits are priceless and eternal. No SSRI could ever accomplish that. Not even close.

Intolerance for noise and movement peaked when I lived in the downtown high rise. The chaos was constant, and my cockatiel Jake added to the chaos every day. I was nearly at the point of hurting that precious little bird, and that’s when I realized I absolutely had to find a way to cope with my anxiety. So I began paying attention to the chaos, soaking it in, refusing to try and make it go away, no longer believing that I would find peace if it all stopped. I said “Bring it on!” and I meant it. I observed myself experiencing the chaos and knew that I was safe in the midst of it. It is an amazing, transformational process of surrender, which has far greater value than anything Xanax can offer.

This method also worked with Dissociation. The diagnosis used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder. If I have other personalities inside of me, why not get to know them and embrace them and learn from them? They are there for a reason, and they are me! I could write a whole post on this subject alone (and maybe I will), but trying to fight off any aspect of myself, whether it is depression, anxiety, or multiple personalities, is only denying myself yet another human experience. I refuse to do that anymore. I have a right to experience being human because I am human!

So, what really happens when I embrace all these symptoms rather than fix (mask) them through psychiatric “treatments”? Hmmmm…. well, I very rarely have any of these symptoms anymore, and when I do, they don’t last nearly as long. To be honest, I can’t remember details of their recurrences anymore because they don’t stand out like they used to. They are no longer “bad” or “horrible” in my mind or my experience, so why make a note of them? It’s like having a rainy day. Who cares? It just happens. Anyway, my goal was never to make the symptoms go away. It just happened.

Probably the greatest benefit of using this method is the lack of fear and guilt I now have toward any of these symptoms creeping into my life.

I truly believe I am on to something here.

I also use this method for other things that are uncomfortable, like quitting smoking. I didn’t use any distractions like gum or exercise whenever I would have a craving, which was constant in the beginning. I felt the craving, even invited it. And of course the cravings subsided. I have no desire to smoke anymore, but if the desire creeps in, I take the time to feel it and embrace it. Feelings can’t kill you, but smoking can.

One more thing…

What about the individual who experiences these symptoms yet is unable to embrace them without becoming a danger to herself or others?

This is the primary use, in my opinion, for medication — on a temporary basis. Just to get through the crisis. The greatest atrocity of the mental health system is dooming a human being to taking powerful, mind-altering drugs for the rest of her life.

This is what keeps me up at night. This is what fuels my passion as an advocate.

More posts on how to learn to embrace the tough stuff too: The foundation of healing mental distress

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About Monica Cassani

Author/Editor Beyond Meds: Everything Matters

28 Responses

  1. It is an interesting perspective but it seems a bit like playing with fire a bit. I guess since the writer has been living with this condition for so long that most of the surprise is gone and can rely on past experiences to overcome todays difficulties. I am one of those people the doctors have told that I would be on medication for life and it is something that I have come to terms with for even though I know they are doing harm at least I have a life that is worth living. Take care

  2. Van

    That is a great piece of work!

    I have to say, one think that I’m not able to find any comfort in (yet, maybe) is the meditation I’ve taken on. What I cannot do is stop my mind from… well… going on and on.

    It’s much like when I go to bed – I simply cannot turn off.

  3. Yes, I love that post too. It’s how I dealt with my “bipolar disorder” before I was diagnosed. I treated moods like energy, that would just wash over me, and then be gone. It wasn’t this big wonder of, “Will I have an episode? OMG!” I think the whole label is just a way to entrap people… as my husband says, there’s no medical care system when people are well.

  4. Ana

    It’s a great achievement.
    “I observed myself experiencing the chaos and knew that I was safe in the midst of it.”
    It’s amazing this part of yourself that “observes”.

  5. naturalgal

    Well, Maybe I missed something, but what about people who experience delusions? If they have a good job and need that job to survive, how does embracing the delusions help them. I guess I can maybe see if you are disability.

    I would like to see a discussion about how a person handles these types of episodes. How do they recognize that it is indeed, a delusion, and to help themselves get back on track before they lose many of the things they worked so hard for.

  6. This was an interesting article. My story is similar in many ways to Jayme’s. I’ve been diagnosed with many mental illnesses, especially bipolar disorder. I’ve been off meds for decades and have had a very successful life with marriage, family, education, travel, hobbies, awards. According to all my doctors, as a young man I was supposed to just accept that I would, at most, just be able to sit in a chair all my life.

    I’ve used a lot of tools to cope with symptoms like depression. many times I just distract myself or just force myself to start moving. Those things often work. But, at times, I just give in to depression and just lie around for a day or so. That works too. Actually it is easy. It just feels like I just need a break from having to be nice to the world. It’s like my brain gets worn out with life and needs a break. I feel like my mind runs too fast and too much most of the time, so it needs a break from time to time.
    Thanks for the article, we all need to see more success stories.
    Jim S

  7. I know of someone else who didn’t take drugs for his depression and tendencies to withdraw. Regrettably, he’s not alive anymore. He was shot and died the next morning. But he died for a cause, standing up for something he believed. There’s actually a book written about him, and reading this post reminded me of him. Here’s a quote from the book:

    Previously, Lincoln had responded to his troubles by seeking help from others, either explicitly or implicitly. Now he spent an increasing amount of time alone. “Today, the fact that isolation can be therapeutic is seldom mentioned in textbooks of psychiatry,” writes Anthony Storr, in Solitude: A Return to the Self. Yet, Storr points out, the capacity to be alone, sometimes for long periods, can be profoundly important, as people come to terms with loss, sort out their ideas, or go through serious change. “That solitude promotes insight as well as change,” Storr continues, “has been recognized by the great religious leaders” — including the Buddha, Jesus, and Mohammed — “who have usually retreated from the world before returning to it to share what has been revealed to them.”

    The book is about Abraham Lincoln’s Melancholy and was written by Joshua Wolf Shenk

  8. naturalgal

    Yes, Gianna, I did see that, but I need to see it again. I guess maybe it is the other people who freak out about what an individual is going through.

    I will look at the stuff later.

  9. I am glad that this has worked for Jayme and she’s definitely a stronger person for it, but I’m afraid that is not the case with me. It is a good post, though.

  10. I just think if I let myself get to that point of allowing myself to feel depressed to the point where I get suicidal, I’d be dead already. That’s not healthy for me.

    I think many people need to deal with their emotions instead of blunting them, I agree. I believe the majority of people do not need to be on medications. What is it that Dawdy cited–10-20% of Americans are on antidepressants? That number should be 2-5% or less. 10% is much too high.

    I’d like to get off of my Lamictal in the hopes of paving the way for children within a year or two but my husband says I need to be open to the fact that I may have to be on this medication for the rest of my life. That doesn’t thrill me.

  11. What a surprise to come here and read this post! Thank you for all your kind words, Gianna. You made my day, my week, my year! I am honored you would post this on your blog.

    Out of all my blog posts, this one is my personal favorite. It still speaks to me, and I use this method every day, no matter what feelings arise. When the feelings are at their most intense, I say to the Universe “I reclaim my power now!” and the miracles follow. Every time! I have to be feeling the feelings while I make this statement, though, or it doesn’t always work.

    I’m not saying this method is for everyone, but it is a life saver for many who truly know that, when it all comes down to it, they are safe.

  12. Laura Borst

    I disagree that forced psychiatric drugging would make anybody safe. I don’t believe in locking someone up solely to “prevent” violence if they haven’t done anything wrong. For one thing, even many psychiatrists have admitted that predictions of future behavior have often been inaccurate. Many psychiatric drugs often increase the potential for violence by causing akathisia, an internal sense of restlessness. Many of the school shooters were taking SSRIs before they perpetrated the school shootings. Eric Harris, one of the Columbine killers, was on Luvox(generically called fluvoxamine)at the time of the killings. The Virginia Tech killer also had psychiatric drugs in his medicine cabinet at the time of the killings. It is true that much of the brain damage seen on scans of “schizophrenics'” brains are likely caused by psychiatric drugs, and not “schizophrenia” itself. However, while withdrawing from these drugs would reduce much of the damage, sadly, this damage is often permanent. For more info, please visit http://www.icspp.org.

  13. Wow, this is an inspiring post. How wonderful to be able to deal with such a difficult past.
    I suffer from depression and have tried medications for some years, however they always end up making me sick. So right now I am experimenting with nutrition and with mindfulness. There’s a really helpful book on mindfulness for mood disorders called Get Out of your Mind and Into your Life that I find fantastically helpful. And hearing Jayme’s positive view of mindfulness and acceptance for her illness, which is worse than my own, is so so inspiring. I’m going to be working more with mindfulness in the future.

    The idea that ‘symptoms’ or difficult feelings in other words disipate in the end with calm attention is key I think.

    Thank you very much!

  14. kim

    beautiful. powerful. thought-provoking. thank you for posting this. I will be following her blog. Thank you for emailing me the link-I cannot describe how much this piece means to me.

  15. Wonderful, wonderful!

    As I’m newly aware (I won’t say diagnosed) of my condition I’m looking for alternatives to medication or supplemental strategies to reduce my dependence on drugs.

    This post has awakened me to the possibilities as well as confirming that some of my current strategies are appropriate.

    I currently use sunlight, walking, exercise, mindfulness, vitamins, immersion in my moods as well as some light medication.

    Great stuff

  16. Althouth some of us here, talk as if Jayme’s ways of dealing with her moods, are not for us, we can’t dismiss the fact that they work for her. We can all learn from each other. The people who post on this site have wrestled with their dark sides. We have not just studied people suffering from mental illness, we have first hand knowledge.

    There are probably logical reasons why we suffer symptoms of mental illness. Many came from our early upbringing. Some are from our genetics. Some are patterns we have learned. We need to accept our past and ourselves, then do the best we can. Sounds easy, but it is the most difficult thing we can do.
    Jim S

  17. Lily

    this blog is a godsend. I recently “found” myself, and im at such odds with myself about taking medication.. Ive always been against medication all of my life, and no wonder! because my body is too sensitive to them. I volunteer myself for the brain scans! Med-free! 🙂 i remember explaining depression to a colleague of mine, that really, it is just a time to decompress, a break..my life is so crazy, i need to sit down and breathe, and just watch tV all day and nothing else. Depression isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I see it as a positive thing. I’ve done better with the depression, it only lasts for a few days (compared to months), but it still frustrated me why i was trying so hard to lead a physically healthy, emotionally healthy life and yet no matter how hard I tried, I still couldn’t do it. Im so glad that I have the *answer* just knowing that I have it, really helps me.. and now i know that i m in the wrong career- no wonder im getting so anxious, because im boxed up, in my own office with 4 walls and no window, and Im squirming in my seat. If i maximize my creative skills & talent, then i wouldn’t be so crazy, i d be brilliant! 🙂 lately my friends have been telling me that i have such an ego, and i d get all defensive, because i know that is NOT me, that is not the kind of person i aspire to be, yet really struggled with this.. I just feel excited about the many prospects I can do now, if i put myself to it, but i need to take care of myself first (starting now, with this journey of discovery and finding others just like me) but just feel so bummed about the possibility of leaving my career, really put my *all* into it, and have so many connections in the field etc, that just leaving it all suddenly, and seeing the looks on their faces..that is my biggest fear (and biggest blow to my ego too!) but i know i need to do it, i need to respect myself. I really do like my job, but the reality of things.. the 9 to 5 thing, working with supervisors and colleagues on a daily basis, maintaining relationships, etc, the stress! Anyone have tips on how to do this? Leave a respectable career, respectfully with my dignity intact?

    I perfectly AGREE with everything that jayme said, that gianna said. Makes total perfect sense. And this is coming from someone who has never been on medication, and has “played” the field successfully for many years without knowing about this “special” gift. (although it was very hard to do, it was (and still is) a major internal struggle)

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