Moving from breakdown
I am going to use the term ‘breakdown’ not in any labelling sense but to describe the complete sense of being overwhelmed by painful emotion and thoughts. When the weight of distress is too overwhelming this impacts on thoughts, emotion and the physical body.
Thoughts can speed so fast, intrude, appear disconnected, completely blank and a mixture of all these. Emotions can feel explosively painful and completely numb. The need for sleep can increase and yet the ability to sleep can disappear.
The world both outside and inside the self can feel both oppressively dark and terrifying. Maybe you begin to avoid it, stop going out, stop answering the phone, stop speaking to people because it is simply too overwhelming. But you cannot avoid the racing, patchy, thoughts, the intense emotion and it might feel as though there is no escape, no end to it… and then panic sets in. The natural reaction is to try and resist, try and push against the intense emotion; the pain because of the fear that this is all life will be now. As natural as the panic and resistance is it increases the weight and that in turn increases the fear that this will not change. This can lead to feeling there is no hope left.
Change can gradually begin on recognising and trying to accept that the emotions and thoughts are overwhelmed… and that is okay; it is okay to be overwhelmed by too much mental/emotional load just in the same way that the physical body can be overwhelmed.
After recognising the overwhelming load it becomes clearer to see resources within the self, the first being the ability to carry this weight for so long. With those resources a safe space within the self can begin to be created. This might include the basics of how to care for the self when overwhelmed. If you don’t feel like eating meals have a small snack every hour or two.
It might help to begin to recognise small changes throughout a day. E.g. “Right now I feel... but that feeling only applies to now, it does not mean I will feel the same tomorrow or even in an hour.”
One by one those overwhelming weights can be removed. Just as if climbing a mountain it is no good looking at the summit and trying to run in fear you will not make it when in total exhaustion. It is okay to set up camp and rest and sort out the rucksack to remove the excess load. When rested to begin to climb slowly at first, even one step is a step closer.
It can help to reach out and have somebody beside you whether that is a trusted friend, a support organisation or a therapist.
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About Jacqueline Karaca
Jacquie Karaca is a psychotherapist and author. She practices individual and relationship counselling in Alsager.