The Importance of a Mental Breakdown

One thing we are very good at is ‘putting things off’. It has been a while, but we will call our parents tomorrow; we are just too tired to do it today. We will start that diet regime, but after just one more hamburger. We will become more understanding and empathetic, but later, because what this person just said was utterly stupid and they need to be corrected. We will deal with the agony of a partner leaving us, but it must be later because there is work to be done, meals to be prepared, and friends to be seen. Indeed, we are excellent at putting things to the side today, in the vain (and misleading) hope that they will be dealt with tomorrow. Of course, tomorrow soon becomes today, and the problem is put off once more into the infinitely receding horizon of the future. We put things off all the time and it allows us to continue in our day to day lives. It is a curse we believe is a blessing.

Because, eventually, something happens. The parts of ourselves that had been squeezed down, pushed aside, ignored, repressed or denied; suddenly burst forth with such unrighteous anger that we do not fully understand what has happened. One moment we were fine and then all of a sudden: snap, like an elastic band that was stretched beyond a critical point. What has inconceivably (and inconveniently) happened is that we have broken down. The conflicts/struggles/unresolved issues of our internal worlds have been left unattended to for so long that they find expression in the only way they know how. The breakdown is the mind’s attempt to force us to finally look at these problems and attend to them. It is, ironically, a process of becoming better by first making oneself incredibly sick. It is a blessing we believe is a curse.

But, the breakdown is an opportunity (perhaps for the first time in a long time) for us to look at ourselves as we are. The uncomfortable memories we evaded, the wishes and dreams we neglected, and the emotions we denied come forth, and while it is painful and confronting, it allows us to come to terms with a whole other dimension of ourselves and begin a process of reconciliation and healing. A breakdown, therefore, is not only a process of destruction, but a momentous opportunity for growth.

A breakdown is frightening. After being quiet for so long, the thoughts, feelings, memories, and unarticulated desires burst forth with mute rage, attempting to be heard in the only way left at their disposal: shutting the whole system down. The screams of the unheard are filled with pain, sorrow and misery. It is confronting, especially in a culture that extolls us at every waking moment to be happy. But the breakdown tells us that happiness is no longer an option. Thankfully, by finally facing these previously ignored parts of ourselves’, we may find a type of reconciled peace that was previously withheld.

When we break down, as we all will at one or many points in our lives, we would be wise to remember that we have not fallen ill. We were already ill, we just didn’t know it. We are finally in the process of getting better. If managed correctly – with an understanding and forgiving approach – the crisis will not become a disintegration of who we were, but rather, a removal of a noxious mindset, and a chance to rebuild our lives’ in a more authentic way.

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