Nervous breakdown

We don’t tend to talk about nerves so much these days.  Now we talk more of stress, anxiety and of problems with our brain chemistry and neurotransmitters, we talk of mental illness and mental health.  But, I think we retain an emotional understanding and sense of what we mean when we say our nerves are bad.

“My nerves are bad to-night. Yes, bad. Stay with me.  
‘Speak to me. Why do you never speak? Speak.  
‘What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?  
‘I never know what you are thinking. Think.”

T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland

What is a nervous breakdown?

  • A nervous breakdown refers to a period of intense emotional distress which causes significant problems performing ordinary functions. 
  • It becomes very hard if not impossible to relate to yourself and to other people in an ordinary way. 
  • Instead you become gripped by intense anxiety, nervousness and distress.

Some people seem to ‘live on their nerves.’  They appear to like the pressure of always being on the edge of being able to cope, of having lengthy to do lists, of feeling they are up against it all the time.

Fire Fighters

A nervous breakdown is signalled by particular symptoms 

You might start to experience a rising sense of panic about not being able to stay on top of things, the sense of being stressed out all the time.  This can effect breathing, you can develop heart arrhythmia, headaches, sleep problems, phobias.  All of these kind of things are signs and symptoms that the pressure you are under needs attention.

If you are someone who tends to expect a lot of yourself you can be slow to pick on the seriousness of your situation, preferring to put it all down to man-flu or some other weakness. 

You keep telling yourself you can cope. This can lead to more serious problems.  You might put on a capable façade when you are out in the world, and then find yourself curling up into a ball when on your own.

We can tend to be a bit cavalier about the way things affect us.  Because it doesn’t look like things bother us we can assume that they don’t.  But this can be inaccurate. 

Sylvia Plath’s novel The Bell Jar (1963) describes the nervous breakdown of Esther Greenwood.

We experience disappointment and distressing events all the time.  Mostly that’s fine, but the impact of them can mount up.  Like drops of water gathering around a leaky pipe.  Then one day the ceiling comes crashing down and we have a lot to clear up.

Mindfulness and CBT, treatments that aim at helping us manage our way through life may work, but may fail to help us grasp some of the more serious underlying problems.

Symptoms include

  • Depressive thought and feeling
  • Paranoid thinking
  • Obsessional thoughts, guilt and recriminations
  • Withdrawal from social group
  • Stopping working and isolating yourself
  • Flashbacks to traumatic experiences
  • Sleeping problems and insomnia
  • Mood swings, irritability, angry outbursts, bouts of crying
  • Panic attacks

Anyone can become overwhelmed by a combination of unpredictable events which create the sense that there is too much for us to manage.

  • A bereavement
  • Pressures and stress related to work
  • Financial worries
  • A physical injury which creates ongoing problems with living
  • Treating nervous breakdown
Mood swings and swings

Treating a nervous breakdown

If your situation has been left until it has become critical then you may need a combination of medication (mood stabilisers, SSRI, anti-depressants, sleeping pills) and a confidential talking therapy.  Usually the combination helps us to open up, let someone else in, gain some perspective.  Your nerves will improve, the stress will settle down.

Finding a way to break the pattern you are in.  Often just giving yourself to chance to talk to a friend, work colleague may be the start of finding some release. Psychotherapy, talking therapies tend to be helpful and create a confidential space and time for you to gain a bit of perspective on what’s happened and what has brought you to this point.T

Do nervous breakdowns run in families?

Often nervous issues, and anxieties about nervous breakdown do run in families.  If you grew up in a family where there have been emotional issues you will likely have internalised a sense of it yourself.

Stress and emotional fatigue can creep up on us.  As the tasks we all have to manage mounts up we can overlook the impact it is having on us but that doesn’t mean we are immune to the pressures. 

A nervous breakdown tends to start with small things, so a problem with sleep, forgetting meals, drinking more. 

Bigger picture

A nervous breakdown has a context

A nervous breakdown marks the point at which we lose sight of what our worries relate to.  Instead of being able to think rationally about our situation we are caught in the merciless grip of our symptoms.

Talking therapies help because they enable us to gain some sense of perspective on what has happened to us.  Just creating the chance to have a small moment of insight can make all the difference.  It is like the clouds that have gathered over your head part for a moment and a ray of light gets in.  This can be all we need.  Usually, if we can give ourselves the chance to have such calm moments in the midst of the storm of our nervous breakdown we can start to feel better.

If you are worried that someone you know is suffering from mounting emotional or nervous problems try to get them to talk to someone about it. Don’t ignore the problems.

How can Counselling Buckinghamshire help?

I have a depth of experience of working with people who have experienced or are suffering nervous breakdown.

Working with Counselling Buckinghamshire can provide you with an opportunity to manage and treat your nervous breakdown, to recover from the emotional and nervous strain you have been under.

Contact me for a free telephone consultation to discuss how Counselling Buckinghamshire might be able to help you.