Looking back at a breakdown
I have no idea where I was going. There had been no planning; no preconceived outcome. I just needed to get out.
And that is how I found myself alone in a car, crying uncontrollably while my wife tried frantically to contact me.
I guess it had been building for weeks or even months. Money problems were piling up. The harder I worked, the deeper I sank into the financial mire. Unless you have been there, you have no idea just how accurate the metaphor of “spiral of debt” really is.
My father had just been diagnosed with cancer. The cancer itself was not likely to be terminal but, as he was already suffering with COPD, operations were out of the question. The doctor gave no indication of a specific life expectancy; but the realisation that my dad now had a best-before date was as stark as it was painful.
My best friend had recently died in a motorcycle accident, leaving in his wake three daughters and a pair of distraught and inconsolable parents. He also left me, effectively, friendless.
And my youngest son was off to university.
Taken one at a time, none of these issues were cause for the breakdown (let’s call it what it was) that I suffered. But they landed all at once as if some vindictive divine power had decided to test my resilience.
My resilience failed. One moment I was sat in front of a computer, working just the same as I did every day. The next I was in the car park of a local beauty spot, tears rolling down my face, great sobs making my chest heave.
I was (and still am) happily married. I have four children, all of whom were living at home at the time. Both my parents were still alive. And yet, I had never felt more alone.
My life had hit bumps in the road before; hasn’t everyone’s? But this time, the bumps had caused the wheels to fall off.
And so I sat, and I cried. I switched off my phone and I just went dark.
Eventually, the guilt of going AWOL on my wife outweighed my desperate need to be alone. When she called for about the 40th time, I answered and told her where I was.
She came to get me and I cried some more. It would take counselling, a long course of “happy pills” and many months to put me back on a solid mental path.
However, I now know how a former addict must feel. I am OK today, and I was OK yesterday. Chances are, I will be OK again tomorrow and next week.
But those feelings of darkness, despair and loneliness have not gone away. They still lie in wait, ready to pounce should I let my guard down for even a moment. Like a reformed alcoholic steers clear of booze, I must manage my exposure to sadness. I can take only small doses of sorrow. Melancholy, desolation and despondency are constant companions, even though I have learned to keep them quiet most of the time.
That’s my secret. I am always sad. But I have learned how to navigate life without letting that sadness take the wheel.