I can’t really pinpoint the beginning of my mental health breakdown. I was too busy with work and life to stop and notice. Unfortunately, the warning signs are not so obvious and can take some time to ramp up. It’s not like your body and mind immediately shut down or you suddenly lose your ability to function on a day to day. At least not in obvious ways. You don’t suddenly show up to work with a nasty cough and get scolded by your family and coworkers for lacking in self-care. There is not yet sufficient discussion and awareness for others to recognize the warning signs in their family and friends, or to even broach the subject if they have a suspicion.
At the peak of my mental breakdown, I still seemed quite functional to myself and others. Truth be told, I couldn’t even explain my symptoms to myself. Yet, I couldn’t shake the subconscious feeling that something was wrong. More and more, I just didn’t feel like myself. For a long time, it simply felt like I was just very tired. But constantly. I blamed my usually low iron and moved on, trying to carry on with my day to day. But my symptoms kept worsening until life felt like being forced to play a video game on the hardest mode. Everything started feeling like ten times the internal effort it would normally take. Getting out of bed was exhausting, socializing was agonizing and my thought-process was more and more blurred and filled with negativity. I couldn’t think straight and eventually lost trust in my own judgment. Towards the end, before finally seeking help, I felt dumb, dissociative and suicidal.
While a degradation in mental health can manifest differently in each of us, my hope is that in sharing my warning signs, I can help someone else recognize their symptoms earlier than I did and seek help earlier as well.
These are the symptoms that, with the benefit of hindsight, I can now see were clear as day that I was not okay.
1. Memory loss.
My normally sharp memory slowly and painfully crumbled to dust. I suddenly couldn’t remember events I’d been to, appointments I made, and eventually started losing grasp of vocabulary mid-sentence. I started speaking in weird fragments because my anxiety was so overwhelming that I would forget the words I wanted to speak. This should have been an alarming sign, but instead, I just felt stupid and beat myself up for it. I started avoiding all social interactions.
2. Dissociation and Detachment
Anxiety feelings consumed me, and I couldn’t shake it enough to really pay attention to anything or anyone. I felt strangely detached from everything and had a very hard time caring about much. I became more and more spacey, and started having trouble plugging into reality until I felt pretty much disconnected. So I went through the motions of my life with little to no mental presence. This also gave me a warped sense of time.
3. Trouble focusing
Doing anything that required focus felt daunting and insurmountable. Reading a book became an impossible task. I just could not focus enough to absorb what I was reading. I would read the same sentence, paragraph or page over and over again and not remember what I had read. I read them, but I was too dissociated.
4. Feeling trapped
My symptoms became so omnipresent that I could not picture a future without them. I felt trapped in my own mind and my own life. All started seeming hopeless and without recourse. I developed urges to just run away and leave everything in my life behind. It became what I thought about most, and this fantasy felt like the only relief in my life.
So tired. Of everything and everyone. My normally laid back nature gave way to impatience and anger. I started snapping at everyone in my life over minutia. Strangers were angering me with their slow walking or loud talking; friends were annoying me with their life stories and problems and my family became a source of resentment. It felt as though I hate everything and, sometimes, everyone.
They say hindsight is 20/20 and in my case that was definitely true. I did not appreciate the severity of my symptoms until I got help and started feeling better. Regaining my faculties allowed me to appreciate that I really was not okay. I did not give validity to my symptoms until they became so predominant in my life that I could no longer ignore them or explain them away as a vitamin deficiency or lack of sleep. Unfortunately, I did not seek help until I started having invasive suicidal thoughts. I could no longer ignore my wellbeing.
Since I couldn’t trust my own memory or judgment, I started writing notes on my phone throughout the day detailing how and what I was feeling, as well as my thought process. I then took these notes to my doctor to help me explain how I’ve been feeling. Fortunately, my doctor immediately took my symptoms very seriously and helped me formulate a recovery plan.
If you’re feeling similarly or feel like something is wrong, I strongly urge you to see your doctor. I promise you this will ultimately be the first step in your recovery. Take care of yourself !