As I often do, I told a new acquaintance about my mental breakdown. I don’t do this with everyone – only with people who I think may make a good friend, or who seem to “need it”, or maybe I tell because I want to excuse my erratic behavior. This woman asked me if I was stronger now? I gave her a nice, compact, trite answer. Now, sitting on my deck in the beautiful fall weather, I’m trying to decide the truth.
It’s been over five years since the breakdown. Just as a quick reminder, this was a classic storybook type of breakdown. I have 3 days of missing memory, followed by weeks of near catatonia, followed by weeks of inpatient rehab, followed by years of rebuilding something. But am I stronger?
I am different. For the first three to four years after the breakdown, I genuinely didn’t recognize the person in the mirror. Now, I’m used to her. I like bits and pieces of this new me and I hate others. Have you ever taken the Meyer’s Brigg personality test? According to my latest results, I am an introvert, intuitive, feeler, perceiver (INFP). Don’t worry about the lingo….my point is simply that five ago, most of these letters were the opposite. (a fun, simple source for this test: 16personalities.com)
The same is true for an Enneagram test – I moved to the opposite side of the circle.
I used to have to be around people. I used to stand in front of students, parents, anybody and teach. Now, people make me nervous. Last night I was at an event with ten other people. My hands trembled so badly I imagine people thought I had some sort of neurological disorder. Nope. I was just freaked to be around so many people. I used to host my husband’s company Christmas party. The past few years, I go to the parties and hide in a corner.
After it all shook out, I lost a lot – most of my friends, my career, my faith. Five years later, none of these have returned.
I’ve learned to cook. I’ve learned to write. I’ve learned a bit of Spanish. I’ve jumped out of an airplane. I’ve learned when to keep my mouth shut (mostly). I’ve learned to see frauds from a mile away. I’ve lost fifty pounds and can hike for days. I’ve learned academic performance matters not at all in comparison to character and integrity. I say ‘no’ often. I no longer buy friends. My sex life is awesome!
Opening my thesaurus, I found the following broad categories: healthy, powerful, determined, resolute, distinct, unmistakable, extreme. So, let’s see …
I think looking at the opposite of an idea helps you to understand the idea itself. For example, want to understand freedom? Study slavery. Let’s look at some antonyms:
I stumbled on both of those. The terms are too broad. I’m more powerful in body. Weaker in my spiritual journey. Powerful with my true friends. Weak at making new friends. I yield no power over anyone. I don’t want power over anyone. With my writing, I jump between powerful and disastrously weak.
It pisses me off that vulnerable is the opposite of strong! Who isn’t vulnerable? My husband is likely the strongest person I know but when it comes to his kids (or me), you can bring him to his knees! I think people who say they aren’t vulnerable are the weakest among us. If you think you aren’t vulnerable – think about San Juan or the tragedy in Las Vegas or Katrina or the Equifax breach – you are vulnerable. Vulnerability is the human condition. Why do we have the fight or flight response? Because vulnerability is built into our DNA.
Let me get off my podium now! I’ll get back on in another blog!
I don’t know if I’m stronger in the worldly sense. Probably not – just admitting to a mental breakdown makes me weak in most people’s eyes. I am stronger where it counts – where it counts to me and mine. In your world, I may be weak. But, in mine, I’m perfectly imperfect and that’s all the strength I need.
Next time I’m asked if I’m stronger, I know the answer: I’m strong and weak in equal measure – just like most folks.
In April 2012 I had a mental breakdown. The real thing. I have about 36 hours that I don’t remember....