Note: I found this letter in amongst my files, dated 14 July 2017. 2017 was one of the most pivotal years of my short adult life where I had a nervous breakdown and was barely able to get out of bed, let alone, function as a contributing member of society. I am so glad I had the foresight to write this letter as it happened since we always seem to hear only the positive stories when the storm has passed.
It will be inevitable that one day you will look back on this period of your life and ask ‘what on earth happened?’ Well, this letter will hopefully explain away this dark period of your life and the decisions that you made. Importantly, it will hopefully reiterate to you that this was the right decision at the time. I think this is a significant point to highlight because I know what you will be thinking. By the time this shitty period has passed and you are thinking more clearly, you will be asking why you made such a career limiting move at this early stage in your career. Furthermore, you will probably be bored out of your mind and allowing all the negative thoughts to take over. The fact of the matter was you were not functioning. Well, we were not functioning. On a very high level, you appeared to the outside world to be competent, capable and very much able to go about your day to day activities. Or so you’ve been told anyway. No one seems to know how much you were suffering internally and to an extent, I don’t think even you knew either. The human mind is amazing, it has this capacity to normalise even the most abnormal experiences. I guess it’s the only way that we can keep going – it’s a survival mechanism.
The short end of it is that for about four months, things weren’t going too well on the health front. You were constantly plagued with gastrointestinal issues that you thought were related to stress and anxiety and promptly sought help from a psychologist. Done, it seemed like that was sufficient to tick the box and that would qualify as adequately addressing the problem. Throughout this period, you moved out, you went to a job interview, you secured said job and you took on a heavier workload because one of your colleagues left. It is only with the benefit of hindsight now that this can be assessed as a stressful period in your life. Gradually the pressure built. It was a multifaceted type of pressure that flowed from the pressure of doing a good job in your current job, getting better for the next job and all the usual pressures. It only seems now that with the benefit of hindsight you can see that this pressure has been cumulative and built over a decade. Those bouts of insomnia during year twelve, the ‘crazy thoughts’ that swirled through your mind whilst you wandered around the streets at 5am with your mother, all so it would go away. Throughout university, every time an exam was scheduled in the morning, it was just an accepted fact that you would not be sleeping the night before. You put ABC24 on, slipped a Valerian and hoped that you could get two hours of sleep to do your exams. Every year, your body would flail slightly, mostly around June and November, and your lungs would be taken over by prolonged bouts of bronchitis which you just put down to your asthma. Your body was desperately waving these signs which your mind kept ignoring for a solid decade.
With the benefit of hindsight, it is not surprising that your body has finally decided to relent after years of being abused.
Gradually over a period of two or three weeks, it became more and more difficult to do basic things like eating. Whilst the eating aspect of this anxiety spell had been an issue for months, it had never became an issue that you became physically unable to eat. Whenever it was lunch time or dinner, your throat would close up and it would be a similar sensation to when you’re crying and there is a lump in your throat making it difficult to swallow and breathe. The anxiety that you had worked so hard to contain to ‘out of work hours’ started seeping into work. The strict and artificial boundaries you had created were slowly being ripped down. You would open up your emails in the morning and feel overwhelmed by emails that ordinarily you would have relished had built up in your inbox. Basic things started becoming very difficult. By this point, 8 kilograms had somehow been lost. You found it impossible to get on the trains in the morning without having a panic attack. As a ‘work around’, you would catch the 67 tram and the 20 minute train journey would be replaced by an hour and twenty minutes. In the day to day hubbub of trying to get through life, the absurdity of being held hostage by my thoughts and my body did not become apparent until much later.
Finally, the watershed moment would occur when you fainted in public and an ambulance was called. The many months of gradually restricting your food intake and probably the lack of food absorption made this moment pretty inevitable. The timing could not have come at a worse time given that it was your final week at Victoria Police and you would be starting your new job following a week’s leave. This was the lightening rod moment. The moment where you can say that objectively your body has had enough and was giving you the strongest message that it could that it was completely over it. The months (possibly even years) of stress had reached breaking point and your body was not willing to put up with this shit any longer.
Then began the meds that you had fought four months against. You read obsessively about the side effects of your antidepressant medication, the likelihood of addiction and the prescribed period that one must be on before they can get off it; you became obsessed with the idea of getting off them. Medication for you was a sign of failure, a sign that all the psychotherapy, healthy eating and exercise was not enough to wage the battle of the mind, which explains why you resisted for so long. Furthermore, the side effects were pretty much as described on Dr. Google. On the first week, you tried to go to work the final four days of your job and were plagued by dizziness. Anxiety spiked higher than you thought your body could handle and you were barely able to get out of bed to the kitchen. It was in those moments, I wondered whether there was any point. If I was barely able to pull myself out of bed and do basic things like cook and clean myself, how could I ever go back to being a functioning adult? As the days went on, the waves of nausea, dizziness and anxiety started to level out and I was able to be coaxed out of the house by my partner and my mother who forced me to walk every day.
Weighing on your mind was the new job you were supposed to be taking on the following week. You had rationalised, ‘right, I have one week of annual leave to get on these drugs and be better for my job working in horrific child abuse cases and high volume court work’. You literally spent a whole week rationalising whether or not to take the job. Again, in hindsight, it is incredible to grasp that you thought one week would be enough to ‘get over’ a nervous breakdown that was a decade in the making.
Finally, you jumped. You chose to ‘commit career suicide’ and called it in. And from that moment on, your body and your health takes precedent over all those swirling thoughts. Who cares what everyone thinks about you if you can’t barely get from A to B without shitting yourself.