Breakdown

In April 2014 I had a breakdown. Not a fully fledged, admitted to hospital, breakdown, but an acute episode of anxiety and depression that rendered me unable to cope with day to day life.

I snapped one morning in clinic. I had seen two well known patients and dealt with their concerns. The next was someone I didn’t know. I suddenly felt completely unable to think or make decisions. I felt that my brain was breaking apart. I developed a full blown panic attack, and despite knowing that it WAS a panic attack I was terrified and completely unable to get control of myself.

I was rescued by my dear friend and senior practice nurse, who calmly phoned my partner, cancelled the rest of my clinic, and got me an appointment to see an experienced GP.

The next few weeks passed in something of a blur. I was extremely anxious – at times it was hard to go out at all; I couldn’t THINK – and for someone who has always been decisive and relied on a sharp intellect and quick grasp of complex problems, this was truly terrifying. I was suicidal, in that I could see no way out of my problems other than jumping off a high building. I went only as far as planning which high building, and the rational part of my brain knew that suicide would be devastating for my family – but I still could see no other way out. I achieved very little in those first weeks. Lola, my dog, was a 3 month old puppy and I managed a short walk with her most days. That was about all.

I was well cared for, by an excellent GP who provided just the right mix of sympathy, support and direction; and by a fantastic service for physicians that was set up a few years ago in London. I was medicated and allowed to recover.

So far, so pretty normal to be honest. It didn’t feel like it, when it was me, but I had a fairly standard period of mental ill health and made a pretty good recovery. I was off work for 8 weeks.

The thing that struck me yesterday was that I was sober when this happened. The first time I stopped drinking was October 28th 2013 – so by April I had been largely sober for 5 months. (two evenings slip in that period) I had always thought that I broke down despite the fact that I was sober.

Now I wonder if it was because I was sober.

And that scares me. Because I feel truly awful right now. Anxious, irritable, flat, despairing, trapped and a bit desperate. My concentration is shot to pieces. I lack motivation to do anything at all.  I’m exhausted but struggling to sleep. And I am 5 months sober next Friday. What has alcohol been medicating all this time ? Currently I take an SSRI, which i was not doing last time… but …

I don’t know what to do


30 comments

  1. Don’t waste a second. Get in to see your GP again.

    It may just be a blip.

    I stalled for ages before I went to see mine. I tried simply ‘coping’ and it ground me down. Going in I felt like a failure. Leaving the health centre I had a plan and thought I could see a light at the end of the tunnel.

    A second set of eyes on the problem, from a qualified medic has to be a good thing, right?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You may just be a bit too clever, Lily. Thinking too much. But I agree, maybe see your GP?
    It’s so easy to say, I know, but keep on what you’re doing. It is brilliant what you have achieved. x

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sounds like you need another trip to the GP for what I refer to as a “tune up”. Neither of the two times I had to seek mental heath assistance had anything to do with alcohol. Sometimes like isn’t the best all on it’s own. Maybe its time for some other changes or to seek guidance for a while until your feeling more like yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve heard that it takes at least 6 months for your emotions to stabilize after you quit drinking, and apparently before that, your emotions are all over the place. As well I’m no expert, but I know that if I eat more sugar than I should, my whole system gets really disturbed, and I feel depressed and lethargic. I decided to consult a personal coach who specializes in recovery; she focuses on nutrition, yoga and meditation. I’m looking forward to my first skype session this Sunday – I’ll be pleased to share any useful tips she gives me! Hope you feel better soon Lily x

    Liked by 2 people

    • They say PAWS lasts for up the 2 years.
      Many of us have underlying mental health issues we masked with alcohol.
      Sometimes searching for reasons is unhelpful. It just is.
      Working on ways to support health and wellness is vital.

      Be careful with sober coaches. Ask for credentials, I see a lot of people suddenly become experts after short periods of sobriety.

      Take care.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I think you’re a “Highly Sensitive”. You probably experience the world at a heightened level. Many alcoholics are which is why they self medicate. Try reading about it and talking with your doctor. Understanding this about myself has helped me tremendously. I hope you feel better. Hang in there. 💜

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  6. I think you should see your GP, and discuss psychological therapy.
    I felt highly anxious at about 6 months sober, at times unable to drive safely, or have a coherent conversation. My GP referred me to an excellent NHS psychologist, who I saw regularly for about 4 months. Turns out a lot of it was due to me feeling inadequate, with overly high expectations of myself and others, and perfectionist tendencies. (Now that was a real eye-opener – I thought I couldn’t possibly be a perfectionist as I never did anything well enough!!). Incidentally, it also improved my relationships with others. I became more understanding and accepting of other people’s shortcomings, yet also learnt how to set boundaries for myself, how to stop feeling I “should” be doing things.
    Try to rest as much as you can, don’t do anything non-essential. Takeaways and instant meals, forget housework. Look after yourself.
    Trish xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you are all right and I should see my GP. I should trust someone else to tell me what to do and how to help myself. I toss the idea of therapy around in my head – really I’d like to do couples therapy with Mr Lily but he is not interested ….Thanks for your support Lily x

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  7. Maybe Stop taking the meds? Sometimes they do more harm than good. I’ve always felt that anti depressants had the opposite effect on me. Look up Andrew Saul and go the the high dose vitamin route instead. I know I’m sorry I know you’re a doctor and you’ll probably know this already but niacin might be worth a try? It worked for me. Also, I’m sure that when you’re away on holidays and away from everyday life you’ll feel a lot better. You might just need a break.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think I will feel better now I am off work for 2 weeks. I’m too scared to stop the meds – I was so unwell before I took them and I can’t bear to risk that again. Might try niacin though … Good idea 🙂 Thank you. Lily🌷

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    • That is an extremely dangerous suggestion. Medication is something you should discuss with your doctor.
      Stopping a SSRI during an episode of depression could be dangerous…

      Like

  8. I used to suffer with anxiety and panic when I was younger, I was even prescribed diazepam just after I left university it was getting that bad. Although it hasn’t been a large feature in my life in the last couple of decades I do notice a tendency towards anxiety again when I get sober. Recently, during a buddhism podcast from a teacher that has a strong interest in neuroscience I learnt an invaluable emergency breathing technique. He was explaining that the part of the brain responsible for panic/anxiety is impossible to mentally reason with and the quickest way to override/calm it is with a breathing technique. Simply making the out breath at least twice as long as the in breath takes down panic/anxiety pretty quickly, it’s worked for me on a few occasions. His explanation was that if you’re breathing like that your nervous system knows you’re not being chased by a tiger, or some other evolutionary hazard still programmed in there – makes sense I guess. I hope you’re feeling better. Take care, be well x

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  9. Gather support.
    My personal, and very very similar, breakdown occurred at about 2 months sober.

    Since then I have had one additional episode just before 2 years. Increasing my SSRI at that time helped. Asking for help immediately was important. It was scary.

    I know my mental health needs care. Drinking was masking that. For many years.

    Get help. Staying sober and working through this is the only way to live a full and happy life.

    Big hug
    Anne

    Liked by 1 person

    • And get a therapist! Of your own! It’s complete liberation to say out loud what’s bothering you.
      Seriously, before a wellness coach you need a therapist. It’s so easy to start believing this is the result of something you AREN’t Doing, and it is so not true.

      I practice yoga daily, meditate, sleep, eat well. And still suffer from episodes like this. It isn’t something you can always prevent.

      You are doing things right. Find someone to help you see that.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Lily

    I had a breakdown which sounds very similar to yours in February 2015. I tried a number of different medications and combinations and it took a while to find the right ones for me. I saw a psychiatrist when the initial medications tried by my GP weren’t working. I also saw a psycotherapist privately and still do, although not as often now. I think you need to go back to the GP and review your meds and find a therapist. Alongside that try and eat well, rest and keep the yoga going.

    As for just stopping the SSRIs you don’t need me to tell you not to – I did that once. It was the worst decision I have ever made – I was really unwell.

    I hope I don’t sound patronising as I am sure you know all of this already. You can do this Lily.

    Love Tori xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Tori, I won’t stop them, I’m much too scared of the deep blackness that engulfed me last time. I expect that some form of therapy is a good idea, I’m just struggling with knowing how to pick the right person… 😶 lily 🌷

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve been seeing a Jungian therapist for the past few years. Before that a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist (CBT) for a couple years. I have found the Jungian therapy to be the most interesting because they focus on EVERYTHING, including dreams etc. It’s a longer term approach but in my opinion the best of all. It may seem at first a bit esoteric. But that impression vanishes with each new discovery and breakthrough. Do take a serious look. Try to find some books by James Hollis, a brilliant academic, and Jungian Analyst.

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  11. Hey lily, might well be because you’re sober – adjusting to a new life, new way of thinking (doesn’t matter how intelligent or rational you are, or how much you’ve read – emotions and moods take time to rebalance.
    I see someone said six months – I generally read it takes more like two years.
    I get anxious now in a way I did pre (or early stages) of drinking and it’s SO horrible. It hurts so much more, and because I can’t put it down to booze, it’s scarier. But I know I have to learn to deal with it, with life, and this horribleness is part of the process of life becoming day to day better.
    In so many of your posts I read a common thread of isolation. Not talking to people, not telling people how you are feeling… For me, AA is a saviour for this and saved me from going utterly insane, but I know you’re not keen on that. There are other groups – SMART, nhs non affiliated groups (haven’t been to either) – or even try finding the person you trust most in your life (maybe not Mr Lily) and start being more honest.
    I had really bad anxiety about 6 years ago. Couldn’t get in lifts (worked on the 14th floor – walked up and down every day!) on the tube, had to sit right by the door in restaurants and even then I wanted to run out and scream… Eventually went to see a therapist thru my GP and he helped so much.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you – I really mean that. You have just pointed out an extremely obvious and pertinent point that I have missed .. I am isolated. Not physically but emotionally from pretty much everyone. Firstly by my shame about drinking, cuts me off from my mother and most of my friends, by anger – about the situation with no 1 son, cuts me off from mr lily: shame about my family and past drinking, and the need to be “the boss”, from all my ( lovely ) work colleagues. I do talk to K my friend, but her husband is dying right now, and she has more than enough – I need to be her support . The only person I fully trust and can be honest with is my brother – but he lives at a distance and is in turkey right now …

      I need to find a good therapist.

      You are very insightful. Thank you Lily 🌷x

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I too think your “breakdown” (although I think ‘Meltdown’ is a gentler, more salient description here) was because you were sober. I’m so glad you looked intensely at PAWS. And I think you should hold off making any huge family decisions because of that, and because you should be in the hands of a good therapist if and when that time comes. I know I’m not one to talk but, I like you, am academically trained and have done a lot of research, not to mention a lot of living with and through all of this….take good care ((((hugs))))

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  13. I shouldn’t even be commenting because I have fallen. My anxiety got so bad last week that I caved after almost 3 months sober. But I see so many similarities that I just had to comment. This was my third attempt at sobriety but each time I failed due to overwhelming anxiety. I am also on an ssri but the anxiety I had was nothing like I had ever experienced before. I can see a pattern. First sobriety 3 months, second 5 months, third 3 months. I think PAWS played a huge part. I have been doing a lot of reading, Julia Ross’s Mood Cure, Dr Kelly Brogan’s A Mind Of Your Own and Dr Abram Hoffer The truth about Niacin. All three say the same thing, diet and nutrition is paramount. None of them recommend stopping ssri drugs randomly, that is very dangerous, and Dr Hoffer says that some people need to stay on them along with vitamin and mineral supplements. But usually he can lower the doses considerably if the patient sticks to the protocol.
    I don’t fully understand PAWS but I am convinced it is real. Also I was on a vegan diet which basically meant I wasn’t getting enough essential amino acids and vitamins from my diet. I was B12 deficient too. Right now I am working on getting myself well by changing to a gluten free paleo diet, a complete turnaround but one I am convinced is right, plus supplementing with vitamin B12, Niacin, zinc, vitamin c and magnesium. I believe my body collapsed because of deficiencies and withdrawal from alcohol added to that. Dr Brogan says that depression is not a lack of ssri drugs but a lack of nutrients. It kind of makes sense to me. Have you heard about The actress Margot Kidder, she played lois lane in superman with Christopher Reeve. She suffered manic depression. She spent years in psych hospitals but then heard about Dr Abram Hoffer and followed his protocol. On youtube there is a free documentary called Masks of madness, science of healing. It is worth watching.
    Like I said, right now I am a failure. Back to drinking after falling deeply in to a pit of anxiety I simply could not bear, even on an ssri. But I wont give up. I am here and plan on building myself up in order to succeed at this. Right now my goal is to limit my intake, thats as good as I can do right now.
    I send you massive cyber hugs because I honestly know how hard it is xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are so NOT a failure. It’s so hard , and so much harder when you are in a social event where everybody is drinking . Please,get right back to sobriety, be as kind to yourself as you would be to me. It’s ok, it will be ok, you are NOT a failure .
      Thank you for the big cyber hugs. I can feel them, holding me. I’m sending them right back with a big dose of compassion and self care
      Love Lily🌷xxx

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