Very Hungry Caterpillar of emotional breakdown.

I’ve often wondered how a mental health collapse happens.

Before I had one, I joked about it often. 
I can’t cope, I’m cracking up, about to lose my marbles. 

Those were phrases we tossed around at the school gates after a fraught morning morning with the kids, and things we laughingly confessed over calming G&Ts on Friday nights.

Except that, when you really can’t cope, you can’t make it out of the house for drinks with the girls, never mind crack jokes about cracking up.

How did it happen? How did I actually misplace those all-important marbles?

It surprises me how hard it is to track the course of my unravelling. The edges of the story blur, the details feel fuzzy.

It’s the Very Hungry Caterpillar of the emotional breakdown.

On Monday a tense exchange, swiftly followed by the need to put on a happy face, seemed to twist my stress levels to a new place. (He ate through one apple.)

On Tuesday a difficult conversation, ended badly, took things to a new low. (Two pears.)

On Wednesday I thought I was coping. (Three plums.)

On Thursday I started feeling flat and lifeless. (Four strawberries.)

On Friday things unravelled until panic meant I could no longer breathe. The compulsion to lie down in the sea and inhale was overwhelming. I didn’t want to die, it’s just that I didn’t care for living anymore. But most of all I couldn't think of any other way to make all the feelings stop. (Five oranges.)
It’s as if the skin inside my forearms had been peeled back until all the nerve-endings were on raw display.
Every feeling was acute, every tiny fear magnified to the point of catastrophe, the possibilities and seemingly-inevitable outcomes all too terrifying to comprehend.

On Saturday I was catatonic, walking around an amusement park in a daze, wondering how in hell everyone else was acting normal.
‘Stay here and hold her hand while I take the boys on this ride,’ said my husband.
‘I can’t,’ I whispered to myself as they ran off in excitement. ‘What if she floats away?’

I don’t remember Sunday. There were tears for hours and endless talking. An unfiltered outpouring.

The following Monday all I could focus on was making it to the doctor's. I cried for 90 minutes in the waiting room, tears sliding down my cheeks.
People looked at me with pity and I didn’t care.

Within half an hour of taking my first anti-anxiety tablet the panic just abated.
Placebo? Relief? Exhaustion? 
I still don’t know but I’m not about to argue with it.

I’m ashamed to say I used to think anxiety was a sign of weakness. Turns out it’s so much stronger than I was.

Heidi Scrimgeour
Writer and editor
 

Liz Fraser