Thursday, December 28, 2006

Nervous breakdown

Have you ever witnessed or experienced a nervous breakdown?

It’s an understandably frightening, and largely misunderstood, mental phenomenon. And the affect on family members as well as on the sufferer can often be devastating. The following (in red print below) is a beautifully written testament by Lisa Harlow, aged 23, who seventy-eight hours after her first mental breakdown sat in her hospital bed and wrote vigorously in her personal journal about her experience. Lisa subsequently handed the notes to our staff and gave permission for the notes to eventually be published in a book by yours truly. Here's a sample of Lisa's notes:

I've never had a mental breakdown until now. I never really thought it was possible to have one. I thought it was like one of those things people say to excuse themselves from responsibility. I was up late most nights, and I drank a lot of coffee. I had a thesis and other projects due. To even look at them made me want to throw up, honestly.

My concentration was shot. A lot of times Jake my boyfriend would ask me why I wasn't speaking, and it was because I was always thinking of things I needed to be doing. I realized that I shouldn't, and I knew I would much rather talk to him than do those things, but I couldn't help it.

It was like a bomb went off inside my head, and I was scrapping "What would I do if I were logical?" questions from my head just to keep doing what I should have been doing. Right now, even that is a little hazy.

I got to the point where I didn't eat, but I spent my lunch breaks working on projects or whatnot instead of eating.

I feel this heavy feeling that I am letting everyone down. I feel like I won't make my parents or Jake happy. I know that I shouldn't feel this way, but I feel like I am heading towards a brick wall, and at the brick wall is the inevitable conclusion that I am a failure, a reject, a nobody. I feel like I am incapable of doing anything worth doing.

That fateful morning I think I finally realized it fully. I got out of my high loft bed. I didn't realize where my foot was coming down. And then my foot looked to me like it turned into a weird fish. I slipped on my fish, which was in my slipper, and then I actually heard the fish scream.

When the fish screamed, I screamed. I screamed so loud. My mouth was not my own. And then the fish separated itself from my foot and felt like it jumped into my mouth. I started screaming at the top of my lungs and shaking my head back and forth. The fish finally popped out of my mouth, and I saw my mother and father standing in my bedroom doorway.

They looked liked freaks from another planet. My father proceeded to tie me up with a rope, and my mother called the hospital and the police! I tried to get away while I was tied up. And I landed on the edge of a chair, screaming that they were trying to kill me, and the chair tilted underneath me, and I landed sideways on the chair. I thought I was fine, and I immediately hopped into the bathroom with the ropes tied tightly around my ankles.

--Lisa Harlow
xxxx Hospital,
Ward xxxx,
September 29,

[NOTE: The above photograph of Lisa was taken by her mother during Lisa's heart-wrenching breakdown. Permission has been granted by the Harlow family to use the photo.]


grumblemurray said...

How odd that her mother thought to take a picture at that time.

Kathryn said...


Enemy of the Republic said...

Thank you for this. This is really a good post. The term is used too loosely. You help clear things up.

flic said...

grumblemurray- Lisa's mother made it clear to us that she wanted to have proof of the episode as it happened because she feared Lisa was going to hurt someone or herself during that time. [Her mother took a whole series of photos from that particular episode.]

Hello kathryn!

enemy of the republic- Glad you like the post! What are some of the ways that you've heard the term used?

Kathryn said...


Good for Me said...

i had the same thougt you did, mur.

and i agree with enemy of the republic. i wasn't aware that hallucinations could occur with what would be considered a nervous breakdown. flic, do you consider what she experienced with the fish/foot to be a hallucination?

flic said...

good for me- Yes, a "hallucination" is often a part of a nervous breakdown. They can be visual or auditory, or even perceptive. Especially at peak moments in the episode, the mind is so flustered that it "sees" what it wants to see.

And this can happen whether or not one is under the influence of drugs or alcohol during the nervous breakdown.The drugs or alcohol make no difference to the onset of the breakdown. [Lisa, for example, had no traces of drugs or alcohol in her body at the time of admittance.]

Good for Me said...

thanks flic. that's helpful to understand.

Little Lamb said...

Wow! You here of people having nervous breakdowns. I always wondered what it was like.

I guess you can put too much on someone. Actually I think we do it to ourselves.

flic said...

little lamb- You're actually absolutely correct. Anything and anyone can put (lots of) pressure on a person. But it's how the person deals with (and defines or preceives, really) the pressure that ultimately decides the outcome of that pressure.

/t. said...

new year,


flic said...

Hey, thanks /t. Happy New Year to you, too!

Anonymous said...


carrie said...

i have a book called "how to avoid a nervous breakdown" it is an old book and it says that "nervous breakdown" is a vague layman's term which really can mean many different things.

flic said...

canopenner- Happy New Year!

carrie- That is partly true, a nervous (or sometimes called "mental") breakdown is not a diagnosis, per se. It is an event! But a diagnosable condition usually does lie behind it. A nervous breakdown is the point when a person undergoes finally extreme mental (emotional) exaustion. This exaustion could pan-out in many differenet ways, and can happen in a variety of degrees. But a true nervous breakdown occurs at the moment (and during the time-period) when an individual cannot function at all normally and shows climactic evidence that requires at least a visit to the (mental) hospital.

Otherwise, that book you have would be called "How To Avoid Something That Can Mean Many Different Things".

Some (but not all) of the real diagnoses that can be behind (and be a part of) the nervous breakdown are: anxiety, panic disorders, trauma disorders, acute stress disorders, psychotic disorders, schizophrenia, mood affective disorders, depression, and bipolar disorders.

Anonymous said...

happy new year to you too flic.


carrie said...

i had a mental breakdown when my dad died in the beginning of 2002 and i am still sort of recovering. but at that time i had to quit my job and move away and i let my "adult personality" go bye-bye.

flic said...

carrie- You bring up a good point. Some people have family and friends who are happy and willing to take care of someone who has had, or is having a breakdown, "until it passes".

A mental breakdown is nothing one wants to experience completely on one's own.

Did your "adult personality" go bye-bye forever? And if it has come back since then, how has it changed? I'd like to hear. :)

carrie said...

i don't know.

i just know that i regressed.

i feel like i am only now beginning to progress, as it were.

it's a struggle.

i fight against taking responsiblity for my life. i will try to do it and then get all mad about it and then when i am done being mad i will continue taking positive steps forward.

i think the main factor i'm talking about here is choosing not to numb myself with pot and alcohol, anymore. i keep wanting to lose my resolve on that.

but it also has to do with other of my 'adult responsibilites' and my avoidance of same.

flic said...

carrie- Yes, adult reponsibilites can be a "pain". Especially if we feel they have been given to us by the Fates, rather than consciously chosen.

Just remember: in the end: Nothing matters, and everything is sacred.

Anonymous said...


I had two nervous breakdowns in a three month period. Hallucinations was apart of my daily life as well as insomina. I went three days without sleep and could not sleep for than 2 hrs a time. Stress was the trigger. Prior to nb's I aslo had a seziure ( not sure what type). I can relate to Lisa and I am doing very well now because of rest, rest and more rest.

flic said...

anonym- Glad you're doing fine now. And what do you think triggered the stress?

Keep resting (i.e., relaxing), even when you're on your feet living. :)

You sound like a very interesting person. Please come by again.

Anonymous said...

Unbelievable, that' s scrupulously what I was seeking as a remedy for! You just saved me alot of work

Anonymous said...

i took a similar brakedown but it was a bad relationship that pushed me over the edge. my partner was bullying me mentally mental torture so cruel

Anonymous said...

i hate to sound like a victim but that relationship seriously put me off meeting anyone else for life

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