It is a year ago this week since my (now) husband broke.
Without fanfare he was stopped in his tracks; unable to get out of bed, unable to eat, unable to think, unable to feel, unable to keep abusing his mind and soul. All he could do was sleep and occasionally weep. Even sitting upright took too much energy.
At the time he was a successful insurance broker. He was highly acknowledged in his industry; other brokers knew him as the guy to call about complicated policy wordings or for advice on a technical claim. His clients trusted him to do whatever he could to meet their needs. He had merged his brokerage with a large firm who valued his abilities. He bought us a beautiful home and he drove the car he had always wanted. We had a garage full of toys; kayaks, scuba gear, camping equipment, surfboards and bicycles. Between us, we had 3 amazing kids and a fantastic relationship. On the face of it, we had it all!
Behind the façade, however, was a man worn down by decades of unmitigated stress and anxiety. A lifetime of habitual people pleasing and over responsibility had rendered him depleted, exhausted and overwhelmed. While physically present in our lives, he was emotionally and mentally absent, either on the phone for work, or preoccupied in his mind so that his responses to us became short and gruff. He lived in denial or avoidance, either dismissing our concerns for his well- being, or blocking out his pain with whatever distraction worked at the time.
Stopped in His Tracks
For the first few weeks after the breakdown, he couldn’t see people or speak to anyone. I took over his telephone, his emails and all other administrative or household needs. He saw a doctor who put him on meds and a psychologist to help him work through the unhealthy beliefs and thinking patterns that had brought him to this place. He sold his share in the business and for the first time in his 39 years made a commitment to care for himself first.
The reactions from people ranged from anger to embarrassment to compassion and every variation in between. He was told that he should pull himself together and that it was “all in his head”. It was implied that he was “letting people down”, that he should “man up” and fulfil his duty as the provider. There was also the friend who, as soon as I called, came around and simply sat next to him for as long as he needed, talking or not talking, just holding space. And my Dad who immediately cleared his diary and drove 1000km to support us. Having had a breakdown himself, he knew what was needed; to get Dylan moving, to have some quiet company or talking time when necessary. Little by little over that first week Dylan began to move again.
Tell It Like It Is
One of the first things he did was to tell the kids what had happened. He explained in age-appropriate language what was wrong with him, what depression is and why he is not able to work anymore. The change in the children was remarkable and instant. They had lived with his gradual (and then not-so-gradual) decline; it both worried and angered them. When a parent becomes mentally or emotionally absent (a symptom of depression) kids automatically assume that the parent is angry with them. Once they understood that Dad was suffering from depression and that he was being treated all their worries lifted and their spirits rose. They were all in to help him get well.
That set the tone for how Dylan handled his breakdown. He refused to be shamed by it. Although there were people close to him who felt he ought to have been “discreet” about it, he would not tow that line.
In the beginning when he was house-bound, and people asked where he was, I told the truth; he has had a major psychological breakdown. Later, when he was able to manage people again and they would ask about his absence from society, he would simply say; “I had a breakdown and I no longer work”.
The Shame Of It
The reactions he received were comical in a way and sad. Some people completely ignored his answer, as though they had not asked the question and he had not answered; they changed the subject “so how was that rugby on Saturday, hey?”.
Others looked embarrassed, muttered some form of condolence before excusing themselves and hastily moving away from him as if a breakdown was contagious!
Then there were others, trying to be supportive who would say, “O Ja, I’ve had a really crappy year too” and proceed to tell him about their troubles.
Very few people, if any were able to stand in his presence and simply acknowledge him, the person and what he had told them.
There is Freedom In Truth
For the kids, his honesty was empowering; they had to go to school and face their peers whose parents were talking about it at home. Had Dylan carried any shame about it, the kids would have felt that shame too. The way he handled it gave all of us permission, to be honest, and own what had happened. Remarkably, our eldest daughter has said that the way Dylan handled his breakdown is what gave her the courage to be open about her own mental health journey after finishing matric.
His commitment to his recovery was and still is remarkable to witness; whether it is in his daily mindfulness practices, taking his medication or working through the unconscious thought patterns that put him there in the first place. My brother and his wife generously sponsored Dylan’s amazingly healing trip to India once he was well enough to travel and the mere act of “selfishly” taking time away for his own well-being was a major breakthrough for Dylan.
A New Man
A year later Dylan is a different man. The man I was engaged to last year broke irreparably and has been replaced by someone else. The man I now call my husband says “No!” when he needs to. He is running again, cooking and eating healthy food. He laughs. He looks forward to each day. He is present to the kids and all their emotional & physical needs. He doesn’t do anything that would compromise his health or his recovery and this is not always popular. He doesn’t behave the way the old system is used to him behaving and it is uncomfortable for a lot of people.
Some people simply don’t know how to be with him; they are polite as though to a stranger from a foreign land. Others are angry that he doesn’t “people please” them anymore and voices his opinions and desires, or calls them out on their BS. There are the ones who don’t understand the workings of the mind and mental health who have told him that mindfulness meditation “lets evil spirits and demons in”. Then there are the people who still try to shame him; just the other day he was told that he has “lost his mind” since the breakdown!
For the most part, though, the more Dylan has talked about his breakdown (which he now calls his breakthrough), the causes of it and how he has recovered, the more people have come out and said, “Me too! I’ve been there”. We have found a new tribe of people who are supportive, loving and strong, people who are not ashamed to be vulnerable, to be human.
Growing the Tribe
As individuals and as a family we have chosen to fight the good fight and we continue to courageously battle for our dreams. We march forward with purpose and passion, unsure of exactly what awaits us in the future, yet confident in our ability to meet the challenges. Warriors do not win every battle that they fight, yet they still battle because they believe in the good fight.
Dylan’s breakthrough has freed him to follow his passion for helping others to find their authentic voice and avoid burnout by building a healthy life for themselves. At last, Dylan and I have combined our skills as coaches and speakers to change the world and meet the needs of the people who interact with us. In service of our vision, we have created the Warrior Tribe; a place for men and women to learn and master the skills and attributes needed to live a powerful, authentic and joyous life.
You are a warrior.
Even though you are battle weary and worn out, you are a Warrior.
Even though you are ashamed of your past failures and afraid that you can’t do this, you are a Warrior.
Even though you are so afraid of failing again that you don’t know how to start, you are Warrior.
Even though you are afraid it’s too late, or you are too old, you are a Warrior
Even though you can’t see the path to success yet you, you are Warrior.
A warrior cannot fight alone, so if, despite being battle weary and worn out, something inside you still BELIEVES, we want you in OUR tribe! We want to hang out with you, so we created a FREE Facebook group called Warrior Tribe – Ignite Your Inner Warrior to Succeed at Life & Business.
Our commitment to you is that we will coach YOU, our tribe, to face the challenges that meet you every day. We will build you up again to fight the good fight. We are committed to bringing you the tools, skills and resources necessary to create your best life. So take up your to take up your sword and follow your heart – the Warrior way!
Join our Warrior Tribe Facebook Group today and claim your Welcome Gift – “A Guide to The 5 Common Fears That Sabotage You and How to Beat Them”I AM a Warrior! Take Me To My Tribe!
One last request….please share this post everywhere.
The more we talk about the effects of unmitigated stress, burnout and breakdowns, the more we can lift the shame, not just for the sufferers but for their families too.