I call them ‘episodes’, because I honestly don’t know what else to call them. They’re the most intense of my distress states, the hardest by far to deal with. They begin with a trigger, and they stop whenever they feel like it.
And I sit inside my own head, a prisoner to the storm around me.
The triggers aren’t much. Usually an accumulation of bad luck topped off with an extra stupid thing that just didn’t need to happen. It could be reality crashing through an expectation, or just a thought that went too far down the wrong path. If I’m not watching myself, I’ll go into a full tail spin. An episode.
A friend once observed, ‘You breathe differently when you’re upset’. I hold my breath to try and stop the beginnings of it, knowing that once it starts, getting myself back under control will be nearly impossible.
So I hold some air in my lungs and tighten my chest as though that will stop the rest of it escaping with the air inside me. I breathe out firmly and back in, holding it again as before. I do this for as long as I have to, whatever it takes to suppress the urge to break until I’m in private.
I don’t like to break in front of people. I don’t like to talk about it. I walk a line between silence and open positivity, determined that whatever others shall see, it should be the best face I can put on it. The proof that I take each day as a learning opportunity, that each time I grow stronger from it–and I do.
I don’t want pity and I don’t want concessions. I don’t want to be fragile in anyone’s eyes. I want to be treated like anyone else, even if some things are harder for me than they should be. Life doesn’t come with concessions, and most of the time the only real answer is just to suck it up and endure it.
I don’t want anyone to worry for me. To talk about the episodes is to admit that they frighten me, that they do cause me pain. That there have been days and weeks where I have been afraid to be alone, where I have known that I am extra vulnerable and likely to be set off by the smallest thing gone wrong. It means admitting to the parts of me that make me feel proper ‘crazy’. It makes me someone to worry about.
They hurt, but I survive them. I’m not in any danger. I know that with absolute certainty.
Episodes are… a loss of something that defies articulation. It’s to be buzzing with restless energy, but lacking the will to move at all. To desperately want to escape… the room, the house, your own skin? It’s like you’re a hollow shell filled with ping-pong balls, infinitely bouncing madly inside you but never able to escape your own shape. Like your skin is vibrating underneath a motionless outer layer.
Your mind is static. Harsh, screaming white noise. Punctuated with flashes of piercing red, your ears ring as though you’ve just come in from a concert. Thoughts swirl around, but they’re moving so fast they’re impossible to catch—whatever you manage to get your hands on is torn away before you can comprehend it. You feel fragmented.
It’s not a loss of logic or rational thought. It’s not a loss of control. Impulses flash up like pop-up adverts, some ridiculous and some scary. You can say no to them. You can dismiss them. But knowing that your brain would suggest that, that those ideas are there feels like a betrayal. Why would your own mind do this? Why would it be so cruel?
Have you noticed you’re sobbing? The crying is the hardest to control. Forget holding breath to push it back, it’s out and it won’t leave you until it’s done. What happened, what triggered this moment–it isn’t worth it. You know that, but it doesn’t help. Your response is entirely unreasonable. You know that, but you can’t stop. Your rational self sits amid the chaos, perplexed and helpless.
It hurts. Physically. Your skin aches like you’re made of bruises. You want to reach out, pick up the phone. If someone was here, you’d be able to control it. Fear of being seen in your crazy state was always your dominant motivator. Why isn’t anyone here? How do you get someone here? You can’t talk.
Maybe you can text. The phone is far away, and your fingers shake too much. You’re shaking all over. Shaking and sobbing and screaming in that silent way you do. Rocking or swinging in your computer chair, bouncing your legs the way you can never seem to stop doing. Phone isn’t going to work. Facebook. Try Facebook.
But don’t disturb anyone. They have their own things to deal with, and there’s nothing anyone can do anyway. You might feel better in an hour. A conversation would at least be a distraction. So you pick someone. Write the most casual conversation starter you can think of. Any distraction will do.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t, you go back to fending off impulses that feel foreign in your own mind. The swirl of fragmented thoughts is exhausting, but when they slow it’s no better.
You think about what you’re doing. How you’re reacting. How it makes no sense and you’re a grown woman, you should be in better control of yourself. How can you call yourself an adult when you can’t keep your shit together? How can you do proper adult things when this keeps happening? It should be so simple, every other human being seems to manage it—but not you. No, you’re crazy and you’re broken.
You don’t work like all the other people. You don’t think like all the other people. You get stressed and overwhelmed and then when something as small as an item breaks on you, this happens. You just don’t cope with being a person. There’s something really, really broken about you.
Back to sobbing, silent screaming and swinging in the computer chair.
Sometimes fidgeting helps. Picking at skin, scratching your face. There’s a hair on your chin, focus on that. Eliminate it. You go on a crusade with the tweezers. It’s calming, directing focus into one smooth stream–and sometimes it works. Sometimes you wonder what you’re doing to yourself, throw the tweezers and feel all the more helpless.
Sometimes you stare at a wall. Sometimes you plead with every god you can remember the name of, and a few you’re pretty sure you made up, to be fixed. To never have to feel this intense storm again. It feels like the breakdowns look on television, anyone would think you were a mother who lost a child the way you carry on.
You want to stop it. But the same methods don’t always work, and sometimes none of them work at all.
So you just wait.
When it’s gone, exhaustion fills the space. Sometimes, it’s joined by relief. After a few hours distance, the entire event seems incomprehensible. Why would you react like that? Why would you think those things? It feels and sounds like fiction. You remember so vividly every feeling turned up beyond a tolerable point, even so you begin to convince yourself it didn’t happen.
There’s no way you’d feel that way because of something so stupid, right? Now the impulse to tear all your clothes off and run screaming into the street has vanished, you can’t conceive of any universe in which those activities would assemble in your mind as an idea to be actioned.
Shame sets in, bigger questions loom over your head. You doubt your capabilities. Eternally optimistic, you tell yourself that this episode made you stronger again. You’ll do better next time.
Sleep is heavy. Recovery from an episode can take days. Fear of another one keeps you up, makes you more tired. When you do sleep, you struggle to wake. Being tired makes you vulnerable. This is why episodes often follow each other. Sometimes you’re lucky enough to have the following day off, and you forgive yourself for how long you need to sleep.
Even when you do wake, you’re a zombie. You stare at a wall for hours, read the same page of a book several times before you give up. You have no focus left, no mental strength. So you watch documentaries to feel more productive in the down time, snuggled tight in two blankets. Promise to look after yourself until you’re strong again.
That’s the cycle. The episodes. I don’t know what else to call them. I don’t even know how long I’ve been having them, though I know I had some during high school and after. I notice them more now, because I know they’re linked to something in my brain that isn’t working right.
It shouldn’t feel like my brain is ‘snapped’, I should be able to not let things push me into that state. I should be able to keep my head above the water and not let it all get me down. Although it’s a completely different feeling from being ‘down’ or ‘sad’. Those are such mild emotions.
This post isn’t particularly positive, and I apologise for that. Unpleasant as the description is, it’s also part of ‘my normal’. I have systems in place for help and support, and I’m working toward a proper name and management strategies.
Until then, I use the coping mechanisms I’ve found myself and online.