Thursday, August 9, 2012

Mastering the Breakdown

It was 2:00am on a Friday night in early January.  My boyfriend and I were just going to bed after a night out at the bars.  Our relationship had been a bit rocky for a few months, but we were trying to work through it.  He rarely drank but we’d been out celebrating his friend’s birthday so I had been the DD.  This - of course - meant that I was incredibly annoyed with him.  He was mumbling incoherently as we climbed into bed when he realized that his brand new three hundred dollar cell phone was missing.

After we searched my entire duplex for the phone, he decided it must be in the car.  It had been snowing for days so I was concerned that it was just as likely to be lying in a pile of snow.  He was drunkenly resigned to the cell phone’s fate, but I was determined to find the damn thing – I couldn’t tolerate him not having a phone and knew that he couldn’t afford to buy a new one.

So I pulled my winter boots on over my pajamas and trudged four snow-covered blocks to where I had parked the car.  Sure enough, there in the snow bank sat his cell phone.  I grabbed it and walked back to my house.

As I turned the doorknob, I realized I had left my keys inside and my drunken boyfriend in bed on the second floor.  I started pounding and kicking the door, feeling my ire building with each hit.  Luckily, my bedroom was above the front door so my boyfriend woke up to hear me.  When he came to open the door, the 50-year old door lock snapped from the cold. 

I was quite effectively locked out of my house and the only way for me to get back inside was to rely on the nearly incapacitated man inside to be able to dismantle a door lock.  After 40 minutes of yelling instructions at each other through the door, I was finally able to get back inside. 

I was freezing cold.  I was mad at my drunken boyfriend for not knowing to keep his cell phone secure at all times.  I was mad at my crappy old apartment building.  I was mad at my failing relationship.  I was mad at my dead-end job. I was mad at my life in general.  Then I saw my brand new chef’s knife sitting on the shelf of our entertainment stand.

(No, I didn’t stab anyone. I promise.)

“Why is the kitchen knife sitting on that shelf?” I asked my boyfriend. 

“I used it to unscrew the deadbolt.” He responded, starting to back away from me, looking like the gazelle that had just seen hunger flashing in the tiger’s eyes. 

“You did what?!” I looked at the knife and sure enough, my beautiful brand new chef’s knife (a Christmas present from my parents) was destroyed. 

(But still, I didn’t stab him. Seriously.)

I had a break down.  I freaked out.  I kicked the offending front door.  I yelled (I never yell). I told my boyfriend to sleep on the couch.  I called my roommate, yelled at her voicemail about the broken door and told her not to come home. 

I was in the clutches of a full-on breakdown and I was going to wallow in it.

And of course, none of it was worth getting that upset about.

I hear it from friends all the time “I can’t handle this. I’m just going to snap.” You reach that point when you feel like life has just thrown too much at you.  Your car got a flat on the same day you bounced a check and missed a deadline at work.  Your cat got sick and your boyfriend forgot about the date you planned.

Whatever it is, when shit starts to pile up, it's easy to become overwhelmed and let loose with the temper tantrums or to sink into depression.  But instead of letting negativity take control, you can wade through all of the crap to better yourself in the long run. 

Here's how:

STOP.  Seriously stop the negative influx of emotion.  Quell the rage and fear and just breathe.  Those emotions are just begging for you to act on them because when you act on them you usually do something that causes you to have more reason to feel those emotions. (You are mad at your significant other so you throw the remote control and crack the TV screen.) There is nothing that your negativity loves more than having more negativity come to the party.  

Refuse to let the emotions that are welling up inside of you take control of your actions.  You can do this if you take 10 seconds to breathe. 

Don’t’ do anything else.  Don’t move. Just stop.

Close your eyes.  Inhale.  Exhale.  Just.  Stop.

Understand that you are stronger than this. Just because shit is all fucked up right now, doesn't mean you can't handle it.  People in this world have had to deal with extremely messed up situations and they've come out pretty damn well in the end.

They weren't special. 

They didn't have anything inside of them that you don't have inside of you. 

We all have the power to overcome our obstacles as long as we understand that we can do it. 

You can do it.  You will do it.

Pinpoint the problemsWhat exactly went wrong?  How did you get there?  In my situation, I didn't really care that much about the deadbolt on the door or even the damn kitchen knife, even though those were the catalysts that set off my breakdown. 

What was really wrong was that I was unhappy with my relationship and my living situation.  This underlying unhappiness caused me to go off the handle when just a couple of little things went wrong.  I knew deep down that it was the general discontent I was feeling in my life that was making me act so out of character.

Admit that you've made mistakes.  I talk a lot about admitting the mistakes you’ve made because I think oftentimes people are apt to blame everything that goes wrong in their lives on sources outside of themselves.  

But ultimately, you are always responsible for your own life situation. 

Sure, there are things that are out of your control, but the things you subject yourself to and your responses to those things are all within your control.  Figure out what you’re allowing to take place in your life and you’ll see what you could be doing differently.

Forgive yourself.  Now that you know you’ve made mistakes, take the necessary steps to forgive yourself and move on.  A little while ago I wrote about forgiving other people, but the same steps apply when it comes to forgiving yourself too. 

Let yourself off the hook for the mistakes you made and move on with your life.  

Dwelling on regrets will only weigh you down and keep you from being the totally kick ass person you can be.  There is nothing that I’ve done wrong in my past that holds me back from being awesome today.  

Today is all about the future.

Find solutions.  A lot of times when we are teetering on the edge of breakdown, it’s because the future is unknown or the only outcome we see is a negative one.  Look to the future and try to determine all of the possible outcomes of the situation you’ve found yourself in. 

Now that you’ve looked at the possible outcomes it’s time to look at the solutions for each outcome.  Figure out what you need to do to be happy in each scenario. 

In my situation I knew that I had some choices.  I could keep living in the apartment that made me mad and just accept that it was going to fall apart from time to time, or I could seek a better place to live.  I knew I could stay with my boyfriend and continue to try to work things out even though we’d been working things out for more than a year or I could walk away.  I knew I could stay in my dead-end job and just put up with it, I could get a different job, or I could go back to school.

Notice how that word gets its own line?  That's how important it is.  

Now that you’ve taken the time to figure out what you can do to fix your problems it is essential that you actually take action on your solutions. 

Don’t wait for some new magical prospect to come along and change the outcome.

Don’t sit on the sidelines of your own life and try to let other people call the plays – ACT. 

Empower yourself to move toward happiness

So how did I act on my solutions to reach a better future? 
I eventually decided to move back to my parents’ house (thank the gods for them) until I was able to afford a better place to live.  I lived with them for just over a year before I moved into an apartment with another friend.  After 8 months together, that friend has moved out and I’ve created a space that is truly my own.  I love my apartment.

After trying to stick it out for several more months and work through the problems, I broke things off with my boyfriend after three years.  I did this because I realized that the bad times had been outweighing the good times for a long, long time and weren’t showing any sign of improvement. Every now and then, even after almost two years and a handful of other men going through my life, I find myself feeling lonely and wishing I would have made a different decision back then.  But when I feel this way, I remind myself that I made the best decision I could and that my future is still within my control.

As for my job, I took a look at the things that made me feel so stuck and realized that those things were also within my control.  I put together a list of the things I felt like I was missing out on and the things that I wanted to do more of and had a conversation with my boss.  Together we shaped my position around my strengths and put into place a plan for working on my weaknesses.  I was soon excelling in my career and haven’t looked back since.

So even though sometimes life feels like it just can’t get any worse and all you want to do is lose control and lash out at the world – remember that you are in control of your destiny.  And if you ever need a hug, I’m here for you.

Annie Jay


  1. Yes, you can! You are right, Ann. You are in control of your life, so make it the life you want it to be!!! Power!!!!

    1. Thanks for the comment! People often forget that they are the ones in control of their destiny - no one else!