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The Slow Breakdown

When we hear that a person has had a “nervous breakdown” we might imagine all sorts of things if we do not have a personal experience with the condition or no contact with a friend or family member who has.

What happens? Does a person go berserk, sit crying for hours, rock, sit or lie in a semi-catatonic state staring at the ceiling, refusing to communicate or eat or sleep, or sleep too much?

What usually happens, unless there is a sudden trauma which has the potential to spark off another type of disorder entirely (see articles on post traumatic stress disorder), is that the breakdown occurs slowly.

Let’s look at the case of Cathy. Cathy had one child, aged 5 and was pregnant with her second. Half way through her pregnancy she and her husband arranged for extensive home renovations. The latter involved a new kitchen and bathroom, a large extension to the rear of the property and an entire new roof, new timber weatherboards to the entire structure and a cement render of the front of the house. Then it all had to be painted.

They also decided to go for an inground pool at the same time and for the last three months of her pregnancy, Cathy and her family lived in the double garage and granny flat at the back. Cathy worked till the last two weeks of her pregnancy and every morning the workman would come in and made the kind of noise that workmen do. This was combined with the digging of the ground for the pool.

Apart from all this Cathy was completing a second degree by correspondence and so had to study some nights when she came home in order to complete her requirements for the course. People marveled at her ability to hold it all together. When asked she just smiled and said everything was coming along according to plan.

When the baby arrived, all was well, but within a week the family had yet another addition – a German Shepherd puppy. The latter was to keep the 5 year old amused while her mother attended to the newborn. The family continued to live in the garage and it was winter.

Finally the house was finished and they all moved into their beautiful new home. The German Shepherd was disposed of because, as anyone might have predicted, it got bigger and proved to be too much to handle. Still, everything seems ok in the household.

After a couple of months though, the cracks began to show. Cathy began arguing more with her husband and wanted to give up work. She couldn’t for financial reasons. But finally and slowly, Cathy broke down. She was forced to take a year off work. She had underestimated the stress of being pregnant, being at uni, having major renovations and taking on a puppy. Each event on its own would not have stressed Cathy but taken as a whole, it was too much for her. This does not mean that Cathy was a weak person or deficient in any way. But it is a reminder that although we are very resilient creatures but we are also very fragile. If we underestimate how fragile we are and just keep on pushing, we all have our limits.

The woman that other women admired for being so together and strong was just as human as the rest of us. With the help of counseling, Cathy got better and learned to respect herself and her body and know her limits. She is unlikely to make the same mistakes again.


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