It's OK to Have Breakdowns
Last updated: August 2021
Recently, I was talking to another person who is also in this daily fight against Multiple Sclerosis. Like me, she’s had to leave her career, been put on disability, and generally had the life she knew uprooted and changed by an incurable disease. As we were discussing how life was going, she confessed to me that she simply “lost it” the previous night. She seemed to be embarrassed to tell me that she suffered a breakdown, with the enormity of the changes she has experienced got the best of her. She was upset, she cried, and felt bad for herself and she felt some shame because of it. I went on to tell her the same thing I am telling you now, it’s OK to break down now and again, and it happens to me, too.
An avalanche of emotions with MS
Yes, I admit it, I lose it now and again, usually when no one is around. Typically, something small will trigger it, my disease will get in the way, I’ll have to cancel plans, or I’ll drop and break something because my hands are numb, or I’ll just be extremely fatigued, or in pain. Some small and common issue will be the snowball that starts rolling down a mountain and eventually becomes an avalanche of emotions. Like an actual avalanche, the stage is often set in advance, with symptoms causing emotions that I tuck away and allow to accumulate in a place that I seldom go, just like snow gathering over time on the top of a steep mountain. This avalanche of emotion isn’t pretty and it plunges me into the deep depths of depression. It really does feel like I’m being swallowed up by an avalanche.
I get embarrassed
Like the friend I mentioned in the beginning, I also get embarrassed by these breakdowns when I shouldn’t. Living with an incurable chronic illness isn’t easy. It’s stressful, emotional, and painful. Our symptoms are bad enough, but we also have to acclimate to massive changes in our lives. Friendships, relationships, careers, and more can all change in a short period of time. That alone would be hard for anyone to try to cope with, let alone someone who also has all of the symptoms of MS. So I think it’s completely understandable that we have our moments where we let it all out and have a little bit of a breakdown. The important thing is that you pick yourself up afterward.
Feeling let a let down
I’m sure my breakdowns wouldn’t be as big if I vented about my situation a little bit more (a big reason that I highly recommend anyone with this disease regularly sees a mental health professional). If I admitted that, yes, sometimes this life sucks. Like many with a chronic illness, I often try to put on a braver face than I actually have. Years of people telling me they “don’t know how you do it” and “admire the way I handle it” can have the effect of me feeling a little stronger than maybe I am sometimes. That’s also why it feels embarrassing. When enough people tell you you’re “brave” because of the way you live with a disease, you can easily feel like a let down when the disease gets the best of you. I think that’s the source of my embarrassment (that and the whole society still thinking men shouldn’t cry or get emotional thing). Even when I’m having a breakdown alone, I still feel like I am letting someone down.
Just getting it out
The thing is, having an occasional breakdown or cry session because of your illness and its effects is no reason to be embarrassed. We’re not letting anyone down and it certainly doesn’t make anyone less brave. If that’s how you deal with the disease, that’s OK. It’s alright to get upset occasionally, as long as you springboard from that and keep going. Sometimes just “getting it out” can be incredibly therapeutic and just what you need to keep up the fight. It’s important to remember that an occasional breakdown is not a permanent one, that your journey will keep going. So when you get buried, start digging, remember that you can dig and dig and eventually tunnel out of that avalanche.
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