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  • Hannah Hempenstall

You Gotta Breakdown To Breakthrough …

If you've never had a mental breakdown you might consider yourself lucky. But I would argue that if you've never fallen apart and had to rebuild then you haven't yet reached your fullest potential. Here's why… What I've come to realise about mental breakdowns (through having many of my own) is this: they are a signal that you are changing. They are an indication that something old, which has lived within you for eternity, is on its way out. And for that, I believe, we can be thankful. Of course, before we get to the happy ending we will have likely ruined some of our relationships, pushed away good people, isolated ourselves and tried very hard to hide our pain. Which, ironically, barricades us into a corner where said pain cannot be transformed and where we feel all alone and even more desperate than before. Despite this, it is possible to see our troubles not as not a tormentor but as a teacher. But it can take multiple knockdowns and a shit tonne of self-awareness to see it that way. And most of us don't want to deal with that part so we skip to the bit where we have a glass of wine and numb out in front of the TV. No shame in that. But … Oftentimes, when we break, our reaction is to push those big feelings away where they end up locked in the basement of our psyche. Some of us might put a series of padlocks on the door and hope those pesky feelings never show up again. Alcohol, shopping and food are common ways we avoid having to feel. But as you've probably noticed … those feelings come back! The answer then, is not to shut ourselves away but to learn how to gently become more open. For those of us with tightly wound pain, letting go of control can feel like opening the door to an army of aliens. When our in-built protection method is to shut down, opening up can feel wrong and even dangerous. But we can liken the painful mind to a well-used oven. The more we use it, the more grease and dirt will accumulate inside the walls. We can ignore it, hope someone else will clean it, or maybe even pretend it's not that bad. But eventually we'll get choked out, and maybe even set off the smoke alarm. When that happens, we can be thankful. Because just like a smoke alarm, a mental breakdown can alert us to something that needs urgent attention. We are far better off making time to get dirty and clean the oven, tending to the flames and recognising that something needs to be cleaned out rather than shutting the door and leaving the house. Smoke and fire are not wrong, but if left unattended, they can cause mass destruction. But of course, it's much easier to say all of this than to do it. Especially when you're in the eye of a mental storm and can't even see yourself clearly, let alone the ways in which you might be projecting or acting out. In other words, how your behaviour is affecting your life without you realising. Each breakdown we have (and we all have them, to varying degrees), is an opportunity to reset. It doesn't help to push away our shame or humiliation. It is most helpful if we can learn to sit with those 'ugly' feelings and tend to them just as we would joy or happiness. Feelings are just feelings. We are made up of a spectrum of good, bad and curly ones and they don't go away just because we (or society) says they're wrong or bad or because we don't like them. Fortunately, this is where Mindfulness can help. The art of Mindfulness is a gentle practice that requires a strong heart. How so? Because we learn to stay. In the beginning, we practice staying with the breath, or the sounds. We learn how to remain open and aware of our thoughts and feelings and we notice how our mind adds meaning (pleasant sounds, unpleasant sounds and so on). These are the light weights we must learn to lift before moving onto heavier, deeper parts of the practice. Becoming able to sit with our anger or desperation requires immense courage. Burning bridges is far easier. We are far more likely to feel ashamed of our breakdowns and to run away before we can sit among those shitty, desperate and lost parts. So my message to you today is this: can you find a place in your strong and courageous heart where you can allow yourself to be all of you? Can you find a quiet spot and go inward… see what arises … allow it to be there… maybe you'll find fear lurking behind the sofa… maybe you'll sense a rising anger or well of sadness … perhaps you'll be welcomed by a swirling pool of grief that you thought you'd 'dealt with'… Whatever it is, feel deeply into it … notice the temperature, whether it's moving or still … does it rise or fall … perhaps it has a colour or sound… The more we can be with ourselves, the more we can learn to love how messy we are. Reducing the notion of our 'ideal' selves and allowing the real us to shine is a skill that requires courage and patience before it becomes a habit. So the more practiced we become at that, the greater our compassion for others will be as a result. Which is like saying if you can learn to love you, you can learn to love others too. And isn't that the world we'd all like to live in? h xx


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