Anatomy of a Meltdown

Desperate woman weeping
The thought sent me into a storm of crying. Kamuelaboy/Morguefile

Editor’s Note: The author of this story wishes to remain anonymous. It describes the way things can build up during a depressive episode until the pressure becomes overwhelming – and the most important step to take when a crisis comes.

The depressive episode was long and debilitating. For the first time in my life I wasn’t paying bills on time, or even entering transactions in my financial software.

My 2012 taxes were filed so late I had to pay penalties, and I had done nothing about 2013's taxes.

Part of the problem was that I had retired. Having a day job had given my life structure. In those days, Saturday was bill-paying day, when I wrote and entered all the checks, downloaded the previous week’s transactions from the bank, and made sure everything was in order.

Now there was no structure to my life unless I had the initiative to create it – and while I was depressed, I had no self-discipline. None of the needed work had been done for over a year.

My psychiatrist and I were working with medications old and new trying to get me out of this utter funk, but nothing was working. Twice I went through all the backed-up mail, sorted it, labeled the stacks by priority. It didn’t help. Even the Urgent stack just sat there.

I withdrew socially, avoiding friends and Facebook alike. I began sleeping 12 and even 18 hours a day, just because I didn’t want to feel the weight of all that undone work, the pressure, and the guilt.

I damaged my car by hitting someone’s garbage can and didn’t do anything about it… one more stressor, one more thing I needed to do and wasn’t doing.

Then came the last straw.

When water started pouring through the frame around one of my windows, I was forced to take some action. Dealing with insurance and contractors was miserable.

Once the leaking stopped, I acted slowly, and the process took months instead of days or even weeks. When the work was finally done, I got more bad news: I needed a new roof, siding and gutters because of severe hail damage, and the wood gazebo in my back yard was rotted beyond repair.

Two days later, I woke up and thought how easy it would be to kill myself.

The Meltdown

Never in my life had I been suicidal, nor had I even had suicidal ideation. This couldn’t be me!  But it was, and it scared me out of my wits. I didn’t go on thinking about “how easy it would be” – I couldn’t stop thinking about having had the thought. It was terrifying. I felt a fluttering in my chest. It wasn’t my heart – my pulse was steady. It wasn’t my breathing. It was pure panic. Whether it was a true panic or anxiety attack, I can’t say – I just know I was horribly frightened because I had thought of suicide.

I started to cry and couldn’t stop.

Doing the Right Thing

As soon as I could manage, I called my best friend and said four words: “Can you come over?” She heard the desperation and tears in my voice and said, “I’ll be there in five minutes.”

I must have cried in her arms for an hour, and we talked for two hours more.  It helped – but she was about to go out of town, and I knew I couldn’t be alone. I called my son and paid his air are to come for a visit.  I also called my brother for help in dealing with the roofers, the insurance, the whole damn mess.

The next day I saw my psychiatrist.  She prescribed anti-anxiety medication twice a day.  She said while the bipolar depression was still a problem, it was the anxiety we needed to control now.  (She also pointed out that learning I needed a new roof, etc., would be difficult for most people to deal with at first.)

My son was a great help.  Along with lots of love, hugs, and sweetness, he gently but firmly got me to sort all the financial material – credit card statements, unpaid bills, checks to deposit. The next day I paid all the bills. He put the financials in date order so I could enter them into my computer.  Together we gathered up all the information about the damage to the house and the insurance issues and emailed them to my brother.

When my son left a few days later, I had organization and direction.  The next day my brother called and said he would definitely come here, coordinating his visit with the insurance adjuster and contractors. I felt a rush of relief go through me then.

Aftermath

Things didn’t go as smoothly as I’d hoped. I damaged my car again on the way home from taking my son to the airport, and one of my cats, who had been ill for a long time, died that night.  Still, two days later I entered into the computer all the figures and transactions for one of my checking accounts and my savings account.

After that, my mood took another downturn, but not as bad as it had been. I’m tired and fretful and still feel stressed, but I no longer feel like I have to run away from everything.

And I can congratulate myself because even in the middle of a terrible moment, I did what needed to be done: I asked for help immediately.

Editor’s Note: For more on bipolar and anxiety, see Bipolar Disorder With Anxious Distress.

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