How To Embrace A Nervous Breakdown (In Almost A Million Nearly Impossible Steps)

by Eve Livingston


“Things falling apart is a kind of testing, and also a kind of healing.  We think the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart.  They come together and then they fall apart again.  It’s just like that.  The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen.  Room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”

~ Pema Chodron

Chodron’s statement is almost eerie, I find, in its truthful simplicity.  Seriously.  Read it again.  Makes me worry about why I find it so hard, sometimes, to accept what I am forced to accept when death walks down the street and reminds me I live in his neighborhood.

‘Let life be what it is.  Make room for all of the feelings that arise:  the truth of happiness, the truth of pain.  Don’t fight against the fundamental law of nature, which is change.  Allow life to be the living, breathing thing that it is.  Accept abundance in equal measure to loss, and loss in equal measure to abundance; accept that they are opposite sides of the same lung; breathing, steadily.’

How in the world do people figure these things out?  At the very least, how do they have the confidence in their ability to remember them?

It seems to me, even if you could remember really smart things like this, it’d be easier said than done, when time came to put the words to action.

My inner harpy is haranguing me to just admit I’m a weakling compared to Chodron.  It’s true.  But I pay attention (I guess even while grieving, surprisingly enough, since it causes one to be forgetful), to the lucid things she says.  And they almost always help.

That too, easier said than done:  getting help for one’s pain.  I have a feeling it’s a highly subjective undertaking.  One which, in some cases, I imagine, a person might stand on the shore, staring at disturbing, frightful waves of pain and sadness.  Jaw agape, they might be thinking only of, or at length about, “how close might that wave get (should I allow it to get), before I will (if I do), run away from it?”  Then there might follow a protracted debate about whether there is anyone to really run to, anyway…and if so, who?…and whether to seek help at all.  How do you recognize help that’s helpful enough, fast enough, when you can’t even find your way off this beach?  These are terrifying pockets of time, and they always disguise themselves as eternity.

In another case, someone might be found swept out to sea in waves that won’t have it any other way.  These waves demand a swimmer who is going to have to swim if you’re going to stand that close to the water!

Best case scenario, in my heroic-in-retrospective point of view, is a swimmer who knows the terrain of both beach and wave, open water and secret islands, mysterious underwater caves.  She knows it so well that she is practiced about which waves can bring her back to shore, even when they’d just brutally swept her out to sea.  Besides, she won’t settle for anything less than what the roiling ocean of her life has to offer.  ‘Fuck it.  I live here.  Bring it on.  I want the whole shebang…..the whole experience of this humanness.’

I’ve experienced quite a bit of grieving, and I’d say my grieving hasn’t gone that best case scenario way.  It’s gone more the way of the former examples.  No, actually, in all honesty, I have to reconnoiter with the previous two sentences.  They’re not quite right.  I did, in fact, and am still doing, in fact, some (albeit ungraceful) combination of these methods of grieving.  I’ve clung to the rocks when a tidal wave of grief threatened liquid immolation.  I waited for the tide to recede.  It didn’t.  It did.  It changed its mind.  I stood at the waves and stared, sussing them out.  I was paralyzed.  Sometimes I stepped away, in hopes of avoiding them.  Sometimes I stepped toward them with curiosity.  I was swept away.  I was fished out.  I was overboard again, into storm after storm after storm.  Often, I crawled limpidly onto a stretch of shore, and fell asleep, exhausted.

So far, I’m open enough to finding out what happens with the story of living this life, and grieving these losses.  I’m open enough to finding out what happens with the story of life after loss.  It is always a day to day process.

Open enough is all we need.  Just be open enough, and we can make that crucial room–that just enough room–for all of this to happen.  Chodron’s right:  “The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen.”  We need to allow room for this reality to be what it is, without our nail-on-chalkboard refusals.  Just a little bit of room, for all of this….  For what is happening, and what already has happened.  For what may one day pleasantly surprise us, that could happen, as our lives go on.  Room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.




Content copyright 2018. Eve Livingston, Ph.D. All rights reserved.