THIS IS NOT MEDICAL ADVICE!
This series of articles is aimed at helping families and friends of those afflicted with any mental illness. It is for all the families and friends who care deeply for the person who is suffering, but don’t know what to do. This is for all those people who do not know how to handle a situation in which you may find yourself: witnessing a meltdown.
In part 1, we learned what a mental illness meltdown could look like, and what the person is experiencing. We also learned that it is important to ask questions before a meltdown occurs. If you can intervene early, you have the greatest chance to end it. However, that almost never happens because a meltdown can occur in an instant, and it’s been building up for many instances.
In part 2, we learned five action steps to take in order to help alleviate the meltdown. We learned that involving yourself in this situation is serious business, and your role is crucial because you can either make it better or worse. Less is more. In short, remain harmless, not helpful.
In this final part, I will share a unique strategy that works, but is completely unconventional. What I’m about to explain is something so opposite to traditional wisdom that you may think I’m making it up. I am not. However, I do not know the validity of using this strategy across the board. So first a word of caution: This is a last resort.
Remember back to part 2 when I told you about my fixation on death? The following is what actually occurred during a particularly brutal meltdown. Death is a big issue for me. I think about it more than most people. For some reason, this time it triggered a meltdown…
It was dark. I was scared. Laying on the floor wearing only shorts because I get hot when I meltdown. I was crying, lonely, and paralyzed. Nothing could seem to get me out of this funk. My dogs had long since fled the scene. They couldn’t take the wailing.
Nothing in particular had happened. Nobody died; I didn’t get any bad news, nothing. I just couldn’t shake it. Every time I thought I had it under control, as I tried to stand up, a wave of despair would come crashing down on me putting me back on the floor. Sometimes I can pinpoint the moment of no return. I passed that point hours ago.
As I laid on the floor, sobbing, a strange thought occurred to me. Why doesn’t everyone feel so helpless thinking about death? Why isn’t everyone a heap of tears, terrified by their own mortality? The only conclusion, I thought, was that everyone else must have come to some sort of other conclusion that didn’t result in eternal sadness. So what was their conclusion? I didn’t know. Then it hit me… I need to find out.
For the previous two plus hours, I’d attempted to distract myself. I was trying to NOT think about death. That was a complete failure. My brain NEEDED to think about it. So I made a decision to go into this deeper, and actively engage my fears. Like Princess Leia said to Hon, “You’re not actually going INTO an asteroid field?” Well, as Han put it, “They’d be crazy to follow us…” I steered into the asteroid field.
Nobody would recommend this. Fixate on death MORE? I had to! The opposite wasn’t working at all. I started thinking, “Come on, there has to be an explanation. Why doesn’t everyone spend all day bawling on the floor?” A quote from the book 1984 kept flashing through my brain. “Life is the same as death.” Is that accurate? It seems wrong, but maybe my thinking is wrong. I contemplated this for a long time.
The further into death I went, the calmer I got. It wasn’t because I had a solution. It was because I was deep in thought. I wasn’t any better or happier, but I was calm. From there I began to ask questions. Why do we exist? Why does any of it matter? What is the meaning of life? Obviously, none of these are easy answers, but by trying to figure them out, it made my thoughts evolve. An hour ago, my brain was a tornado. Now, merely a windstorm.
Finally, as the wind subsided, I had a thought. Life IS the same as death! We were all part of the pre big bang dense state in the form of energy. Life is just an energy state. Matter is energy. Matter can neither be created nor destroyed. That means… I CANNOT BE DESTROYED! Sure, the form may change, as will my personal consciousness, but that doesn’t mean I’m an entity unto itself. No, I’m part of it all. Everything came from stardust. That includes me. We will return to stardust. Everyone is everything! We are all going to last forever!
Agree or disagree, this conclusion immediately alleviated my pain. My storm had cleared and it was all bright blue skies and rainbows! This was great!
The death and decay of this temporary human flesh will give rise to the next chapter! I saw the light, and more importantly, I felt the light, and it was as equally as bright as the darkest recesses of my mind… More importantly, I went into the hole, diving deeper, and I popped out the other side.
So what am I saying to you? Sometimes I gotta pretend I’m Han Solo. Sometimes we’re too deep to be pulled up and out of the hole. Attempting to pull me out would have just prolonged my misery. My brain balanced itself without intervention. It’s crazy how good I felt when this “light” washed over me. Nothing had changed, I knew I was still going to die, but I had let go of the fear, and I knew it was going to be ok. True or false didn’t matter. My brain was telling me, “YOU NEED TO THINK ABOUT THIS!” And I finally listened.
By now I’m betting you’ve figured out the strategy: Fly into the asteroid field.
“Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately three thousand seven hundred and twenty to one.” – C3PO
“Never tell me the odds!” – Han Solo
You’re going to get dinged up. You’re going to hurt more. You’re going to go through hell. The point is not to suffer longer, but to reach bottom faster. After you hit the bottom, there’s only one direction you can go. C3PO is right. It’s a risky maneuver. It could easily make it worse. No, it will definitely make it worse, but worse is sort of irrelevant when it’s all bad.
In the throws of a meltdown, I can’t remember shit, so I need YOU to remember for me. However, it’s not as simple as saying, “Go into the darkness.” That’s never going to work. Each person is different. For me, as I’ve explained to close friends and family, “When I’m deep in the shit, here are some queues or key words you could try if it appears I’m not progressing (note, I didn’t say ‘getting worse’)…” By not progressing, I simply mean, the level of meltdown is stagnate. Stagnate is actually worse than down. If it’s been stagnate for too long, you may want to suggest “exploring these thoughts.”
Regardless, here is what I tell people to do for me:
- Say to me, “Stare it dead in the eye!” This isn’t a trick. It’s just a mantra I repeat to myself when I want to be brave. Stare it dead in the eye. What now, motherfucker? You can’t hurt me. If someone reminds me to do this, it makes me want to fight my demons. You can’t stare demons in the face from a distance. You gotta be in the shit if you want to win.
- Turn on 311, quietly, in the background. Music can sometimes give you something else on which to focus. Classical music also works. It stimulates my brain in a good way.
- Remind me to write about it. Sometimes if I can just put a bunch of thoughts onto paper, and get them out of my head, I can make sense of the rest. (Kind of like what I’ve been doing for 3 parts…)
Summary: I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but “When you’re going through hell… keep going.” That’s the best way to sum up this final strategy. It doesn’t always work. Yes it will make it worse, but it could lead to the end.
Take Away Lessons for YOU
- Ask questions first.
- Be harmless not helpful.
- Take a step back.
- I’ll make it.
- I love you.
- I know you mean well.
- We can talk later.
Take Away Lesson for ME:
- Stare it dead in the eye.
- I’m going to make it.
- This will pass.
- Life isn’t always like this.
- I can heal.
Or maybe all of this is just me getting garbage out of my brain and you shouldn’t listen to me at all.