Is There A Silver Lining To A Nervous Breakdown?

“Let me tell ya. You gotta pay attention to signs. When life reaches out with a moment like this it’s a sin if you don’t reach back… I’m telling you.” ― The Silver Linings Playbook

Unquestionably, when tragedy or prolonged stress wears us down and everything we knew and felt to be true is gone, there’s little to nothing to hold on to, to climb our way up and back into the living. Many of you know what I’m talking about, here. You survived the death of a child, natural disaster, war, terrorism, school shooting, rape, sexual abuse, or some other deep traumatizing event that dragged you down into a mental collapse and physical exhaustion; what is referred to as a nervous breakdown.

And, you know just as well that in the emptiness and abyss, when the structures you’ve come to rely on are gone, an inner voice seems to say; “Come on, I know you can’t see why or how, right now, but reach back; there is more life ahead of you, I promise, no matter how far you have fallen.”  Whether it’s God  or intuition speaking to you, indeed, it feels like a sin if you do not reach back. Most assuredly, it is bad faith to believe that you are incapable of finding the silver lining in your troubles and of finding your way back from a mental collapse.

Nervous Breakdown

The Term

Nervous breakdown is popular language for describing the experience of having mentally collapsed, snapped, or deteriorated under too much pressure. It appeared first in literature in the Middle Ages, as melancholia; a mental state describing a collapse of pleasure and will, arising from a loss of self. Freud reintroduced melancholia to the medical community, when he contrasted it to mourning; a normal loss of pleasure and will that comes from mourning the loss of a loved one (Freud: Mourning and Melancholia). He believed melancholia resulted from a basic weakness in nerves, which led to the medical term neurasthenia. But, by the 1970s, neurasthenia was no longer used as a diagnostic category by the medical community. And, although nervous breakdown is not a clinical term, it still describes a process of mental collapse and physical exhaustion that results from a combination of environmental and psychological factors.

The Cause

A single event that is so unlike anything you have learned, know to be true, or expect to happen can be the trigger for a mental collapse and complete physical exhaustion. It’s an experience that you have no framework or structures of thinking to understand and to wrap your mind around. Take, for example, Pat (Bradley Cooper) from The Silver Linings Playbook. One seemingly uneventful day, Pat leaves work early, only to arrive home and walk in on his wife having sex with his best friend. The next thing Pat knew, he was standing over this man whom he had beaten to an inch of his life. In the span of a few minutes, Pat went from understanding himself as a happily married man with a respectable writing and teaching career to an emotionally volatile patient in a mental institution.

Thus, a nervous breakdown can result from a traumatic relationship event, like Pat’s from the Silver Lining Playbook. Or, it can come from events of natural disaster, terrorism, school shootings, suicide, war and rape. These types of Type 1, Post-Traumatic stressors challenge self-understanding to the point where it’s difficult to apply meaning to what’s happening and to organize the self around the experience. Mental collapse is very possible, at such times.

But, prolonged, unyielding stress, personal or professional, can also cause mental collapse. This is what happens to victims of prolonged sexual abuse, domestic violence, and even in seemingly less harmless situations in which people have been worn down mentally by years of having been deprived of their right to self-determine their existence (Complex Post-Traumatic Disorder).

The extent to which people lose their footholds in the real world depends upon a combination of the type and intensity of the stressor and the acute mental health conditions (Major Depression, Anxiety Disorder, Bipolar Disorder), and the neurotic (Obsessive-Compulsive and Hysterical) and ego-fragile (Narcissistic and Borderline) personality disorders that make one more vulnerable to mental collapse.

But, whichever the source, a mental collapse involves a collapse of the ego, which is the part of the psyche that helps you to reason, give meaning to, and to cope with what happens to you. If you have no patterns of understanding for what is occurring, the reasoning part of you has nothing to wrap itself around. Now, you are at risk for a nervous breakdown.

The Symptoms

The symptoms of a nervous breakdown vary with its cause. However, the symptoms most closely resemble what is clinically called Major Depression (crying easily, temper outbursts, misunderstanding and confusion, loss in pleasure and will, fatigue, guilt and hopelessness, feeling worthless, loss of meaning and purpose, deterioration in functioning, downward change in health habits, hygiene and sleep pattern, weight gain or loss, social isolation and withdrawal, suicidal thoughts, self-sabotage, depressed mood, anxiety, impulsive action). Today, a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist will not diagnose you with a nervous breakdown, even if you present with the causes and symptoms mentioned here. You will be diagnosed with Major Depression and whichever other acute or chronic mental health conditions that you have. Nonetheless, the clinician knows fully the extent of the mental collapse and the required treatments.

There is a Silver Lining

“No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.” Carl Jung, Goodread 

The silver lining to a nervous breakdown is the chance to realize one of the core truths of human beings. That is ~ you are first and foremost a possibility-maker. You can breathe life into nothingness, because you can visualize what can be. Through faith and hard work, you turn adversity into opportunity and reaffirm living. You are the phoenix who can rise from the ashes, and the lotus flower that can grow from mud. You can do this, simply because you are a human being. No thing or person can take this away from you.

Reach Up and Get Back to Living Once Again

Wisdom can be found in life’s detours. Learn everything from them that you can; this moment may never come again.

I did not write Life’s Playbook, but, like many of you, I’ve had a couple of twists and turns on my personal journey that knocked me down, for a time. But, they taught me a lot about their benefits and the attitudes and actions needed to be able to reach up and get back to living once again. Let me share some of what I’ve learned with you.

Wisdom 1: Detours in your life journey are not a waste of time. In fact, in view of your whole life, the down time is short. Even so, you are positioned to learn a lot about yourself, in a very short time. A 38-year-old patient of mine was astounded when I told him that it would take him 2 to 7 years to find his way back to living a normal life once again. He suffered a nervous breakdown after a divorce that devastated him emotionally and financially. But, this wasn’t the whole story. He had an extremely stressful childhood (mother with a bipolar disorder and an alcoholic father) and had been drinking himself into alcoholism for over twenty years. He eventually came to understand the psychological and spiritual usefulness of this time in his life. He did recover from the divorce and from alcoholism. Today, he is 13 years sober and in recovery.

Wisdom 2: Treat your mental exhaustion, collapse, or breakdown, whatever name you want to give it as an opening to discovering new things about yourself.  Remember, fixed ideas about who you are and what things mean to you help you to make sense of experience. But, they also attend to features of experience that affirm them, so that little else can enter into your awareness. Thus, a collapse in a way of being is a chance for new information to come into your awareness. You have a chance to see more clearly if there’s anything about you or the way that you’ve been living that needs to change.

Wisdom 3: Use this time to ask yourself questions about life’s meaning and worth. Here, you will find the will to live again, rather than to simply exist as a broken shell. In a past article, I gave you questions that will help you to examine your true nature, like “Are you more than your suffering”. “Is there something greater than your material and public self that should be guiding your living?” You’ll find more of these questions in this link (Use this time of suffering as the source of your life’s great strength and beauty).

Wisdom 4Develop a Hardy (Resilient) Attitude Toward Your Troubles. Do not let your present circumstances cause you to lose hope for a better future. Also, do not let your grief, hurt, and resentment stop you from healing. Your purpose is to make it through this hard time having learned much about your ability to endure life’s journey, and make the best of it. You have the power and resources to influence the direction and outcome of what has happened to you. See yourself in body, mind and spirit as a resilient person, and I assure you that resilient coping will follow. You will find an inner strength and determination that will push you to thrive, despite the nature and intensity of your loss.

There are several posts on Psychology in Everyday Life that you may want to take a look at that speak to the ideas in today’s article. They are: The Courage to Thrive Despite Great Loss and Change; This is Your Life, Create It; Five Commitments For Living Consciously; Don’t Look Back; Look Forward; and Use This Time of Suffering as the Source of Your Life’s Great Strength and Beauty. 

If you liked my post today, please let me know by selecting the LIKE icon that immediately follows. And, if you wish you let others know about the ideas in today’s post, please Tweet or Google+1 it. Take good care of yourself friends, and remember, wisdom is in life’s detours. Thus, play the detour well! Warmly Deborah.

Tags: , , , , , ,

14 Responses to “Is There A Silver Lining To A Nervous Breakdown?”

  1. avatar Zerevan M Xalid says:

    Thank you very much,
    This is a poem that is given as a precious gift,
    I hope you enjoy reading it.Best regards.

    Gifts are not always free.
    A giver wants to know: Are you enjoying my gift?
    Burdens can be sources of intense pleasure.
    Recently, unable to distinguish between burdens and
    Indian elephants dragged seventeen tons of teak logs
    over the Himalayas.
    Each of us has made his or her own version of this
    Love is a gift.
    Burdens betray themselves by the rattle of their needs.
    Each of us wants to know: Am I a burden or a gift?
    Very few understand that to be a gift one must receive
    more than one gives,
    Even while burdens come decked out in ribbons and
    Refusing a gift brings regret, not guilt.
    Lingering doubts may be referred to a mirror.
    Yesterday the elephants returned: happy, sweaty, and a
    good deal wiser.

    • avatar Dr. Deborah says:

      Hello Zerevan, thank you so much for this inspired gift to us here. It’s beautiful and says so well, what I have conveyed in this post. I hope you do not mind if I share this story with people on my facebook page for PIEL? Thank you again. I am touched. Warmly Deborah.

    • avatar Delke says:

      Thank you Dr Deborah for this beautiful, insightful and practical piece. I have been to a psychologist for depression in the past year after a very hurtful breakup. I now realize that I had suffered a nervous breakdown. Reading your words give me courage and hope! Thank you!

      • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

        Thank you. There is life, good life after painful experiences. I’m glad you got the support needed to help you to thrive once again. Warm regards Deborah

  2. avatar Mahbub says:

    This is really very encouraging for a person who is suffering in nurvus breakdown and will help them to get out of this problem.

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Mahbub, I am pleased to hear this, because this is exactly why I started psychology in everyday life, so that people can have the guidance and information they need to get help for whatever is troubling them and to have a chance to live the best life possible.Thank you for taking a moment to comment, today. See you soon. Warmly Deborah.

  3. This is a great approach to understanding breakdowns and what to do to overcome them. Thanks for all your help.

  4. avatar Zerevan M Xalid says:

    My pleasure and you’re most welcome. Actually, I did not write the poem, but I have a list containing some 50 poems whose authors are unknown. Oh, please, share it in your facebook wall post or any other means you are using with your lovely and kind fans all over the world. This is just a small gift and no more, you deserve something more unique. Best regards, Zerevan M Xaid from Kurdistan.^_^

  5. The Malaise Theory of Depression

    The lies we tell ourselves
    tinted in private colors
    create intricate maps, instructions
    to hold us against our will
    or better angels
    upon a designated course.
    They creep into our
    chemical soup and wiring
    thickening trickery
    truth becoming shadow.
    Rolling downhill so easily
    scratches, contusions, bleeding wounds
    unacknowledged in subterfuge
    “It’s such a beautiful summer day.”
    We say, etching out smiles,
    even crinkles of the eye.
    Alone, in the dark, troubling dreams
    fail to dissipate at daybreak.
    Rolling downhill, smashing into
    hidden walls, jagged rock formations
    Stop! Curl into pre-born refuge.
    Listen to the angry words
    “Surely I am cursed, a failure.”
    Never let the truth break through.
    Ordered to protect the lies
    as insidiously they poison
    and blind us.
    More easily led.
    Less alive.
    Stop! Look! Listen!
    Underneath the grave of lies
    rich earth has secrets to reveal.
    Radiant seed, planted in our birth
    only we may bring to life,
    if we dare move,
    beyond the damage,
    beyond the lies,
    dancing with the shadows
    into brighter days.

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Laurie, thank you for the wonderful poem. You don’t know this — but I love poetry; it speaks to the most intimate part of us, expresses beautifully what is so hard to put into words. I love it Laurie. Thank you for visiting me. I think you and I belong to the Psychology Group on Google. Am I right? I recall your name Laurie. Warm regards to you. Deborah!

  6. avatar Kate says:

    I have read numerous articles online about mental breakdown and its aftermath affects on a person.Having suffered a profound depression and breakdown and (now just coming to a place of recovery & picking up the pieces) this article of many I have read has given me the most hope & clarity that I can rebuild my life.It was written succinctly and helped me not feel only the dejection of my breakdown but also see that there may be a silver lining pointing me to rejoin life again .And blessings to come ,maybe too.Thank you .

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Thank you Kate. I am so pleased that this article gave you hope that there’s life after a breakdown. Indeed there is. Thank you for your blessings. And to you as well dear. Warmly Deborah.


Leave a Reply

Meet Dr. Deborah Khoshaba

She Has A Gift For You.

Psychology in Everyday Life on Facebook

Getting to Oz: The personal journey to your true self

So You Want To Date A Narcissist?

Sacrifices You Must Make, To Do So!

What behaviors are taking you hostage?

Make a choice to live freely, fully and creatively.

Love is Being Present

How To Get More Love Into Your Life

Our Sponsors and Support Mental Health Sites


All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only. This blog is not meant to professionally treat people psychologically. The owner of this blog makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this site or found by following any link on this site. The owner will not be liable for any errors or omissions in this information nor for the availability of this information. The owner will not be liable for any losses, injuries, or damages from the display or use of this information. These terms and conditions of use are subject to change at anytime and without notice.

PIEL is PayPal Verified

Official PayPal Seal