Glam Mum, Glam Stories

Glam40: How I survived a nervous breakdown in my 40s


I was cooking lasagna and just finished the last layer of Tiramisu with my youngest daughter. Friends were coming over for a Sunday lunch. And then, it just happened. I started to cry, and I could not stop. I couldn’t even talk to explain what was happening. I was crying almost hysterical. I was facing a nervous breakdown.




by Viviana Bellisario from Amsterdam

The days that followed, I found myself paralyzed in bed, crying and in pain. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, so one day I wrapped myself up and went to the doctor.

I’ve described my symptoms and mentioned that I have been enduring financial, professional and personal stress for over 2,5 years, and felt in a state of constant pressure, but more over, anxiety, for my future and the one for my children. 

I didn’t feel like fighting anymore, I was tired of fighting all the time.

They decided to do some basic test, maybe early menopause, tiredness, low pressure, iron deficiency, hormones. My doctor saw it immediately and advised me to see a good colleague of his.  I didn’t get it at first place, I thought, why? Depression, caused by chronic, extreme stress over a long period. I needed psychiatric treatment, six months off work and mood stabilisers.

I just started a new job, how could I possibly stop working now? I refused to believe that. Was I ill and didn’t realized it? I remember ignoring everyone who told me to ‘slow down’ and thought the low mood and the low energy would go away, if I carried on as normal. But things got worse, much worse.

Sleeping is hard when your mind is full of thoughts.

My body was in bed but my head was a non-stop machine. I used to suddenly wake up at 3 o clock every night, having panic attacks, sweating, heart palpitations, wide eyes full of fear, when looking at myself in the mirror.  All I wanted to do was to scream and cry. My thoughts were killing me.  I wished I could switch off my mind and tell him “stop torturing me”. Like most of us, I’d heard the term loads of times, hidden behind words like “stressed out”, “burned out”, “nervous breakdown”. These are words and phrases were we have no clue what they actually mean or represent, until they hit us. I spent a lot of time in a so-called “zombie-state”. I spent hours lying in my bed staring at the wall or the carpet, having the curtains closed.

My dear neighbour, who helped me through this, used to send me short messages every day: “The sun is shining…..”  

Or “good weather for a walk…. “, to force me to get out of the house.  But all I wanted was to stay in my bed, in silence, in the dark, until my children would come home from school. For those who cared about me, was terrible to see. They had no idea what to do. The scary part is, what you are trying to control so hard for so long, is now controlling you, and there is where you crash. I got myself wondering so often.. how could I not see it coming? Me… the ultimate control freak on earth, the stubborn “I can do it” old mule…

I tried to be as normal as possible, for my children, for the outside world, however it was hard

I made sure I went out every day for groceries or for a walk. Walking is therapeutic, I’ve discovered the pleasure of doing that since then.  I remember standing in front of the corn-flakes shelves for 15 minutes, completely blacked-out. The second I was back home, the façade vanished. I reverted to silence, the unstoppable crying would start again, and felt physically and emotionally broken. To the outside world I was okay, but all I wanted was to be dead. Dead was the solutions to my problems.
When thinking at that, nobody existed, no children, no family, no friends. It was one blind moment, where nobody existed, except myself, my pain, and the fastest way to get rid of it. All I wanted, was to be released from the pain and the anxiety. I felt I was not strong enough for this world. I had to be strong for too long, I was exhausted. Nothing and nobody would make me feel better, my negative thoughts won over me.

I was at home, surrounded by children, music, television, piano playing, children fights… and remember of feeling absolutely nothing and totally empty. 

I wasn’t even listening to my children.  But somewhere, deep down, I knew I could control this, my survival instinct was to strong to give it up. That’s the moment when you have to beg yourself to stop crying and tell yourself “Be strong”. I started to see a psychiatrist, she could see through me and I felt it was my opportunity to listen and to grow and learning more about myself, my patterns, my limits. I see her as my saving angel. I was lucky, she was the right person at the right time. I was however, sceptical and critical against medication, I thought I could get better by myself. I spent a long time searching information about the medication my doctor advised.

I never took heavy medication before, and I was scared about the sides effects. But the only thing I wanted, was to get better, and soon. After a long talk with my psychiatrist, I decided to take mood stabilisers, medication that moderates the extreme ups & downs, and bring you into a state in which you can sleep, rest and therefore, slowly recover. The level of serotonin would get stabilized in your brain, and therefore help you, until you are stable enough, to go on with your own energy level and strength.

After a few weeks I was finally able to sleep, I felt calmer in my head, more energized and more focused.

I carried on seeing my psychiatrist, and things started to get better. I went back to work, I took the time and the space to think at what I (really) wanted in life, and started to make plans with my ex partner, on how to handle our separation. Now I’ve found a new job that offers me more flexibility, something I was fighting for, not only for my children, but also for myself, cause its all about balance.

I have subscribed myself for a course, as part of an investing process in myself, and hopefully create a profession for my future that I actually like and feel passionate about.
I have started a house renovation plan with my ex partner, in order for us to sell it one day, and move forward with our lives.
But more over, I’ve learned to listen to my body, to protect myself, to stop being so hard on myself, to accept my limits, to setup boundaries, to acknowledge my imperfections. To make more room for relaxation and feel less chased by obligations.

To dream more, and to learn to let go.

When I talk about my experience, I often hear “Oh I had that too”.
Often from busy people, with far too high standards on themselves. People like me, who keep on going, no matter what, ignoring all the signals and the warnings our body is build to give us.  Until we crash, and we reach the bottom, there is where I was. I learned a lot about fragile minds, and how fragile a mind can be.

I heard once someone saying…

“We must hurt in order to grow
Fail in order to know
And lose in order to gain
Because some lessons in life, are best learned through pain”
It was though and I feel very emotional if I think at that period again, as it was just a few months ago.  But somewhere, I know this fall was necessary to wake up and reset my life priorities again. However, despite the lesson, I don’t want to spend too much time looking back, ’cause I am not going that way. I still have my problems, and my life is not perfect at all… but I have myself back, I laugh more, and take it one day at the time.
With this lesson in my pocket I want to teach my daughters that falling down is part of life and is not the end, but a new beginning.  And that being ‘Glam’ also means being mentally strong, but also accept your weaknesses. And that it is okay to fail at times, ’cause this is necessary to set yourself to the next level, as long as you keep learning and growing.

I do now believe in the future and see it as an opportunity to build something beautiful, for myself and my daughters.

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