By Sandra Dee Owens
When I had a nervous breakdown at 29, I called a local crisis line, and after talking me back from the edge I had fallen over, the on-call counselor suggested I come in and talk with someone.
I went to six weekly counseling sessions. My husband came with me, stating, “Your problems are my problems.” While words are not his native language, he occasionally delivers spectacular one-liners.
That was one of them. I keep it in my soul like a treasure.
Session #1 — The diagnosis
I, on the other hand, was eager to sit in a room with a complete stranger and talk about my problems. Surely a trained set of (neutral) eyes and ears would listen, give perspective and fix me — quickly.
That’s what I thought would happen.
What I got in the first session, was a diagnosis.
After listening to me for close to an hour, the counselor, looking apologetic, told us I was suffering from a life crisis adjustment.
I had never heard this term before and was suspicious. I asked if it was a euphemism for a nervous breakdown. Softening more, he glanced at the floor and said, “Yes, we call it that so it doesn’t sound so scary.”
Annoyed, I told him I preferred raw honesty as my overflowing brain took in the words “nervous breakdown” from an entirely new perspective.
A personal one.
“Nervous breakdown”: two stuck-together words that had been delightfully distant to me — words that unfortunate, sad and sick people had to grapple with. Not me.
Yep, they were scary words but paled in comparison to the next ones the counselor spoke as I asked him how long it would take me to recover.
“At least two years,” he said.
My mind exploded with rage, anxiety, fear, and disbelief — all at once.
I needed this nightmare to be over now! As in, right now. It seemed impossible that I could survive another week, let alone years.
I was devastated.
His words sank through my flesh to the marrow. The counselor apologized for this terrible news and suggested we schedule another counseling session.
Afterward, emotionally exhausted, Bill and I sat in a park with a sandwich and a bag of chips. I don’t remember talking much, just chewing and thinking how hard this was.
Session #2 — Camping
“I’m glad you are both here,” the counselor said on our return visit. And for the next hour, we discussed our marital differences. I had become obsessed with the need to take our girls camping, as I had grown up in a large family that camped regularly in a Starcraft pop-up with wings and loved it.
As logic and reason had left me, I was terrified that we were destroying our children — by not taking them camping.
But my husband had grown up in a small family and hated the few times he’d been dragged away from friends to sleep on the ground in a wet tent. And, he reminded us, we lived in a tent while recently homeless and were still camping — in our garage. The only camping gear we owned was a portable toilet we used every day as the garage had no septic system or running water. We slept on the floor with blankets and sheets, while our young daughters slept on homemade bunks my dad had made with 2-by-4s.
He was right — we were camping. But during a nervous breakdown, you don’t see things as they are — you only see the sky falling.
Session #3 — Date
The counseling sessions were hard, really hard.
They revealed that our personality and childhood differences, combined with a chronic back problem, young parenthood while building our jewelry business and a house, entirely by hand — were daunting.
And that each of us handles stress differently.
Bill, an internalist, maintains a slow, steady evenness. His joy, disappointment, or stress are not on display. He’s an inside man.
He once said, when questioned about taking too long to get over an argument, “If it’s worth getting mad about, it’s worth staying mad about.” Weirdo.
As an externalist, I think and move fast. My mood can shift from pissed off, to over it, in seconds. I like to keep moving. It’s easy to see how I am feeling. I’m an outside girl.
As I babbled excitedly about what kind of sandwich I was going to order after our third counseling session, Bill stared straight ahead while driving and said, “If you want to go on a date, we’ll go on a date. This is not a date.”
I hated him for a few minutes.
I have a love-hate relationship with my Bill’s honest, harsh, but accurate one-liners. He was right, this crisis was no picnic.
Though I had viewed our “counseling picnics” as a date, the reality was, the $20 weekly counseling fee, (thank goodness for sliding fee scales), plus gas, plus sandwiches, pulled money and time away from our building project.
I needed to play. Bill did not.
We sat side by side on the bench, eating our sandwiches in silence.
Editor’s note: Look for Part 4 of this series next month.
For more info on Sandra, visit: sandradeeowens.com