18 – My first nervous breakdown

My self esteem was on the floor from constant rejection. I was tired of faking a smile. Tired of hiding my illness. Overwhelmed by everything.


I was 19. I had graduated from University with a BA in Business Studies. But, bold as I was all those years ago, I didn’t invest in a briefcase. I had my eye on a microphone.

IMG_0091I wanted to work in television.

I was still living with my parents, so made the most of their board and lodgings whilst I set about trying to break into the notoriously difficult world of TV.

I worked in the theatre as an usherette, selling programmes and ice creams whilst I was studying.

I continued to do this after graduating so that I was at least earning a bit of money whilst trying to nail down a career.

I also took on a second job working behind a bar in a cool little pub. I was absolutely shocking at this. I’m a complete klutz and spilt more pints than I served.

It was a busy time, but I was so determined to give TV my best shot that I juggled my jobs and became a one woman enterprise.

IMG_0094The head office of operation TV was in my parents’ box room. The computer was a hand me down Commodore 64 complete with 5¼” floppy discs (the previous owner had upgraded to a ZX Spectrum. Posh).

There were timetables. There were working hours. There were immaculately kept files detailing which producers I had contacted and when to chase them up. There was a constant stream of trade journals, like ‘Stage and TV’, landing on the doormat for me to scour in search of this dream job. There were books on how to become a TV presenter.

This was a serious business, and my obsessive side turned out to be a great asset during this period of my life.

My plan worked. Within two years of some bloody hard graft I landed my first job presenting a teenage magazine show.

This prized TV job came after 2 years of working solidly at breaking down doors. More often than not these doors were slammed shut in my face, but eventually, after a multitude of rejections, came a job offer.

It came at a cost though.

About a year into this marathon job hunt, I suffered a huge setback.

My first nervous breakdown.

This was twenty four years ago but it’s still as real today as it was back then.

On reflection, it shouldn’t have come as any great surprise.

I had been battling mental illness since the age of eight, but this wasn’t recognised until years later.

I had a history of pushing myself to the point of exhaustion.

I was trying to get work in what’s widely known as one of the toughest industries to break into.

I got knock back after knock back.

I was exhausted. Exhausted from trying to be stronger than I felt.

My self esteem was on the floor from constant rejection. I was tired of faking a smile. Tired of hiding my illness. Overwhelmed by everything.

IMG_0095I couldn’t do it anymore.

In the weeks leading up to my breakdown my mood had taken a massive dip.

My motivation had waned. I’d stopped wanting to contact people. I barely spoke to anyone in either of my two jobs.

Physically I was there, but mentally I was miles away.

A few people asked if I was ok. If I’d broken my leg I’d have said it hurt. I was depressed. I said I was just a bit tired but absolutely fine.

I lost a fair bit of weight. It wasn’t a conscious decision. It was another symptom of having no interest in anything. Including food.

It all came to a head one evening when I got home from the theatre.

I just broke down. All the tears that hadn’t been allowed to fall over the preceding weeks and months came out that night.

I cried until my eyes were so swollen I could barely open them.

I hugged my mum who held me tightly in the way I now hold my precious MK when he falls and grazes his knee.

She quietly reassured me that I was just utterly exhausted. That I had run myself into the ground.

She was right.

But of course we didn’t know that I was battling an undiagnosed mental illness. I look back now and shudder.

The emotional pain was excruciating. Inner turmoil and utter chaos were running riot in my bewildered young mind. I was seriously depressed. I was confused. I was lost.

More than anything though I was exhausted.

The pressure of holding everything together whilst careering through the past year at a speed that would impress a cheetah, had eventually taken it’s toll.

Mum and Dad were incredible.

Like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, Mum rallied during the lightening storm. Her immeasurable strength came into its own.

My parents had, and still do have, a fabulous relationship. Dad tends to be the decision maker. Or at least used to be. It’s not that he dominated in any way. I just think it suited them. It worked.

When daughter number two has a nervous breakdown though? Wow. Mum should really have started wearing her pants over her trousers such was her superhero status.

Surprisingly, I slept soundly that night. I collapsed into bed like an Olympic high jumper executing her finest Fosbury flop.

I didn’t move until the following morning when mum came upstairs with a coffee and an action plan.

I was still reeling. My head was spinning. It was all happening in slow motion though, like a spinning top which is about to topple over.

Mum exuded a calm but dynamic air. Pity help anyone who had dared to cross her path. She was in mother hen mode and was clucking so loudly that chicks were flocking from far and wide to our front door.

She propped up my pillows in the way she must have done to her patients when she was a nurse, and handed me my coffee.

She held my hand and told me that she’d made an emergency appointment with the GP at 10.30am.

I was numb. I’d have attended an emergency appointment with a bucket full of frogs had that been organised.

The GP took my breakdown seriously. She was a kind lady who didn’t rush her patients through as though they were on a high speed conveyor belt.

She asked about what I was doing workwise. I told her.

Had anything in particular triggered this low? I didn’t know.

Had I had any ideations of suicide? Fleetingly.

Her questions were insightful. I’m not sure the same could be said about my answers.

I didn’t know what was going on with me at that point. I was way too far gone to have any clarity.

One thing I do remember is her observation that I was all dressed in black. I often dressed in black and had never thought about it. The doctor suggested it was a reflection of my mood and that perhaps I should wear something with a bit more colour.

I never did follow that piece of advice. Black will always be my fashion go to. And I don’t believe that depression necessarily follows obvious stereotypes. Not everyone dresses in black, listens to Nirvana or cries 24/7 .

Next thing I knew, I was sitting in the car waiting for mum to come back from the pharmacist.

The upshot of my visit to the doctor was that I was suffering with depression and anxiety.

Despite my numbed state, this shocked me.

Depression is an actual illness. Other poor souls suffered with depression. But me? Not me, surely. Me?

Mum returned to the car with a little paper bag containing a box of Prozac.pills image

I was horrified at the prospect of being on anti-depressants. It scared me.

It’s sad that I didn’t have the knowledge back then that I do now in the field of mental illness.

I needn’t have been afraid. But I was. I felt scared. I felt terrified in fact.

What did life with depression mean? Was I going to feel like this for the rest of my life?

In the days and weeks to come I remained under the radar.

On the same morning that mum had organised my appointment with the doctor, she had also called both the theatre and the pub to say that I was ill and would be taking some time off.

This from the woman who would have sent us to school even if we’d lost a leg. We had another one after all.

Mum had got a fright. She had been shocked at seeing her daughter suffer such a major breakdown.

Any reservations she would normally have had about letting work down were cast aside. Her daughter was ill. Really ill. She felt no need to justify herself to my employers. She was a rock.

I was 19 years old yet was embracing the way in which I was being mollycoddled. I had no choice. I was incapable of functioning.

The Prozac didn’t kick in for several weeks.

Until then, my medication was to rest and try to mentally switch off. Something I have always found extremely difficult to do.

My total loss of energy made it easier.

As time went on I would occasionally join mum as she walked the family dog on the moor. It was a risky business though. Meeting anyone I knew carried the threat of needing to interact. Talking? That was out of the question. Mum had to do a recce ahead of me leaving the house. What I really needed was for her to be my motorcycle outrider, clearing the path ahead for me to walk through uninterrupted.

I had a follow up appointment with the GP after a week. Nothing terribly headline grabbing there. I was to continue on the Prozac and come back in a few weeks unless I felt the need to be seen before then.

The deep depression passed. My mood lifted. I remained on the meds.

I picked up where I’d left off with my job search and went back to work at the theatre.

Funnily enough I never did go back to the pub. I’m not sure it had ever been the right job for me in all honesty.

It was no more than six weeks before I was running at full pelt once again.

My breakdown certainly hadn’t been a lesson in slowing down. If anything I wanted to make up for lost time so found another gear.

Although the Prozac seemed to take the edge off my ever threatening low mood, it wasn’t the wonder cure I had hoped it would be. At least not for me. It’s helped countless other people but of course different drugs can affect us all in different ways.

The hypomanic behavior surrounding my television job search was back with a vengeance.

I’d ignore my own timetable and put in hours of ‘unpaid overtime’. I’d crowbar in all the shifts I possibly could at the theatre. I’d all but cut off my friends for fear that they may distract me from my mission.

I was on the fast train to my dream job and there was no scheduled stop until it reached its final destination.

The job eventually materialised.

It was just as well I didn’t know what lay ahead as I began my twenty year career as a television presenter.

I secretly carried my diagnosis of depression and anxiety, but the biggest secret was being kept even from me.

The bipolar gremlin was active but left unchallenged for a further fourteen years.

The highs would come then the lows would descend.

How different life would have been had I been correctly diagnosed with bipolar back then.

But I wasn’t. And the path I trod is what brought me to where I am now.

As I sit here this evening next to Handsome Doc, just about to go upstairs and check on little MK, I feel lucky.

It took years to get here. To get to this place where life has meaning rather than being just a chaotic existence.

But I’m here now. And I’m thankful for that.

Be well. x

Author: talkandcheese

I'm 44 and have just retired from having been a TV presenter for over 20 years to become a full time mummy and housewife. I live with my boyfriend and 5 year old son. Together we all live with my bipolar 2. I was only diagnosed 9 years ago and it had been an utterly chaotic ride prior to treatment and meds. Every day could be like chalk and cheese. Life is so much less frightening now, but I still get hypomanic episodes and depressive lows. The time feels right for me to share some of my story now, in which there were some devastating lows and some equally as frightening and exhausting highs. The process is helping me to heal, and I hope with all my heart may offer someone somewhere some level of comfort and support that they are not alone.

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