Nervous breakdowns: ‘You weren’t crazy; the world was’

November 03rd, 2021

Unproblematic queen and one of the resident wellness content creators on Youtube, Anna Akana posted a video about nervous breakdowns. The video was published around two months ago but this type of topic always stays relevant, and it might be good to have a little reminder as we come closer and closer to the end of the year. 

In her video, Anna Akana describes how she views panic attacks as her “body’s way of telling me that I was overwhelmed.” Akana describes her tendency of emotionally disassociating to continuously power through any discomfort she may feel in order to get the job done. She views this as a blessing and a curse as it allows her to get things done, but she doesn’t know when to stop until her body “literally shuts me down.” 

In her video, she cites The Atlantic’s article entitled Bring Back the Nervous Breakdown by Jerry Useem. Useem chronicles the origins, rise, and fall of the “nervous breakdown”. A phrase which first appeared in 1901 within a medical treatise for physicians. “Nervous breakdown” was later brought into the mainstream by Fortune magazine when America was going through The Great Depression.  

What Useem and Akana explain is that the idea of a nervous breakdown was originally thought of as a sociological issue rather than solely a personal or mental one. As the subtitle of Useem’s article puts it “It used to be okay to admit that the world had simply become too much.” Proclaiming a nervous breakdown was a valid way of declaring that life’s tough and you need a break. 

And with what has gone down within the past two years alone, life has definitely been tough. The nervous breakdown used to be viewed as “a sort of temporary emotional bankruptcy in the face of modern life’s stresses” You’ve reached your limit, and this was okay because “you weren’t crazy; the world was.” 

With the existence of things like “hustle culture”, we may be quick to label people who are taking a break as “lazy” or “unproductive”. We may think that needing a break is a sign of weakness. 

The nervous breakdown reminds us that this is not the case. Useem cites the 1934 book Nervous Breakdown which begs the question “is a nervous breakdown a sign of weakness?” to which it also answers 

“Not at all. You have put up a good fight, but the odds were too heavy against you […] Nature has warned you and given you respite. The breakdown is a definite indication that you are still functioning, and have within you the material for recovery.” 

Taking a break may seem like a luxury some people can’t afford right now but listen to your body. Reach out to your support system, ask for professional help if you feel you need it. Although you can’t change every aspect of the world around you, you do have the ability to control how you respond to these things. 

Remember that this isn’t permanent. Sit down with yourself and have that tough discussion on what needs changing and what can be done, and most importantly, find the strength to follow through.  

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