Almost every event of significance in my life seems to be preceded by a breakdown. There is a moment of complete terror, falling apart, a desperate unknown, some blind faith and a side of impending doom.
Four hours before my water broke and I went into labor I hung up on my mom and hurled my phone at a wall, horrifying my husband so bad that he sneaked off to call my doula to ask what he should do. She told him to get me in the bath and give me a glass of wine. He did that and also gave me pizza. This was excellent advice.
I assume my rage had to do with the fact that I was nearly 2 weeks past my due date and wanted to kill every person asking if I had the baby yet. My mother of all people would be one of the first to know, so my over-pregnant brain couldn't handle the inquisition.
Ten hours after that breakdown I had another one. Exhausted, I could no longer push, lunge, walk, yell, nothing. I cried and announced I was through - I would not be delivering this baby. This was followed by the worst ten seconds of pain ever and then I became a mother. Miraculously, in that 10 hours my parents managed to find a flight, drive an hour to an airport, take a 2-hour flight and another drive (in a limousine because they couldn't find a cab and this was pre-Uber) in time for me to give birth.
This pattern has happened over and over and in my life. It's happened on a bigger scale than childbirth and it has happened on a markedly smaller scale as well. Annoyingly, this echos the idea that we must experience the dark to appreciate the light. The breakdown is, if I am paying attention, followed by the breakthrough.
This is not a how-to on avoiding pain or a breakdown. Life doesn't happen that way. They are inevitable.
It is about using the breakdown to your benefit. My personal experience in victim hood was so painful that I had to find another way, I could not walk through this life believing the world is out to get me. I needed a better explanation, so I found one.
My husband and I are deciding to move our son out of his private school and to the public school down the street from our home. This was hard because we had a wonderful community at our school for almost 6 years and I found myself anxious about him being behind academically and having to make new friends and how hard it could be.
As I worked myself into a panic about it, I remembered the point I'm making here. I went to a public school my whole life and while I didn't struggle academically, I struggled with bullying, fighting, drugs and not fitting in. I experienced diversity and humiliation and made mistakes, and yet I don't look back and wish I would have been shielded from any of it. I'm not naively suggesting private school kids don't experience struggles, but it is a different environment and experience.
Those breakdowns taught me so much. They tested me and caused me to grow, adapt, take risks and be resilient. I wasn't cushioned from the reality of the world. I saw the most impoverished living conditions before the age of 12. My friends shared a bedroom with 5 other kids; I didn't count the luxury cars my friends' parents owned because they were lucky to have 1 car that ran.
My husband also believes his years at a public school made him more resilient and resourceful because of the challenges he faced and how he chose to deal with them. Our experiences had us questioning our decision for our son, which was what all parents want for their kids, a good life, yet what is more important is that he feel confident in facing the realities of this world. He is going to experience real pain in his life and our job isn't to pretend it doesn't exist, it's to help him see it and do the right thing and trust that there is a lot to be learned and gained from our pain.
Under the assumption that we should decrease pain and avoid breakdowns at all costs we end up playing referee instead of living our lives. As uncomfortable and unavoidable as they can be, our breakdowns are often our greatest gifts. Trying to tamper with them or keep everything the same ends up causing unnecessary pain and it robs us of the opportunity to grow.
Like the old zen saying, "No mud, no lotus."
Next time you find yourself in the thick of a breakdown, large or small, remember something is being offered to you. A reminder, a suggestion, an initiation, an opportunity or an experience. After you find yourself punching a throw pillow sobbing, "why me?!" look for the gold. There's always a little gold hidden in the rubble.
Use your breakdowns as badges of honor, of proof that you've lived and overcome and you can do it again. Use them to find your people, to connect, to know that whatever you are feeling you are not alone, someone else has been there and when they show you their badge, you can know that you'll make it through too. Nobody is interested in a story of perfection or everything going as planned, the bumps and the detours and the explosions are what make it worth telling...and worth living.