Joshua Tabakhoff

Dealing with an early-stage mental breakdown

2019-10-23 – 6 minutes

DISCLAIMER: This article talks about a mental breakdown which is a lot different from the disorder, therefore I should probably apologize for the misleading title and lower the expectations of people suffering of this. I send you all my love and best wishes.

Express yourself, you deserve to be happy Don't overthink, be happy! — Photo by Austin Schmid on Unsplash

This is targeted towards student-makers and teen-makers. Even more for the misfits, the rebels and the troublemakers as Steve Jobs would have described. For those who started understanding personal differences and extraordinary abilities very early-on in life.

You may have felt like being misunderstood by everybody in your circle, even more in society and ostracized. I vividly remember back in elementary school being identified as a “hacker who entertains by hacking friends’ email addresses” (that’s what said the school principal). If you know me a bit, you know I don’t know even a bit in hack and even less when it comes to SQL injection and everything (thanks we know have automate ways to secure backend nowadays). This was the first time I truly understood that being different is a superpower but an incredible weakness in some cases.

Fast forward, I’m now in a way better environment where most people are kind and curious. We all share some empowering energy. Why would I write this article if everything’s great now? Well, you know it’s not all bright. Let’s dig into this

What can cause the kind of mental breakdown I’m facing?

I must define what I call a mental breakdown, far from the real definition of mental illness (where I want to spread love and energy to every people out there facing this 🙏). I define a mental breakdown (or an early-stage one) as a state where you want to do anything at all and you are looking for a meaning. It’s a unexpected state that can last where you feel like you’re a piece of shit and what you do is useless. Some kind of adolescence crises that's happening lately.

What does this state lead to? You start isolating from others, you start from spending more time in your thoughts than in the real world and above all, you start listing everything wrong in your life. Negative self-talk. You stop thinking of what’s positive in your life and just become another pessimistic person. This is the worst thing to do both in your life but also to leave this state of mind.

How to stop thinking this way?

Identify the root cause — Weariness? Looking for results but still nothing? Love? Lack of meaning? Doubts (will I regret, am I wrong...)? Whatever the root cause is, you can move away from this by figuring out a way to externalise and find a new focus point in your head.

Materialize your thoughts — All your thoughts are flying randomly in your mind and the best way to sort them is to externalise. Draw, paint, sing, compose, write. Do your thing but externalise as much as possible. Don’t be shy to yourself, this can be shared if you want but it’s easier to know you keep these for you as long as you don’t find yourself having silly thoughts.

Talk — You shouldn’t keep everything for you, you will just get even more overwhelmed so find someone (maybe more than one person) to talk and express how you feel and have their experience on your doubts. You can talk to close friends, family members, Twitter friends (Minal is the best 😍) or a specialist. Find what works best for you, and feel free to only talk about one of your problem to each person so that you don’t have the feeling of being too weak, I know this can happen.

Document — Do you know how frustrating it is to have something you don’t understand? You’re here, trying to figure out what didn’t work on this try but you’re at a stage where it’s too early to understand the exact break point that caused all these dominos to fall. You definitely should read scientific papers, books or blog post or listen to podcasts, TED Talks. Learning from previous experiences is the best way to understand it’s not your fault. You are more valuable than what you think you are right now. It’s the perfect time to get back on track and start discovering something new!

Break the routine — As said by a French singer: “how do you want to heal if you’re around what makes you sick?”, do you see how true this sentence is? You have to break the routine, do different things and do things differently.

Sports — Without talking about all the long-term benefits you read everywhere, in a short-term point of view it will bring you a lot of happiness and wellbeing. Above all, you will have more self-confidence. Talking self-confidence, it’s great to work on this so you should go to events that makes you uncomfortable. Don’t go to an event you pertinently know you will be uncomfortable the whole thing but find one you don’t really like but can be great. Like going to an afterwork!

What you shouldn’t do except if you want to keep being in a vicious circle

Work all day long — I know focusing your brain on work removes all the unwanted thoughts you can have but in the end, you will just emphasize your mental state. Plus you will bring tiredness from your work (and passion in my case).

Keep your routine — Why would you do this? This is what caused this breakdown, you must absolutely try to get rid of what led to this. I know how easy it is to stay in your comfort zone, but I know how dangerous this is.

Isolate yourself — It’s great to isolate when you want to have time to think and let your brain breathe and be creative. What isn’t great is isolating yourself because you think nobody will understand how you feel. Seeing people and your environment is a powerful tool to refresh your brain. Go for a walk!

Forget, Forgive and rebuild — “Errare humanum est, perseverare diabolicum” as we say, it’s really kind from you to forget and rebuild on the same pattern but the same pattern will lead to the same point. I mean, taking the same people, acting the same way, repeating everything… You know how it will end. This isn’t true when it comes to business but when the break point has been reached, you should be aware that you have to take a step back to not be affected the same way. If you want to take this path anyway, be sure to have the distance and this will make you more powerful than before.

You should know that this is temporary and it takes a lot of work to get back on track. See the good point, in the end you will have learned new things and have a lot more distance. In my case, it was related to both human and work. If you’re in this case, cut toxic relationships, take a step back and move on. You are more powerful than you can think! Be kind with others, you will win the long-term race!

Thanks to Minal C., Ali Salah and Romain Penchenat for proofreading this article.