When we asked readers to tweet about the moment they knew they needed to de-stress, the responses were alarming. Breaking points were marked by health crises, family problems and other types of suffering. We decided to go deeper into some of these stories in the hope that others can recognize signs of extreme stress and start to figure out their own paths to de-stressing.
I was sitting in a little Mexican restaurant right off the main drag. One second I was fine, and the next second I began to drown. A sudden rush of what I now have now know is called depersonalization washed over me. The Mariachi band in the background was but a distant sound in my ear, friends' laughter all around me became a bit too loud, the floor beneath me began to spin. I felt like I was floating above everyone, above myself. I was sure that I was dying. In the blink of an eye I was gone.
My friend must have seen that my entire demeanor had changed; a blank expression, wide eyes and big pupils were all that was left. "Are you okay?"
All I could mutter was, "I don't know. Can we go get some fresh air?"
She took my hand and led me to the door. I sat down on the curb and put my head in my hands, my heart pounding to what felt like a thousand beats per minute, my whole body completely sensitized. I had never experienced this before.
We sat there for a few minutes as I internally willed myself not to faint, not to die.
"Are you okay?" She looked concerned, unsure of what was happening. I somehow managed to muster a half smile. "Sure, let's head back inside."
I was in no way fine. I spent the rest of the night (a night that ended at 4 a.m.) trudging through the streets of an unfamiliar city like a dizzy zombie, hopping from party to party on a cold November night unable to go home. My ride was too drunk to drive. We were going to crash wherever there was a free bed available.
I spent the night in agonizing fear. I was sure I had gone crazy. I tracked my movements back to see what could have caused this sudden and mysterious mental and physical breakdown. I had about five cough drops that day so it must have been my body having a weird reaction... I didn't get much sleep the night before so I my body was just tired but... I also had a cough so maybe all the blood rushed to my head and now the blood was just making its way...back. Yeah, that's definitely what it was.
But my mind wouldn't rest, nor would my body.
When the hellish night was finally over and a sofa bed was placed before me, I crashed down to find no comfort. Racing mind, beating heart, the spins--this was a version of hell. When sleep finally found me it felt as though I was awoken minutes later to be told we were going home.
I slept in the car. A dark, unsettling sleep engulfed me. Weird thoughts, weird dreams.
Through this strangeness I stayed positive. I would be better in the morning when I eventually woke up from this nightmare. Maybe it was some sort of 24-hour mental bug.
I woke up the next morning with the same symptoms. Instead of trying to go back to normal, I focused all of my thoughts around this new stressed-out state I found myself in. I couldn't eat, I was a nervous wreck and I was constantly tired from a mind that never stopped churning.
I was static. I was nothing. I went from a million thoughts and worry a second to blackness, to nothing but numb.
Every waking moment I found myself in hell, nervous of everyone and everything around me. My thoughts were in no way lucid. Everything around me that was once so normal became bizarre and foreign.
Winter break came. I saw a therapist. I got worse before I got better.
I learned that what I had on that November night was a panic attack. What came after was extreme anxiety, which goes hand in hand with depression. My body had become so sensitive in such a short period of time because of my adrenaline and fear. My brain never rested because I never let it, I never gave my poor mind a chance.
I was scared, frightened, depressed, sad, but above all these emotions I was angry as hell. I refused to be defeated.
I pushed myself daily to get out of bed and enjoy my time home with friends and family but it wasn't the same. Happiness seemed to be gone; laughter that once came easily was now forced. I trudged on, clinging on to every and any moment of peace instead of letting them happen naturally. I couldn't believe the horrific results of a mind plagued with stress.
Therapy helped immensely.
The more and more I went to therapy, the more I felt as though some of the stress that led to this state began to dissolve. I began to open myself up to this wonderful woman who listened to me with no judgment. The words couldn't escape my mouth fast enough. Years of bottled-up thoughts up were finally released.
Therapy led me to evaluate myself in way I never had before. I realized I had felt unconfident, "weird," moody and nervous for most my life.
As much pain my anxiety brought to me, I refused to let it define me and decided this was a dirty, uncomfortable and sad blessing in disguise. I could no longer hide from my troubles and insecurities. It seemed like a matter of life and death. I could either keep living in this form of living death, where every move was met with pain--mind filled with garbage thoughts and sewage sludge--or strive to be the healthy, happy, individual I once was.
Recovering was in no way easy. I made the tough decision to try and fight without medication. I sought out professional psychiatric help, read self-help books, changed my diet, began to exercise, meditated, tried to keep a positive attitude and overall kept the one word in mind that I will hold with me always. Accept. Accept your state, accept your irrational worries and thoughts and let them drift. Pay them no mind and they'll lose their power.
I can't pinpoint when I felt like myself again as it was a gradual process. I still have my bad days but I take comfort in knowing that the good days will be quick to return. Life is too precious to give up hope and tomorrow is always a new day to try again, to accept.
Is there a moment you hit a stress breaking point and knew you needed to change your life? If you'd like to share your story, please send personal essays under 1200 words to firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration in this series.