The day I had a very public breakdown

It hit me when I stepped into the frozen aisles of a supermarket. The boys walked ahead, laughing. I couldn’t be there anymore, I couldn’t be around them.

The feeling was so intense that I didn’t say a word, I just turned and walked away. I say walked… If my boots didn’t have such unreliable heels I’d have been running. Adrenaline coursed so violently through me that I needed to be moving, fast.

I was no stranger to that feeling but this was different. This was the first time it broke through my mask. Maybe that’s why I needed to run away; a last-ditch effort to avoid the total humiliation that would surely befall me if anyone discovered I didn’t have it all under control.

The park near my Paris office could have been designed for moments like this. It was wild and asymmetrical. It was the perfect place to get lost. And so I raced through its web of interlacing paths. The constant string of ‘left or right?’ decisions was easier to face than the barrage of unanswered questions on my mind.

Beyond that, I had only one clear thought. How dismally un-French I was being, crying like this in public. Had I no class?

I’m sure the minutes were only seconds in reality, but my concept of time was distorted. After what felt like hours, I slowed to an amble and tired of traipsing in circles. I curled up on the grassy banks of the lake.

In front of me was ‘suicide bridge’. I wouldn’t say that I considered doing it but I definitely thought about it. You see, I didn’t want to die, as such, but I did think about how much easier it would be if I were no longer alive. It seemed like a logical solution; if I were no longer here, I wouldn’t have to battle the exhaustion anymore, I’d be free.

Thankfully, I was alert enough for that chain of thought to trigger a self-defence mechanism. And so I turned to Facebook, the place that guaranteed me constant reassurance that I have friends.

Friends, I need help. I keep falling further and further into depression and I have no idea how to get out. I’ve been trying so hard to fix it but I’m getting more and more exhausted and I don’t know what to do anymore. I know that I’m incredibly lucky, that I’ve been able to experience so many wonderful things and that I have endless opportunities open to me. Yet I still feel so unbelievably broken and I can’t see any way out that isn’t completely immature. Help please?
22nd May 2014

I still haven’t decided whether it was self-centred or brave, a childish cry for attention, or the voicing of a very real need for support. Either way, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made, because the support I received in that moment was a greater comfort to me than I could have imagined.

In the course of this little meltdown, I experienced — for the first time — what it was like to be vulnerable with my friends and family. And indeed to have them be vulnerable with me.

It’s remarkable how many people I know have suffered from depression, to varying extremes. You’d never know it from the outside. So many of my connections wrote to me on that day to share their own stories, and the coping mechanisms that have worked for them. More than 20% of my friends had experiences they wanted to speak to me about; the majority of them were no older than 25. Isn’t that worrying?

Anyway, on top of comfort and support, I was given loads of great advice from these wonderful people. The common themes are incredibly simple (though maybe not easy):

  • People: surround yourself with people who care about you, reach out when you need help, and keep talking
  • Professionals: see a GP and, if at all possible, start speaking to a therapist
  • Exercise: get moving every day, even if you’re only walking — endorphins are awesome
  • Nature: even better, do your exercise outside in the sun!
  • Routine: having some kind of schedule frees you from making a bunch of decisions
  • Play: make time for hobbies that make you happy — writing, painting, dancing, climbing
  • Pause: take things one day at a time; slow down, breathe, meditate
  • Challenge: do one thing every day that scares you

It’s nothing that hasn’t been shared before, but reading the words in this context gave them value. These tips came from real people, people who were like me, people who cared about me. And people to whom I felt accountable.

So there I was, crying by the lake in utter despair, when I began to understand one of the principles that’s become a guiding force in my life. Be open. Be open because the more open you are, the easier it is for the people you care about to give you the support you need, and for them to be vulnerable themselves.

Originally published at on June 4, 2015.

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