The Nervous Breakthrough

“I want a lobotomy!” “I want a lobotomy!” I want a Lobotomy!”, I shouted over and over again, pulling at my hair in my dead grandmother’s condo.

We were all in Florida for her funeral and yet again, I was experiencing some sort of “Angst du Jour “. My mom kept saying, “you can’t have a lobotomy Shelley! Now stop it!” Well, being the driven and tenacious sort, I continued to carry on, sobbing and shouting my request. I honestly don’t remember what finally made me stop.

Not long after and without having said procedure, I overheard my parents talking about a relative who was hospitalized due to a nervous breakdown.

Me, “What’s a nervous breakdown?

Mom, “It’s when you just can’t handle life anymore.”

Me, “Oh. I’ve had a million of those!”

Having this knowledge now gave me permission with the “Angst du Jour” to run around the ranting “I’m having a nervous breakdown,” “I am having a nervous breakdown,”, “I’m having a nervous breakdown…”  I honestly don’t remember what made me stop.

I was always having a nervous breakdown.

Exhibit A:

Who: Stephie

When: The 70’s

What: “Why didn’t you tell me Stephie wasn’t coming today?” said me, a sobbing, snot dripping angry 10-yr-old having the all-out tantrum of a 5-year-old.  Stephie was our “who wears short shorts”, nude pantyhose clad sort of hot from the neck down housekeeper.

I came home from school to my little girl bedroom with the hot pink carpet, hot pink ceiling and the wallpaper that matched the bedspread and curtains and much to my complete horror, the bed was not made and I could not deal!  I made that bed every day except for Fridays when Stephie was supposed to come.  This was a NIGHTMAAAARE!

Mom, “It’s when you just can’t handle life anymore.”

“I’m sorry!” Mom yelled.  “I didn’t know she wasn’t coming until you were at school!”


I cried and carried on. I honestly don’t remember what made me stop.

I was always having a nervous breakdown.

No, it wasn’t just my 19th nervous breakdown, suffice it to say many more nervous breakdowns ensued, many of which I have written about including;

The time my dog was returned from daycare after one of those air freshener bubbles broke open all over him resulting in a 45-days of freshness all in one day, all on one canine.

Mom, “It’s when you just can’t handle life anymore.”

The time I hobbled to the park and sat down crying for hours after I ran my first marathon and my ex-husband was nowhere to be found at our meeting spot after I finished because he couldn’t find the location and didn’t bother to ask anyone for directions.

Mom, “It’s when you just can’t handle life anymore.”

The time I smelled smoke only to realize it was coming from my favorite coat given to me as a gift from the why-couldn’t-he-just-send me-roses-instead-of-these-large-weird-Asian-floral-arrangements -boyfriend that I had accidentally set on fire after carelessly throwing it over a floor lamp.

Mom, “It’s when you just can’t handle life anymore.”

The time I took off my contact lenses to disinfect them (takes few hours) and couldn’t find my glasses.  Both my parents and I feverishly searched the house for what seemed like forever while I cried, “I can’t see!”, “I can’t see!” Later to discover my mother had put my glasses in her robe pocket.

Mom, “It’s when you just can’t handle life anymore.”

I’ve even had a nervous breakdown with laryngitis and that is really hard to do because if you know anything about nervous breakdowns,

Mom, “It’s when you just can’t handle life anymore.”

You know they involve lots of crying, carrying on and optional swearing and spewing about the unfairness of life.  Oh who am I kidding, they always including swearing and spewing…

I would say that my last nervous breakdown was by far the worst however truth be told, it was the best.  Not so much in terms of the epic theatrics, more so because it was what needed to happen in order to get me to where I am now.

Have you ever received an email and thought to yourself, “Well this is totally BS?” Great, you and everyone who has ever opened an email.  Well, I was a work, sitting in my cube reading my email when that thought decided to come from my head and out of my mouth very loudly within hearing distance of about 25 other people. In addition, I tore my off my headset, threw it on the floor and yelled, “I hate this f*cking place!”  This was the real deal!

Mom, “It’s when you just can’t handle life anymore.”

Any out-of-body experience…I ended up in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program and haven’t had a nervous breakdown since.

Nowadays I have “Nervous Breakthroughs”.  I get excited to create a story or make some art, my neurons fire excitedly and happy endorphins seem to leap all throughout my body. I feel joyful and free when I feel it coming on and think about this nervous breakthrough will bring to others.

You, “What’s a Nervous Breakthrough?”

Me, “When you can’t wait to have another one.”

“I’m having a nervous breakthrough!”, “I’m having a nervous breakthrough!”, “I’m having a nervous breakthrough!”

You better stop, look around

Here it comes

Here comes your nineteenth nervous breakdown.


Shelley Brown
Shelley Brown
I’m Shelley Brown, A "Type A" Meditator. I spent 25 years in corporate sales, climbing the ladder and making great money, all while stress slowly consumed me. Then, after a particularly difficult time, I decided it was enough. So I learned how to address my stress. Then, I became better at my job AND my life. Today I teach sales leaders and their teams how to mitigate stress so they can be human beings at work and win more deals. And, BONUS! I help teams cultivate a sales culture that drives continual success. I’m not your typical corporate mindfulness trainer. In fact, I’m probably a lot like you.

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  1. I had this visceral flash of what I’d most closely described as “Righteous Indignation” as I considered all the times people are dismissively told they’re having a “nervous breakdown” when they’re really just having a supremely realistic response to an incredibly UNrealistic experience. Oh my gosh, why can that six year old not manage their own emotions! Oh my gosh, why can’t you juggle the insane pressure to be the perfect EVERYTHING…. and so on. I love the way you shine a light on what is a very human experience, *and* find a way to “turn away from the dark side”! Brava!

    • Thank you so much Sarah. I can only imagine the “Righteous Indignation” you must have felt. I think that really resonates with me in terms of people telling someone to “calm down” when they are in amygdala hijack! I appreciate your kind sentiments and perhaps it’s the nervous breakthroughs that open up to the light.

    • Thanks Larry. I had a similar expereince with my Mom. My sister left at 16 and I hung around to make sure she was okay. I truly appreciate your kind sentiments.

  2. Thank you for the laughs Shelley! A fun read and it did bring back many times in my life that I declared that I was having a nervous breakdown…more related to raising 3 boys and trying to manage working, a household and all that laundry!!! Alas, times have changed and they are all off doing their own laundry and I am much calmer! :-)) Mindfulness and gratitude are the keys to sanity, thankfully I am learning more about how to practice more of both every day! Thank you for continuing to spread the cheer!

    • I could not be more deeply delighted by this comment Kimberly. This just fills up my heart and soul. I also have tremendous respect for your 1 hour cutoff and certainly appreciate being saved for the smile send off!!!

  3. Shelley – Very familiar with the phrase. To me it was always the neurological equivalent of an orthopedic fracture or break. Another version riffs off of aviation jargon: “to auger in” – to crash catastrophically. “Nervous breakthrough” could also be a riff of an aviation phenomenon: breaking the sound barrier. As a plane or space craft approaches the speed of sound, the craft vibrates significantly. That’s the “nervous” part before finally breaking through.

    Another fun, fun, fun piece to read. Keep ’em coming.

    • Jeff, I love your anaology with orthepedic fracture and I personally resonate more with “auger” jargon! I had a possible book title that I am not going to use however; I thought it might be fitting to mention here, “I fell off a cliff into a pair of high heels.” After all, a breakdown implies possible recovery. Thank you for you generous sentiments. You are doing a very good job of inspiring me to write a book 💕

  4. I love this so much! I love you and continue having nervous breakthroughs too!! A stink bug just landed on me and instead of screaming, crying, cussing, I quietly smiled and continued typing. The former would have happened a few years ago.🥴🤪😊

    • Had you not said “Stink Bug” It may have taken me a second to figure out who wrot this comment. No, no, I don’t associate you with stink bugs. I associate you with love, presence and transformation. I love you so so much and I love having nervous breakthroughs with you!

  5. I love this, Shelley. Being a child of the seventies, I, too, recall the phrase about someone ”having a nervous breakdown.” Even though I have been in the mental health field for almost forty years, I am still not sure what it means. Is someone depressed, major or minor, or anxious, or does it mean a more severe issue such as psychosis? Anyway, your article was most entertaining. Thank you for this.
    I look forward to more.💖

    • Darlene, thank you so much for your generous sentiments. So true, everyone was having a nervous breakdown back in the 70’s! So happy you found my story to be entertaining. I really do look at most things for through the lens of humor and certainly hold a well of compassion for the pain and suffering of others. It’s wonderful to have a humorous, non-identification relationship with the past. Thank you so much!