The Nervous Breakthrough

You, “You really threw your headset off and said $#$%%& this”?

Me, “Ummm, yep.  Within hearing distance of 20 or so people”

You, “Were you having a nervous breakdown”?

Me, “Maybe. Years ago, when I was in my late teens, I remember being told my cousin was hospitalized for having a nervous breakdown.  I asked my Mom, ‘What’s a nervous breakdown’?  She replied, ‘It’s when someone just can’t handle ‘IT’ anymore’.  ‘Oh’, I said, ‘I’ve had a million of those’.  This time was a little different”.

Photo by Kat Jayne from Pexels

You, “You seem so together.  I mean like your LinkedIn profile and all of your accomplishments.  It just seems surprising.  What happened next”?

Me, “Thanks. I literally burst into tears and went to HR and told on myself. It was like some out-of-body experience and it scared me.  HR sent me home, I was put on PIP within a few days (Performance Improvement Plan) and fired soon after.

You, “Wow!  It doesn’t seem like you at all to lose your shit”.

Me, “Yep, it was really weird.  Maybe I can explain what happened.  I come from a ‘Worried People’ and these people taught me how to worry about everything so that’s exactly what I did.  It affected me quite a bit in that I always felt this sort of underlying buzz of stress but I was able to put the energy to good use, most of the time anyway.  I ran a lot.  I mean I ran a lot, marathons, ultra-marathons and also taught a bunch of spin classes every week.  I also put the positive energy into my sales roles and the response and success were very rewarding”.

You, “Wow.  This all sounds great but can you get to the nervous breakdown part”?

Me, “Sure. One day my vertebrae collapsed compressing the nerves going down my right leg.  In the meantime, I had a whole bunch of extenuating circumstances that were very troubling to say the least.  My underlying “buzz of stress” shifted into high gear, FIGHT or FLIGHT!  I was terrified, I had absolutely no control over the excruciating pain and seriously disliked taking narcotics, so I didn’t.  It was kind of like my life bucket got dumped upside down. I had throat gripping anxiety and insomnia ending up being unable to use my right leg resulting in a lumbar spinal fusion”.

You, “Great!  You got fixed.  So about that nervous breakdown”?

Me, “I thought I was fixed too but you see, when you experience a long-term state of stress and it doesn’t have to be from chronic pain, to put into loose terms, your wires can get crossed sending messages to your nervous system that you are under threat even when you aren’t. When this happens, cortisol and adrenaline increase and dopamine and serotonin, the happy hormones, decrease.  You kind of stop processing from the part of the brain that helps you decipher whether or not you are in danger”.

You, “Well couldn’t you talk yourself out of it”?

Me, “I tried Ted Talks, Self-help, Affirmations, Therapy, Mantras, all kinds of stuff and even though I was physically better, my nervous system was confused so when I would be at work things like the velocity of work, the stress of a passive-aggressive boss, 14-hour workdays, feeling like a performance metric and lack of communication were just too much for me because of this pattern of reactivity created by sustained stress”.

You, “Yeah, I think I get it.  I mean, so many people feel so stressed in life and then BAM work just piles it on”.

Me, “So true.  My stress response coupled with some really negative work cultures and managers with very little self-awareness really took their toll on me.  Until finally the kettle burst”.

You, “That makes sense.  What do you think would have helped”?

Me, “Well, I do believe everyone is responsible for their own well-being.  I found tremendous healing through a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, that if followed, has been proven to change the brain and ‘re-set the wires” so to speak.  Through intensive continued study and practice, I have come to realize that mindfulness is so much more than calm, it actually helps with so many things including focus, productivity, communication, compassion even sleep issues and it’s the foundation of self-awareness. I believe leaders who practice mindfulness can help foster a more engaged culture as well as consciously incorporate a personalized and curated approach to mentoring and coaching people.  There are so many opportunities for organizations to invite wellbeing practices into their culture and that includes everyone in the organization. I also think learning to recognize the signs of stress in others would help”.

You, “So do you like teach people yoga and stuff”?

Me, “No, I invite people to practice continually getting off the freight train that takes them away from who they are and where they are”.

You, “Wow!  That sounds amazing.  I wish more workplaces would explore mindfulness”!

Me, “Yes, me too.  So many people just really don’t understand what it is and relegate I to the same category of offering chair massage to their employees.  The thing is mindfulness helps us to practice bearing witness to our own thoughts which gives us an opportunity to choose how to respond, we then have the opportunity to contemplate instead of reacting, we are able to see when we are distracted by fear, worry, regret, remorse and even see when we are sort of zoning out.  Can you imagine the implications at work?  Let’s chat again soon, I’d love to share more and answer any and all questions”.

You, “I would love that”!

Me, “Me too”, I said as I gently removed my headset and smiled.


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. Mission accomplished, Shelley Brown, in demystifying mindfulness in this one! So many people think of mindfulness as some kind of woo-woo, new-age weirdness. I love how you explain how it helps with those “meltdowns” and “mini meltdowns” that all of us have at some point. Simple breathing exercises are so effective in preventing those meltdowns. Thank you for sharing this one!

    • Melissa, thank you so much. It’s very interesting to hear what people think of when you ask them what mindfulness is. You can see some eyeballs looking into the far distance as if it’s some sort of a magical, mystery thing from a far away place. I’m so glad you are embrace the simple act of using the breathe as a way to ctrl+alt+delete.

  2. Oh Shelley, so much about this. Thank you for sharing your “transcript” of this conversation. You sharing your story helps us understand the impact of the toxicity so many of (us) assume is normal, and how to “breakthrough” from it. I applaud you and the hope you offer us. And kudos to you for making the practice of mindfulness and it’s impact understandable. (BTW, you are great with post titles too!)

    • Mary!!! It always delights me when you comment. We are kindred! Love your comment and the fact that I know you are well aware of the impact of “toxicity so many of assume” and accept as normal. THank you for your generous sentiments!