Has mental health tested your parenting life?

Mental Health Meltdown

The Day I Walked Away.

When it's okay to have a meltdown. First of all let’s establish what a meltdown is. A meltdown is not the same as a tantrum. A meltdown is where stresses build up inside to an unmanageable level and eventually, simply, explode out. There is no control and once released no way to stop. The eruption needs to burn itself out. I talked about what mental health is in my previous post for mental health week and how it can affect the whole family.

Think of yourself as a fizzy bottle of pop. All day we have stresses that build up inside us. For each of these stresses shake that bottle (your body) a little bit. Thoughts we can’t filter. Expectations on us as adults. People asking us to do things - SHAKE the bottle a little bit more. Our internal todo lists. Emotions, and physical feelings - SHAKE that bottle a little bit more. Generally we can all manage these shakes and settle ourselves again between each shake. Sometimes however these rests between shakes don’t happen and someone may ask you to do something or say something that is the equivalent of unscrewing that lid just a little way. What happens if you unscrew the lid of a shaken carbonated liquid? A jet of fizz explodes out the sides. We might shout or swear or act a little unlike ourselves for a moment, but again in many instances we can recognise matters are become unmanageable and we are able to ensure the lid is quickly tightened to stop the fizz. What happens though if we do not recognise the situation escalating? What happens if we are overwhelmed by the stress in our lives which effectively unscrews and removes the lid of the shaken bottle? You know what happens, an uncontrollable onslaught of fizz, froth and mess; that is a meltdown.

Adults Can Have Meltdowns too.

I am going to now open up about my own meltdown that recently occurred, as I feel it is important to recognise when things don’t work out and by clearing up the resulting mess we can learn to manage ourselves differently in the future. I recommend wherever possible however, you get help with clearing up the mess. Either from trained professionals, or family and friends, if they themselves are strong enough to help you.  It can be too much for one person to achieve by alone. This is going to get really personal. I hope that you stay with me.

I was a Tuesday, I would like to say an ordinary Tuesday, but then we can have a whole discussion on what is ordinary. Was it ordinary that I was living at University Hospital of Wales while my autistic youngest teen underwent his 5th cycle of chemotherapy. For the last two years (the time that Ryan has been seriously ill) I have many shakes of that bottle. For the last 15 years I have many more shakes of that bottle as I have advocated for his autism. That Tuesday was ordinary so far as our lives currently are. Chemotherapy cycles have become a routine. Being a split family and living away from home are part of our family dynamics as we manage as best we can with the current situation.

That Tuesday morning, several shakes of that bottle occurred in quick succession. I recognised this and in order to let that bottle settle, I, at first, just need a timeout. I went for a walk. The difference was that once I started walking the further I got away from the hospital, from the situation, from my life, the harder it became to turn around and go back. I didn't want to go back. I didn’t want to face it anymore. I didn’t want to deal and manage and cope. The longer I walked and was away the more I became scared of how angry and judgmental everyone was going to be. It was easier to not go back. I switched my phone off and I walked. I genuinely thought at the time that things would simply be able to get better if I was not part of the problem.

Stress is not a sign of weakness - Mental Health

Having Support.

As the evening drew on I began to realise the practicalities of my current predicament. I had no coat, no belongings, I did have my purse and phone, but could not face talking to anyone, as I felt that everyone would be angry with me. I needed someone who was not part of the situation, someone who would not judge me. I needed that someone to help me start to clear up that exploded mess.

Fortunately I had someone. A friend that did not judge me. A friend that was able to cope with shaking her own bottle a little in order to help me. A friend that got me back to that hospital. Once there the professionals arrived to also help with clearing up the effects of my exploded bottle. My bottle (body) had shaken and exploded so impressively that it was in fact empty. Completely done, nothing left. Now I am going to switch analogies to a car to help explain the after effects of a meltdown. This is how I was able to describe myself with help from the therapist the day after my meltdown.

Humans put a lot of effort into managing our lives and there are three categories we generally find ourselves in to guide us safely through our lives.
  • We can be in drive mode. We are focused, know our route, what we plan to achieve, we are actively heading for that chosen destination.
  • We could be in parked mode. Not heading for any particular destination, just happy to sit and enjoy the view. Content with our current point on the map.
  • Or we could be in sports mode. We are anxious, we need to be somewhere urgently, or perceived a threat of needing to get away from somewhere quickly. We gun that accelerator with due care and attention, with no concern for fuel economy or wear and tear on the vehicle (our body).

Compassion Focused Therapy.

Think of our body now as a car engine. It needs to be serviced, kept finely tuned. It needs fuel to run and security features to keep it safe. Imagine what happens to your car if you allow the fuel to run low. If you run on fumes, the engine starts to shudder, the car doesn’t work as efficiently as it could and should. That is the same for your body. If you allow that engine to run completely empty the car will cease to run and will come to a juddering halt. If you are lucky you can refuel and be on your way, but you run the risk of seriously damaging the engine. If could seize. Simply refilling the tank will no longer make the car run. The engine is now damaged and needs some repair work. The same goes for your body. Simply stopping to recharge is no longer going to be enough. You body now needs to repair as well.

Everyone kept telling me to care for myself, make time for me, that I was running on fumes. I know this but what if you are on a long country back road with no service stations or fuel stops. What if you couldn't afford to refill the tank. I took a chance to get to the next stop, but I did not make it. The day of my meltdown, the day I walked I way, resulted in me forced to be towed (professional help) to a garage (therapy) to allow the repair (healing) process to begin. I thought I had to be strong for everyone else. I am the matriarch of the family. Strong people don't ask for help. How wrong I was.  

It has been several weeks since that day and I have received valuable help from the professionals. The car is functioning once again, but perhaps not quite as smoothly as it once was. The car isn’t quite the same as the one I had before. I have re-positioned that proverbial happy face mask that had slipped a bit from my outward persona that I allow the world to see. The car looks clean and shiny, just don’t look under the hood/bonnet.

It is okay to take time out.

The day that I walked away, I needed a full escape. Everyone and everything had become too overwhelming. I didn't care about anyone or anything that day, not even myself. I find social media a great way of interacting with people and love being able to get real time news feeds, my window onto the world, but I really can find it all so overwhelming at times and on that one occasion of severe anxiety I uninstalled all my social media apps and whatsapp. I totally unplugged for 24 hours and really needed it. I have only re-installed one app each day since and am planning to unplug once a week, at least. Where instead of uninstalling, I will mute notifications or switch my phone off. That will form part of my regular servicing that I now value is a must to keep on running/driving this circuit of life.

Join the discussion. What do you think to my analogies of pop bottles and car engines? Do they help to explain the complexities of mental health? Do you have a better analogy? Comment below or connect on social media #MHAW17

Mental Health Awareness. Surviving or Thriving.


  1. I had a meltdown recently. I had been cooking it for a while. And yes I heard that I needed to take care of myself, that I needed to care more about others around me.... I just couldn't see where I was failing (but I was failing hard!). And I couldn't see that most of my thoughts were absolutely wrong at the moment. and honestly: they didn't seem thoughts my normal self would have. I wish I could go back. And I wish some people could have been a little more clear about what was wrong with me. (i'm not blaming anyone. I just don't like it when people leave their speach halfway without further explanation). I am healing now. But I don't feel the same, and I think I never will...

    Thank you for sharing this part of you with us

    1. Thank you for such a heartfelt comment. I had people wanting to help, but I didn't trusted them enough or felt that I was deserving enough of their help. I am now accepting and receiving the help I need. Thank you for engaging.

  2. Remember you've always got support around you although I know how hard it is to ask for that support please don't hesitate to ask and if necessary scream for that support x

    1. Thank you for reading Jo. As I said in my reply above, asking is about trust and worth. Not easy, especially as those around have their own shaken bottles or dodgy car engines.

  3. Thank you for sharing this topic! I think its so important that people start talking about Mental Health! Thanks again!:)
    xoxo Annaleid


    1. Thank you for engaging Anna. I will be a good world when we don't need to raise awareness. Until then Let's Talk. x


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