The Beauty of the Breakdown is a long-form 3 part series by Zara Barrie. This is part two. Here is part one.
I used to compare myself to the girls who never broke down, and just seethe with jealousy.
Oh, you know the kind of girls I’m talking about. Those picture-perfect girls, who have naturally frizz-less hair and actually look good in that bizarrely-expensive “athleisure” look? The girls who upload pictures of their store-bought smoothies onto Instagram like any of us really give a shit (except we do and we hate that we do)? The girls who go to the gym and magically remerge back into the real world with their gorgeously highlighted ponytails perfectly intact, while the rest of us limp out of there red-faced, dry heaving, ready to keel over and die?
The girls who manage to make it to Pilates when on they’re on their periods. Which, for the record, I happen to take personally. I mean for God’s sake girl. You’re on your period. It’s painful. It’s bloody. There is a holy war going on inside of your body right now. It’s disrespectful to womankind to do anything on your period except bitch about your life, binge-eat and then bitch some more about how bloated you feel.
The women who truly used to trigger me the most were the ones who stayed perfectly on “track.” No dropping out of college for a few years to “find themselves.” No STD scares. No therapists. No brief stints in rehab. No post-blackout shame spirals. No morning-after pills. No toxic lovers who broke their hearts and destroyed their self-esteem for half a decade. The girls who graduated from glittery colleges on time with glamorous degrees in elusive things like “communication” and then moved to Manhattan to work for some bougie PR firm for two years before relocating to Westchester to become full-time trophy wives who moonlight as fitness aficionados during the week. The Upper East Side women who push around their freshly baptized one-year-olds in $750 Maclaren strollers, looking all smug and exfoliated, drinking their $12 Turmeric Kombuchas, as we strut by them in Central Park, smoking cigarettes with ratty hair extensions.
God. In my 20s I felt like such a directionless loser compared to them. I was sad. I had dedicated my entire life to the craft of acting and it simply wasn’t working out. What the hell was I going to do with my life? Except Self-medicate my severe depression with anything that temporarily staved off the pain? Xanax. Adderall. Lexapro. White Wine. Shit Talk.
I had a terrible anxiety disorder and was afraid to step outside of my apartment for a few years there. I had panic attacks. Severe panic attacks that felt like heart attacks. I wasn’t ever going to marry a sensible man in finance like every other girl I grew up with– because I was gay. Gay as f*ck. And I was deeply ashamed about being gay as f*ck. I harbored so much guilt and shame inside of my body because no matter how hard I tried and tried, I couldn’t seem to bend my stubborn body into any of the tiny, little, boxes society provides for young women.
And if you ever showed Violet or I a picture of Brittany, we both pulled the seams out of our flesh costumes and fell to the kitchen floor raw and naked.
Brittany was a girl Violet and I knew from high school. She had it all figured out. Her mascara never ran. Her nail polish never chipped. Her bank-account had never been overdrawn. Brittany was not only tiny and flexible enough to fit into the box — she looked beautiful inside the box. Brittany embodied everything we could never be.
“Oh, what the hell is wrong with me? Why is Brittany already engaged with her own HANDBAG line? And what’s with that goddamn rose garden she PLANTED herself and insists on uploading to social media every other day? She’s nurturing delicate f*cking flowers and I’m completely losing my shit in a studio apartment, terrified of what’s going to happen next, and so scared of reality that I can’t even go outside to catch a breath of fresh air.” I would moan to Violet whilst puffing on a morning cigarette.
“Brittany’s probably eating gluten-free muffins right now, and I hate my life and hate my job and will die alone,” Violet would growl back at me as she aggressively stuck a dirty spoon into a jar of peanut butter.
The truth was, I didn’t know Brittany. At all. I didn’t know what her life looked like without that pretty Instagram filter rendering it artificially soft and gorgeous. I didn’t know what kind of monsters lived behind her on-going slew of #blessed hashtags. I didn’t yet understand that even the Brittanys of the world wage their own wars. That every woman eventually grows claustrophobic inside society’s box, even if the box they received is massive and tastefully decorated. That all the incessant smiling and grooming and extreme dieting eventually becomes too much for anyone. We all get hungry at some point or another. Our faces can’t stretch into a grin forever. And while Brittany might never find herself wearing a stranger’s fur coat blacked out in a Brooklyn bar — that doesn’t mean she isn’t a woman on the verge of a breakdown. Some girls are just better at covering up the cracks, that’s all.
Violet and I couldn’t help but show our bruises to the world. It’s how we are built. And if you’re like me or Violet and your breakdown is metastisizing in ways that are very noticeable to the outer-world — I understand that you might feel like a loser right now. Trust me, I know what it feels like to be embarrassed over your obviously withering mental state but I promise you, you’re about to cross over to the other side.
For this breakdown is a blessing. Regardless of your age, regardless of whether it’s public or private — a breakdown is always a wonderful thing.
I’m a big believer that your world needs to come crashing into a million pieces, in order for you to pick up those broken shards of glass and build the life you truly want for yourself. Your castle needs to come tumbling down while you’re inside of it and you need to feel it’s sharp splinters slice into the fragile surface of your tender skin in order for you to really think about your life and ask yourself the hard questions. Like, do you even want to live in this gaudy goddamn castle? Maybe you’re the kind of person who wants to live in a modern glass apartment in the thick of a diverse city over this lonely palace? Maybe you want to live in a rural cabin deep in the country-side? Maybe you’ll discover that you’re happiest on the road.
It doesn’t matter. Because you’ve got options like you’ve never had before when you’re working from a point of nothing. There is a beautiful freedom in breaking down. You get to rebuild yourself into whatever you want to be. You’re a f*cking architect now. You don’t owe the world anything after you’ve lost everything, so there’s no need to compromise anymore. This is your life. And you’re about to realize that you’re in control of what it looks like. You’re about to realize that you’re stronger than you ever thought possible. This whole meltdown has been a giant warm-up. A boot camp that has fiercely trained to have the strength to style those heavy bricks into whatever design you like best.
Because the house you’ve been wasting away in — it doesn’t exist anymore, babe. It’s time for something new. It’s time for you.
So if you’ve found yourself terrified to go to sleep at night because you’re frightened by those harrowing nightmares you keep having, I’m giving you a giant big sister hug right now. Shit — I’ve been there, too. It’s lonely and it’s freaky. But life gets so much better when you stop fearing the bad dreams. These nightmares, they won’t kill you and they’re trying to tell you something super important. Listen to their wise message.
If you’re starting to alienate all of your friends because pretending to be “functional” is starting to feel like too much work — I dare you to stop faking it. Open up to them. You’ll find that they aren’t as put off by weird shit as you probably think they are. And if they judge you for the haphazard place that you’re in — screw em. Friendships aren’t supposed to feel like work. They’re supposed to feel safe.
If you don’t know what the hell you’re doing with your life and you hate your job and you’re starting to think that running away and joining a cult in Northern California might be your best option, it’s all good. Shitty jobs exist for a reason. It’s the wise Universe challenging us to get creative. To think outside the lines drawn for us. It means we’re destined to do something really badass with our lives, and the more badass our destiny, the longer it’s going to take to unfold. It is a small price to pay for an extraordinary life if you ask me.
If you hacked off your bangs while in the throes of a manic episode and now you really, really regret it and you can’t even look in the mirror without cringing, I’m proud of you. This is where your life truly begins, hair grows back and mental illness bangs are sexy. They feel impulsive and dangerous — in a chic way. Rock them with confidence like Angelina Jolie’s character in “Girl, Interrupted” rocked them.
If you’re restless, sleepless, feeling crazy, feeling wired and tired at the same time; if you’ve been single for-f*cking-ever and are so lonely you just hired an escort as your date to the family wedding; if you can’t possibly imagine that things are ever going to get better; if there is no light gleaming at the end of this hellish tunnel and you’re starting to openly cry on public transportation — you’re about to come into your prime.
Did you know that Lady Gaga, the groundbreaking, pop-singing, meat-dress-wearing, pop star, right before she got super famous, would hole herself up in her tiny New York apartment and listen to “The Cure” on repeat as she snorted line after line after line of cocaine all by herself? Finally, her dad had several interventions with her and she finally forced herself to face all the things that had been haunting her. And our girl has gone from lonely coke-head to mega superstar who just won an Oscar. Do you think she would be the multifaceted star she is right now if she hadn’t been swallowed up in the darkness first? Hell no. You don’t go searching for that kind of intense brightness without having lived in the in sheer blackness first. It’s the cracks in our foundation that let the light in. It’s the deepest pain that inspires us to really go for it and make a difference in the world.
But before we get any further the first thing you need to do is this: Stop feeling ashamed that you’re falling apart. Own it. You’re joining the ranks of the most interesting, successful, wonderful people in the world. Anyone worth knowing has faced adversity. So embrace yours. Be proud of it. Think of your breakdown as a beautiful opportunity to dig deep inside yourself and pull out the gold that’s been resting beneath the soil for all of these years.
I have an exercise for you. I want you to peel your hungover, sore, exhausted body off the floor. Confidently walk over to the closest mirror in plain sight. I know it’s scary to look in the mirror but you’ve got to face yourself at some point, little sister. If it helps, imagine me walking you over to the mirror. I look like a trainwreck too! I had a rough night last night too! You’re so not alone in this. I’ll even clutch your clammy, trembling hand with my clammy, trembling hand if that helps.
Now gaze into the mirror. Stare into your wild-eyed reflection and confidently say “I’m having a breakdown.” Appreciate how damn beautiful you look. Beauty is always complex. Pretty is easy on the eyes, but beauty has so much depth it’s sometimes hard to take in. Beauty is dangerous. Beauty invokes emotion. Like you.
I want you to repeat this mantra to yourself, out loud in the mirror. “I’m losing my shit right now because I’ve got a fire burning inside of me and I’m not sure what to do with it. But I’m not going to let it destroy me any longer. I’m going to learn to channel all these thoughts and feelings into something earth-shatteringly amazing.” Repeat this until you believe it.
I talk to myself in the mirror all the time. There is something extremely freeing about owning the dark parts of yourself. You snatch the power from your demon the moment you confront him. You scare the beast away by simply having the guts to look him directly in the eye.
Running away from the monster because you’re too skittish to stop and examine the truth — that only feeds the damn bastard.
And when you rid yourself of all of this shame you’re going to realize that this breakdown doesn’t have to break you. In fact, it just might be the very thing that puts you back together.