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Breaking Down

Samantha Martinez

No mental health professional that I’ve dealt with in the past year has ever used the phrase “mental breakdown.”  I am not sure why given that my experience with mental illness and the events that led me to be hospitalized certainly felt like a break—from normal thinking, from being able to deal with anxiety, from the perceptions people have of me being “cool, calm, and collected.”  My thick walls of protection disintegrated and what was left was a shell of me, in pain, weak, with a loss of words, and a near deadly fascination with dying.

I felt broken, not strong enough to speak, not strong enough to move through life’s everyday motions.  Several things kept me from truly doing harm to myself: my wife and kids, doctors, therapists, and writing in a journal.

The following writing comes from the journals I kept during the most devastating parts of my illness.  Each piece represents a different day in my journey to regain some semblance of sanity.  They are reminders of how strongly depression, anxiety, and alcohol abuse affected my life and still do, though to a much lesser degree.



One of the best dreams I have ever had was one where I was on a tropical island facing the most beautiful blue known to mankind.  A long, sun-bleached pier stretched a long ways out into the calm sea. Next, I find myself floating in this sea, the mist of ocean air forming a layer over me while tiny salt crystals rest on my lips, the sun shining so bright even my dark soul was illuminated. 
I am trying to remember that place as I sit trembling on the dirty carpeted floor, a pint of citrus rum poured into a drop of orange juice in my hand.  I gotta hold it with two hands I’m trembling so much.  It’s late. Probably 2 in the morning when all of the homes in my area hum with central air machines and far off the long warning drone of a freight train bellows from the city of Camden.  I know at this point I’ve probably made myself sick, and, if I hadn’t become so tolerant of a lot of alcohol, I might have blacked out.  Instead, I sit straight up on my disheveled sofa; close my eyes and dream of that sea, that blue, that sun, till I am absorbed into sleep. The wretched smell of too much alcohol lingers on me.
Suddenly awake. It’s 3:21 in the morning and my heart is racing ahead of my sanity. This has become my witching hour for some time now.  Insomnia is a bitch, pulling you from much needed rest and erasing any opportunity to dream.  The drink has spilled by my feet and is being absorbed by the rug. I stayed rigged on the sofa.  I passed out for not too long this time, I thought.
Stayed awake and journaled. Wrote what irked me yesterday; who managed to put a bigger dent into my crumbling self esteem; a list of food to buy; the beginning of a poem I won’t finish.  Conversations with my therapist. Writing about letting go, just go to sleep and find that beach where no one else lay.
Don’t know exactly when I started this ritual. I just know that the winter is here and I have felt a pull, something that made me gravitate further away emotionally. Physically.  I attached to the darkness inside me, an ever present reminder of the failures of human beings. 
It’s still quiet outside ‘cept for the neighbor heading out his door to beat the morning rush.  I mourn nights at this time, daybreak robbing me of some sort of sleep.
When you are feeling like shit, it really means feeling that low to the ground you feel like everyone will step all over you.  Your body is a smelly mound. And, you don’t care.  I don’t even know when it really started this bad.  Melancholia has been my existence for a very long time. 
It sat with me as a child looking out of a window so big it looked like it should be a painting.  From this vantage point, I could see over houses, the twinkle of people awake; the El affecting the tracks readying themselves for the weight of humans and steel.  I only remember that nocturnal light because it was there that I made friends with the desperately low mood of the night. 
The night erupts with sound as a 747 glides overhead, JFK just a couple miles away.  Somehow, we got used to it.  Or suffered from lack of sleep. Or interrupted sleep.  Some people say that interrupted sleep is worse than just not falling asleep.  Imagine concentrating and being distracted every 10 minutes.  All day.
I wonder if there, looking out through the framed picture of the night, did the sad, mad, mournful mood mold me into the woman I am?
[cell #3]
It’s four in the morning. Or two. Or midnight for all I know. I know I’ve been locked for some time in a cell with one cot, one table, one blanket and one chair.  I was told to relax while I waited for interns, doctors, and other clinicians who would prod with their questions down to the psychiatrist who spoke to me in a child-like sing-songy voice. Her message “sign or we’ll have you involuntarily committed.”  That wooden cot, with it’s shackle posts and depleted mattress was the hug I’d have to wait for over 12 hours to get. I lay there listening to the fellow inmates, to the interns speak of their sexual trysts, and to my heart racing filled with adrenaline palpitating loudly in my heavy body.  Thump thump.  Thump thump. Thump thump sped up with fight-flight, if I could have, I would have flown away.
I realized there was a clock. It ticked away the time in that very way I despise- tick tock tick tock click--the drone of life moving at a turtle’s pace.  I own a digital clock instead. Only have to worry about the changing numbers I watch when insomnia deprives me of sleep.  This institutional white face black body type of clock that each clinician stared at as if timing the quickness of their diagnosis.  I dropped into minutes of sleep and woke up startled each time.  Sleep. Silence. Jump off the cot.  Next to my cell, all types of clinicians entered and chatted; I’d hear names of people who arrived, which cell was being monitored closely, and what to tell the patient in my room about choosing to be voluntarily committed lest the hospital decide for me.  Poor little intern looked into my swollen eyes with papers in hand “sign this so you can enter on your own terms.”  No one would ever choose these terms in its legalese. “And if you don’t we’ll have you committed.”
I’m sitting in the doorway of the toilet.  My clothes, (my own stripped from me), consist of a papery gown, one size fits all; hospital socks with the skid protectors and my own deep sadness weighing me down like a sack filled with the world’s worries.  Here, looking at the porcelain shrine, I sit and write my first words: I am scared. The hours passed without indication; windowless lockdown lacks any visible signs of humanity, of the sun shining, or of our earth spinning on its axis.  My ears ring. I want the sound of my mother. I want the smell of my love.  I want the joy in my children’s eyes. And I want steak. Instead its cold turkey on white and apple juice.
I’m told a new day has arrived. I was still stuck on yesterday.


Drag. Heavy heavy. Walk. Breathe as deep as I can. Release. Jaw wired shut by stress and all the unspoken words. Whisper “I don’t feel strong.” Drop. A whole in your bed where my dead weight made the mattress sag right there. On the right side. I lay. Who is beating my heart so strong? Does anyone else feel their ticker, hear it in their ears pulsating blood, moving through veins.  Heavy leaded blood filled with years of fight or flight, flight or fight, flight, freeze, flight.  It trickles from the scratches on my wrists. It stings-was not aware that would happen.  Fight or flight.  Flight, flight, goddammit fly fly fly far away into a silent abyss, cradled by the earth around me. I moved from the bed to the table.



Three people were on the payphone.  Four more fought over what football game to watch.  The nurses ate their meals watching over the sickos, druggies and alcoholics. Four guys smelling of cigarettes play a card game. Some lay on the plastic sofas waiting for their meds. 


She stood there in her pink velour jogging suit.  She came in kicking and screaming and losing the grip she had on her high. She stood next to the nurses; she had limited privileges even to pee.


“I have to use the bathroom” she yells at the direction of the nurse’s station.  They fill out papers and eat hamburgers and French fries, ignoring Pinkie.  The room moves its gaze. Some are still on the telephone. Others wage bets on what she’d do next.  “I have to go to the fucking bathroom to take a shit.” More of the room fakes non attention and I stand at the phone talking to Kat. 


“Listen if I don’t take a shit now I’ll do it right here.”  Head nurse looks her way and takes another bite out of her hamburger.  “If I don’t take a shit right now, I am going to take a shit on this floor then take your fucking wig off and wipe my shitty

ass with it.” Nurse lady takes another sip of her giant soda.


The room resumes its ways.



I recall perfectly the moonlight in my room and the blinds cutting the light against my skin.  So much was gone then-apartment, job, partner, and lover.  What else was there to do but wallow in my misery in the basement of my parents’ home?  This room, where books lined the perimeter of the small space allocated for me.  I forgot how to talk.  I lost faith in my abilities. My New York had failed me. And there, as I lay on the ceramic floor, my desire for life in this world began leaving, like the night makes room for the day.




[Crooked eye]


My left eye can see more that its crooked self ever leads to be able to.  She moves, she turns, and when I am really tired she shakes and makes my eye blur.  Here I sit writing this down with my right eye and simultaneously seeing with the left the bookshelf filled with books. I can disconnect and reconnect. It’s a weird gift.


This eye is not blind in fact it sees what it wants without me knowing it. Sometimes the viewer thinks I am not paying attention. I’ve gotten in trouble for that on more than one occasion, the viewer never realizing we all have imperfections.  This one is mine, my little cross to bear.


Here at the ward, it helps to look off because people will leave you alone.  Some of us sit in the far corners coloring.  I’m wondering why the tall red man keeps calling the group window lickers.  He often looks for me to say hello. There’s a Latino man who talks a lot of bullshit sitting laughing at his own jokes.  Red man says “don’t trust him, he’s a fucking terrorist.” I nod and change the subject.


Here I am, sitting on the institutional chair and the fucking white walls and the courtyard we cannot enter unless watched over—those overseers just as imperfect as me. Then the tears start burning my lashes.  This depression still cuts me to pieces, and exacerbated here; I see someone else is crying too.  We exchange glances and know, we are crazy. Our lives out of this box, away from all the misfit tragedies, our lives are fucked up, or just within, the trauma that rearranged our thinking, or so I’ve been told. Trauma bits drilling away my sense of belonging and uncovering what I really fear. Who can really do this without breaking down? Who could crawl through their own making just to cleanse the soul?  If God were here I’d ask for his hand, to lead me through the gates as Gabriel does, so I could stop these tears and finally breathe a sigh of relief.



Who can you trust when the words that you say enter holes that are sieves filtering out the pleas of safety, love.  Why should I speak with the words that come from the hole in my face falling down like fall leaves disintegrating before they hit the ground and someone out there is staring at me.  I heard myself once in another girl.  I had been told one day someone would truly understand what I’m about and I had very high doubts.  I spent my days with crooked lips muttering this is bullshit and there, wearing nothing I would wear; my words escaped the hole of another.


“Why should I speak if no one seems to ever want to talk about anything other than fluff?  I rather be alone.” is what she said.


[Help me]

I sat across from her trembling. Out of my mouth were muted words lingering in front of me and afraid to actually reach the ears that were waiting. It must be uncomfortable watching a person suffer from their own lack of self-esteem. She waited till I could say it—I was not safe from myself and self-harm. Imagine feeling all of your bones tethered to veins, arteries, and flesh move uncontrollably. The body must fear when death is in its midst. 


Her actions were careful and quick, and I knew my life had changed at that very moment. I felt it riding in my car behind her, walking into the ER…and I knew I would lose her to the severity of me. Two beings colliding and ricocheting in opposite directions.  Me to the house of hopelessness, and her to her own convictions.  Endings are hard and sometimes they are not meant to be. And sometimes someone interjects at a time you’d least expect it; and sometimes you have to learn when to say “help me.”  Help me.



On to the next project

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Breaking Project Author/Creator: 
Samantha Matinez


Serendip Visitor's picture

This piece is so emotional

This piece is so emotional and full of honesty- the honesty that you don't get from most places. I know a lot of people that deal with mental issues, depression, anxiety, and this piece just brings to life what I can only imagine goes through their minds on a daily basis. I know people who have been suicidal. I know what it feels like to be the bystander in the situation, but this is the first time I've felt like the actual person going through with it. This author seems to know what a break within yourself feels like- what it feels like to BE broken, and that is something completely different than a lot of the other breaking pieces. This was a beautifully tragic breaking piece.