Meltdown: What Happened After A Recent Trip And How Not To Let It Happen Again

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Lily and Sam taking a nap.

It’s Tuesday. I just walked in the house after a six-hour plane trip from Vermont.  It was a fast paced and emotion filled trip seeing friends, family members and revisiting old haunts.  I’m tired, but before I can sit down and pull all my lose threads together and get back to my ordinary life I need to make a list of groceries so that Bill and I can have something to eat for dinner.  Out the door I fly, back into the car that just delivered me from the airport and head out to Whole Foods.  I’m back a little while later with fresh local produce and some Thai spiced chicken breasts from the deli counter.

The older I get the more exhausting travel seems to be. I’ve been up since five AM and it’s now three in the afternoon.  I need to lie down for a quick nap, but my suitcase lies open and unpacked in the middle of the bed. Sam is sniffing around in the dirty clothes trying to figure out where I’ve been. The easiest thing to do is to do the unpacking now and take a nap later.  I haul the laundry downstairs and since there is so much of it and tomorrow will be a hugely busy day, I set the washing machine on regular and walk away as the tub fills with water. Upstairs there is a pile of mail for me to sort through and I notice that the answering machine is blinking. There are eight messages to listen to.  My feet hurt. I have a headache and that list of places I need to be tomorrow is attacking me.  I need to take a nap, but there is so much to do. I only have two days to get my life back in order before a good friend comes to visit.

It’s now Sunday, almost a week since I’ve been back. Susan, a friend I haven’t seen in several years left an hour ago. This weekend was the only time we could fit in some time to see each other. We spent our days together talking about what we’ve each been up to, enjoyed delicious food together and stayed up way past my bedtime.  In between conversations, thoughts and feelings about my trip to Vermont kept whispering in my ear, telling me they needed to breathe. They wanted out of my head and onto the pages of my journal. But it will most likely be another few years before I see Susan again and I didn’t pay any attention to what I needed to do.

I’ve watered the garden, checked emails and Facebook and just finished lunch.  My head hurts and my stomach is churning like a cement mixer and I feel my eyes begin to fill with tears. My weekly calendar, a page I print out every weekend so that I know what is ahead of me for the coming week, sits in front of me.  Tuesday and Wednesday, days I always set aside as “My Days,” are filled with things that won’t necessarily be relaxing or creative  There is no time for sitting in the garden, reading or writing the next piece of my memoir.  I’m still playing catch-up and on Friday another very dear friend will be arriving to spend a good piece of time with me.  I so look forward to her visit.  We met two years ago at a writing retreat and we’ve become fast friends ever since, talking by phone every week and trying to come up with plans so that we can get together.

I’m feeling the first pangs of an incoming meltdown.  I start breathing deeply and envision myself on an empty beach. As I inhale fresh air into my lungs I say, “ocean” to myself.  On the exhale, I say, “wave,“ and find myself breathing to the rhythm of waves washing up on shore and then returning to the sea.  This is what I do when I meditate and also when I’m feeling unsafe and highly stressed.  But today it’s a struggle and my mind rushes back to all of the things I need to do before Sharon arrives. I’m shaky and I find myself entering that no-man’s land of panic, all alone and unable to pull myself back.

The tears start flowing. I am impatient with Bill and my world seems to be collapsing around me.  I still haven’t written much about my trip except for a brief blog post, which is more of a travelogue than anything else. It doesn’t cover what being in Vermont meant to me.  I feel as though time has boxed me into a cell without access to paper, pens, or my computer.  I want to write it all out but as I sit down to do it, my Inner Critic arrives, seating herself on my shoulder. She starts hammering, “You’ll never  write your memoir, so why bother feeling so glum.  Just turn the computer off and go clean out the refrigerator.”  My Angel of Sanity, who just flew in says, “Your tired. You need some alone time. Cancel all of your appointments for the next week. Be calm. Trust the process.”  I take a nap, then a walk, wondering if I will ever write again.

A week has passed and all is well.  I had a meltdown.  Sharon knew as only good friends do, that I needed to be by myself.  It wasn’t the perfect time for her either, so we bagged our get-together and decided to do it another time.

I’ve spent the week taking it easy.  Being alone, naps and going to bed early help a lot. I cancelled some of my appointments and I started writing. Slowly at first. A day or two later it began to flow and I feel as though I’ve returned to the land of the living.  Ms. Inner Critic has been banished and my angel is sitting over on the book shelf, looking smug, trying not to say, “I told you so.”

Three days ago Sharon called and asked if she could take me to lunch.  She and her daughter, Amy, were on their way to New York for a workshop/retreat.  She arrived too late for lunch but we had a wonderful dinner together.  They stayed the night and went their way early the next morning.  I loved seeing them and they didn’t intrude on my recovery.   Actually, seeing Sharon, helped a lot.

What I’ve learned:

  1. I need time after a trip like this last one to rest and process what just happened.

2.  I need to take plenty of time to be alone.

3.  I mustn’t fill my calendar with appointments right after a trip.  I need to give myself time to readjust.

4.  I need to be aware of how I’m feeling and be honest with myself and those around me who need to know what they’re up against if they plan on hanging out with me.

I have another heavy-duty, emotionally challenging trip coming up in October, when I go up to Long Island where I was born and spent my childhood. I will scatter my mother’s ashes in the places she loved the most during her lifetime.  And I will hopefully visit with cousins I haven’t seen in fifty years.  Before I leave I will revisit this post and take heed.

 If like me you suffer from overstimulation and have meltdowns when life gets too busy and emotional, how do to keep yourself from going ballistic?


  1. Gail Livingston says:

    Whew! Glad I didn’t tell you what I almost did — that my daughter Megan is driving to Charlottesville for a wedding by herself. I thought, “Hmmmm, maybe I could ride with her and see Joan. Sounds like the last thing you would have needed. And I have a writing deadline Monday. Let’s just hope you have time for a LEISURELY VISIT when you come to North Carolina. I can always drive to Black Mountain if you don’t feel at leisure to try to meet up in busy Ashevile. And if you don’t feel u to it., please feel free to let me know. Returning from trips is one of the most exhausting things I ever do. We need to be good to ourselves. Fondly,

    • Well, maybe next time. As it turns out it’s been a crazy busy summer so far and believe me you wouldn’t want to be here right now. Temperatures have been over 100 degrees and last night we had a wild storm that lasted a long time with some thunder, lightning, huge winds but no rain. I’ve not experienced that before. There was a lot of damage in the area, but we’re fine, and there are many still without power today.

      I’m sure it will be a leisurely visit when we’re in Black Mountain. I’ll certainly let you know when will be a good time to get together and I know a great little place for lunch nearby with wonderful lunches and great ambiance. Then maybe some iced tea at our place and lots of quiet.

      You are right on about being good to ourselves. I too often forget about me and when I do remember sometimes feel selfish about taking time for myself. Nothing new, I know.
      We all experience a certain amount of that.

      Can’t wait to see you!!

  2. Patricia says:

    Joan what a gift you give, your clear, honest speaking of what is so for you. Thanks

    • Patricia, thanks for stopping by and for your kind words. Being honest is hard but without it we fool ourselves into perfection.

  3. Joan, this resonated so strongly for me. I, too, forget that I need ample time to recover when I return from a trip. In fact, after reading Susan Cain’s book about introversion, I realized that I also need to try not to schedule activities two evenings in a row. It was both a light bulb moment and a “duh” moment because I should have figured this out long ago. Unfortunately, my old strategy was to ignore what my body and my gut were telling me, in that “mind over matter” approach that we take because we think we know better. Ha! So this is one of those things I’m learning late, and very grateful to be doing so. I’m appreciative, too, of your wise reminder to be kind to ourselves.

  4. Thanks for your words, Clara. Sometimes it feels like I’m the only one who deals with this kind of thing. I’m learning this late too and still often find myself trying to be other than I am.

  5. I’ve been catching up on all your posts, and you have really been doing a lot. It’s no wonder it all caught up with you. Your trip to Vermont was surely very emotional, and sometimes when it’s difficult to express those kinds of emotions they come out of us in different ways – like a meltdown!
    As I get older, I do find it’s hard to multi-task the way I used to. I’ve never been a person who enjoys being super busy. I need a lot of time for myself, and I need it on a regular basis. I also crave order in my life in a way I’ve never done before, so when my schedule gets out of whack I get very cranky.

    Getting enough sleep and exercise is key, as it keeping things on an even a keel as possible!

    • Thanks Becca, for stopping by. Yes it’s been crazy, but it sounds like it might be the same with you as you get ready to move. I’m so glad you found the perfect house and hope all goes well for you. A move is not easy and I hope you take care of yourself better than how I’ve been tending to myself.

      But all is now good and I’m on the road to normal once again … whatever normal might be. I am writing and once again excited about what I’m turning out. It’s, of course, all first draft crap and not great, but I think holds great promise. Now if I can just hang with it, I’ll be doing well.

      Good luck with your move!

  6. How do I keep myself from going ballistic? Sometimes not very well! But the times that I do, it is because I insist on alone time. I leave the house so I can’t find myself doing chores. I go to a coffee shop and write or read, or just find a quiet place where I can sit and stare at water. Water always calms me. Some people find rest in the comfort of others – talking things out to “process” them. I find rest in being alone where I can “process” things quietly and alone. Love you and your words Joan! Sending quiet laughter and love to you…

    • Thanks, Bacon. Water soothes me also, whether it’s the sound of fountain splashing in a park or the sound of the ocean coming and going. And I process best when I’m alone, like you. I love you right back!

  7. Hi Joan,
    I enjoyed reading this and the comments afterward, and thought of all the “sensitive” artists and writers that I know. There seems to be a connection between being a “receiver” of inspiration and and getting overwhelmed. Are you familiar with “The Highly Sensitive Person.” It’s a book that talks about this phenomenon and most sensitive people find it quite helpful. I enjoy your posts!

  8. Thank you, Linda Joy, for your comment. I believe you’re right about a connection between being a “receiver” and overwhelm. I have that book and plan on reading it soon. It’s now at the top of stack next to my bed.

  9. Our call is near. I am happy. I am catching up on your lovely words before we speak and I am lingering in this post. The clarity of what you need and what happens when you don’t honor that is what we all need to learn. We know what to do, we just ignore it in the guise of doing something so much more important as our inner saboteur would want us to believe.
    Like Bacon and you, I go to the water and to my books and sometimes, when I am in super care giving mode, to my mat. These are the places where I sort things out. People refresh me and over whelm me. Sometimes I thrive in the energy and other times, I require the solitude. Perhaps it is because there are so many pieces of me to keep company.
    Your writing is gorgeous. You might have a first draft but I can promise that it is not crappy.
    Talk to you soon.

  10. Sharon, I so appreciate your words and thank the universe for our friendship. You have gone a long way in showing me who I am.