Hi. I’m Robb. And I May Have Had a Nervous Breakdown.

About ten days ago, I just about had a nervous breakdown.

I’ve written before that I’ve suffered through a few panic attacks in my life. It’s a not a fun experience. I’ve been able to reduce a lot of the anxiety that led to those panic attacks by eliminating most caffeine from my diet. I now drink a lot less coffee, and most of the coffee I do drink now is either half-caf or decaf.

But what I experienced on that Friday morning had nothing to do with how much coffee I drank. “Nervous breakdown” are about the best words I can use to describe it.  

Now, I understand that the term “nervous breakdown” is a non-technical one. It’s a little bit like saying that you “put your back out.” It describes what happened but not necessarily the medical or technical reality. I’m not a mental health expert – obviously – so I don’t have the exact words to describe what happened. I suppose that “nervous breakdown” is as good a term as any.


This episode had been building for a long time. Honestly, I’ve known for a couple of years that I haven’t been dealing with my emotions well. I’ve made some changes in my life – trying to eat better, exercise, taking breaks from Facebook, for example. But, as it turns out, those have been small bandaids on a gaping wound.

Sensing how frazzled I’ve become, a couple of months ago, I asked the Vintage Oversight Team for a break. I need a sabbatical to rest. That sabbatical started yesterday.

Further, Vanessa and I started seeing a therapist. We’ve gone a few times now, and it is very nice to have someone to talk to who won’t be freaked out about what you have to say. I don’t have to guard my words at all when talking with him or wonder if I am overburdening him with my stuff. He’s given us some helpful insights so far, and we’re hopeful that therapy will really be a long-term solution to some of my struggles.

But none of this was able to prevent what went down.


Zhan-Wang3In short, it felt like my whole world was blowing apart. The sensation I had was that everything was fragmenting and flying in different directions. It’s like I could see bits and pieces of my life as they hurtled away from each other – and from me. It was an unsettling feeling. I wanted to reach out and grasp everything and hold it together. But I couldn’t. It all was just blowing apart.

On that Friday morning, I was so overcome by this feeling that I couldn’t function. All I could do was weep.

It felt like all of the things in my life that are most important, all of the things that matter to me, all of the things that I worry about on a daily basis, all became uncertain all at once. My marriage, my family, my church, my work, my relationships. All of it. Everything. Uncertain. At the same time.


And so, on that Friday morning, in the midst of our small fight about something else, I told Vanessa what was really bothering me, some news I had been carrying around for a few days and hadn’t shared with her. I had told myself that I didn’t want to freak her out. In reality, I didn’t want to freak myself by saying the news out loud.

The revelation uncorked a flood of emotion that left me deeply shaken.

Several days later, with the support of a kind and gracious wife, some very caring friends, and the wise words of a counselor, I am feeling a lot better. I have the sense that things are going to get better. And, because of my sabbatical, I’ve got some extra time and space to invest in some much needed soul care.

Still, it’s a strange thing to experience a breakdown like this, maybe even more-so as a pastor. Later this week, I’ll blog about how I’ve been processing all of this in light of my pastoral ministry.


In the meantime, how about you? Have you ever had a “nervous breakdown?” How did you get through it?


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  • Justyn Hornor

    I went through a similar experience about 18 months ago. It was first and only – hopefully ever. Nothing I could do about it. A relatively small matter set the whole thing off and then there was nothing I could do about it after that. I just had to ride it out.

    Miserable experience, to be sure. But, ultimately, revealed that I was not dealing with some issues and the stress was bound to come out somewhere.

  • anniescoppock

    I’ve been there. The first one lasted a couple of years. Which might be why I don’t remember my college years fondly. The second time lasted a few weeks. I couldn’t even take care of my children and walking to the bathroom was a huge accomplishment.

    I learned two remedies (I recommend both): 1) antidepressants 2) do anything and everything you can think of that might help SIMULTANEOUSLY — something always works but you probably won’t know which thing or combination of things worked or if it was just the whole dynamic of throwing the whole toolbox at it. Faith is good too. But you probably know that!

    You have my deepest empathy. Everything WILL be ok!

  • Jonathan Manz

    Robb, I appreciate your openness in sharing this.

  • Layton Dutton

    I don’t think I’ve ever had a nervous breakdown, but have had some bouts of depression. If you heard Ken Rudolph talk about struggling with that in the past it’s like that. I’ll just feel alone or hopeless and completely want to be away from everyone. In college I would just go to bed and sleep it off. Many times that helped. I haven’t had that as much in recent years. I think being more open with people and not feeling trapped like I have to be a certain way to make people happy, whether I really did or just thought I did, has helped a lot. I normally have to remind myself that I must be who God made me. I don’t me being sinful, but not having to put on a constantly happy or false perfection kind of front. It’s great to have people around who are ok with me being me and will listen and pray for and with me when I mess up or am tempted, even when they don’t totally understand. That’s very helpful for what I go through anyway.

  • HJB

    Thanks for being open about this. After reading this I realized that a similar experience in February was most likely a nervous breakdown.

  • Adam Ormord

    Robb, we haven’t had the pleasure of meeting, but I’m Derek’s friend from college. He speaks very highly of you. We were talking the other night about Potter’s Inn, a place for Pastors to get away and enjoy some time of restoration in the Colorado mountains. I work at Potter’s Inn and I’d love to invite you to come out sometime. It would be awesome to meet you!

    I really appreciated reading what you wrote in this post. I’ve been there myself. I’ll never forget admitting “I need help” to my wife one day after church. I started to see a therapist and that set me on a track of awakening and renewal that has literally changed my life. Thanks for being so vulnerable by sharing what you have been experiencing recently.