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When Things Fall Apart: Breakdowns Can Create Breakthroughs

Orange Sky

“Breakdowns can create breakthroughs. Things fall apart so things can fall together.” ~Unknown

“I’m sorry,” the email said, “but our phone call left me feeling uncomfortable, and we’ve decided to work with someone else.”

I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. Even though I saw it coming. Even though I’d brought it on myself.

It was February 2010, and I didn’t have the money to pay my mortgage. My savings were gone, burned through in a misguided attempt to breathe life back into my ailing business by “throwing money at the problem.”

As a ketubah artist—a maker of Jewish marriage contracts and other wedding artworks—sales are always seasonal, but ever since the economy had tanked in 2008, even spring and summer “wedding season” was slower than I was used to.

After two years of lean sales, without the savings normally socked away from fatter months, I was feeling desperate.

It was that desperation that had made me try to hurry along an imminent sale to an enthusiastic bride and groom by offering a special upgrade—but “only if they bought now.”

Big mistake.

It was the worst, most humiliating mistake in my whole business life, in fact.

The couple had been in correspondence with me for weeks, and was on the verge of buying not just a ketubah, but also a Quaker wedding certificate and matching invitations. The sale was virtually guaranteed, and would bring in more than enough to pay my mortgage.

But in my fear that they’d delay making a final decision until after my mortgage due date had come and gone, I panicked. I tried to create a sense of urgency to get them to buy today, and lost the sale.

Then I lost my grip.

The Liberation of a Breakdown

When the contents of the bride’s email sunk in, I physically collapsed, my body wracked with sobs. I remember the rational part of my mind watching, as if from someplace on the ceiling, thinking, “Wow, this is what hysteria looks like!”

I was the definition of a breakdown.

It was one of the worst moments of my life.

In a way, it was also one of the best moments of my life, though it sure didn’t feel good at the time!

With hindsight, though, I can now see that this horrible crisis was exactly what I needed to break out of the miserable rut I was in, and break through to something better.

The truth was I’d been burned out on my business for years. I needed a change, but like a horse with blinders on, I couldn’t see that there might possibly be a different path available to me. So I kept plodding along, while my business fizzled and my zest for life fizzled along with it.

My breakdown finally ripped the blinders off my eyes. It was as if I emerged from a dark hole into the light, and saw the vast possibilities of the world suddenly before me. Maybe I could do something else, even (gasp!) get a job.

Casting about for other ways to earn money felt surprisingly liberating. I didn’t realize how chained I’d felt to my identity as a ketubah artist. It may sound funny, but it was a revelation that I didn’t have to do the same thing forever!

Pay Attention to Messages from the Universe

As I was tenderly making my first baby steps forward on a new, yet-to-be-defined path, just one week after my big breakdown, my boyfriend and life partner announced that he was moving out, taking his contribution to the living expenses with him. No 30-days notice, no nothing.

Can you say “double whammy”?

(Thank goodness for my very supportive parents, who helped me pay my mortgage that month.)

Now both my work life and my personal life were in tatters. It was as if the universe had sent me a telegram, special delivery, with the message “Time to change your life -(STOP)-”

No, strike that: it was as if the universe had walloped me upside the head with a two-by-four!

In fact, the universe had been sending me little notes and whispering in my ear for years. Burnout doesn’t happen overnight, but I simply hadn’t been paying attention.

And when you don’t pay attention to notes from the universe, it starts to speak louder. Then it starts to poke you. Eventually, if you still don’t pay attention, out comes that two-by-four.

This time I listened. Everything had fallen apart, and clearly there was no going back. The only way out of the breakdown was through.

Change Is Painful and Scary, but Also Exhilarating

Let me tell you, that wallop from the universe hurt. It’s disheartening when everything you’ve worked hard to build tumbles down like a castle made of children’s blocks, and it’s scary to start down a new path.

Along with the fear, though, was an incredible sense of possibility. It was exhilarating! I didn’t know exactly where I was going, but the fact that I was no longer stuck in a rut brought my zest for life back.

Sometimes things have to fall apart in order to fall together.

Change is hard, so unless the pain of not changing is worse than the pain of changing, it’s all too easy to stick with the status quo. My breakdown turned out to be precisely what I needed to finally break through to the life I really wanted.

Without my humiliating client disaster, who knows how long I might have continued to cling to my ketubah business as my only option? Instead, with my castle-of-blocks leveled by crisis, I was suddenly free to build an entirely new castle.

No more settling! Within two months I’d started my blog and was on my way toward building the big, bold, creative life I longed for.

The Key Is In the Letting Go

Finding my way on this new path hasn’t happened overnight (and of course the path is continually evolving), but getting from breakdown to breakthrough—from hopeless and miserable to hopeful and excited about life again—happened rather quickly once I let go of what had been.

That’s what breakdowns are good for: they help you let go, so you can try something different.

Clinging to what had worked well or made me happy in the past was only keeping me stuck in my rut. I had to let everything break down in order to build it up again. Only after my life fell apart were things able to fall together for me.

I keep hoping that I’ll get better at paying attention to those whispers from the universe, so I don’t have to feel the pain of another two-by-four to the head.

If I do get walloped again, though, hopefully I’ll remember that breakdowns can create breakthroughs, and that things fall apart so they can fall together again.

Have you had an experience of a breakdown leading to a breakthrough? How did things fall apart for you, and how did they fall together?

Photo here

Avatar of Melissa Dinwiddie

About Melissa Dinwiddie

Melissa Dinwiddie is an artist and creativity instigator, on a mission to empower people to feed their creative hungers. Find out more, and get a FREE printable mini-poster of her Imperfectionist Manifesto at Living A Creative Life.

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  • Becca

    Hi Melissa, thank you so much for sharing your story! Earlier this year, in the space of a week both my work and personal life collapsed, similar to your story. My now ex moved out which came completely out of the blue, my job took a down turn with cases I was working on falling to pieces.
    I can completely understand the thought that the universe had been telling me for a while and I hadn’t been willing to listen, so everything fell in a perfect storm kinda way.
    Without this experience I would not have realised that the tools and skills that have got me through life thus far are now the ones restricting any further and needed growth.
    So now I’m on the journey to discover a new way of living, coping and interpreting the world. And most importantly putting myself first and finding out what I want.
    Thank you for sharing, makes me feel that I’m not the only one who has felt like the universe slapped them upside the head with a two by four :-).

  • camfleur

    Yes this speaks to me so much! Thank you so much for sharing your story.

  • Talya Price

    I have a friend who really needs to read this right now.

  • http://yourlifebetter.net/ Darrell

    Hi Melissa!

    Whoa, can I relate to your breakdown having had one of my own about four years ago. I found myself in my car, outside of the office building where I work, sobbing like a baby; unable to make myself go back to my office. It was the lowest point I can remember.

    But as you write, it was also a moment that, after the wave subsided and epiphany hit and changed my way of thinking forever.

    We should be proud of ourselves for embracing the change that was so fortuitously offered up to us!

    Thanks for sharing your story.

    DC

  • Faintly Macabre

    My breakdown was completely off the charts for me. I was living with a boyfriend who I didn’t feel close to, interested in someone else who wasn’t interested in me, reeling from being let go from a job I’d felt at home in, living in an apartment that was too small, too unkept and too expensive… and then I found myself calling in sick and locking myself in my basement storage unit and crying for an entire day. I stopped eating. I started thinking about taking a walk off a bridge…. and then I realized that this time it was serious. I’d lived with depression my whole life. I got on medication asap. I got into therapy. I looked on craigslist for an apartment and found the perfect one on the first shot. I moved a week later. I made it known in no uncertain terms that it was time to move on from my relationship with the live-on boyfriend. The severance from the job that I’d been let go from paid for all the moving expenses and for a house full of new furniture. I refocused on my new job and began to appreciate it for the awesome opportunity it was… even the person I was interested in began to take interest in me… As I look back – none of it would have come to pass without that one miserable day lying on the concrete floor of my storage unit.

  • Lucinda

    I can completely relate to this. After my breakdown in 2009, it was a long process of having my eyes opened to possibilities. I felt like even a rut would be an improvement, I was in a pit not able to move at all. But the fear in me told me I couldn’t leave my job, how would I pay the mortgage, I couldn’t do something different as I didn’t know how, and I had too many responsibilities to start again, to take a risk…. Fate forced my hand, and as you say, it was a revelation, opinions just unfolded for me. I now have a new career doing something I love, having got voluntary redundancy, and a new relationship that is now a marriage. And I’ve never been happier or freer.

  • http://melissadinwiddie.com/ Melissa Dinwiddie

    Oh you are definitely not the only one, Becca! How wonderful that you can see the gifts that came out of your painful experience — I especially love this: “Without this experience I would not have realised that the tools and
    skills that have got me through life thus far are now the ones
    restricting any further and needed growth”
    Amen!

  • http://melissadinwiddie.com/ Melissa Dinwiddie

    You’re so welcome, camfleur. I’m glad it speaks to you. :)

  • http://melissadinwiddie.com/ Melissa Dinwiddie

    Please share it wherever you think it would be helpful. :)

  • http://melissadinwiddie.com/ Melissa Dinwiddie

    I agree, Darrell — embracing change like this is something to be proud of. I’m so glad to hear that your own breakdown led to epiphany and positive change.

  • http://melissadinwiddie.com/ Melissa Dinwiddie

    What a powerful story, FM! Not everyone would be able to find the gifts in all the ucky, mucky stuff. Kudos to you for using that breakdown to turn your own life around!

  • http://melissadinwiddie.com/ Melissa Dinwiddie

    Lucinda that’s such a wonderful story! Sometimes having our hands forced ends up to be the best thing ever. :)

  • David Goettsch

    It’s funny how stubbornly we can cling to something that isn’t working or making us happy. We seem to find some security in our misery because at least we know what we are dealing with! You are right sometimes the universe has to force your hand for you to have the courage to draw a new one! Thanks, great article!

    -Dave (personal growth project)

  • http://melissadinwiddie.com/ Melissa Dinwiddie

    Thanks, Dave. Yep, I’m one of those stubborn clingers! I keep hoping I’ll avoid the next 2×4 wallop, but it may be the way we’re wired — avoidant of change, even when the status quo isn’t feeding us.

  • Jackie

    For me it was a gradual breakdown of my life before I started my breakthrough. I was stuck in relationship with a “kid” in a new city that we had just moved to a year earlier. I had just lost my job and was sick from a chronic condition I have. Fast forward over a year, I am back in my hometown surrounded by family and friends. I am healthier, have a new guy in my life (in fact he’s been there all long) and I may not have a job yet but for once in a very long time, I can say I am truly happy.

    Your story really confirmed all that I have been through! Thanks!

  • QU€€N €$TH€R

    I was immediately drawn to the article and very much enjoyed reading it! I am going through similar “chaos” in my life but I know that things can only get better from here. Thank you for sharing and inspiring. All the best to you Melissa!

  • Mary

    I can so relate. My breakdown came in the form of bipolar disorder but being fired from my go-nowhere job because of it ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me. I ended up providing peer support for other mental health consumers. Before that I had no confidence that I could get a better job.

    Right now I am dealing with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue and I am again in a place of having to change things because I cannot work that job anymore. I am trying my hand at writing and have started a blog http://www.bipolarlessons.com (shameless plug, lol) It is about dealing with bipolar disorder in spiritual ways. I really don’t know whether I can make a living doing this but it is always important to find something meaningful to do even if you can’t work and hopefully it will help others.

    I am going to re-blog part of your article with a link back to you because you have put together these ideas in such a beautiful way that I think many people can relate to.

    Thanks!

  • maria

    letting go. but what about letting go of dreams?. this is where my confusion lies. my dream that i’ve had for many years.. is not coming true. i have not attained it and i don’t see how i can. and yet i still cannot let it go. perhaps if i did i would embrace the life i have now- find more contentment in it?

  • http://www.pinchmeliving.com/ Bernadette @ PinchMeLiving.com

    Melissa!! I love your blog. I was nodding along while reading it and can’t believe how many of your words mirror my own and the insights/learnings all resonate so much for me. I’m a huge believer in the “breakdowns to breakthroughs” process having gone through it too and I wrote my books about following signs from the Universe, on understanding how life flows and how those dark times are gifts in disguise. I believe the Universe communicates messages to us in mysterious (and not so mysterious!) ways and when we realise this it is so transformational. Thank you for sharing your story so honestly and openly. Will connect up with you on your website/social media. Look forward to keeping in touch. Best wishes, Bernadette

  • CPJ

    I love this. It is exactly what I needed to read at this time in my life. Thank you :)

  • Anon

    Sometimes it is our approach to the dream (or even our approach to life itself) that has to change rather then letting go of the dream itself. I’m not sure about your specific situation, but hopefully this can be applied towards your dream.

  • http://melissadinwiddie.com/ Melissa Dinwiddie

    You’re so welcome! I’m glad it was such good timing. :)

  • http://melissadinwiddie.com/ Melissa Dinwiddie

    Oh, that’s so wonderful, Jackie! I’m so glad things are so much better, and I love your attitude!

  • http://melissadinwiddie.com/ Melissa Dinwiddie

    You’re so welcome, Queen E$ther. Best of luck with the chaos — I know you’ll get t through it.

  • http://melissadinwiddie.com/ Melissa Dinwiddie

    What a beautiful response, Anon.

  • http://melissadinwiddie.com/ Melissa Dinwiddie

    I’m so glad to hear that things have gotten better for you, Jackie. Sounds like you went through the ringer! What a beautiful thing to be able to say that you are truly happy — it shows that you’ve got a resilient spirit and a great attitude. :)

  • http://melissadinwiddie.com/ Melissa Dinwiddie

    All the best to you, too, Queen E$ther! Good luck with all the chaos — with your positive attitude, I’m sure you’ll come through it just fine. :)

  • http://melissadinwiddie.com/ Melissa Dinwiddie

    Funny how those lemons life throws at us often make the best lemonade. I wish you much success, Mary! :)

  • http://melissadinwiddie.com/ Melissa Dinwiddie

    Yay! Good timing, CPJ. :)

  • http://melissadinwiddie.com/ Melissa Dinwiddie

    Thanks so much for your comment, Bernadette, and I look forward to keeping in touch, too! :)

  • Seeta Rajesh

    I quit my job, coz I thought someone was stiffing my career…and for the better part of my life, i kept blaming that person for my failure, when infact I myself was responsible for stalling my growth…I later realized, I never wanted to do that 9 to 5…n that person was just a reason for me to quit..and realize I’ve a better purpose in life..So i penned down my first book..and now I’m on my next one…though it is a tough life and new beginning..but atleast it is exhilarating. and there is a sense of achievement at the end of it all…I’ll wait for the day to look back and laugh at what I’ve created…Coz I feel situations aren’t averse to us, its our perspective that makes our ride either horrific or enjoyable…Cheers! I would love for you to drop by my website http://www.seetarn.in/ and my blog http://seetarn.wordpress.com/ Adios….

  • lv2terp

    Beautiful post! Thank you for sharing your story, and such a wonderful perspective, and insight!!! I love when you said…”Instead, with my castle-of-blocks leveled by crisis, I was suddenly free to build an entirely new castle.” That is inspiring! :)

  • http://melissadinwiddie.com/ Melissa Dinwiddie

    Oh yay — I’m glad to hear that, lv2terp. :)

  • http://melissadinwiddie.com/ Melissa Dinwiddie

    Yes, I agree, perspective and attitude are everything. :)

  • Mary

    Thank you!

  • Lisa

    Hi Melissa, I am in the eye of the storm ..so to speak… It has been brewing for quite some time though. I’m in the beginning stage of a divorce, and I’m unable to move out of the home due to finances. I’ve been working hard at ‘trying to make things work’ now it is really time to let go! I’m okay with this most days, but it is a roller coaster ride. I do believe my life is not falling apart (as it sometimes feels this way & looks this way) I believe it is coming together. I’m scared at times with all the uncertainty, but I am letting go, keeping the faith and knowing all my dreams and desires are on the other side of this. Thank you for a great reminder and confirmation to hold on and you will get thru it!

  • http://melissadinwiddie.com/ Melissa Dinwiddie

    Hang in there, Lisa — you will get through it! Leaning into uncertainty is always scary, but it’s really the only way we grow. Sending you all good thoughts.

  • Tiffany

    Very insightful post Melissa, thank you. It resonates with me as I also went through a career overhaul. At first it is very difficult having to leave familiarity behind and test new waters. But I knew what I wanted and refused to give up even when I was rejected several times. I have now started my new role after several months of interviewing and I know that this is where I want to be.
    “You never know how strong you are till being strong is your only option”.
    We must never give up on our dreams.

  • hani

    thank you so much Melissa!~ things have been really hard lately. All kinds of failures faced me this year. I’m 21 but i didn’t graduate from university. I just felt that journalism was not my thing as i felt lost so i just gave up. My parents still think that i graduated and wish i’d find a job, build a career, and go abroad for higher education. Everytime i look them in the eyes i feel awful. I hate myself for disappointing them so much that i just want to run away where nobody knows me. The biggest problem is that i have no passion. No dream to strive for. I’m soul searching and i really want to discover myself. Who am i, why i was born and what i want from life. While understanding that everything is just beginning.,i feel more pressured not to make a mistake again. As i want to live my life fully the way i want to, i also want to achieve something and build a promising career just so that i’d not disappoint my family. Moreover i want to be happy and feel satisfied with my current self. I wish that soon enough my dream will wake me up in the mornings, not an alarm. Thank you for sharing ur story. I feel stronger and am willing to let my old self go. It is time to change my life to the better!

  • http://BlissedOutBelle.com/ Shawna Kaye: BlissedOutBelle.c

    Breakdowns do create breakthroughs, because it’s God’s way of shaking you up, to wake you up. It was not until I experienced my quarter-life-crisis did I have my breakthrough. In my breakdown I uncovered unconscious habits and limiting beliefs that had been sabotaging me. In the moment, the breakdown can be so painful, however it can be the most insightful opportunity to transform your life. Looking back, I’m so glad I experienced that breakdown at an early age, because it has been useful in my personal growth. That’s not to say, that once you have a breakdown that there will never be another one again; but if it does happen once more you would know from experience that the universe is trying to send you a message.

  • Rhianna

    Hi Melissa i really enjoyed reading your blog it actually gives me hope in this terrible time i’ve been going through since April. To explain further, i was to get married last August through the church to my partner of then 9 years. He was becoming more and more distant and abusive. By April of last year i decided to leave him to give him a shock only to find out he was dating a younger girl from his work and moved her into our home! I had to cancel my wedding, dress, invites and all the rest of it. I then started seeing another man and fell pregnant by him. My ex and his brother stabbed him and they said i wouldn’t be happy with anyone else. My ex suddenly agreed to give me the house to which i found suspicous but i decided to move in as i took out a restraining order against him and was advised to by my lawyer. That same month my auntie died of cancer and whilst i was at the morturary i had to run out because i had just been told my grandmpa died of cancer also. So i had one funeral after the other. The next week i had my babies first scan at 3 months. when i arrived i was told the baby had no heart beat but that it could grow to full term and was asked to carry the baby for a week as it was xmas. So i celebrated xmas with my dead baby inside me! I then had to have a d and c. after this i got some good news as i had been made permant teacher at my school. But that is the only good thing that has happened. One day i got home to find my house broken into! My ex had got in and when i went to the police they said his bail conditions had been dropped and that he was allowed to break in as he had not yet signed over the house officially to which my lawyer had not made me aware of!
    My ex and his brother have since threatned to kill me but the police can’t do anything until there is no phsical damage (yes believe it). and because i’ve taken too much work off school they have just told me today they don’t want me in the classroom! And two days ago my bf said he was finding all too hard to cope and left me. apart from this i have other family issues and health problems, i suffer from reoccuring glandular fever since the age of six. Will things get better? Its really hard to believe this has all happened to me for a reason but guess it could be? can anyone give me advice on how to keep my head held high and fight through these tough times plz? I would appreciate any feedback. Thanks a million. And thanks again Melissa because your blog has already given me some hope. ;)

  • Joy

    Thank you for this. I am glad to come across your blog. Very recently, I finally(!!) broke a one year relationship with a man who was constantly cheating on me. We broke up a few times before and every time I moved on forward, he would snake his way back into my life. To make long story short, just days after things ended between us, he went back to the other woman. He left me for her numerous times, even after suffering a miscarriage. I had been holding my anger and my sadness and my pain for so long. Finally, today, it let it all go and cried my eyes out while driving home from a friend’s house–my friend is getting married in 2 weeks and I was helping her with her seating chart. I saw his name as my guest and it made my heart hurt even more. But after crying it out tonight, I feel much better.

  • Vernon

    We have a lot in common…

  • eva711

    Am so grateful to lord masuka for what he has done for me,At first i thought he was a scam and also thinking if i was doing the right,But when i decided to contact him i told him my problem he laughed and told me that everything will be okay within 48hours,So i decided to give it a try in which i contacted him he told me that i should remove all taught from my mind and be happy,Really on the second day i just got a cal from someone.The person was weeping then i decided to ask who was i speaking to then he called his name Richard i was shocked i asked him what happened he said he is really sorry for what he has done to me for the past 3years for leaving me alone.That i should please forgive him that he will make it up with me.So then i said let him come over which he did as he was coming he got me a new car and also said i should have access to his account top prove to me that he will never leave me for anything now we are bought together and we are going to celebrate this leave in any country of my choice,Which we are preparing for.Now we are together and he can’t do without me, friends am so grateful to lord masuka for bringing back happiness to my life.i swear with my life lordmasuka hes is a man to trust you can contact him on his private mail lordmasukaspelltemple@hotmail.com or call his personal line +2347053105287 My name is eva from USA

  • Sandra

    I came across this article and I’ve just gone through a tough moment in life that was indeed a breakthrough in my life. I left my 13 year toxic relationship, which I was afraid to do considering he was the bread winner of our household. Once I moved out into my own place my engine blew on my car! I used all my money toward my new apartment and had nothing left! The next blow was the transitioning department changes at my job! Not knowing if I would have a job! I really had a break down and questioned if I should’ve stayed in my relationship! I realize this is my moment for things to fall apart in order to fall together! Thanks