When was the last time you had a truly epic meltdown? The kind that takes your breath away with its intensity and lack of forewarning? Perhaps you were at the airport, having just dropped your kid off in another state, and were going through security on your way home, reflecting on how calm and undisturbed you were with that potentially traumatic event. And then the x-ray technician pulls your favorite water bottle out of your carry-on bag and asks “is this yours ma’am?”. Oops, there were one too many details to remember that morning. And then when they tell you you’ll need to surrender the water bottle or go back through the security line, something snaps. A torrent of previously undetected emotion erupts from within and suddenly you’re crying and snotting into your x-ray bin and telling the security officer to “Just take it! My son gave me that for my birthday but just take it!”, because going through security again is simply inconceivable.

This charming story happened to a friend of mine. It’s charming because it happened to her and not to me. I love hearing her tell it because it oozes truth and is hilarious to envision, especially now that it’s in the past. But who can’t relate? I confess to having had a couple of bona-fide meltdowns myself.

The first one happened toward the end of releasing a new website for my coaching practice that I’d spent months culling together. I believed deeply in the offering, and had hired a crackerjack designer to give it some jazz. What no one told me about creating a website (about oneself), is that it’s akin to writing a memoir or birthing a child. It’s not as easy as throwing some fancy copy together, uploading a few pics, and calling it good. It’s agonizingly important to ensure you’re talking directly to the people you mean to serve and to make their brief experience on your pages informative and enjoyable. It’s friggin’ raw to put yourself out there like that. I haven’t written a memoir, but I can only imagine how raw that feels. But having birthed two kids, I can attest to the rawness and vulnerability of THAT experience. So toward the end of the process, I solicited input and feedback from some trusted colleagues. And I got it. In spades. And because they were trusted colleagues, I knew that their input was valid and that I needed to consider the issues they raised. What I didn’t realize at the time was how far down the end of my rope I was with the whole project. While I thought I was hours away from going live, this new feedback felt like it warranted a complete overhaul. Thus, during a benign visit to the gym about an hour later, I found myself unexpectedly (and not quietly) blubbering on the elliptical machine and wanting to throw in the towel on the whole tamale.

The second meltdown happened a few weeks later while solo hiking in Scotland. I was hiking the West Highland Way, my first international solo hike, and had completed a respectable 70 miles in persistent rain and challenging, rocky terrain. After a particularly torrential 7-hour day, I hobbled into the town of Tyndrum, soaked through at least two layers of skin and on the verge of tears. My lodging host didn’t want to allow me and my dripping accoutrements into her house, so she made me strip in her hallway. Seeing that my bags hadn’t yet arrived, I had no choice but to borrow this sweet woman’s personal bathrobe and pitch myself into the shower. Literally, the second that hot water started coming, the floodgates broke. I wasn’t even sure at the time what my problem was. Yes, I was cold and wet. Yes, my body ached. But those factors hardly warranted the uncontrollable sobbing which came in waves over the next two hours. Admittedly, I’d just finished day six of an experience that was both new and challenging to me, and body and mind were both spent. But I think behind all of that was the lurking fear that I might not be able to do this…that I might not finish…that I’d bitten off more than I could chew. And if I reflect back to the experience with my website, or my friend’s meltdown at the airport, might this have been the underlying thought in those cases as well? “What if I just…can’t.”

My sense is that epic meltdowns happen when we hit our outer limit; when we experience something on the periphery of what we’ve deemed acceptable, or when we have pushed ourselves beyond our comfortable boundaries. The torrent of emotion feels downright savage because it is our body/mind/soul’s way of saying “whoa there buddy…where exactly are we going with this”?

I’d also venture to say that this limit-hitting pushes those boundaries farther out. In a good way. So that we go beyond what we thought we could do and grow to see a wider view. I’m not saying I look forward to collapsing into a puddle in the bulk aisle of the grocery store anytime soon. But if it means I’m stretching myself to grow and forge new territory, then that meltdown is just a literal and figurative sign that barriers are coming down.

Maybe there’s an amen to that.