The Straw That Broke The Camel’s Back.

Many years ago, I was going through a painful break-up. I remember for several days, weeks even, I was absolutely fine and carried on as if nothing major had happened. One of the consequences of the break-up was that I had to move home and leave my job and move back to be near my family. I needed to change schools for my son. It was a monumental task and yet for much of it I just got on with it, no problems at all. My life seemed to be going well. I managed to get a job. I managed to sort out the house move. I’d secured a place at a new school for my son. Everything was fine. Everything was going well.

close up photo of brown camel during golden hour
Photo by Shukhrat Umarov on

And then a couple of days before the big move, I had to cancel my Sky subscription and it was that which broke me. It wasn’t as if I had to do anything much. All it required was a brief phone call to Sky and then possibly a phone call to the bank. Nothing major at all. But I just couldn’t do it. I broke down and that was when I started to feel the full extent of the pain and upset that a break-up can cause. I can remember talking it through with someone and telling them how ridiculous it was to be in tears over a phone call to Sky. It was pathetic after all I had managed to do. Yet for a period of a few days it felt like it was the highest mountain to climb. It felt like an impossible task. Even when I finally did it, I had to have a friend with me. It also took me a long time to get over it. It was a good few months before I recovered fully.

Last night I had a very similar experience. I was in my en-suite and some cleaning bottles had been left from the bathroom clean that afternoon. It was like the Sky experience all over again. I couldn’t deal with the fact that the cleaning bottles had been left out and they needed to be put away. It was too much for me.  Yet all I needed to do was take them downstairs and put them in a cupboard. But I just couldn’t. You see I’ve had a lot on for a while now. I’m trying to keep on top of everything. Much of it is in my personal life and doing things for my children. I won’t go into it. But I am really struggling at the moment to keep all the balls of life juggling in the air. I have some issues with my health too which do not help. Life is very demanding and trying to keep a house clean, a family fed healthily and all the other things I need to do, well I have found it hard. My husband is always exceptionally supportive, and I am fortunate because he helps a great deal. But with even the best will in the World, he can’t always do what needs to be done. So just as all the cleaning bottles appeared to come tumbling down last night, then so too did all the aspects of life I have been trying to juggle. I think the term that I am looking for is a meltdown. An immense meltdown.

close up of a wheat plant in a cropland
Photo by Renato Abati on


I was meant to have a very long interview with someone today, which I did achieve. I was meant to write 2000 words today, which I didn’t achieve. I went to bed for an hour. I didn’t sleep. I just stroked my cat and calmed down. I’ve taken some time out from doing what I should be doing, and I’ve focused on spending time with my family. Some days I find I have so much to do that I give myself a kind of pep talk – “I’ll do what I can, as and when.” You know it’s like that Chinese proverb – “a journey of a thousand miles, starts with a single step.” Normally that keeps me calm. But this time everything became too much. I always know when I’ve been doing too much as that is usually one of the rare occasions, I drink tea.

Unlike the Sky experience, I’ll be fine now I’ve had my meltdown. I’ll be laughing about it this time next week.  For me sometimes reaching that breaking point helps. I know from then on things will start to get better. It’s something I have learned about myself from experience. My brother used to quote from the poem Invictus, by William Ernest Henley and these words often give me strength “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” I may be struggling to achieve the correct balance in life, but I’m old enough to know when to ask for help and what I need to do to make my life easier. I know that I need to take responsibility for my life, and I am the sole person who can fix any difficulties.

But all of this made me think about the saying – “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” It is usually the minutest thing that can tip us over the edge from coping into not coping. When we’re not, to quote another excellent poem, (this one by Stevie Smith) “waving” but in fact we are “drowning”.  There will always be times when the people who appear on the surface to be the most resilient can reach breaking point.

underwater photography of woman
Photo by Engin Akyurt on


It is therefore, with this belief that I feel we sometimes need to be mindful of how our actions can impact others. There is a further saying that rings true at times like this and it’s often seen on those quotation posters people put on Facebook. “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about, be kind. Always.” You can never quite tell if one tiny action can result in someone else’s breakdown. That’s why it is so important to treat people in the manner in which you would wish to be treated. You don’t ever want your words or actions to become someone’s last straw. 


William Ernest Henley – 1849-1903

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

This poem is in the public domain.

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