This past year has without question been the most difficult year of my life. So many things have happened that my mind still hasn't yet had a chance to process them all. Divorce has been the most tragic event for me thus far, and anyone who has experienced it knows that the healing process is long and difficult. Meanwhile, life goes on. Most people don't have the luxury of taking time off from the rest of daily life to process their emotions. We don't get to stay home from work until we feel better, or ignore everything else that may be going on until we are more emotionally stable. Yet, divorce inevitably brings other big life changes with it, and those can also take their toll. There are financial changes, living and lifestyle changes, and the dread of having to tell loved ones about the decision to separate. When my divorce began, I found myself suddenly in the position of sole provider for myself, with few job openings anywhere near where I lived. I didn't know how I was going to pay my rent alone, and to be honest, I was terrified of living alone, too. So while I was grieving the end of my marriage, I was at the same time stressed beyond belief about my future, and I had no direction. I had also simultaneously decided to come out to friends and family, which didn't always go very well. Fortunately, I am a strong willed person, and I determined that I wasn't going to let divorce completely break me. I would pull myself up, and figure out a way to make my life at least acceptable going forward. Even though I am happy to say that today I have done that, and I have succeeded in making sure I stay afloat, it certainly hasn't been easy. If I could rewind, I wouldn't have changed the way I took control of my life, but I would have been a little kinder to myself in the process.
Signs of Stress and Recognizing Them
Being the type of person who never wants to appear weak, I have always put on a brave face to friends and family. I wanted to prove myself, and I expected a lot of myself after my divorce, such to the point that I had even tricked myself into believing that I was really okay with everything that was happening. Generally speaking, I appeared to be doing quite well, all things considered. At least that's what people kept saying: “she seems to be doing so well!” And in some ways, that was true. I found a secure job, and I became very involved in my community. I was finally developing my career as well as other interests I had always wanted to pursue, and I was active and engaged. No one would ever have guessed the kind of stress that was bubbling just beneath the surface – not even me. But over the months that followed my divorce, I noticed that despite my bravery, my body was sending vague yet persistent signals of duress. I started having trouble sleeping, which had never been an issue before. I developed intense headaches, panic attacks, and paranoia. All the while, I was putting myself through strenuous workouts, working late into the night, and drinking more than I ever have in my life. I was doing well, so they all said - but really, I was not well at all.
Self-Empathy, Even for the Toughest
One night when I was working on a deadline, my mind went completely blank. I didn't know what I was writing, or why, and reading the sentences over and over again meant nothing. I was exhausted, and sick, and despite how strongly I protested the idea, I was scared, and vulnerable. My instinct was to ridicule and berate myself, because that tough-minded approach was how I had made it through so far. Except now it wasn't working anymore. So often we think we have to be made out of steel to make it through difficult situations, like divorce or the loss of a job or a major life change. We are taught that we have to keep moving forward, because the past is in the past. But you know what? The past made up your entire life history up to this point. It's okay to take the time to look at it, and embrace what has happened and is still happening to you. I realized that night that I had reached my limit of stress, that I could not keep pushing myself as hard as I had been. Something really had to give, or I was headed for a nervous breakdown. So that night, my head pounding, shaking and cold, I did the simplest thing, but it's something I had not allowed myself to do for many months. I ran a bath. I sat in the warm water, and I considered what was happening in my life. Not passively, but deeply considered it. And instead of reminding myself how much harder I should work, I acknowledged how hard the entire year had really been. I let myself cry, not as a frantic burst of sadness as I usually did, but as a profoundly mindful release. I made an effort to be kind to myself, just for a few hours. A few hours not of self-pity, but self empathy. I had always heard about mindfulness and being present thrown around as new-age sounding ideas, but when I really calmed my mind enough to accept my own stress and hurt, I understood what those terms really meant. My divorce pain, and all of the other pressures that had been simmering in its wake like a pot ready to boil and spillover, were pounding at my door. I needed to change the way I was treating myself in order to deal with them, because I was the one who had been treating myself so harshly for so long. Honestly, I still have to make a concentrated effort to be nice to me, and recognize my own physical and emotional needs. But I have learned some techniques that have changed my health and my mindset along the way, while also helping me to become a more productive person.
What are some techniques that you have learned while coping with the stress of divorce? Join First Wive's World today to share your story.