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Actually, Not Better Together: How Leaving a Toxic Marriage Eased My Chronic Illness Symptoms

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Almost every time I tell someone that I recently got divorced they say, “Oh no! I’m so sorry!” Which is kind of them, but I immediately correct them to let them know there’s nothing to be sorry for. I am happier, healthier, and more at peace than I have been in years. I was diagnosed with endometriosis in 2010, chronic pelvic pain in 2017, and most recently fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue in 2020. I’ve also lived with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for all of my adult life and was recently diagnosed with ADHD.

I knew the stress of my relationship wasn’t helping my health, but it wasn’t until I was out of my marriage for while that I realized just how deeply it was hurting me. Now, I’m not going to lie and say that ending my marriage cured me of all my ailments. I still struggle with all of these illnesses, but the difference is I now have the space and mental energy I need to care for myself in the best possible way. Back in 2019, I had to leave my job because I was too sick to work. The strain that fact alone put on our relationship was immense and seeped into every single corner of our lives. There was no escaping the guilt, shame, and fear. As you can imagine, that left little room for what I truly needed.

I had never felt worse about myself when the pandemic hit. Now me, my husband, and the rest of the world were thrown into a horrific, scary, and incredibly sad situation. I, like many, became even more depressed and anxious, which led to emotional spending and eating, which led to weight gain and financial stress. In the summer of 2021, I made the decision to move out of our marital home and a few months later, we decided to divorce. I knew it would be a difficult road ahead, but the immediate relief I felt was an indicator that it was, indeed, time to let go.

Now that I’ve been on my own for a year and a half, I can see how my marriage was hindering my ability to truly care for myself. Before my daily worries revolved around making sure I was “doing enough”; now I can focus on making sure I’m eating three meals a day, getting adequate sleep, resting, and looking for ways to practice peace and gentleness toward myself. I have the mental space to think about how each thing that comes my way will affect my life and my health. I have the fortitude to say, “No, that’s not for me,” and the strength to withstand potential fallouts from my boundary setting.

Since I’m not constantly in a state of “fight or flight” anymore, my ability to handle difficult emotions is better, and I don’t have extreme levels of stress hormones wreaking havoc on my body. I have fewer flare-up days, and my ability to bounce back from them has vastly improved. With fewer days spent confined to my bed or the couch, I’m able to get out to see friends and family and nurture relationships that I had been neglecting for years. I’ve been able to build a community of love and support for myself, and at the end of the day, for those with chronic illness, a caring community can make all the difference in the world.

Leaving the relationship I had been in since I was 19 years old was terrifying and filled with a seemingly endless amount of unknowns. It took a full year for our divorce to be finalized, and the process was agonizing, to say the least. Despite the stress and sadness though, each day I could feel the weight lifting. Each day I had more strength and more resolve, and one day I finally woke up and thought, “I actually feel good today.” Something I hadn’t felt in years, and something I never thought I would experience again.

Every person who struggles with chronic illness or mental health disorders is different, and every human body reacts to and processes stress in different ways. For me, leaving my unhealthy relationship has been the number one thing that helped me feel better. It has not been easy and has certainly not cured my illnesses, but I know, and my body knows, that I made the right choice.

Getty image by PeopleImages

Originally published: February 8, 2023
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