7 Tips for Getting Through a Divorce When You Live With a Mental Illness
This morning, I opened an email that posed the question “who will tell your story?”
To be honest, I didn’t read more than the first sentence in the email without deciding I’m going to tell my story, even if it’s really hard. Then, I went to the car to put something in the trunk and I saw a pile of brand new picture frames. That normally wouldn’t bother anyone, but my husband, soon-to-be ex-husband, bought those picture frames to fill with pictures I may not be in.
My story is changing. The picture frames aren’t going to look the same anymore. We’ll both have different ones, different memories and different but very connected lives. Our story has changed and so has our children’s stories. And, in the writing of a new story, it’s sort of lonely. I’m realizing, when you get divorce, it’s not just one relationship that changes; it’s every single relationship that changes.
So, the following is a list of tips that are helping me through my divorce. Another piece to this story is that I have mental illness. Experiencing a divorce in any way is extremely difficult and it takes a different approach when you struggle with depression and anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or any other mental illness. Just like if you had any other illness or disease, you have to continue to take care of yourself while walking through this experience; you have to make sure you take care of your mental health and take responsibility for keeping yourself in the best place you can be. It is difficult but it can be done.
1. Continue with regular therapy and psychiatry appointments.
This is so important. You’re going to have a variety of experiences that can cause intense emotional responses and having professionals, whom you trust, help you process all of that is critical. If you have children and they see a counselor, then continue with that as well. Everyone having a safe place to freely talk with a professional will highly improve the communication you have together. If you don’t have a therapist, I highly recommend getting one, like right now!
2. Keep taking any prescriptions you are prescribed.
Seriously, do it! This is not the time to be having withdrawals, especially from the much-needed serotonin. Don’t do that to yourself. Trust me, please.
3. Make smart goals.
Don’t try to plan out the next 10 years. You won’t be able to. Try a couple of daily goals, maybe one bigger goal for the weekend and a basic idea of one for the month. Sometimes, it will be one day or hour or minute at a time and that’s OK too. Let yourself have those days because they won’t last forever and maybe your brain needs a break from working so hard. Make your goals reasonable and attainable. If you set yourself up for failure, you’re not doing yourself any favors.
4. Call in the troops.
If you get stuck, if you don’t want to be alone, if you see signs of a downward spiral, then call in reinforcements. Your friends, family and even some co-workers if given the chance will be there for you however they can. Also recognize that different people can help in different ways, and that means someone might not be able to watch the kids but they can make y’all dinner one night. Try not to look for rejection in places it doesn’t exist. I know it’s a sensitive time and emotions are brimming right beneath the surface, but try not to fall into pitfalls or negative thinking patterns. If you speak up about how you feel, you may be pleasantly surprised. People aren’t mind readers, so say exactly what you need.
5. Feel the feelings.
OK, so from experience, I am going to tell you that emotions will rise up in you and will catch your breath and almost explode to the surface. They will come out of nowhere. I am not a fan of “feelings” and until just recently, my children had never really seen me cry. But if I don’t feel these feelings then they are going to swallow me whole. There is so much to grieve, even in a very amicable situation. There is loss and fear and it’s a huge adjustment. So today, when I closed the trunk and walked back inside, I thought about those picture frames and the emotion hit me like a ton of bricks. I barely made it to the couch where I collapsed and sobbed. No one was home but the doggo, so I let it out for a minute or two and then I sat up, took a deep breath and got up to get going with my day. I felt it, and I showed myself compassion, the way I would a friend going through the same thing.
So the first thing to go in difficult times is probably self-care. There are so many things you have to do that taking care of you is not a huge priority. We all know the things that are needed to be healthy: good nutrition, good sleep, good hygiene, and the list goes on. If you can keep up those three, you’ll feel so much more capable of facing whatever is coming your way.
7. Find community.
There is tons of support out there for people going through a divorce, like divorce care groups, for instance. A quick online search and you can find a support group you can be a part of. If not, there are mental health support groups and if you want something more spiritual, there are plenty of groups out there in churches that will foster a sense of community and support as well. “No man is an island,” as John Donne would say, and you can’t do this alone.
Photo by Ansley Ventura on Unsplash