Once you are divorced, you enter a new world. It’s called “I’ve been through hell and back and now only other people who have also been divorced can understand a certain part of me.” Kind of a long name for the new world, but that is really what it’s called.
We don’t know about you, but for us it was difficult to accept advice during this time. Some people want anything BUT advice, while others seek it out (most likely only accepting it from someone who gets it.)
Neither of us were interested in what our non-divorced friends had to say (at a certain point). Plus, everyone’s circumstances are different. For some, divorce is pretty common. They’ve seen family members or close friends of theirs go through it. For others, it’s completely new and foreign. Maybe you’re the first person you know of in your family line to go through the Big D. Maybe you’re the first out of your friend group (thus beginning the divide … but we sincerely hope not.)
Knowing that everyone is different, and knowing that the time-frame we are speaking about is a delicate, heart wrenching twilight-zone-like time warp, we want to offer these five things.
They aren’t magic cures and they certainly aren’t over-night fixes.
We pondered what we both did (again, individually, before we met one another) and brought all of those elements into this list of five. If you try to combine all five at least a small bit, each day, we know you will begin to heal. You’ll figure it out for yourself, no doubt, but why not get a head start with two folks who have been there?
Five Things You Can Do to Get Mentally Healthy After Divorce
One: Give yourself time to grieve, heal, grieve all over again, and heal some more.
The formulas go out the window. We’ve heard it all. “Give yourself one month for each year you were together.” “Give yourself at least a year before dating anyone.” “If you’re happy today, then you should figure out how to stay that way.”
This does take time. It takes so much time. It takes nights of curling up, sobbing. It takes breaking something against the wall, maybe. It takes having a panic attack, when you’ve always been a pretty calm, stable person. It takes healing like you’ve never known. And once you have healed a bit, sometimes that pain comes creeping right back in as a surprise. You might sob into your pillow again, wondering why it’s just as hard as the last time you broke down.
Let yourself do this, and please do not reprimand yourself for the backslide. It’s normal. Things hit us out of nowhere. Memory Monsters are out there lurking in the shadows, and sometimes even in broad daylight.
You will find, with TIME, that each grieving moment is shorter. Each time you sink back down, you will not be as low and you’ll bounce back faster. You will continue to heal.
One day, you’ll wake up and you truly won’t go through any of those cycles anymore. At least not for your divorce.
Two: Find a distraction on purpose.
Someday I (Melinda) will write a blog titled “Family Guy: the show that saved my life.”
Ask me today if I love the show Family Guy.
The answer is “No.” But will I tell you it saved my life? Yes, yes I will.
When I was in the thick of my “identity crisis” and I could only think of my failures, sadness, horrible body image and nightmare of being alone for the rest of my life, I had a good friend suggest something to me.
“Watch TV,” she said. She told me HER therapist suggested it. She told me how much it helped her.
You’ve got to understand, I came from a household with no TV. I hadn’t even owned a microwave for five years and BOY, was I proud. Watching TV meant so many things to me at the time… none of them resembling goodness or healing.
But I took her advice. And I somehow stumbled upon the stupidest, most mind-numbing show on the planet: Family Guy. I had a new roommate with Netflix and so I binged. I watched every single episode from the Pilot on. I fell in love with Stewie and Brian and considered them the best duo ever written. I’d suffer through a day of work and look forward to coming home and turning on Family Guy.
It’s the weirdest thing, I know.
All I can say is that it got me out of my head. I could go numb and forget about my life. I even started to laugh a little, but because of the absurdity of just about everything. It was like taking a nap, in a way. (Years and years later, I tried watching an episode, and I couldn’t get through it. These phases of life truly are their own.)
For Israel, working out and long hikes in state parks was a huge part of that … and a more impressive outlet than sitting and watching every single episode of a dumb TV show.
He was hitting the home gym two, three, four times a day. Every morning, he was up at 5:00, getting in a workout before his long commute to the office. And when he couldn’t sleep at night from the stress of divorce, he’d go to the basement and push weights around. Weekends without the kids turned into hours on the bike, in the water, on the trails, or in the woods. It transformed not only his mind but his body. He got in the best shape of his life, even better than the glory days of high school. This affected everything in a positive way.
The point for this one is: whatever you do, just make sure you are doing it on purpose and that it works FOR YOU. Work out twice a day. Watch a show. Go on walks with your dog. Read a young adult series that is all drama and romance and action. Whatever it takes.
Three: Find a new scenery.
Like that last example, our stories couldn’t be more different.
Israel had three kids and owned a house. He wasn’t going anywhere, at least as far as where he actually lived. The way he found his scenery was by new outdoor adventures (alone and with his kids) and heading into unknown territory: like the cities. Sitting at a bar alone was enough of an adventure at one point. Or even find an adult recreational activity to attend. Israel found a Monday night volleyball group that met at the local middle school when he suddenly had a night free without the kids. (That very same volleyball night is ALSO where we met.)
I (Melinda) had nothing keeping me where I was. No house, no husband, no kids, no secure job… heck, I didn’t even have a dog. I had nothing, and therefore I had nothing to lose by packing up and moving somewhere. I stuffed my car with what I had left to my name and moved to a small farm in a small Midwestern town I’d never heard of until about three months before I showed up there. That sure did the trick.
New faces, wherever they are, are great. New places, even if you can’t physically move, are very important.
Here’s a bonus suggestion: when you meet new people, see how long you can talk to them about yourself without mentioning your divorce. Hear what you say about your interests and your life. You might surprise yourself.
Four: See a counselor, if you are at all able to.
Getting professional help from a counselor was imperative.
Now, we know not everyone can afford or access help like this. Try asking people you know for any available resources. Ask your work if they have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Talk to someone you TRUST about this idea and see if they offer any advice or assistance.
It truly did save each of us. We both saw counselors before we met. And boy, are we glad we did. Neither of us would have been ready to tackle life together if we hadn’t had that base – that very amazing step to getting to a healthier place. It’s hard to explain, but a counselor can be that person, that non biased voice, that helps you stop the voice in your head that may be telling you lies. A counselor can pour truth into you by giving you resources and tools you never knew existed. Each counselor and counseling experience is unique and sometimes it takes a little “shopping” around.
If you can, you must.
Five: Do not give up and send for help whenever you need to.
THIS IS A CRITICAL STEP because if you give up, you won’t be around for all of the healing you get to do and the life that will be yours once you are among the living again.
When they say divorce is like a death, they aren’t kidding. Some days it’s just hard to pinpoint just exactly who theoretically died: you or your ex.
The lowest moments might still be ahead of you. Hear us saying loud and clear: DO NOT GIVE UP. DO NOT! DO NOT!
If you have kids, be strong for them (if you can’t find it to be strong for yourself quite yet.)
If you don’t have kids, be strong for your family, your friends, and ultimately, yourself.
You must be willing to be vulnerable for this to work. Both of us have called out to friends during our hard moments. Find one or two trusted people to have ON CALL for a few months, and even ask them if they’re willing to be that person for you. Chances are there is at least someone willing. Don’t sit in darkness alone. Call, reach out, pray… whatever you need to do. Get past the pain. Get support.
If you feel all of your support is gone, send us a message. We will email you every day “DO NOT GIVE UP,” if that’s what it takes.
These fives things helped us become who we are today. We went through the time when nothing seemed as if it would turn out okay. Though your situation is totally unique: you are not alone.
And please let us know what you would add to this list!
I & M