Two years ago, at twenty-four, my marriage ended. I was devastated and felt like a total failure.
I knew that divorce wasn’t going to be easy. I’d seen my parents do it, and it didn’t look pretty. I also knew that I could either let it hurt me and depress me, or I could find a way for this whole experience to help me.
Depression was something I was familiar with. I’d had mild to moderate bouts of it throughout the past couple of years, and had family members experience it severely. So I knew that if anything were to make me depressed, it would be an impending divorce.
According to a study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, if participants had been through a divorce in the past two years, they were 53% more likely to suffer from depression. If participants had depression in the past, their odds of relapse increase by 3.9 times.
Though at the time of my separation I had not yet read this study, life experience had shown me that depression was a real possibility following divorce.
To make sure that depression didn’t take over my life, I implemented a sort of anti-depression program on myself, based on listening to what my heart and body needed from me. It worked wonders and kept me from slipping into what could have been a pretty dark place.
Here are the five strategies I used to avoid depression after divorce.
Go easy on yourself
Dealing with loss in any form is going to take a toll on you, both emotionally and physically. I remember a day shortly after my separation when I looked in the mirror and thought “My face is the colour of stress.” I’m not sure I can describe that colour, but I felt a wreck and looked it too. Don’t pack your schedule full of too many activities, you’ll exhaust yourself. Take time to sleep, eat healthy food or indulge in a few comfort foods, cry when you feel like crying, scream when you feel like screaming, and let yourself of the hook for a while. It can be incredibly stressful to go through a divorce, and heaping on the guilt of not getting enough done on top of it is a recipe for a meltdown.
Take a vacation
Or a road trip or a spa day. Indulge in some self care because you’ll need it. I was lucky to have a couple of wonderful friends take me into their home in Bali for 10 days after my split. I got massages, sat by the beach, met new people, ate good food, danced, did hours and hours of yoga, and had plenty of time for quiet contemplation.
It’s also helpful to get away from your familiar surroundings, since so many places will hold now possibly painful memories. You also don’t need to feel obligated to talk to other people about your divorce while you’re on vacation if you don’t want to. People won’t know you, so you have a chance to breathe and just enjoy yourself.
Write your heart out. Get those emotions, stories, and rants out on paper. The act of writing these things down will help you sort through your thoughts and emotions, and start to piece together a more constructive narrative.
When you feel like you’re ready, write about what you’ve learned and gained both from the relationship and the break up. This can be tough when you’re still feeling raw, so take a few weeks or months even before you get to this step. I did this maybe 6 weeks after we separated and it made a huge difference in shifting my perspective from feeling victimized to feeling empowered. I realized that although my relationship didn’t last forever, it certainly wasn’t anything to be ashamed of. I learned a lot about myself, love, commitment, and what I’m capable of overcoming.
Talk to a therapist or life coach
Just having someone to listen to your story and tell you you’re not crazy for feeling the way you do can be immensely healing. It’s especially nice because you don’t have to feel like you’re dumping your problems on your friends or family, since you’re paying this professional for his or her time, and you’ll be able to get an objective perspective on your situation. I went through several sessions and it felt so nice to get what I was feeling off my chest and have a listening ear for a solid chunk of time.
In addition to a listening ear, a coach or therapist can help you devise a plan to move forward and support you as you heal. This is important because it can be hard to extricate yourself from your emotions and start setting new goals as a single person.
Spend quality time with friends and family
It may feel hard at first to face anyone, especially those friends who may also be friends with your recent ex, but it’s so important not to shut yourself off from the world during this difficult time. Make sure though, that you’re not using your friend time to vent and complain or bash your ex. This won’t help you and it won’t help your relationships. Instead plan fun activities with your friends and family, and kindle new friendships that you may not have had time for when you were in a romantic relationship. Despite what your brain might tell you, your friends and family want to help, they might just not know how. Let them know that just being around is enough.
It’s certainly difficult and takes some time, but going through a divorce doesn’t have to mean depression. When I took time out for myself and made healing a goal, it was much easier for me to move on and stay healthy.