Without question, coping with divorce can be one of the most difficult challenges a person faces in a lifetime. Mental health experts say the pain it causes rivals grieving the death of a loved one. Is it no wonder post-divorce depression is so common?
Honey, you are a hero. Yup. No matter what you’ve gone through, you are here, and quite possibly experiencing a low point. You should know that you’re allowed to wallow for a minute. You’ve just survived a divorce, a ripping apart of something you’d hoped would be permanent. You need to let that sink in: that your marriage meant something, and that now, as surreal as it seems, it’s over. Said the intuitive C.S. Lewis through the medium of a children’s tale: “Crying is all right in its way while it lasts. But you have to stop sooner or later, and then you still have to decide what to do.”
So now what? There’s only so much chocolate and Moscato in the world and, unless you plan on buying stock in Haagen-Dazs, you need to put down the spoon and step away from the ice cream. For me, the wallowing stage lasted about five months. Two dress sizes later (And not in the direction I would have preferred) I peeled myself up from my rock bottom depression and realized that I actually have control over myself and what I do next.
Novel concept, right?
In my late thirties with a three-year-old daughter and dinged-up heart, I began a new journey; one to find the me I once was, or maybe never had been. Which brings me to the discussion of the steps I took to battle my own post-divorce depression.
Depression After Divorce: 5 Survival Strategies:
1. Build a support system. While you were married, did you isolate from family and friends? Time to stretch out that tentative, shaking hand and grasp hold of your support system. When I’d first told my friend, Wendy, about my reasons for separating from my husband she was floored. “I thought you were just busy with school and stuff. I had no idea…” Of course, she hadn’t. I’d taken great care that she (and many others) had no idea. But when I began to reach out to her, to my other friends and family I found that, like the prodigal, they awaited me with open arms and open homes. And some already knew what was going on and were just waiting patiently for me to see it People wanted to love on me, so I let them.
2. Exercise. Just get up out of bed and do it. Take a walk. Remember your kids? Those little guys you live and die for? Take them to the park. Or swimming. Or anything! Move. Sometimes single moms can do little more than clean house for exercise, the only burpee they’re doing is picking up endless pieces of macaroni out of the carpet. My kiddo was two when I separated from my ex, and a good friend at church gave me her jogging stroller. And I discovered that I like to run.
Well, when I say run I mean walking and making a burst into something that can only be classified as a very slow jog or a moderately fast walk, but hey, it was a start. And now I’m training with this friend for my first 5K. You might have absolutely no energy right now. I get it. Boy, do I get it. But the cool, science-y thing about exercise is that, if you make even a tiny effort to get moving, your body’s natural happy-makers (endorphins) take over, and you will likely have a higher outlook on life and a pleasant attitude (Chan, 2012). And, as an added bonus, you’ll feel better about yourself.
3. Pray or meditate. How good would you feel if you could take a few minutes out of each day to be alone and quiet? Each of us has our own way to meditate. We can talk with God or go on a nature walk, sit and listen to calming music or practice yoga. You may not have tried this much and might feel a bit silly at first, but it’s something doctors recommend, so, you know—it’s legit. Through focusing your attention, relaxing your breathing, and sitting comfortably in a peaceful setting you can center yourself to handle whatever the day holds (Mayo Clinic Health Info, 2016). Unsure where to begin? To the Google! There are so many resources out there on how to meditate, various ideas to try, and prayers to read.
4. Give back. Doing good to others is like counting your blessings: it leads to genuine happiness based on gratitude and also gives you a chance to get outside of your thoughts. Volunteering has so many great side-effects: it boosts self-confidence, gives you a sense of purpose, combats depression, and helps you to stay physically healthy (Saisan & Smith, 2016). Volunteer at a local soup kitchen or offer your time at a community event or church function. Not ready for the full-on organizational thing? Then stealthily mow your neighbor’s lawn (but watch out for the begonias). Is there someone behind you in the Starbucks drive-thru? Pay for their drink as well as your own. Leave a note of encouragement for your boss or a co-worker. The point is to gain an altruistic mindset and approach your new life with a new outlook. And your kids will notice, and probably enjoy helping you help others.
5. Date yourself. The whole point of a dating relationship is to get to know another person. When I became a single mom, I had to make my acquaintance all over again, actually, in some ways for the first time. I have opinions? About… things? What do you like to do? Go to the movies? Maybe get a mani/pedi all by your lonesome and eat chocolates while playing games on your phone. Take yourself out to dinner (and eat at the restaurant instead of just taking it to go). Order the meal you actually want for once and not the one you “ought” to eat. And order the tiramisu. Buy yourself flowers. Go hiking.
You had fun just for the sake of having fun once upon a time… reclaim that time. Find something you are passionate about and do it. You are worth it, girl. Call a babysitter and don your sassiest pair of heels (or sneakers) and give yourself the night of your life. Now, as a single mom on a fairly tight budget, I would like to add that there are tons of things you can do at home that won’t cost much money. Get a Redbox movie and some popcorn and indulge once your kids are in bed. Work on your favorite hobby, read a book anything you want: you’re discovering you again.
One last thing. If you have genuine difficulty beating depression you may have a serious condition. Seek counseling or recovery—tell friends and family and get the help you need. It may be medication or an hour with the therapist cussing out your ex. Just make sure to take care of you. You already take care of everyone else. Remember when you were worth that kind of attention? Your kids will notice – give them a mom who knows how to live well, regardless of circumstance.