How to cope with post-divorce grief and depression?


Marriage is one of the most significant relationships in life and divorce can be an awfully distressing incident for most of the people. Divorce, the official ending of marriage is usually accompanied by angst, misery, depression, dejection, gloominess, sense of failure, end of a way of life and insecurity. People undergoing divorce, even if they have initiated it themselves, finds them going through a dejected phase. That is a proven fact that in most cases, even if a person wants the divorce, when the reality of starting over sets in, that person can get thrown into a period of despair. And when the person doesn’t want the divorce, many times their esteem is greatly affected, causing them to go into a deep depression. For some it’s a sense of failure, and for others it’s simply the uncertainty of what lay ahead. You may well spend some time in a state of shock, unable to comprehend what's happening. You may wonder what you did to trigger the situation and go through a period when you blame yourself for him or her leaving. You may one day beg him or her to come back, and tell you never want to see him or her again the next. You'll mourn the end of your marriage, and wonder about your future.

Research shows that divorce is the second most traumatic events in the lives of people, the first being the death of a spouse and this stress is capable of expediting severe spell of depression and angst to the brain’s emotional center. Regardless of the situation, when a marriage ends, it can almost be compared to a death because in reality it is the loss of a loved one. And when something dies, there is a period of mourning. The person you were married to has been part of your life for quite a while and now it’s over. It’s certainly understandable that you would feel sad and scared, since many of your dreams were tied up in the marriage. You might even be thinking that you’ll never love again or that no one will ever love you. Maybe you’re thinking that it was your entire fault. Whatever thoughts and feelings you have, they are natural feelings.

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Grief

Losing an important correlation in your life is tantamount to death. It is the demise of an ‘Us’ that was once full of dreams, trust & security. Divorce means loss of spouse, loss of family life, loss of common home, loss of friends and loss of social status. For kids too, it means losing that perfect family and one parent forever. With such huge losses, it is natural to grieve. Mothers may also feel financial burden if they have to take care of her kids solely. Facing financial problems after divorce could be one of the major reasons of grief.

Divorce changes our every day schedule and lifestyle. With no one around to share one’s thoughts & sentiments, one certainly feels lonely and this may also lead to reduced work efficiency.

In divorce, there is usually ‘a leaver’ (spouse who decides to call off the relationship) and ‘the left’ (spouse who is not the initiator & is left out to accept the divorce). ‘The left’ is usually the one who grieves most and he/she may also be more frustrated & angrier. The situation becomes more complex and anger more intense, if your ex-spouse has left you for someone else. Sometimes people are unable to identify the difference between grief & anger or may be the grief remains concealed below anger. In reality, anger is just a facade, an emotional cover up. When the true feelings cloaked up in your heart are unveiled, then do you realize the true meaning of loss and divorce and start mourning your sufferings.

 There are various stages of grief which everyone person goes through while grieving. It is important to pass on all the phases of grieving to complete the healing process & to emerge a stronger person.
  1. Denial and shock - The initial reaction to any heart wrenching experience such as divorce or death is denial or non-acceptance. You may still be looking for solutions to your matrimonial crisis and try to work out with your spouse. You may also try to restore & save your marriage.
  2. Anger and frustration - You may be angry with yourself and your spouse for not being able to continue the nuptial arrangement and for separating. You may want to fight back & get even with your ex in any way even if it involves your kids.
  3. Depression - You may have overwhelming feelings of sullenness, hopelessness, numbness, self-pity, abandonment, desperation, resentment and moodiness. Lack of control over the situation may make you feel depressed & even suicidal. You may feel like crying all the time but once you pass on this stage and overcome all the fears, you’ll feel liberated.
  4. Acceptance - Once you’ve accepted that your marriage is finally over, you’ll find it easier to let go everything. You’ll feel unburdened & soon realize that it’s better to live alone rather be unhappy together.

Once you’ve gotten over the legal procedures, you may have the feeling of let go and will try to move on in life. Now is the time to start thinking and planning about your bright future.

Several tips for grieving after a breakup or divorce:
  • Don’t fight your feelings – It’s normal to have lots of ups and downs, and feel many conflicting emotions, including anger, resentment, sadness, relief, fear, and confusion. It’s important to identify and acknowledge these feelings. While these emotions will often be painful, trying to suppress or ignore them will only prolong the grieving process.
  • Talk about how you’re feeling – Even if it is difficult for you to talk about your feelings with other people, it is very important to find a way to do so when you are grieving. Knowing that others are aware of your feelings will make you feel less alone with your pain and will help you heal. Journaling can also be a helpful outlet for your feelings.
  • Remember that moving on is the end goal – Expressing your feelings will liberate you in a way, but it is important not to dwell on the negative feelings or to over-analyze the situation. Getting stuck in hurtful feelings like blame, anger and resentment will rob you of valuable energy and prevent you from healing and moving forward.
  • Remind yourself that you still have a future – When you commit to another person, you create many hopes and dreams. It’s hard to let these dreams go. As you grieve the loss of the future you once envisioned, be encouraged by the fact that new hopes and dreams will eventually replace your old ones.

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Taking care of yourself

Learning to take care of yourself can be one of the most valuable lessons you learn following a divorce or breakup. As you feel the emotions of your loss and begin learning from your experience, you can resolve to take better care of yourself and make positive choices going forward.

Self-care tips:
  • Make time each day to nurture yourself. Help yourself heal by scheduling daily time for activities you find calming and soothing. Go for a walk in nature, listen to music, enjoy a hot bath, get a massage, read a favorite book, take a yoga class, or savor a warm cup of tea.
  • Pay attention to what you need in any given moment and speak up to express your needs. Honor what you believe to be right and best for you even though it may be different from what your ex or others want. Say "no" without guilt or angst as a way of honoring what is right for you.
  • Stick to a routine. A divorce or relationship breakup can disrupt almost every area of your life, amplifying feelings of stress, uncertainty, and chaos. Getting back to a regular routine can provide a comforting sense of structure and normalcy.
  • Take a time out. Try not to make any major decisions in the first few months after a separation or divorce, like starting a new job or moving to a new city. If you can, wait until you’re feeling less emotional so that you can make better decisions.
  • Avoid using alcohol, drugs, or food to cope. When you’re in the middle of a breakup, you may be tempted to do anything to relieve your feelings of pain and loneliness. But using alcohol, drugs, or food as an escape is unhealthy and destructive in the long run. It’s essential to find healthier ways of coping with painful feelings.
  • Explore new interests. A divorce or breakup is a beginning as well as an end. Take the opportunity to explore new interests and activities. Pursuing fun, new activities gives you a chance to enjoy life in the here-and-now, rather than dwelling on the past.

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Divorce Depression Symptoms

If you’re not sure about your feelings and whether you are experiencing depression, there are some particular symptoms that are good indicators as to whether you are dealing with depression. You might be finding that you are unable to sleep or perhaps in contrast sleeping more than usual. Perhaps you are feeling deep fatigue or unusual aches and pains. Some people find themselves overeating or drinking alcohol excessively to mask the pain. Still others seem very angry or irritable, or perhaps you are feeling restless, something you don’t often feel. Most of these feelings are very normal for someone struggling with a divorce. It’s when the feelings don’t pass or if you are feeling worthless or have recurrent thoughts of dying that you should reach out for help. Sometimes, for a short while, you might want to have a professional help you through the rough patch.

Complications

Depression is most common among those who experience complications in the divorce process. The most common complication is continued attachment to the former spouse. This lack of acceptance of the ending of the relationship creates a rollercoaster of false hope followed by further disappointment, doubt and isolation. Although most people do not feel a sense of finality to the relationship when filing for separation, most have accepted the reality of the divorce after a year of separation. Those who have not accepted the ending of the relationship continue to feel a longing for their former partner and continue to have social, relational and emotional difficulties. Other complicating factors which increase the risk of depression include disagreements about parenting after the divorce, custody disputes and unresolved financial entanglements.

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Adjustment

Although divorce is a stressor which creates a higher risk for depression, most divorced individuals report the long-term (between two and four years) effects of a divorce to be an opportunity for personal growth. After successfully navigating the uncoupling process and dealing with difficult emotions, one can then begin to experience a sense of relief and hope for happiness. Although the project of rearranging one's life and healing can take years, most people eventually adjust well. A crucial element to healthy adjustment is support. Support provides the opportunity to prevent distorted ways of thinking about yourself or relationships. Helpful friends and family open the door to developing new social and intimate relationships. Support also aids in preventing the trap of isolation which can further complicate the influence of depression.

Getting Help

Help is available in many forms. Some people think that contacting a counselor or therapist will result in a prolonged period of intensive therapy. They have visions of lying on a couch recounting their life stories while the therapist scribbles notes and mumbles to himself.

In reality, counseling or psychotherapy is not like that, at all. A counselor or psychologist may feel it's necessary to see you only one or two times. You don't have to lie on a couch, and a counselor of psychologist does not judge your character.

If you're still uncomfortable with counseling or therapy, consider attending a support group. Many churches and synagogues offer these groups for people dealing with changes such as the loss of a spouse, parent, or child; separation or divorce; and illness. You can find support groups in your area listed online.

You can also search for mental health services available in your area. Many communities offer counseling services and other mental health resources. Some of these services may be available at little or no cost, depending on your ability to pay.

Keep the following considerations in mind if you're wrestling with the idea of looking for some help:
  • Nearly everyone experiences a period in life where they could benefit from professional help.
  • There is no shame in seeking help for an emotional problem.
  • Finding help can allow you to move past your problems and get on with your life.
  • Taking the initiative to find help is a sign of strength, not weakness. It is a step in taking control of your life.
  • Living with depression, or in a prolonged depressed state, isn't necessary. Most doctors and therapists recommend a combination of medications and counseling to treat depression, and it's usually done successfully.

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