The Break-Up Survival Guide (Depression and Anxiety Edition): Let Yourself Go Through the Process

I’m writing this bit first because I think it kind of serves as a model to fit the rest of my suggestions into. See, a process has multiple stages that require different behaviours and such from each stage, so it’s very much about context and so all the rest of what I will say fits with different stages of the process, so I think this is an excellent place to start.

Dealing with a break-up (or any loss) really is a process. For me, it’s been a very long process.

This has been my life:

I dreaded my shifts at work so much that I was nauseous pretty much all the time. Because of this, I ate less and lost a lot of weight and even had to have someone cover my shifts, losing precious wages as a result. I was tired all the time. I didn’t want to get out of bed, but I had to because I had a job and I needed to survive somehow. I kept busy all day, trying to distract myself. All I wanted to do was sleep, but I also dreaded falling asleep because I kept dreaming about the two of them together, which is somehow worse than any dream I’ve had about my abusive father or about that guy who stalked me in high school or the nightmares that would leave my heart pounding when I awoke. And then, of course, having dreamed about them, they were the first thing in my head when I woke up. And I just wanted them out of my head, but I couldn’t get them out.

I really didn’t know what to do with myself because nothing made me happy. Watching movies and reading books were depressing because I’d see these interactions between the characters that reminded me of him and I together. I was too miserable to try writing music or journaling or blogging because writing out the way I was feeling meant thinking about what I was feeling which I did not want to do. I avoided friends and family because talking to them about how I was meant rehashing all this break-up stuff and I didn’t want to think about it.

The only thing that truly distracted me was Pinterest. Bizarrely enough, looking at photos of wedding dresses did not make me depressed. It was actually a pleasantly neutral stimulus that only had the thought process of “Wow, that’s really pretty”. But as soon as I had to pull myself away from the distraction, I fell right back into the abyss.

Things got tense around the apartment because my mom was the only person I was really talking to and so I leaned way more heavily on her while she still had a physically demanding full-time job to work, plus commute, plus grocery shopping and bill-paying, plus I was so tired and unmotivated that I didn’t keep up with any of my chores which meant she was either having to do the chores herself or expend the energy of nagging me to get my butt into gear.

Now, this isn’t what I would call “healthy” behaviour on my part and I hope you never feel this awful. Having depression and anxiety probably amplified “normal” break-up feelings and thoughts into these mutant, unmanageable, life-sucking emotions that I had. But my point is this stage will end. IT WILL END. Trust in that. It will end. You will come through this and learn to live again.

It will take some trial and error to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t, when it works and when it doesn’t. That’s part of the process (and I’m guessing that’s why I hear people say the first break-up is usually the worst: because you haven’t worked out how to cope yet).

Sometimes, you will regress. There will be times when you’ll think you’re getting the hang of it and think you’re getting better, then a particularly bad day will hit you and you’ll wonder if you’ve made any progress at all. And the answer is, yes, you’ve made progress. Sometimes you’ll have bad days that seem to come out of nowhere. That doesn’t mean you haven’t been trying or that you haven’t made improvements. It’s simply a fact of life.

I’ve, ahem,¬†created a visual to show you what the process isn’t.

nottheprocess

(Please excuse the lack of artistry; I have too many other things to do than to care about whether I’ve mastered Paint on my computer)

 

I think a lot of us expect our process to look like this. We think all we need to do is cross this line, cross a certain barrier and then we’re “fixed”, like magic, and we never go back. We’re cured! Hooray!

Except, in all likelihood, it won’t happen like that.

I think the process actually looks more like this visual from page 98 of When Love Hurts (Second Edition) by Jill Cory and Karen McAndless-Davis. The book is geared specifically towards women who have experienced abuse in a romantic relationship and I would highly recommend it to anyone who has experienced abuse, but I found this visual so helpful that I think it would apply to all kinds of losses, even ones where abuse isn’t involved.

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Diagram 11.1 The Healing Process, from page 98 of When Love Hurts (Second Edition) by Jill Cory and Karen McAndless-Davis

 

You see above that there is a figure eight. The top half of that figure eight is rebuilding. The bottom half is grieving. And notice that the arrows circle around and between both the top and bottom, through both grieving and rebuilding. The arrows don’t go one way. This isn’t a thing where you start out grieving and then BAM! You’re healed and you never go back. It’s a cycle. It’s a process.

How long this process lasts will vary between situations and people. Sometimes the process can be concluded in a matter of minutes. Other times it can take months, years, decades…. Sometimes it’s the rest of your life. Before you’re too disheartened at the thought of this process being lifelong, remember that rebuilding is also part of the process. There will be times where you do feel good. And the more time that goes by, the more opportunities you have to heal, you will be spending more time in that rebuilding stage and less time trudging through that grieving stage.

And there will be some periods that are worse than others. Milestones are what comes to mind. Things like his birthday, him getting a promotion at work, what would’ve been our anniversary, starting school again (this time without him to wander around campus with), etc are awful because I don’t get to share it with him anymore.

And little everyday things will sometimes get you down too. Things like my mom buying a DVD that I’d wanted to watch with him. Or listening to a CD and wishing I could listen to it with him because it’s just the sort of thing he’d like to listen to.

But it will pass. You’re not irreparably screwed up. One day, it’ll get to the point where the sad thoughts drop out of your mind as quickly as they popped into it. You’ve just got to stay alive and keep going and you’ll get there. I’m finally starting to get to that point (and I drift away from it… then come back to it…).

There might be people acting like you should be “over it” by now. But they really don’t have any right to tell you when you should get over something. Those people are likely well-intentioned and can’t bear to see you in pain, or perhaps you’re taking longer than they did to deal with it and they don’t understand why, but I find the process is something you need to go through yourself, in your own time. As already said, the length of the process will be different for each person and rushing it is not going to help you. Just trust that you will get through it. Others have done it, I’m doing it right now, and you can too.

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Break-Up Drama

Well, this post has been a long time coming. My boyfriend broke up with me in January. Now it is August. I’m still not over it. See, I work with my ex-boyfriend… and his new girlfriend… and his mom. It has been an ordeal. Hands down, worst I have ever felt in my life and that is really saying something.

This is the first time I’ve been able to distance myself from it emotionally to write about it at all.

It took ages for me to even start thinking of him as my ex. We’d broken up once before and wound up getting right back together and picking up where we left off, so I didn’t really believe that this break-up would be permanent. I thought maybe once he’d had a bit of space and gotten his life together a bit more that maybe we could try again.

But then he started making moves on my co-worker, in front of me, while we were all at work. For a while, I ignored it, because surely he wouldn’t be stupid enough to jump into a new relationship when he hadn’t even worked out the conflicts in the old one (conflict being him being severely depressed and he’s lousy at dealing with it).

Then I couldn’t ignore it any longer and confronted him on it, which resulted in the most unproductive conversation I’ve ever had which did not give me any answers or solutions whatsoever and it was like talking to a brick wall because though he did pick up the phone, he gave me the silent treatment the whole time.

I then wound up talking to his new girlfriend because he wouldn’t give me the truth about what the hell was going on (she did, though), then talked to his mom, because he’d never told her the truth about our relationship and it made me uncomfortable working with her when she didn’t know the truth, and then had to talk to my boss to try and do some damage control on the situation. Did this all outside of work out in an attempt to maintain some professionalism.

I wound up switching locations to get space away from my ex and his girlfriend, which resulted in cutting back my hours and turning down what was basically a promotion. I still work half my shifts with my ex, which is bearable, but at least his girlfriend isn’t there.

Then as soon as I get switched over to the other location, his girlfriend starts hanging out there because she’s out of school now and only works part-time and apparently doesn’t have a life outside of him.

After a few weeks of this, I wound up hissing at the two of them for having no subtlety or discretion. It’s not like they’re making out or anything, but it’s still my place of work and they’re flirting in front of me and I certainly wouldn’t be behaving the way they’re behaving if I was in either of their positions. And that’s what I’m really upset about: that they aren’t treating me with the same respect and consideration that I would be treating them with if the roles were reversed. They don’t seem to grasp this concept; she got uncomfortable and booked it out of there about a sentence into this debate while my ex was a jerk about the whole thing and told me to “get over it, deal with, and grow up”, completing missing the point. This isn’t about my feelings for him but about his behaviour, then he goes making it about my feelings.

I told my best friend about it and she says, “Woah, that’s a lot of drama. And he told you to grow up?! Sounds like he’s the one who needs to grow up!”

“That’s what I told him: ‘You grow up’. Then I walked away.”

“Good for you!”

And really, it is a lot of drama. I often wave my arms around, talking to myself, and mutter, “I’m twenty-two years old! I’m too old for these high school dramatics!” And sure, he is four years my junior, but I wasn’t that bad when I was his age!

These events were spaced out over the course of six agonizing months.

This is probably the first time in my life where I’ve actually wanted to forget something. Generally, I value my memories as an important part of my identity and have no desire to part with even the negative ones because I consider them so essential to who I am, but this misery has been so all-consuming that I never want to reflect upon it again. It got to the point where I didn’t really care who I was anymore as long as I could be happy again.

A break-up is bad enough, but combine it with severe anxiety and depression and I’m amazed it didn’t kill me. Honestly, there were times when I really did think it would kill me. But, somehow, it didn’t.

See, whenever you watch a movie or read a book, the romance always ends with happily ever after, with the two happy and in love. But the thing is, it doesn’t always end that way. Honestly, I love romance (I watch, I laugh, I weep) and I love seeing the two fall in love and a movie about people falling out of love would probably be depressing to me. But the result of so many movies portraying that “happily ever after” and only that is that when you don’t get to have that, you feel really alone, like you’re the one person who can’t get what they want or need. The problem is that your loss is never really represented in storytelling and so you feel really alone.

And that’s why I’m talking about it here. Because I want you to know that it won’t kill you, and that you’re not alone in this, and that others have been as miserable as you are right now and those others have learned to be happy again. You will survive, as many have done before you, and you will one day be telling someone about how you survived, giving them the strength to go on.

And so I’ll talk about the effects the break-up and depression and anxiety has had on me, and what I’ve been doing to deal with it, but I don’t want to do that today because a) that would be one hell of a long blog post and I’m exhausted and b) this post has the backstory of my failed relationship and I want it separate from the other stuff because the other stuff is, in my view, more positive, and I don’t want it tainted with the misery of thinking about my ex and how things ended with us. So use this as a reference post because I don’t intend to talk about the whole uncomfortable situation anymore.