Today’s guest post from Kathleen Edwards on how to survive the stress of divorce is a poignant one. The storm called “divorce” has been one that many people I know have been through and come out the other side in different forms of themselves. Yes, it is a major event that typically changes one’s self. Here is Kathleen’s experience.
My name is Kathleen and I signed my divorce papers exactly one year ago. At the age of 39, I never thought I’d be where I am now: renting a small apartment, raising my son Jackson, aged six, virtually by myself, and working and studying part-time. I am lucky in that I live just a few blocks away from my mom and stepdad. They love my son and are always there when he needs a last-minute pick-up for, or when he needs to stay overnight because I start my shift early. I am a nurse and sometimes, my shift can start early in the morning; way before Jackson has to be at school.
How did my mother survive the stress of divorce?
I always hoped to avoid divorce after seeing what it did to mom. She and dad divorced when I was 16, and I remember how hard it was on mom. Dad left her for someone at the office and it was something that was emotionally tough for her to take. She cried for the person she thought would be her life companion. I remember her saying that if this had happened many years ago, she would have been able to withstand it much better.
Divorcing in one’s winter years was harder, she noted, because she and dad had so many emotional and financial ties, it was impossible to just ‘cut her losses and start from scratch’. She was severely depressed and it took several years before she found herself again. She did so through volunteer work, where she met Bill, my stepdad. Today, my mother has more than rebuilt her life. But in her darkest moments, I was afraid she would never make it out.
Divorce and mental health
Because I had mom’s experience to work from, I knew the devastation involved when you survive the stress of divorce, such as its toll on mental health. Studies show that simply having heavy debts is linked to a greater chance of depression and suicidal thoughts and the stress of divorce can act as a trigger for another mental condition: anxiety, something I had wrestled with in my 20s.
I was lucky, in a way, to know how anxiety can take hold of your body and mind, making your heart race, your muscles contract; the way it can feel as if you cannot breathe, or you are having a heart attack. I was lucky because I already knew the important ways to battle anxiety. It is mainly through controlled breathing, a powerful way to lower the heart rate and to stop the body from hyperventilating.
Reconciliation as a chosen road
Divorce is the second highest life event on the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory. Because I already knew how stress trigger panic attacks, I resolved to be 100% proactive. My aim, I decided, was not to fight against my husband or engage in a custody war. As hard as it was, I opted to go the route of friendly settlement.
My ex and I each had our respective lawyers, but we also enlisted the help of a life coach. She was amazing, guiding us towards common ground and always helping us focus on the one thing that would glue us together always: our son, Jackson. After a few months with our life coach, the tension became less and, I have to say, almost disappeared. Because we were no longer defensive, we were able to meet for coffee many times and discuss issues such as joint debts, property, accounts, etc., coming to a very fair settlement that even our lawyers congratulated us over.
It is illusory to think that divorce isn’t stressful. Even the most idyllic relationships or friendships get strained when children and financial considerations like homes, pension plans, etc. are involved. We work hard for our security. Even though we may be emotionally ready to part with a spouse, working our way through the complex mire of our joint finances can be tough.
Being proactive doesn’t simply involve focusing on your relationship with your partner, but also on yourself. Transcendental meditation helped me out when I was feeling stressed or down in the dumps, as did CrossFit and painting. In the end, to survive the stress of divorce and other vicissitudes is a personal journey that each of us should take in the way that most fulfills us and gives us the peace we crave.
About Kathleen Edwards
Kathleen Edwards is a freelance writer and editor. She specializes in health and finance topics and loves the research process involved in her job. When not working she loves to travel with her son, music and hiking.