A few months ago, I went to a luncheon for the family law section of the Tarrant County Bar Association. By attending these luncheons, attorneys receive continuing education credits and a great lunch with not only their peers, but complimentary service providers like me. The topic of discussion for this particular luncheon was electronic medical records and how they might impact divorces.
What I found particularly interesting about the presentation was how much the presenter emphasized the difference between clinical depression and what I call situational depression (the kind that is often experienced in divorce). At first, I was a bit surprised that she would spend so much time doing this. But then I remembered that the popular idea of depression is that there's only one kind and that there's only one solution: immediately get a couple of prescriptions — one for the depression and one to be able to sleep at night.
In my profession as a divorce coach, I work with people experiencing situational depression all the time. The biggest difference between situational depression and clinical depression is that situational depression is caused by a loss like death or divorce. Most people going through divorce experience some degree of situational depression as part of the normal grieving process over all the losses the end of the marriage brings. If not dealt with appropriately, situational depression can linger for much longer than it needs to. I don't want that to happen to you. Because I want you to recover from your divorce depression as quickly as possible, here are my top 5 tips for how to deal with depression that's triggered by the loss of your marriage.
One of the first exercises I give to nearly every one of my divorce clients is to write a goodbye letter. In this exercise, you sit down with a pen and paper and write a letter of goodbye to everything and everyone that isn't the same now that you're divorcing. Some of the things you might want to say goodbye to are your role as spouse, the traditions you had of celebrating birthdays and holidays, and seeing your kids every day. Some of the people you may want to say goodbye to are your ex, your in-laws and your friends who aren't able to stand by your side during your major life transition.
Here's a good-bye letter based on one that a client wrote:
Goodbye to everything I thought my life was and everything I thought my life would be. Goodbye to perceived financial and emotional security. Goodbye to my home — the place that I brought my babies home and thought we would send them off to college. Goodbye to thinking that marriages can last forever and faith in love. Goodbye to trust and the belief that a man can be faithful and unselfish. Goodbye to trusting my heart fully to someone else. I will forever be skeptical of love. Goodbye to feeling so lucky that my kids would grow up with a "real" family. Goodbye to walking my kids home from school, being homeroom Mom, and being close friends with their teachers. I thought you were someone you weren't — loyal, respectful, proud of me. Goodbye to excusing your annoying habits, and condescending behavior. Goodbye to shopping for cars and the other toys you spent more time with than me or your kids. You broke my heart, and my dreams and now I will use the broom and dustpan to gather them up, see what's left, pick out what I want of what's left and mosaic them with something new.
As you can probably tell from this example, writing a goodbye letter takes courage. It requires you to come face-to-face with what you're losing with the end of your marriage. BUT the reward for doing this is a catharsis. You'll know exactly what it is that you're grieving and begin to have a better idea of how to deal with your situational depression because you’ll be able to see what you can work on to put your grief behind you.
My second tip for how to deal with depression associated with divorce is to write a hello letter. In this letter you'll write about all the things you're happy about not having to deal with any more and all the new things you're looking forward to. Some of the things you might be able to say hello to now that you're divorced are those things you used to love to do that you gave up for your ex, a peaceful night not disrupted by window-rattling snoring, and no more watching your ex pick their teeth (or nose) at the table.
The hello letter is a great way to start setting your sights on what's good about now. By becoming more and more aware of what's truly right about your life right now, your situational depression will start to lessen. Because it's such a powerful tool for moving on from divorce, writing a hello letter doesn't need to be a one-time event. As you discover more things that are good about your life now, you could write a new hello letter or add on to your original one.
My third tip for how to deal with depression caused by divorce is to start paying attention to the conversation you’re having with yourself. If you're like most people, your internal conversation is probably something less than complimentary. A great way to change your internal conversation is to start name calling. No, I don't mean calling your ex and their attorney names. I mean calling yourself positive, uplifting names. You can read more about it in an article I wrote for Your Tango, Want to Get Over Your Divorce? Start Name Calling.
My fourth tip for how to deal with depression caused by divorce is to get more human touch. One of the things that most people I work with are surprised by is how much they miss just the casual contact of marriage — the hugs, hand holding, arm around the shoulders and even bumping into each other in the kitchen or bathroom. Some of the things I'll recommend to clients who are missing casual physical contact with another person are get a massage, become known by your friends as a hugger, get a mani and/or pedi, and hug yourself.
Now I'll bet that you're thinking they're all great ideas except for hugging yourself which seems kinda lame. The thing is that giving yourself a hug is a wonderful way to treat yourself well and goes hand in hand with learning to call yourself positive, uplifting names. Now when you give yourself a hug, I find the kind that feels the best is to wrap your arms across your chest so your hands are touching just above your armpits. You'll want to hold the hug for a bit and focus on it. Before you know it, you'll probably sigh which is a pretty good sign you're enjoying the hug. But, don't just take my word for it. Try it yourself!
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