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How to Avoid Slipping Through the Cracks of Depression After a Breakup or Divorce
by Michele Germain, LCSW
Grief work does not progress in a neat orderly way. It can and usually will come up during certain times such as holidays, birthdays and other significant events following a divorce or significant break.
You can feel like you are fully recovered and then suddenly find yourself crying periodically, being irritable, withdrawn or hyperactive as a holiday approaches. You may not know why or what to do. It is important to know that this is normal. Understanding your feelings and anticipating this can help you avoid becoming depressed. If you embrace the feeling instead of de-pressing the feeling it will change. So here are some helpful things to consider as you continue up the hill.
It has been an arduous climb, but you are making your way. You are carrying your tools, called faith and courage as you negotiate the passage from your former life to single parenting.
You have forged ahead and made it through some of the rocky and difficult spots. You may have climbed on your hands and knees, but nonetheless you have gone a long way. Suddenly before you is a shaky ledge, called a holiday, birthday or other significant event. You view the ledge deciding how to proceed so you will not fall.
Single mothers and fathers both can feel loneliness and incompleteness during these times. These feelings can be brought on by certain events that are associated with togetherness and an intact family. You may find yourself thinking about the past, wishing for what used to be. Observing married friends can also cause you to feel different and out of step with the rest of the world.
How then do we bring joy into these events with our children when we feel like pretending these holidays or significant events do not exist? How do we honor our former spouse when we may still carry some anger or longing? And how do we create a day of love that allows everyone’s needs to be met?
1. Stay Present: Your well-being is basic to your children’s well-being. If you are out of touch with yourself, you will be out of touch with your children. Stop, look, and listen to how your feel. If you find yourself yelling at the dog, crying during a funny movie, making your TV your best friend, or filling every moment with activity, you have more grief work to do. Give yourself a day alone to feel sad and angry at what you have lost. Take time then to honor all that you are, by giving yourself something special. Being a mother or father is the most important work we can do, and we do not need to be married in order to celebrate this life’s work. We just need to commit to being the best that we can do.
2. Persist: Continue to rebuild your new life with your children, no matter what is going on around you. The creation of new and unique family experiences will keep us moving along the path. Have your children cook the holiday meal, create something artistic, decorate the house, or plan an outing with a friend. It is equally important to encourage your children to honor their other parent by helping them find a way to express their love. If the other parent is not in the child’s life due to death or unavailability, a more sensitive discussion is needed. Depending on the unique situation and the ages of your children, help them find a role model in their life, a teacher, an uncle or auth, so they, too, can feel like they have someone special to honor. By helping them accept the uniqueness of their family life, you will be doing your part in helping them make the climb. If you persist in a loving way, they will follow.
3. Plan Ahead: Plan, but do not force things to be a certain way. Your holiday or special event need not look like everyone else’s. When we let go of how things “should” look, we take away our limitations. I have found in my own experience as a single parent that I would often force things to be a certain way, trying to recreate what I had lost. Life became easier when I let go of how things, use to be, and kept an open mind about my plans. I was surprised by the many quality moments I experienced with friends and my children. I realized I was complete, and it didn’t matter if I was around the table with a gourmet meal or sitting in McDonald’s.
Rocky and rough ledges are part of our climb to our new life. Be willing to embrace your life as it is now in this moment, even if it is not exactly how you want it. Looking down the mountain to see where we have been is natural, but do not forget to keep looking ahead. The top of the mountain is within your reach and so is your dream of happiness. It is not beyond your ability to accomplish what you want, even though you may be approaching a shaky ledge. Stay present, persist in the climb and plan ahead. Above all, remember that happiness is not found in being like everyone else.
Michele Germain, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and certified bioenergetic analyst with over twenty-five years of experience. As a specialist in divorce recovery for the last decade, she has written articles and conducted workshops on the topic, and has been interviewed on television and radio programs. More information on her work can be found at www.michelegermain.com.