You’ve lost something big. It’s OK to grieve. Just don’t get stuck there.
A few months ago, I went to a luncheon for the family law section of the Tarrant County Bar Association. 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.
The biggest difference between situational depression and clinical depression is that loss, like death or divorce, causes situational depression.
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.
1. 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.
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.
2. 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 isn’t 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.
3. 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.
4. Get more human touch.
What surprises most of the people I work with 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.
I’ll bet that you’re thinking is that these ideas are great — 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.
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!
5. Imagine the two of us are meeting for lunch one year from today…
As we get seated, I can see that you’re doing great — much different from the person who was struggling with divorce depression. I say to you, “You look wonderful and I can tell you’re feeling great. What’s life like for you now?”
Really think about my question. What life do you imagine for yourself one year from today? Write it all down and include all the details.
Where will you be living? What type of work will you be doing? What will you be doing for fun? How will you be feeling?
Include everything in as much detail as you can. In fact, the more detail you can include the better.
This exercise helps you set the stage for what’s next in your life. The more you are able to focus on creating exactly what it is you want from your life the sooner you’ll be able to stop grieving so deeply for what you’re losing.
Each of my five tips for how to deal with depression resulting from divorce should build one on the other.
Start with writing your goodbye letter. After you’ve really grieved (aka cry or sob) over what you’re saying goodbye to, write your hello letter. Start noticing what is good about now. Then you’re ready to start hearing what you’re saying to yourself and make sure you turn up the volume on the kindness and support.
Once you’ve got your internal dialogue tuned to a positive note, be sure to take care of your need for casual human contact which could be as simple as giving and getting more hugs. Finally, when you can start to imagine how wonderful your life could be a year from now, start painting that picture and taking the steps to make it a reality.
By the time you’ve completed all five of my tips, you’ll be well on your way to making the rest of your life the best of your life instead of being stuck in the quicksand of divorce depression.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and personal life coach helping people just like you who are dealing with the stress and pain of divorce. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. And, if you’re ready, you can take the first step to work with me as your personal coach.