Heartbreak hits us in all kinds of ways, sparked by all sorts of very sad things.
For some it’s the loss of someone precious unexpectedly, hitting suddenly – or perhaps slowly – washing us up in a world that feels like a parallel universe.
For others it might be a series of hits, with losses, challenges, trauma stacking up layers of difficulty until life reaches an unsteady tipping point and everything turns upside down.
For me it was the latter. The loss of several close family members, coupled with the gruelling break-up of a long-term relationship plus a bunch of physical and mental health problems created a heady cocktail of horribleness.
When I tipped, I tipped into chronic and debilitating anxiety and depression.
Granted our tough times circumstances are all different, but our responses to challenges can be have much in common. It might not be anxiety or depression, as with me. It could be some of these other things:
The physical pain of heartbreak, perhaps? Headache, chest ache, ear ache, neck ache. The sore pieces of us varied but similarly awful when enduring loss, trauma or grief.
The destabilising of one’s whole world? That’s pretty agonising too. The sort of life you thought you had is gone. The world you thought was this way, is that way. Even the YOU you thought you knew is different now.
Sleeplessness, loss of optimism, appetite shifts, memory lapses, shame, constant rumination, drinking too much, hypervigilance. The list goes on.
For many of us grief or the mental health troubles associated with our tough time create financial challenges, adding a whole other layer of unwanted crap.
This cascade of complications can leave us feeling really sad as well as really, really stuck.
When I felt like this I had no idea what to do. So I did nothing. I was well enough to keep working, so I worked every day and spent my spare time crying or having panic attacks or trying to pretend I was okay when my kids were around.
I tried the usual self-care things, but nothing worked Instead I tucked my heartbroken self into bed with relentless episodes of Gilmore Girls or Hyori’s Bed and Breakfast.
Eventually, I got wise to the fact that dark rooms and square eyes punctuated by Olympic-level sobbing was not really going to cut it. It was quite the revelation, but one I accepted pretty grumpily because frankly I was too terrified to move a muscle in any direction, lest things get worse.
Around a year into this crappy time I was driving one of my kids to his job and all that changed.
I was whizzing down the freeway and he was chatting away next to me and I started crying (again!) Was he saying something upsetting to me? No, reader. No, he was not. Rather I was crying because that is just where the heartbroken me was at. I was crying because apparently crying was my job.
I turned my head and drove the rest of the way looking a little bit sideways. This is not something you should try yourself. You could crash. Then I went home and booked a GP appointment and worked through the process of getting my Professional Crying Self to a psychologist.
This was the first positive step in the direction of starting to get better and one that I would recommend to anyone else who is working through a swamp of difficulty and associated heartbreak.
I learned a lot of things as I began to get better and feel better, recording them carefully to share with other sad people and their loved ones someday.
If a favourite person is struggling
- Stay in touch – on their terms.
- Listen to your person, but don’t advise them. Every personal crisis is nuanced.
- Don’t try to ‘fix’ your person’s feelings.
- Be patient with your person and help them connect to support if they are willing.
- If you’re helping them, look after your own mental health too.
If you are struggling
- Prioritise the simplest self-care – nourishing food, quiet times, sleep.
- Allow yourself time to convalesce. You don’t have to keep your chin up.
- Write down 3 good things you notice each day, however small. This is a proven feel-better tool.
- Spend time outside when you can. You don’t have to be super active if you’re not up to it. You can still get feel-good benefits by being still in nature.
- Know that you might not have the answers, and that getting professional support may nudge you into a less horrible place. Please know that it won’t always feel this way.
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