The Surprising Way Divorce Can Affect You

For the most part, I guess you could call my response to divorce typical.

I spent hours laying in bed, tears soaking the pillow beneath my matted hair, mourning the life and love that had been ripped from me.

I expressed anger and bitterness towards my couldn’t-be-ex-soon-enough as I learned of his betrayals and indiscretions.

I lived in the land beyond exhaustion, every little task seeming to require more from me than I could hope to summon.

I was afraid for my future, unsure how I was ever going to be okay and overwhelmed at the enormity of the task.

I felt isolated and alone, my fingers still trying to call him and my heart still hoping for an answer.

But those weren’t my only reactions.

There was another response.

An unexpected one.

A feeling I’ve come to name, “post-divorce mania.”

And its effects were just as real as the sadness, the anger and the fear.

Only with the added stress of wondering if my response was somehow abnormal and “wrong.”

I’ve since learned that it’s not an uncommon response to divorce.


I first became aware of post-divorce mania in myself in the intensity with which I pursued the felony case against my ex. I was driven. Obsessed. Filled with an energy that seemed to have no lower bound.

Next, my mania attached itself to my running. I went from 0 to 60 (okay, actually 5 miles to 13.1) in just a few short weeks. I could run for hours even though I was running on empty.

As winter set in and the weather became less conducive to running, I transferred my mania to dating. A spreadsheet was made. Every online “match” became a coffee date and the days without a meeting were few and far between.

The next and final fixation was my move into my own space. I dreamed and planned in equal measure, spending more time in my mental map of my as-yet-to-be-occupied apartment as I did in my actual life.


Post-divorce mania is characterized by an increase in energy accompanied by an intensity of focus. It’s a compelling drive, a sense of being propelled by an internal motor that refuses to idle. It often has an obsessive quality, focusing on one thing to the exclusion of all else.

This is a common obsession after infidelity.

It can be positive in tone, like my drive to add miles to my runs, or negative, like my compulsion to check on my ex’s whereabouts. Regardless, it tends to overstep the bounds from “healthy” into “too much.”

Post-divorce mania is initiated by a fear of slowing down and feeling too much. It’s maintained because it’s compulsive nature feeds our dopamine receptors, keeping us coming back for more. It’s a side effect of the need for action, the gas pedal to the floor and the steering misaligned.

Like with any mania, it’s hard to see the bigger picture while you’re in it. Especially because it feels better than being sad and powerless. And also like any mania, it’s unbalanced. Too much yang and not enough yin.

If you’re experiencing post-divorce mania, you’re not alone (I hear about it and see it all the time). You’re not abnormal (you’re trying to adapt to a difficult situation). And you’re not broken (like any phase, this too will pass).

Meanwhile, trust that you can survive slowing down and being with your feelings (and try some mindfulness meditation to encourage this). Make an effort to steer your energy towards positive endeavors. And remember to breathe.

 

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18 thoughts on “The Surprising Way Divorce Can Affect You

  1. I have not crossed over into divorce yet (how about that term — crossed over?). I find myself dreaming about the weekends spent camping and mountain biking, how I am going to set up the condo that I want to buy, trying to figure out how I am going to handle dating or even if I will date. There is so much. I can see how obsesion would be easy to fall into.

  2. At the time of my divorce decades ago, I stumbled across a book, my memory says, was titled “Crazy Time”, that talked about that post- divorce mania. It was very insightful and helpful. I don’t remember the author— book may still be out there. Alert— if you look for it, read book description to be sure it is right one. Memory tells me there were other book(s) with that same title on totally different topics.

  3. Yes!
    Your dating spreadsheet made me laugh and if I had time to date, I could totally see me doing that. Trying to control it all and believing I was. I got an extreme high from controlling what I ate and how much I didn’t. Then how much I could exercise. So unhealthy. It took me a while to realize what direction I was headed in and stop it before I wasn’t in control anymore. Running on empty and trying to control anything I could because I couldn’t control what happened to my marriage and family. Whew!

    1. Oh, yeah. I know that one. Did that as a teenager since I couldn’t control my parent’s marriage or my health. Aren’t humans fascinating?? 🙂

      Glad you recognized the pattern and halted before it got too bad!!

  4. I too am glad to be able to put a name on that year and a half. I quit all counseling and self-help groups I was attending because I was tired of talking and analyzing and ran miles upon hours upon miles, always training for the next race. Your term makes perfect sense. Thank you!

    1. You are welcome:) It was the only word I could think of that described the intensity of that period.

      And I had to laugh how many other divorcing/recently divorced people I met on my races. Maybe we should start a new divorce-themed annual or touring race:)

  5. Oh boy. I think you’ve pegged a friend of mine. When I went through divorce, nothing was over the top. I took my time, figured it out, rebuilt a solo life. But she jumped right into a relationship within a month after her divorce and has kept going. You just put it in perspective for me.

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