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.
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.