The Side Effect of Divorce That Nobody Talks About (And What To Do About It)
I bet you’re tired. Actually, I would guess that you’re exhausted. That the mere thought of opening the latest letter from the lawyer seems to call for more energy than you can summon and there is hardly enough motivation to get through the day, much less build a new life.
You’re not alone.
In fact, fatigue is an extremely common side effect of divorce. And yet nobody seems to talk about it.
Why Are You Exhausted?
The Legal Proceedings
I joked with my mom during my divorce that I had garnered enough experience to get a job as a paralegal. I was only half kidding. Even the most amicable divorce can turn into a part-time job as you assemble the necessary documentation and negotiate the details. And since most of us can’t quit our day jobs to tackle the demands of divorce, the legal process inevitably wears us out.
If you spent the day clearing trees from your land and cutting them into firewood, would be surprised at your level of exhaustion at the end of the day? Probably not. During divorce, you’re engaging in that level of emotional exertion as you face and process the emotions brought forth by the end of a marriage. Even though you don’t have the sore muscles to show for it, you’re doing a lot of heavy lifting.
Slack in Self-Care
In the first few months during my divorce, most of my calories came from Cheetos and frozen waffles. Your comfort food of choice may be different, but I bet that your diet has recently suffered. Nutrition, exercise and sleep are all important to our overall energy levels and they all have tendency to fall by the wayside during divorce.
Establishing New Patterns and Habits
What takes more effort – completing a common task at work or performing a new and unfamiliar assignment? During divorce, very little of your life is rote and routine and almost everything is unknown and un-mastered. The brain requires more energy to lay down new neural pathways than to simply follow well-worn patterns.
Fighting the Un-fightable
How much time do you spend wanting things to be different? Do those thoughts change anything? It’s exhausting when you’re fighting against something that you cannot change. And yet, during divorce, we all do it.
How to Overcome Exhaustion
Attend to the Physical
It all starts by taking care of your body. Make sure to add sufficient fruits, vegetables and protein to your Cheetos and waffles diet. Make sleep a priority. Find some form of movement that feels good to you right now and do it. Yes, exercise takes energy. But it also creates it.
Prepare For a Marathon
No, not a literal marathon (unless that appeals to you!), but a metaphorical one. The entire divorce process will most likely take more than a year. It’s not a sprint. If you start out too fast, you’ll most likely burn out before the end. Conserve your energy, take it slow and steady. Adjust your expectations as needed and make sure you have some people on the sidelines cheering you on.
Are you an extrovert that feeds off the energy of those around you or are you an introvert, needing time alone to recharge? Whatever your personal orientation, take care to honor it. Take the time to identify the ways that you recharge and then make plugging in a priority.
When we’re exhausted, it’s easy to collapse and refrain from getting up. This creates a negative feedback loop, inertia keeping you disengaged and compounding your fatigue. Make a concerted effort to play an active role in your life. Let inertia work for you, motivating you to keep going.
Embrace Starting Over
Starting over does require effort. And it also can create excitement (just think of the beginning of a new school year!). Capitalize on the latter by focusing on the areas that you can control. Recognize the opportunity inherent in beginnings. Put at least as much energy into creating the new as you do into dissembling the old.
When to Seek Help?
Sleeping Too Much or Not Enough
After a week of spending the entire night sitting on the edge of my bed, I knew that I needed help. Medication allowed me to get the rest I needed so that I could attend to the rest of the healing process. If you’re not sleeping or you’re sleeping too much, see a doctor. Help is available.
New Physical Symptoms
Mental stress can affect the body in myriad ways. In my case, the intense emotional trauma and severe lack of calories led to severe muscle tissue breakdown, which required medical intervention. Pay attention to your body and get checked out if something seems off.
Persistent Feelings of Hopelessness
Exhaustion can be a sign of depression. If the fatigue resists your efforts or is accompanied by feelings of hopelessness and defeatism, make an appointment with a mental health professional. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
The Good News…
Much of what you’re experiencing is temporary. The legal process will eventually be finalized. New habits and patterns will be established and able to be performed with little effort. The emotional onslaughts will be fewer and further between and you’ll get better at addressing them.
Yes, you’re exhausted. But it’s not permanent and it’s not fatal.
It’s simply the price of transformation.