Healing, but not quite there yet.

I’ve been through some hard times in my life, but I have never experienced the emotional set back of a painful divorce.  Made all the worse, I’m sure, because the divorce came suddenly, unexpected, and packaged with unemployment.

First, let me say, yes, I expected I would be blogging more since I picked it up again this spring.  I’m just not “there” yet emotionally.  It wasn’t until this past month—after 17 months of emotional blackness—I saw a faint glimmer of what appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel.  A very dim light.  So, what I’m saying is, the healing is going to take a bit longer than I thought.  In fact, I’ve underestimated the depth of this wound from the beginning.  I’ve known friends and family who have divorced, but never described the emotional setback I’m experiencing.  Grief, yes.  Sadness, anger, and loneliness, yes.  But panic attacks and being so depressed you can’t keep a job?  No.

I can’t seem to do much to hurry the healing process.  If I could I WOULD.  I just want to get back to normal—back to being my old self again.  And I am told I’m doing all the right things to get back on my feet emotionally and financially.

Maybe some of you can relate to these feelings.  I share them so you might know you haven’t lost your mind and you are not alone.  I tried many searches on the web to find articles written by people who have suffered the feelings I’ve had.  I didn’t find much.  Found a lot of doctors’ opinions, but nothing from the patients.

Few things feel worse than thinking you’ve lost your mind permanently, AND that no one else has ever felt this way.  Those are two terrifying feelings.

These are some of the emotional symptoms I’ve had since the divorce bomb dropped on me 17 months ago.  Panic attacks.  Yikes!  Threats of panic attacks.  Crippling boredom.  Desperate loneliness.  And debilitating fears.

Panic attacks.  Before the divorce, I had only experienced 3 mild panic attacks over the past 21 years.  I didn’t even know what they were when they were happening.  They were uncomfortable, scary, and brief.  But, I’d learned by the 3rd one what they were called, panic attacks.  Albeit mine were very mild.  That’s all the background I had before thrust into several real panic attacks after the divorce bomb.  After having one real panic attack, the experience is so horrible, just the threat of another panic attack is enough to trigger enough anxiety that having a full-panic attack feels imminent.  Though it was rare in my case the threat of one actually led to a a full blown attack.

After the first eight months of the divorce, the full-blown panic attacks stopped.  Thank God!  Over that time, I’d say I had four of them.  However, I’ve had dozens and dozens, maybe hundred or more “threats” of panic attacks over the past 17 months.  A threat of a panic attack is like a mild version of the real thing.  You might say the threat of a panic attack is more like an anxiety attack.  The symptoms are the same, only less severe.  I’ve read that people have different symptoms.  In my case, I felt terribly claustrophobic.  I felt I couldn’t breathe.  The worst feeling while having an attack was feeling like I’ve lost my mind and I’ll never be sane again.  Yikes that’s a frightening feeling.  Turns out, according to my grief therapist, what I was feeling is an absolutely normal reaction to a panic attack.

According to my therapist, and others I’ve talked to about it—including others who have had many full-blown panic attacks over the years—is that my brain is reacting quite normally to a lack of oxygen.

My emotions are on overdrive because of the loss and grief and anger and fear of the divorce and unemployment.  My body is reacting to all my pent-up emotions by shortening my breaths.  I’m breathing too shallow.  I am breathing too shallow for an hour or more without realizing it.  Shallow breathing is decreasing the oxygen to my lungs and consequently my bloodstream.  My brain is deprived then of needed oxygen.  My body, or in this case, my brain, has a natural “panic” reaction when it is deprived of oxygen—it triggers my fight-or-flight instincts. Panic. Panic attack.  I haven’t lost my mind, I’m having a physiological reaction to a lack of oxygen in my brain.  I may at times deprived my brain of adequate oxygen for an hour or more as my mind races about the divorce, loss, grief, etc.  Eventually my brain can’t take it anymore, and triggers the panic to get my attention and start breathing deeply again.

OK, I didn’t want to go into all that.  Some wacko liberal will read that and think “Conservatives are losing their minds!  This is why we need to grab all the guns.”

Anyway, I’m happy to report the full-blown panic attacks have gone away.  I haven’t had one in almost a year.  And severe threats of panic attacks, or anxiety attacks, are far far fewer now.  Increasingly less frequent. And less severe.  Thank God Almighty.  I’m not 100% free of them, but I’m much much better.  And getting better each month.  Painfully slow healing to be sure.

Crippling boredom.  Boredom so crippling, it takes a gargantuan effort to do take care of every day stuff like clean the house, wash the dishes, pay the bills, feed the dogs, etc.  Depression may be a better clinical description.  Boredom so boring, I don’t even have the energy to get out of it.

Desperate Loneliness.  This was a shocker to me.  Totally unlike me.  Before my 10-year marriage I was very independent.  I cherished my alone time.  I loved my time of solitude.  Loneliness rarely touched me.  I was perfectly happy alone with books, alone with my painting, alone with my guitar, alone with my writing, alone with whatever.  But after the divorce bomb, loneliness hit me like a ton of bricks.  Day after day after day.  And still does.  Yes, I increased my time with family and friends, but your family and friends can’t be with you night and day.  Eventually you come home alone.  Loneliness is not an emotion I’m accustomed to.  Until this divorce, it was a foreign emotion to me.  So, I didn’t suffer it well.  I had few tools of experience to draw on to combat it.  And all my friends are married, and working, and busy, for goodness sakes.  Time with my son was a wonderful relief.  But my loneliness was so acute, I started feeling loneliness 3 hours before saying goodbye to him when he went back to see his mom.

Debilitating fears.  OK, this topic could go on and on for hours.  See if I can shorten things here.  So many fears these past 17 months I wouldn’t know where to begin.  Except to say that I underestimated the toll of the losses.  Emotional losses and financial losses.  Financial fears day in and day out.  That takes a toll on you.  No work.  And then when I found some work, I found my confidence was completely shattered.  Performing the most mundane tasks at work were overwhelming.  Heck, just getting to the job was overwhelming.  I’m at the job, a wreck, wondering, “What in the hell is wrong with me?  Why can’t I do this easy simple job?  This job should be a piece of cake?  A ridiculously easy piece of cake, and yet I’m falling apart.  What has happened to me?”  That’s how I’m going to sum up this topic.  I’ll write about it more in the future.  But, let me say, I’m getting better.  My fears on the job and getting to the job have subsided greatly.  The fears are easing.  Enough so, that I’m gaining some confidence I don’t have to resign the job I’m at—like I did last fall.  Thank God!

For 17 months my mind was preoccupied with the loss of the marriage, worrying about finding work, fear of losing my house, fear, worry, loss, anger, pain, boredom, loneliness, etc. etc.  When I wasn’t having an anxiety attack, I was preoccupied with these thoughts.  At worse I was having a panic attack or a threat of one.  At best, I was simply obsessing about all the fears and loss, etc.  However, a month ago I noticed I was sitting on my patio having NORMAL thoughts for the first time in 17 months!  Not thinking about divorce and financial fears.  I thought to myself, “Oh my gosh.  I’m thinking like…normal thoughts.”   What a surprise.  What a relief that was, to NOT be thinking about the divorce, job, house, etc.  Today, a month later, I’m finding I’m having more and more moments of “normal” everyday thoughts—normal thoughts like I used to have before the divorce.

I need to be patient with the process.  I’m not a patient person.  Don’t underestimate how deep this wound may be, nor how long it takes to heal.  I’ve found it helpful asking God to help me accept I have limitations right now—emotional limitations.  And to give me hope all this will be over in time.

But, honestly, I do see progress. I’ll try focusing on the progress I’ve made rather than the long road ahead.  And give credit where credit is due:  God’s loving grace.  God is sending help.  God is sending people to help me.  And I hope by being honest and vulnerable with you, I’ve helped you in some small way.  You haven’t lost your mind permanently, and you are not alone.

Oh yeah.  And cry.  Cry your ass off.  I’ve cried in despair, and cried in gratitude.  Crying often is not a sign I’ve lost my mind.  Crying is a healing gift from God.



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