During and after divorce, depression either seems to tag along with us everywhere, or it drags us sobbing into a dark, debilitating hopelessness. Divorce is one of the most gut-wrenching situations we will ever experience. If you’re dealing with sadness or depression after divorce, just remember that it is normal…especially if you’re grieving the loss of a long marriage.
Early on in the process of divorce, many of us spend most of our time just trying to keep breathing…trying to survive every day without falling apart completely. This sounds overly dramatic to someone who has not experienced a midlife divorce. It’s not.
I am a normally upbeat, always-look-for-the-good kind of person. Never had I felt as miserable as I did during the whole ugly process of divorcing the person I had been married to for 33 years. My whole life and future was turned upside down, and I was having trouble getting out of bed, eating, sleeping, working, smiling. You get the picture.
Most of us aren’t used to feeling as depressed as we do during divorce. And then we feel guilty that we aren’t getting better faster. After a few months, we fearfully ask ourselves, “How long does depression last after divorce?!”
Divorce depression and sadness intensifies when we feel that we weren’t worth loving. We feel inadequate as a person. Plus, with divorce, we often have to see our ex with his younger, skinnier, girlfriend…who “really understands him!” That makes us feel even worse!
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Sadness vs. Depression
Most people throw the term “depressed” around too easily. We say, “I am so depressed!” when what we are is sad or disappointed.
Whether we are “clinically depressed” or just extremely sad about the end of our marriage, is something for a professional to figure out. See a doctor or therapist and tell them honestly how you’re feeling.
There is a depression called “Situational Depression.” It’s a deep sadness that happens because of a particular situation like divorce. Even though divorce recovery takes longer than we want it to, situational depression is not something that hangs on long after the situation is over like clinical depression tends to do. Medical News Today posted a helpful article not long ago that discusses the two types of depression.
What Depression Feels Like
At one point during my midlife divorce, I thought I would never be exuberantly happy again. I knew I would find bits of joy and happiness as long as I was alive, but I was afraid that deep joy and full-throated laughter might be gone forever. And I felt exhausted.
Often during and after divorce, almost everything makes us sad. A beautiful sunrise, a rainy day, apples, book club, church, family gatherings, school events, couples holding hands, songs…all can make us feel depressed. No matter what we’re doing, we know our life and our family will never, ever be the same. That awful truth of divorce brings depression, devastation and a feeling of despair that we have never experienced and is hard to explain. Some of the common signs of depression are mentioned in an article by psy.com.
Don’t Fight Your Feelings
All of our emotions are given to us for a reason. Feel those emotions…even those we normally think of as bad. They are trying to tell us something we need to know. Don’t wallow in your emotions. Use them as action signals.
A grief counselor taught me to set some boundaries around my divorce grieving. Set a timer and allow yourself a period of time every day to be depressed. Sob and scream or run or do something physical for that specific time. Feel the pain. Then when the timer goes off, totally change gears and take a shower or clean a closet or whatever. Then, when those depressive thoughts show up again that day tell them to “GO AWAY!” Tell them you will give them time tomorrow, but right now you’re busy! Discipline yourself to limit your grief time.
Try To Stick To Good Habits
During divorce, the depression we feel can be overwhelming and debilitating. Sometimes it’s hard to get out of bed. We don’t feel like eating. We forget to drink healthy liquids. We don’t want to go to work or talk to anyone. We want to stay in bed until this bad dream goes away!
One of our helpful resources is our Survival Six Card. This simple card helps you get your feet on the floor and at least in the ring for another round. You can check out our MasterPlan to find out about the six basic habits you have to practice every day.
How Long Does Depression Last?
When I was going through divorce, my first counselor told me that the prevailing wisdom in the mental health field was that it could take one year of recovery time for every five to seven years you were married. I told her “I might be dead by then!” I secretly didn’t think I could survive much longer feeling as sad and depressed as I did at the time.
Divorce is worth grieving. It’s worth feeling extremely sad, and yes, even depressed about. Every minute seems to show up with something new to be sad about. But we have to get control of our emotions. Feel those erratic and intense emotions and realize they are normal. They will end eventually, and we can keep moving forward.
Help With Depression
During a life-altering situation like divorce, we’re usually a mess. We’re either furious or depressed and on the verge of tears. We still need support. People don’t quite know what to do with us. I hate to say this, but often our spiritual families are at a loss, too. People don’t know what to do, so sometimes they don’t reach out at all.
Friends & Family
When we most need divorce depression help, we just want to get in bed and cover up our head until it doesn’t hurt so much. Don’t do that! Reach out to family and friends. Tell them honestly what you need: We need people who will call or send a card or invite us to a movie. Simple, concrete actions.
My family was a huge help to me during my divorce journey. They prayed for me, cried with me, were mad at my ex with me. They encouraged our kids. I had great friends, too. Everyone who cares about us really wants us to get better during and after our divorce. But sometimes, people, even people who love us, don’t really understand the depth of our depression.
People who care about us sometimes say unhelpful things like:
“C’mon! You can do this. Pull yourself together.”
“It’s been six months already! Just move on!”
“He’s not worth it! Get over it!”
“Where is your faith? Just trust God!”
The truth is, we want to move on, but most of us don’t know how, because we’ve never felt like this. Our culture makes us think that recovering from the loss of everything we thought was solid ground is easy and quick. It’s not…even if we were the one who made the decision to divorce.
Divorce Recovery Books
When things started falling apart in our marriage, I spent a lot of time in the self-help section of the local Barnes and Noble. I read articles online. Some helped. Some didn’t. Through the years, I found my favorites. One I forgot to list is “How to Make Yourself Miserable: Inspiration for a truly painful, meaningless and miserable life” by Dan Greenburg. Hilarious and eye-opening! Here’s a selection of divorce recovery books you should consider reading.
The MDR Community
Our research shows that women going through divorce need to be around other women who understand. We almost always feel lonely and isolated because people don’t really understand. We’re also embarrassed and ashamed.
That’s why one of the first things we do is get divorcing women connected in our online MDRcommunity. It’s a private, protected place where no one even knows your real name. No one has any personal contact information, and you have to be a member.
The MDRcommunity is full of women who have decided that this divorce is not going to defeat them or define their future. They are in The Community to share, listen and support each other. They know how divorce depression can feel, and they help each other along the bumpy road to recovery. Here is a link to learn more about the MasterPlan and the MDRcommunity.
Seeing A Doctor Or Therapist
After a particularly awful week, I remember my counselor drawing a picture on a white board in his office. It showed how certain connections sometimes couldn’t be made in our cells. He said, “This can be caused by prolonged sadness. If it hangs on too long, it can turn into a more serious depression. It’s not weakness on your part…it’s a chemistry thing,” he said.
He suggested I try an antidepressant. I didn’t want to. “I have God,” I thought to myself. “I can pull myself out of this.” He told me he was going to call my physician and suggest we try a very low-dose antidepressant.
My physician (and close friend) agreed and gave me a little sample pack of something I can’t remember the name of. I finally took the little pill in his office. A bit later I was driving my son to piano lessons, and I started feeling a little rocky. When I got to the piano teacher’s house, I threw up in the front yard and I felt like I had been run over by a truck! I was unbelievably sad and angry and now I felt unbelievably physically sick!
Come to find out, I had been drinking some “perk-me-up” herbal tea in the morning, and some “well-being” herbal teas and then some to bring on a “calm, relaxed feeling” at night. Some of these “natural” teas did not mix well with antidepressants.
Anyway, at that moment on my hands and knees on the piano teacher’s lawn, even though I felt worse than I had felt in my whole life, I decided that if I didn’t pull myself together, they might make me take another of those little pills and I might actually die! I didn’t take any more anti-depressants.
Women who are members of our MasterPlan program have said that antidepressants helped smooth things out for them. Others said they had a hard time getting the dosage right. Still others didn’t use them at all. Get a professional recommendation, and make your own decision.
Recently in the Wall Street Journal there was an article entitled: “New Concerns Emerge With Longer Use of Antidepressants.” It’s worth reading.
VERY IMPORTANT! If you are feeling depressed and are having thoughts about harming yourself, call the national suicide hotline immediately! (1-800-273-8255)
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