The Upside of Divorce: My Journey Back to Me

** DISCLAIMER: I am not a nutritionist, physical trainer, or fitness nor mental health professional of any kind. All thoughts expressed in this content come from my personal opinions and experiences only. **

There are few things in life more heart-wrenchingly awful than having to sit across from the person you married, the person who’s known you since high school, who knows all your friends and loves your family, and tell them that you want a divorce. 

To be sure, it’s no fun for them either, but don’t think for one second that being on the asking side is any easier. I can tell you from personal experience, it is not. 

Feeling Like Something’s Missing

Out of respect for my ex-husband and my own privacy, I won’t be going into the nitty gritty details of our slowly ending relationship or the attempts we made to save it. All I will say is that, somewhere in the decade of us being together, we started to drift apart. 

When I married my ex, let’s call him Jack, there was zero doubt in my mind that he was the right guy for me. Jack was funny and intelligent and ambitious. He graduated with a Masters in a well-respected field and got a great job after college.

We worked our way up from living in college dorms, to living in our first apartment, to buying our first house. We got a dog. We made a real American-dream-style life for ourselves. Combined, we made over six figures. By most people’s definition, including my own, we had it all

Which is why I was so baffled and completely lost as to why I was still having problems with depression and anxiety. And why did they both seem to be getting worse? Why did I fixate on the smallest of challenges and catastrophize them beyond reason? Why was I waking up before work every morning and crying? Why did I feel so hopeless about the future? 

My Journey To Self-Discovery

I’ve written about my life-long struggles with depression and anxiety in the past, but suffice to say that, at that point in my life, I’d always found happiness to be an illusive feeling. 

When I got married, I thought the extra stability of having a husband, a career, and an “ideal” life would ease my mental health problems. I thought having enough money to buy basically whatever I wanted would get rid of my anxiety. 

It did not. 

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Finally, in my mid-20s, I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and started taking medication for it. A little while after that I started going to therapy. 

For the first time in my life, I began the slow, painful struggle of finding myself. It was hard.

It felt like taking a highly edited, highly filtered photo off Instagram and trying to figure out what the undoctored version looked like. What was the raw structure of who I was? I didn’t know anymore. 

But I slowly found her.

I began to re-learn who I was, to know myself better, to know what I wanted, to see that the way I was living and the relationship I had built with my husband were more focused on his needs that my own. And that wasn’t his fault. I was only 18 when we’d started dating; 21 when we got married. Jack and I were just kids then. And my self-confidence had been so desperately low at the time that I’d deferred to everything he said and felt as the end-all, be-all of my life. Put simply, our marriage had been built out of an unhealthy framework of codependency.

Every Gift Has A Price

taking off wedding band

 As I started to shift out of that dependency, our marriage also began to change. We found ourselves not spending much time together any more. The only real times we hung out together were when we went out drinking with mutual friends. We no longer slept in the same bed. We stopped being intimate. We did our laundry separately. 

One day when I was typing away on my computer at work, I was overcome with the realization that my relationship with my husband was no longer a marriage. We had become roommates. He was a dear and important person in my life, but we had ceased to be a couple. 

I felt sick to my stomach, but in that moment I knew that the best thing for me, and for both of us really, was for us to separate. 

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that we’d never talked about our issues before. We had. But talking had never resulted in effective changes in our relationship. 

After a long and stressful day of trying to work but getting little done, I met with my therapist to run my feelings by her. I told her I thought I wanted to get divorced and that I wanted her to tell me if I was being rational or if it seemed to her like I was catastrophizing something that wasn’t that big of a deal. 

She asked me a lot of questions. Had I considered this, had we talked about this, how would I feel if x, y, or z happened? I was surprised to find that I had considered every aspect of these scenarios and, as petrified as I was to have to face the reality of an ending marriage, I truly believed in my heart of hearts that this was what was right. 

What I remember most is my therapist looking at me and saying, “Well I don’t think you really need any advice from me. I think you know exactly what you want.”

It was both a benediction and a curse. I did know what I wanted. For the first time in years I knew in my soul what I wanted and needed to take the next step in my life. It just happened to be the hardest and worst possible thing I could have to ask for. 

That night, after leaving my therapist’s office, I went back to my house and talked to my husband. Through tears, I told him that I wanted a divorce. He didn’t argue with me, or disagree, or say much of anything in that moment. 

That was in February of 2020.

Depression During A Pandemic

woman lying in bed

What no one could have told me then was everything we know about 2020 now.

The pandemic, the economic hardships, and the upsetting of everything that everyone knew was especially compounded for me by the fact that I was in the middle of a divorce.

As if that process weren’t painful enough, the paperwork was a nightmare from hell as the courthouse closed down, and getting information from anyone felt as tenuous as applying to an Ivy League school. 

Some nights I slept in the guest room at my house, Jack sleeping in what used to be our bedroom. Most nights I tried to stay with a friend. 

There were many, many nights in those first few months that I felt like a terrible person. I would cry until my eyes were so puffy no more tears would come out. I hated being “the bad guy,” and felt like I’d hurt so many people, but mostly my friends and family. 

Many nights, I felt like nothing would ever feel okay again. That I would always feel shame and guilt, even though I still believed that divorce was the best thing to do. I stood behind that decision, even in my own sadness and grief over the failed marriage. 

But slowly, even through the isolation and loneliness that came with all of 2020, time started to heal the hurt that I’d inflicted on myself and (as I perceived it then) those around me. The more I healed that part of myself, the more I was proud of following my heart and doing what needed to be done. I didn’t turn away from the idea of divorce, even though I knew it would have been so much easier to talk myself into staying married.

In mid-2020 I moved to California. I met an amazing man who matched me in all the ways I needed to be matched and challenged me in the areas I needed it most. I started writing again, something I hadn’t done seriously for a very long time. 

And now, despite making the least amount of money I’ve made in years, having fewer friends, and going through one of the most stressful global health crises in human history, I can say that I’m not only the happiest I’ve ever been, but that I feel I’m exactly where I need to be in my life. 

You Are Worth All You Know And More

Living with a mental illness isn’t easy, but you can do it, and do it in such a marvelous and beautiful way, if only you have the courage to look at your life and make the changes that you need. 

That sounds like a big complicated project that has no clear path or starting point mapped out, but it is possible to do.

I don’t know where I’d be today if it weren’t for the insights and guidance my therapist offered me what now feels like a lifetime ago. As I so often do, I will yet again encourage anyone reading this to consider speaking to a therapist. If you are struggling with depression, anxiety, or a difficult relationship, talking to a professional can not only help you get insight into your situation but also offer the assurance that the advice you receive is coming from a trained and unbiased source.

If nothing else, just know that it really is true what they say: “Time heals all wounds.” What may feel impossibly painful now will eventually heal. Just be gentle with yourself and know that one day things will look better.