Just days after ringing in the New Year together, my husband told me during a phone call he was leaving me. We met during high school, dated only each other until getting married seven years later, and went on to become the lucky parents to our three children who were 11, ten, and six at the time of his sudden announcement. Including our 16 years of marriage, we were with each other for a total of 24 years, which probably is why even after learning my husband had met someone else before leaving me, I still dropped to my knees the next time I saw him and begged him to stay.
He didn’t, and instead declared his permanent home the city in Asia where he has been living and working for the two previous years, less monthly trips he took back to the United States to see us. In a single conversation, I went from being a wife holding down the fort in between her husband’s visits, to a divorced, single mom with full physical custody. Though the logistics of my life would remain pretty much the same and included a plan for our kids and me to stay in the house eventually known as the “marital home,” my new title and the depression that accompanied it proved a game changer.
In the days following my husband’s departure, I called a few close family members and friends, mostly his, in the hopes they would talk some sense into him and convince him to stay. They couldn’t. Months passed, and I became depressed. One of his relatives advised me, wisely, to stop worrying so much about what my husband was doing and focus on myself. The pain I was experiencing, she explained, would take years to recover from and I needed to learn the skills to do that. Raising children on a day-to-day basis alone while healing my heart wasn’t going to be easy.
Nearly six years later, I see how right she was. That is, except for one conclusion which I have come to on my own: the struggle with depression stemming from a divorce, like other chronic conditions, can return when we least expect, even years later. If not diligently monitored and attended to promptly, like a misbehaving child, symptoms can get out of hand, fast. After cycles of high highs and low lows, I now recognize my triggers as well as that sinking feeling I sometimes get as a result and deal with it accordingly.
With one out of 20 Americans over the age of 12 suffering from depression, it’s safe to say that what brings about symptoms can vary from individual to individual, making it critical not to judge others. Also, the decision to treat depression with medication is a personal one and a discussion that should be between a patient and his or her doctor. I have, therefore, chosen not to address that topic here. Apart from medication, however, there are several strategies we can employ in our everyday lives to minimize the effects depression can have on us, especially after a divorce, as well as prevent bouts from occurring as frequently. Here they are.
1. Sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, not getting enough sleep can cause or exacerbate depressive disorders. If you wake up feeling tired each morning, try going to bed earlier each night. When we’re well rested, the world tends to like a much different place.
2. Change your diet. Certain foods can lift our spirits such as eggs and salmon while others can bring us down, especially foods containing high amounts of processed sugar. If you’re feeling depressed, consider adding the items included in this list from WebMD to your diet and subtracting others.
3. Talk it out. If you’re feeling depressed, be honest with the people in your life about your feelings. Chances are they may not know you’re suffering. Due to increased awareness about depression, most people will be understanding. Occasionally, though, you will confide in someone who lacks empathy. Steer clear of that person. He or she is the exception, not the rule. Your number one priority is to get well and if someone dismisses you or is cruel, cut your losses immediately.
4. Find solitude. Spending some time by yourself can be beneficial when you’re depressed. Stepping away from all of the “noise” in your life is an efficient way to process your feelings and recharge. Allocate time when you can be alone with your thoughts, even if it’s for a few minutes each day.
5. Exercise. Exercising can help relieve symptoms associated with depression. When we engage in physical activity, our brains release endorphins that can improve our mood. Physical activity can also serve as a much-needed distraction from those issues causing us to feel depressed. It’s not necessary to engage in vigorous training to reap the benefits that getting moving can bring either. Walking, jogging, or following a low-impact workout can provide the lift you need.
6. Have sex. The link between sex and depression is not straightforward. Depression and the drugs used to treat it can cause sexual dysfunction, including a decreased libido. However, if possible, reaching orgasm can temporarily relieve anxiety, one of the symptoms of depression. Experts suggest making treatment of depression a priority because of how profoundly it can affect our quality of life as a whole and address sexual issues secondarily.
7. Get therapy. It’s often necessary to seek out professional assistance when battling depression. Whether you choose a therapist to work through your issues with you or a psychiatrist who can prescribe medication to manage your symptoms or both, help is out there. Divorce may have got you down for the time being, but know it’s possible to pick yourself back up again and come back stronger than you were before.