A few years ago, I went through a reasonably civilised divorce. On reflection, it wasn’t so civilised but I am not going into details here. The part leading up to the divorce was harrowing. Broken promises, lost dreams and plenty of regret. It was civilised because by the time we got to the signing of the papers part, things were settled and we didn’t squabble over the stuff, we settled things up evenly; our only daughter was a trainee adult and we had stopped yelling at each other.
I moved into my own place and I had some good friends help me and I unpacked with not much food but about five bottles of champagne in the fridge; given to me by said friends as ‘happy divorce’ gifts.
I had been on that track for nearly 3 years. Not much food and too much wine. I like to call it my wine and wedges phase (wedges being thick potato chips). I survived on pretty much nothing else as I grappled with the slow and torturous end to my marriage, the fact that my daughter had chosen to move overseas and the crushing reality that I was on the other side of 50 and alone.
Thankfully, I had a good job, the financial resources and the wit to carry on normally during the daylight hours but come 5 o’clock, I self-medicated and drank more wine than I should. Often. Everyday! Nothing new…I know lots of people, both men and women who have been through this same self-destructive phase. That’s not what I want to share. The road to recovery and the return to all five food groups is the real story.
I think the journey is transferable so if you are trawling the internet looking for confirmation that things will get better; hang on they will!!
Here are a few suggestions on what I did to “get my shit together”.
- Never refuse an invitation.
You never know who you will meet and what might happen. I heard this advice on the radio. A young widower was outlining his struggle and said he met his current wife at a dinner party he had intended to avoid. Of course, this comes with the caveat of not accepting invitations that don’t align with your values, morals or bank account. But don’t not accept invitations because you think it might be boring. You can find interest in any situation even if you treat it as an anthropological investigation. Getting out and socializing and building relationships; especially platonic ones will build your sense of worth.
- Keep a three good things journal.
When I first read about this in Martin Seligman’s Flourish, a self-help book based in positive psychology, I thought it was a gimmick. How could this help? Regardless, I gave it a go and I am now a real fan! It helped me get out of a heavy “woe-is-me” phase. Your job is to write down three good things that happened during your day before you go to sleep. Sometimes it may just be you have the skill to write or you spent some time with friends; saw an interesting movie; or your enjoyed 5 minutes in the sun. The good things don’t have to be big, but you must be consistent. I noticed a significant change in my mood and enthusiasm after only 10 days and looked forward to writing in the journal. I would end up writing out six good things. My life was good and I should remember that. Sure, I might be alone but come to think of it I like that! I enjoy the freedom it gives me.
- Eat healthy, sleep at least 8 hours a day and get some exercise.
You will also of course have to cut back on the booze! Sounds like pretty sensible advice doesn’t it, but I know it can be hard to get it happening. Maybe start with one of those dry fund raising months. In Australia, we have Dry July (Cancer Council) and Ocsober (Life Education for Kids). Even if you don’t end up raising money it is a good way to appease those helpful friends who question why you may have gone from good-time-party-girl to teetotaler. Volunteering to drive is also a good way to keep you on track.
There is a direct link between gut bacteria and mood. (see my other blog post here: https://oldchookenterprises.com/2017/09/01/good-mood-food/). The bacteria in your gut send good mood chemicals to your brain. Changing your diet to include more fibre, less refined carbohydrates and probiotics such as fermented foods helps.
My new food mantras is summed up in a few words from Michael Pollan (www.michaelpollan.com)
Eat food, not too much. Mostly plants.
The eat food part confuses people sometimes…of course we eat food… but he means eat whole food. Things made BY plants not IN plants. Foods that your “great grandmother would recognize as food” and without all the long lists of ingredients that sounds more like a chem lab than something you’d want to eat. My original degree was in food technology and I worked in food plants and labs in the late ’80s. I remember rows and rows of artificial flavoring we used to test. I try and cook everything from scratch and while I would not call myself vegetarian, I have cut right back on the meat I eat and now generally only order it if I am eating out. The bonus of this is I am saving a lot on my grocery bills!
Sleeping too much or too little will mess with your moods. So practice good sleep hygiene. (see my blog post here: https://oldchookenterprises.com/2017/07/03/sleep-app-nea/) This website also has lots of good information. http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/
If you keep your body moving it will pay you back. You will sleep better, feel better and cope better with life’s challenges. Endorphins do wonders! Research shows that even small amounts of exercise can make a difference, both physically and mentally. There are plenty of websites that back this up: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/exercise-and-mental-health
I borrow this one from fitness guru Michelle Bridges. Just frickin’ do it! Just get out of bed; just go for that run/walk/exercise class. On those days when it seems too much of an effort do any of the things on this list, just shout at yourself – JFDI! And do it! You will feel better when you have.
- Take up a new hobby or rekindle an old one.
Give yourself something to do other than sit in front to the telly, moping. Start something new. Learn. Immerse yourself. Become a fanatic. Practice! I took up photography and took photos every minute I could. I used it as an excuse for planning photo safaris where I would plan a weekend or day trip to somewhere new and practice new techniques. Sign up for some courses if you can afford it otherwise there are plenty of free resources online. Seriously, think of any topic/hobby and there is bound to be a thousand YouTube videos.
Make you own videos and share them!
- Do something for someone else
Become a volunteer. Practice random acts of kindness. If you start thinking about other people you will have less time to wallow in your own self-pity. Taking yourself out of the house and doing volunteer work for people other than your family will give you a real sense of accomplishment.
I love the idea of these Kindness Cards. http://wakeupproject.com.au/kindness-cards/ a variation on the pay it forward theme.
If you try these things and you still feel stuck, you may need some medical interventions. How long you take to make that decision will depend on you. I am no expert but I would think if you have tried three of four the things on this list and you still feel low, get professional help.
If you feel worse than low get help quick. https://www.lifeline.org.au/