Perspective and Priorities in Divorce

http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/06/health/divorced-couple-photos-trnd/?iid=ob_homepage_deskrecommended_pool

I thought this was a really interesting article as I’m a child of divorce myself. My folks separated in my teens and divorced right around my HS years. Their divorce wasn’t pleasant at all and honestly I can say that I don’t really have a relationship with my father. Seeing how this couple has tried to keep something of a family structure for their son was heart warming.

There’s a fairly common saying that you divorce spouses not children. Thankfully for me my ex and I didn’t conceive. Honest truth is I doubt I’d have been able to survive to even make it to therapy if we had children. One thing to lose a spouse, quite another to lose a spouse and children. I understand a bit better the extent to which my father likely experienced his own depression but I also realize that like my mother he made choices too.

I think it would be great if other divorced families tried to be as civil as the couple in the article. Even amid divorce you have to understand the need to prioritize things. The truth is divorce is a loss it isn’t a clean cut, there’s pain, there’s resentment that can creep into every word, every image. It isn’t easy but you have to work past it and focus on the the things you need to do over the things you want to do sometimes. Legal separation of assets, finances, liability, all those things are critical, but you must also not lose sense of things like insuring your kids aren’t caught in the cross fire.

The Least Fun Anniversary

There’s some anniversaries you look forward to, then there are those you dread. Next month will make a full year since my divorce was finalized. To say I was in a low place during the process would be an understatement and while I’m not out of the woods by any stretch I think I’m better prepared to deal with the things that need to happen to get better these days.

The last few days I felt the onset of a depressive episode forming and tried to cut it off at the pass so to speak. I dropped my sugar and red meat intake, I began eating more oatmeal and fruit. In a previous post I likened depression to seeing an oncoming train. The metaphor has a bit of another layer that I thought about recently. While you might be able to side-step the tracks, there’s still the force of the train going past (wind, noise etc) that you still have to deal with. The same can be said (at least for me) to what happens when an episode hits. I may not be able to avoid all the affects but I’m able to keep myself from sinking too far and lessening the symptoms.

During a conversation with a friend we discussed the somewhat rough feeling of the extra burden of knowing when an episode is coming and the cognitive processes and work effort to not let it harm you. While most folks only periodically need to reflect as much, those of us prone to depression/anxiety are on almost constant watch. There’s a mental drain that comes from that vigilance that I’m still trying to reconcile.

Be it S.A.D. or other things that are triggering an episode for you, don’t lose heart, don’t give in. Every bit of fighting it helps.

Divorce and the Death of Art — By the Numbers

A lot changed for me from 2015 to 2016. My marriage was over, my ex-wife and I filed for divorce and any drive I had to pick up my camera died off. In part because I met my ex through art and because in some ways I lost her to it too.

Most of my footage was to help others, rarely for myself in the last few years of my marriage. I went from capturing anywhere from 500GBs of data through 2015 to less than 8GB for all of 2016.

I don’t photograph people anymore, it’s a little hard to get people to smile when you don’t. This isn’t the first time I’ve sunken this far and I doubt it will be the last time. Though my photography has been a source of decompression and therapy, it is done with a laser focus and purpose. Gone are the days of photographing for happiness’ sake. There are small projects in my head, darker ones that I want to express but haven’t found the full extent of what I want to say. In some ways the death of one art can be the birth of another. The journey to get there however isn’t always a pleasant one.

Self Help Books and Perspective

As my therapy sessions are now more spread out I’ve continued to try to find books and other resources to help me maintain perspective and find ways to cope with my depression, divorce and all the small nuances in between.

One of the small aspects that I’ve found somewhat vexing lies in the approaches of both types of texts at times. Here’s the thing that I feel a lot of text misses. There’s depression and clinical depression.  Everyone’s felt depressed, usually that’s situational with very specific events that trigger it.  Divorce obviously being a big one. Clinical depression however isn’t simply triggered by any one thing at times. I find a lot of divorce books sort of gloss this over and the tone and approaches they maintain sometimes just feed into the negative loop of depression. On the other hand most texts about battling clinical depression don’t overlap with coping with major trigger events like divorce.  So you’re sort of left with one book in your right hand, and another in your left.

Most texts about coping with depression share common tools with those that talk about recovering from divorce. Therapy, communication, meditation, exercise are all common tools. Most books on divorce don’t discuss neurochemistry or other dietary changes to help cope they just gloss over avoiding “bad foods”.

I’m not trying to say that self-help books are useless. There’s valuable wisdom and insight now and then but you have to take it with a grain of salt. Books can’t pin point anything specific to you, it’s broad strokes. I try to remind myself of for everything I read. Much like those books, I feel my blog may verbalize my own pain and my own trials and I hope that if anyone chances upon it that they understand that there are people out there struggling too. Hopefully some of the tools I’ve listed help others.

Milestones and Making it Through

I had started September fairly flat emotionally but as the first few days passed I found my depression getting pretty heavy. It took a day or so for me to realize what was weighing on me. The tail end of the month would have marked our five year wedding anniversary.

This year it just represents a day on a calendar. It’s sobering as milestones come and go.  First birthday without the spouse, first Christmas, first Valentines. It puts things in perspective. For most folks holidays are a time to be around friends but as I am these days I feel too prickly and too sensitive to be around large groups of friends. Those circles I do still keep in touch with I’d rather just have a nice short conversation with on the day of. Eventually I’ll find ways to get myself to engage w/my friends more but for now there’s a lot of reworking of my own mental state first.

 

Distractions and the Negative Loop

As much as I love technology it has been both a blessing and a curse for me. Previously I rarely used my iPad unless I was on the road or traveling.  These days I use it almost every day as sort of “background tech”.

Following my divorce I found myself having the hardest time getting my mind to unhook from negativity and loneliness. In a cruel twist of irony though my anxiety made social interaction difficult at times in crowds and in public.  So I was left with a quandary. How do you feel less alone when alone? For me it became always having background noise or dialogue be it shows or movies in the background. Not directly in line of sight, just off to the side on my iPad.

This slippery slope however is something I’ve had to try to balance. It doesn’t interrupt my job it sort of becomes the din behind me. Replacing the normal banter heard in any office setting or workplace without the rise in anxiety. Slowly I’ve tried to ween myself off it, but it’s a gradual thing. Silence you see is something I fear.  Those gaps, that idle time when it’s just me and my thoughts is a dangerous place. There’s the phrase of idle hands are the devils workshop. When you suffer from depression and anxiety that statement becomes more true to me and really silence is your personal hell. Those moments where there’s no clear objective that I can keep engaged to often result in negative thoughts and dwelling on the past. It’s a horrible back-slide in my recovery. So every day I try to keep my mind running, never giving it time to think about the past, my marriage, the divorce. Eventually though there’s nothing but silence and in those moments, little by little I try to meditate and come to terms w/the pain and the guilt. I work at it every day to break out of the loop and it slowly gets easier, but it never quite goes away. Maybe some day when my head is full of other things or more positive elements I can push the negative aside.  For now though, it is a daily task.

Friends, Fading and Farewells

Divorce is about hard choices. The choice of what to say, what to fight for or against. One of the most awkward and painful is how it affects your circle of friends and family.

I made the choice to let go of a sizable number of friends, not because I disliked them but because I realized proximity to many of them would be a painful trigger for me given my divorce. A core of friends that I can still speak to is there and I lean on them heavily, probably more so than I should at times. I know some folks will view this as childish but to me those whom I call close friends are for the most part, still my friends. Acquaintances however, casual friends I accepted to let go of the lions share.

Divorce and especially depression is about survival. Sometimes that means letting go or getting your distance from folks that are too much of a trigger point to you.  Don’t cut off everyone, keep those folks who you feel enough comfort with close at hand. It’s been difficult for me to let some friendships fade away, while saying blunt goodbyes to others. If you’re going through the same type of choices just remember there are subtle differences between having to let go of friends for your safety and giving in to depressive feelings of disconnect. It isn’t easy to maintain your objectivity but you have to make the effort.

Beginnings and End

My marriage formally ended in April of 2016. It was somewhat painful timing as that relationship ended three of our mutual friends were lining up their weddings.

As one thing ends, others begin but for me, I made the harsh decision that I could not be a part of my friends weddings. I couldn’t in good conscience go to someone’s wedding and have so little ability to share and contribute to their happiness that I would put a dark cloud over their best day. I remember what it was like on my wedding day all too well. It’s confusing and frustrating to feel like someone else’s happiness is a trigger to your depression.

There’s folks that will put me on blast as selfish for thinking this way but I often think of the flip side. We all see the tropes and hear the horror stories.  Folks who go to a wedding when they don’t really want to be there, folks who get drunk to drown away their sadness during a wedding. I didn’t want to be that person, that cliché of the bitter divorcee who spouts snide comments at a wedding.  My friends deserve better than that.

Social expectation and masks are something I’ve struggled with since my teens. I’m not sociable, I’m better in small tight groups. A wedding is perhaps the largest social gathering folks hope to have and a time to be sharing in the start of a new life together. I’m not about to put on a mask anymore because social norms say I’m supposed to. “Do it for them” I’ve heard, and while well meaning it misses the point.  To me putting on a false front for someone on a day when genuine happiness should be the only thing there is a disservice in my eyes.  So while I wish them all the best, I’ll remain where I am, working, trying to change until the day I can go to a friends wedding and smile again, with a real smile.