I am susceptible to depression, and I have been all my adult life. I’ve had many periods of minor depression, one officially diagnosed Major Depressive Episode, plus two more in my distant past that I self-identified in looking back during that last one, four years ago.
So when my partner of almost a decade dumped me, I was very aware of the fact that I might be in danger of a repeat occurrence. Those first three days holed up in bed, fighting panic attacks interspersed with gut-wrenching despair, were a pretty big clue.
So on the fourth morning, when I managed to haul myself upright and force myself to shower and get dressed, I started an active plan to prevent it from happening. I had no delusions about ‘healing’ or ‘moving on’ — those were lofty goals that felt totally beyond my reach. But I was determined to avoid sinking into that dark hole again, a hole I know from experience is extremely hard to climb out of.
So here’s what I forced myself to do back then, and what I continue to do today. It’s easier now than it was in the beginning but some days are definitely still a struggle.
1. Tell someone. Anyone.
The first person I told, the very night it happened, was my boss. I didn’t haveto be totally honest, I could have just said I was sick. I’m independent and self-sufficient to a fault, so it would have been right in my wheelhouse to keep things to myself, thinking I could sort it out on my own. But I’m lucky enough to have a boss who I also consider a friend, so it didn’t even occur to me to do anything other than tell her exactly what was going on, especially since it was obviously going to affect my work beyond just needing the next day off.
And I’m so glad I did. Telling her made it real, which was hard but necessary. It also made me realize that I wasn’t completely alone. She was amazingly supportive, to the point of sending me a massive fruit basket the next day because she knew I probably wouldn’t be feeding myself very well. And she was right. That basket was exactly what I needed and it fed me for three days.
2. Get Thee to A Therapist
When I had my last Major Depressive Episode, I was lucky enough to have an existing relationship with a great therapist, someone I’d seen a few years prior for help with milder depression. And she got me through that nightmare with all the care and compassion I could have ever hoped for.
So on the third night after being dumped, I emailed her to arrange an appointment. I didn’t know if I’d need one visit or fifty, but I did know that if I was going to avoid that dark hole, I wasn’t going to be able to do it alone. And I was right.
I continue to see her every Thursday, like clockwork.
3. Make Myself at Home
One of the worst and best things about my partner dumping me was that she chose to do it on the day we moved into a new place. Within hours of the movers leaving.
It was the worst because I was so totally blindsided, thinking we’d just moved into a fabulous new home, where we would continue our fabulous life. Until out of the blue, she was done and out the door.
But it was also the best — and I’ve only realized this in hindsight — because being dumped meant having to find a new place on my own and everything was already packed. I have trouble imagining how I would have coped if I’d had to deal with boxing up all my belongings on top of everything else.
So I found a new place, in the same building, as good fortune would have it, and moved in three weeks later. It would have been so easy — you have no idea how extremely easy — to continue doing what I’d been doing up until that point and just sink into the couch, surrounded by all the unpacked boxes, and wallow in misery.
But I didn’t. I forced myself to unpack. I forced myself to hang art on the walls and buy patio furniture and wash the bedding. I forced myself to make a hollow shell of an apartment into a home. My home.
And it’s made a world of difference.
4. Be Scrupulously Honest
Being dumped the way I was, it was very tempting to vent all that shitty-ness to anyone who would listen. And I did let myself do that with one, very close friend, as well as with a small group of fellow writers in whom I have the utmost trust and who don’t know my ex from Adam.
But even in my venting, I made sure I was scrupulously honest. And with everyone else I told — and tell — I laid out just the facts and did my best to avoid putting any kind of personal, negative spin on my ex or her behaviour.
And the mutual acquaintances that I still to run into now and again? All they get is, “We’re not together anymore.”
Do I wonder and worry about what my ex might be saying? Of course I do. I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t. But accepting that the only thing I can ever control is how I choose to put the information out there has been an immense help. If she chooses to do differently, the only person it reflects badly on is her.
5. Be Kind
Yes, what my ex did was horrible. (Not the wanting to break up with me part — everyone has the right to end a relationship — but the part where she kept it to herself, for months, until the minute she was ready to walk out.) But to be anything less than kind in my interactions with her, and in the way I talk about the situation with others, would dishonour all the happy years we were together. And those years were, for the most part, happy. I don’t think even my ex would try to deny that.
Not only that, being less than kind would do a disservice to the love I felt — and still feel — for her. Allowing myself to descend into bitterness would be putting myself one step closer to that Major Depressive Episode I’m trying so hard to avoid.
But that part is easy. Being kind to myself is a lot harder. I’m working on it, though.
6. Honour All the Emotions
And I mean all of them. Was I hurt? Yes. Was I angry? Of course. Was I humiliated and embarrassed? You know it. And sometimes I’m still all of those things, when I let myself think too hard.
My ex had been building up to this for months, giving herself a long runway to emotionally prepare for the break. But for me, it was as sudden and as painful as a death.
So I’ve also been incredibly sad. And lonely. I miss her terribly, every single minute of every single day. Though it’s slowly getting better, I’m still grieving the loss of the person I thought I’d be with forever and the life I thought we’d share long into the future.
There is a tension between all those emotions that makes it tempting to latch on to one side or the other — the emotions that reflect the betrayal versus those that reflect the loss. But by accepting that tension and doing my best to hold it in some semblance of balance, I have been able to honour all of the emotions, and feel them to their full extent, without getting mired too deeply in any of them.
To put it more simply, I’m allowing myself to mourn the loss of the relationship without losing sight of my gratitude for the fact that it existed in the first place. It might be over now but, damn, we had a great run.
I’m lucky enough to have a job I absolutely adore, but even so, I find it hard to be there once in a while. I occasionally find myself swimming in a fog of unfocused, overwhelming, “I can’t even…” syndrome.
But the absolute best remedy I’ve found is to force myself to push through it and get shit done, even if it’s the tiniest piece of shit on my to-do list. I might have to take a an extra break now and then, get outside and walk it off, but I keep pushing.
And oh, my, god, you have no idea how much it helps. If it’s a bigger project, I will eventually get lost in it, find focus I thought was impossible, and do good work. But even finishing the smallest task gives me a sense of accomplishment that does something indefinably positive for my sense of well-being. And it makes it easier to move on to the next task, focus even harder, and get it done even better.
8. Forgive My Mistakes
I have good days and bad days. Some very bad days. But constantly reminding myself that the bad days will pass makes it easier to pull myself out of them.
But when I have those bad days, I make mistakes. On Day One, less than an hour after my ex walked out the door, I posted something on social media. What I said wasn’t horrible, it was a simple statement of fact — “I was just dumped” — but I regretted it almost immediately and was up in the middle of the night deleting it. Then I incorporated my moment of poor judgement into my despair and beat myself up over it for days.
I had a similar lapse in judgement just last week, turning one bad day into several.
But I know I’m doing my best, I know I’m not perfect, and I know I’m going to make mistakes regardless of how hard I’m trying. That’s to be expected, it’s not the end of the world, and most importantly — as I keep trying to remind myself — it does not make me a horrible person.
9. Do All the Things
And just like with the emotions, I mean all the things. Accept the invitations. Go out to eat. Go for a walk. Go shopping. Go out for a beer or two. (Or six, as has happened once or twice.) Everything I enjoyed before, every place I went to before, plus a few new to me, I just started enjoying them in new ways, whether with other people or by myself.
Not immediately, though — it took me some time to get there. When this all first happened, I turned into a bit of a hermit. I didn’t go anywhere or do anything. I’m an introvert, so as half of a couple, my extrovert partner’s friends became our friends. And when she dumped me, I didn’t just lose my significant other, I lost most of my social circle.
That meant I avoided going to any of the places that we went together — not completely out of fear of running into her or them, though I admit that was part of it — but to give her some space, to let her have those places and those people without the awkwardness of finding me there.
But I soon realized how ridiculous that was. So I just started picking myself up and forcing myself out the door. I felt some anxiety at first, and it felt foreign and uncomfortable to be a woman alone, out in public. But it’s actually not that foreign — I used to do it all the time when I was single — and pretty soon, I started having fun.
I’m still an introvert and I still spend what many would consider to be too much time at home, on my own. But that’s my normal. And now I have the confidence to go wherever I want, whenever the need to be social asserts itself. I do it with friends sometimes but mostly, I go alone. I know where I can find my people and if they’re not there, I’m happy just to be out in the world, sitting up to the bar, enjoying a beer while I read or write or watch a game on TV.
And if that’s not at least the first glimmer of healing, I don’t know what is.