Mental Health Awareness Week 2020
I have spent the past 12-months trying my best to protect my mental health, this marks a perfect time to share the story for Mental Health Awareness Week 2020. It has been a year since I made the decision to separate from my now ex-husband. The impact that decision has made on my mental health in a negative way has been huge.
I can reflect on the past year now with huge clarity. He moved out of the family home two month ago, in March 2020 and the space I have had to think, walk, reflect has been amazing. The ten months from the separation conversation to him moving out were the biggest challenge I have had in my life, even compared to my mum dying at 16.
Separating from your long-term partner is like grieving. Something I have much experience of. These are the stages of grief, from David Kessler and Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, world leading experts on the subject.
Stage 1 – Denial
Stage 2 – Anger
Stage 3 – Bargaining
Stage 4 – Depression
Stage 5 – Acceptance
There is no time limit to these stages, you can pass through them in a day, or a year, and I have found that the stages are more like a cycle. You can often return to any of the stages at any point in your life after the grief/loss event. I have certainly returned many many times to anger and depression stages.
The loss of husband or wife in divorce means that you go through these stages as do your children and those closely affected by the loss. I think its important to recognise and understand each stage and know what is coming.
I remember the anger stage that my dad went through after my mum died. If was a week or so after she died, and we were in the funeral car driving home from the cremation. A long drawn out day with a church service in St. Just near Lands End, then we drove all the way to Truro for the cremation and back to Penzance home for the wake.
I was in the car with my dad and my sister. Dad lit up a cigarette, it was 1993, when that was allowed. He looked at me and said with such anger ‘If you EVER take up smoking, I will never forgive you’. I lowered my eyes; I had already started smoking aged 15.
The stages of grief following my separation looked like this
There was never a denial stage once I had made the decision. But you could argue I was in denial for years. It was me who made the decision after a few years of indecision. This is not a decision you every take lightly.
There was a lot of anger. In fact, this feels like the overwhelming emotional stage of the past year. There was anger about behaviours, money, betrayal, lack of communication, and the impacts of all this on my children.
There was a lot of bargaining, normally always done with a mediator present. Bargaining over money and childcare responsibilities.
There was much depression, mainly a result of the anger. And the feelings of being out of control. Depression manifested in binge eating, stopping exercise and then weight gain.
Acceptance. I reached acceptance very quickly. As soon as I made the decision to separate. But this does not mean I do not keep returning to anger and depression and bargaining time and time again.
Its also hugely challenging when the other people closely affected are in a different stage of grief. I feel like anger has been ever present from others. Thus, leading to more of my own anger and depression. I can only hope that they work to understand these stages and move through to acceptance.
The impact on my children has been the worst part. Obviously, I have tried to prioritise my mental health, sort out your own oxygen mask first. But am hugely aware of their stages of grief for their parents splitting up.
How Did I cope?
A huge coping mechanism has been talking to my friends and others who understand what I am going through. Friends who have divorced or experience loss, friends with empathy. Friends who wanted to help me. There is not a huge number of these friends, because you must be careful who you talk to. But Becky, Marianne, Anita, Fran, Neilboy have been truly amazing and the best of friends, always there for walks, phone calls, check ins, gin, dinner.
Many others have provided guidance at the right times, far too many to mention, but each person has given their best self and helped when I needed it. For which I am hugely grateful for.
If this is you, if you are grieving due to death or loss of any kind, reach out. Your friends can potentially save your life.
Forcing myself out to social events
When you are depressed there is nothing worse than social events, or the thought of it. But once you are there, they can be positive. December 2019 was such a low. But I forced myself to repair relationships with my Penzance family and went home for 5 days for Christmas with the boys. And loved it. We talked, went to the beach every day, ate lovely food, and drank wine, but not too much.
Work was my saviour
Mrs Mummypenny was a huge part of strong mental health. I continued to go into London every week, meeting up with existing and new clients. I said yes to all work that scared me, public speaking events, TV appearances, radio interviews, podcast interviews. My business which is still on a huge growing trajectory kept me buoyant and alive.
I signed my first retainer contract in Dec 2019, whilst eating mince pies and drinking coffee with them. That feeling was and still is incredible, to have those kinds of working relationships with brands who shares my work ethic and values is special.
A wrote and wrote and wrote. I poured my heart out into content and Instagram posts. If you read them all you would pick up on my unhappiness, but I was never explicit. It was only my group of five best friends who really knew what was going on, how angry or depressed I was. And they dragged me through it even when I did not know what to do or how to carry on.
Travel was a huge help during 2019. I would disappear off to the beach every few weeks, book a last-minute Airbnb and take off. Walking miles along Norfolk beaches spotting seals. I loved it. I went to Corsica with Neilboy for a week where we argued like children and had to request separate rooms. But we still had a great time. A week away from normality was good for both of us, and the arguments were good for us as well, as friends of 25 years arguments are necessary. Of course, we made up, eventually.
The boys and I went off to do lots together. We had a week in Wells-Next-The-Sea, we went to Standon Calling festival. Half term was spent in a chalet at the top of a cliff in Brightlingsea. We also had a week in Corsica on a family holiday.
Food and Drinks
This did not go so well and made my depression even worse. I binge ate crisps, chocolate, fast food, ice cream. I developed a frozen shoulder, probably stress related and I stopped going to personal training or running. This combination meant I put on weight.
I was not able to get in control of this until he left in March 2020. Two months on my diet is hugely better along with exercise and I have lost the 2 stone that I put on in weight.
Talk! Just Talk
I hope this helps if you are going through a loss of a person. It will get better eventually, it really does help to understand where you are at. Oh my gosh. Talk. Talk to friends, to a counsellor, to the doctor or a stranger on the phone at Samaritans. Just Talk.