Mental Health and Divorce - "till death do us part"?
"For a really long time, I forgot who I was." - Courtney Carver
You may be thinking this post is going to be about how my divorce led to my anxiety and depression. Quite the contrary. For me divorce was the first step into better mental health. This is a topic I have been reticent to discuss. Even though it was one of the best decisions I have ever made, the subject of divorce is never easy. The first statement I want to make is that breaking a marriage is a two-way street. While my ex-husband was far from perfect, neither was I. As such I accept my role in the short comings of our marriage and the fact that I was the one who chose to end it.
While I will not give you all the gory details, I do need to lay a little groundwork. I was raised in a conservative christian home where I was taught you married once, for life. As such, I decided early on that I was never going to get a divorce. The other marriage decision I arrived at as an adolescent was that I did not want to get married until I was in my late 20's. Unfortunately neither one of these decisions stood the test of time.
The social environment that I grew up in was defined largely by those who either married their high-school sweetheart or those young women who went to college to get their "MRS" degree. I know it sounds more like the 1950's than the early 90's. When I left high school, I had never really had a boyfriend and my first love in college broke my heart after only 6 months. So, I was not fitting into the mold that my peers were all settling right into. Then I met him. He was not like any of my friends and of course that made him interesting. During the time we were dating and engaged he was wonderful. He was kind and sweet and made me feel like special. I suppose that was actually my first mistake - I was looking to his feedback to feel special. What I was unaware of at the time, was that I was slowly but surely changing essential parts of myself to accommodate his likes and desires. Of course we all compromise and adapt for the people we love, but this was much deeper. So instead of spending time maturing and determining what I wanted out of life, I said "yes" to his proposal.
In the weeks leading up to my wedding, I had serious misgivings about marrying him. It was not any one thing that I could put my finger on, just a gut feeling. There was no way I wanted to be the girl who cancelled her wedding at the last minute. so I just chalked it up to "cold feet". In spite of my fears and plans to never divorce, on May 16, 1992, at a ripe age of 22 years old, I was married "till death do us part". I literally went from my father's home to my husband's. While most of the changes were insidious, there were things immediately apparent after our marriage. The sweet, attentive fiance became a distant, controlling husband. To be fair, this was the model for marriage he saw in his own father.
I will fast forward through the eleven years of struggle and silent pain. While I will admit there were some fun and loving experiences, they were few and far between. What I will say about those years is that while a few people had suspicions that all was not paradise, I did not confide in anyone about how I felt. I hid my feelings and wound up being a very isolated shell of what I once was. I had completely relinquished the people and things that were important to me to prevent conflict in my marriage. He never physically coerced me to do or not do anything, but the mental games were perhaps more destructive. By the end he had me convinced I was "stupid" and unable to function on my own.
Over the course of 2 months in the fall of 2004 a series of events brought me a breaking point. While working in a disaster recovery center, a gentleman who had known me for just days observed my responses and body language on a phone call to my ex-husband. I will forever be grateful for the fact that he saw my pain asked me why I was so unhappy. Until that moment I did not honestly even recognize that I had a problem.
I can still remember what I was eating a few weeks later when a girlfriend who sensed things had gotten really bad asked me "are you waiting for him to hit you before you feel justified to leave him?" That question hit my like a ton a bricks. I realized she was right. I was waiting for one of my accepted exceptions to the "no divorce" rule (physical abuse or adultery). I had no concept that psychological abuse can be just as painful and damaging.
The final straw came on my 35th birthday. I was overwhelmed by what I later learned was severe depression and I seriously contemplated suicide as a justifiable "out" of my marriage. I still did not share with anyone the full details of the darkness that had come over me, but I did start coming up with my exit plan. Choosing to divorce my ex-husband was one of the best decisions I ever made. While I would still struggle with anxiety and depression. I know without doubt that if I had stayed in that marriage I would not be alive today. Divorce literally saved my life.
I am fortunate that my story got much better. With the support of family and friends I moved into a great life of my own, re-discovered who I am and what is important to me, and met my husband who gives me the love and space to be exactly who I am - flaws and all. Divorce is not what any of us has in mind when we say "I do", but for me it was the first tentative step toward a Mindful Life.
Disclaimer: I am not a mental health professional. This article is simply my account of my personal experiences. If you are struggling with mental health, please seek out the assistance of a qualified professional. If you are at the brink of your own life, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255