Category Archives: Health

Signs and Baby Steps

Sun field

I’ve always loved travelling; from my first sight of the sea when I was a wee girl, to that first train trip down to London, to my first sight of Venice when backpacking around Europe as a teenager, to that first transatlantic flight.

I know my way around airports and train stations, and am pretty comfortable hiring cars and booking hotels. But – apart from a few flights – I’ve never actually travelled on my own. It’s always been with people, or on my way to see friends and family.

Now that the divorce process is over, I have this fancy that one day I’ll spend time in countries I’ve always wanted to visit – which means I may have to do it on my own. So… I took some baby steps towards that recently. Forget about two weeks or one month travelling on my own. Could I do it for one day?

To be honest, I was really nervous when I picked up my car rental. I had decided to spend one day and one night on my own visiting a historical attraction I’ve always wanted to see, then stay overnight in a private hotel in a small village, rather than the airport hotels I’m more used to. How would it go?

Well… it didn’t start well. The weather was appalling – bucketing rain and gale force winds. To top if off, I dropped a bottle of cordial on my way to pick up the car, which meant that everything I was carrying – and wearing – got splattered in sticky. Sigh! Was it a ‘sign’ I wondered, that I shouldn’t be doing this? (I’m a great one for signs.)

But the rental went smoothly, as did the drive. I got lost only once – despite my sat nav. The historical attraction was great, I joined a tour, and when it was over, a woman kindly offered to drive me back up the very steep hill to where I’d parked my car.

All that was left was the drive to the hotel – across 10 miles of deserted countryside. I only passed two cars en route and my imagination ran riot. What if I broke down out here? What if I ran off the road and no-one found me for a day… or a week… or… ever???? What if…?! What if…?!!

And then I saw the view in front of me. On one side of the road was an ugly clear-cut, with only a few remaining dead trees scarring the hill. On the other? A serene landscape highlighted by a tiny burst of sunshine on a very grey day. I stopped the car and took a picture, imagining the clear-cut represented the death of my marriage and ugliness of the divorce process. The other side of the road? Hopefully the promise of a golden-ish future.

And you know what? When I arrived the hotel, the owner and his wife were wonderful. They helped me with my bags, and provided me with books on the area when they heard I had old family connections in the neighbourhood. I sat in front of a wood fire in the cosy lounge writing e-mails for an hour, and then had the most delicious dinner.

Next morning, after a fabulous breakfast and leisurely walk around the village, I headed home. I’d managed one day travelling completely on my own.

Baby steps!

Baby steps.

We’ll get there.

Fall Down Seven Times, Get Up Eight.

Two days ago, Isobel and I were discussing whether we should continue with this blog. We’re not getting a lot of traction on it, and after almost 3 and 5 years since our husbands walked out on us, we’ve been through hell, come out the other side, and are happier that we’ve probably been in years.

We’re happy.

Is that what someone going through the early stages of one of the worst experiences of their life wants to hear?

Only days ago I played a ‘game’ with myself where I took my ex and a friend, or family member, and said to myself, “If I could only see one of these people once more in my life, who would it be?” I went through a whole list of almost 30 people lining up each one against my ex. Not one of my choices turned out to be him, and oh… did I feel smug.

And then…

I knew my husband was remarrying this month, but it’s one thing intellectually knowing it’s going to happen. Hearing from someone that it had actually happened was something else. And then to check out her Facebook page – I know, I know. It was mad thing to do – and see her looking so young, pretty and deliriously happy…

All that pain came rushing back. I know in my head that after years and years of having to deal with his infidelity and chronic illness I am better off now than I was with him, but inside…

You can’t turn off 37+ years of loving someone just like that. Despite the divorce papers tucked away in my fire safe, despite everything, it hadn’t felt ‘real’.

And now?

All those feelings of inadequacy, hurt, pain, betrayal and loss came rushing back. Hadn’t I been the one to pick him up off the floor in the middle of the night when he’d passed out after his blood pressure dropped so low? Hadn’t I been the one to move our family, not once, but 3 times across the Pond so he could follow his dreams? Hadn’t he told me every day of our married lives that he loved me? What is so wrong with me that he left me?

Once again I thought about that spot in the river where I had decided that, if the pain got so excruciating that I couldn’t stand it any more, I would walk in and it would all be over.

You know something? This whole divorce shit sucks. It sucks big time. It messes with your brain, with your heart and with your whole sense of yourself. You look at yourself and the choices you made with your life and marriage and wonder – if this was how it was going to end up – how you could have been so f—ing stupid as to have stood beside him and supported him for so long?

And yet…

I was a good wife. I am a good person. When I heard the news of his marriage I was on one of the best holidays I’ve ever had in my life.

I was devastated. I wanted to crawl in a hole and weep.

But…

I will survive.

I will thrive.

And so will you.

There will be days when the pain and loss overwhelms you…

… but then you’ll wake up next morning and get on with your life.

Gaslighting

When someone you love deeply treats you as if you were nothing, it’s nearly impossible not to feel like you are truly nothing.

The term Gaslighting comes from the 1944 movie Gaslight, starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman, in which a ‘loving husband’ tries to convince his wife, and others, that she is going mad. Of course she’s not – he’s manipulating her through lies and deceit to get something he wants.

Sadly – very sadly – it’s a technique many men use when ending (or sometimes within) a relationship.

Truth and lies become fluid. If you are the victim of this behaviour, you will probably find yourself questioning your own sanity. And even when your husband is caught out in a lie, he may continue to argue it’s not something he would ever say or do. And because you love him you’ll want to believe him.

So how can you protect yourself against being gaslit?

Firstly, listen to your gut. If you sense there’s a disconnect between what you’re being told and what you feel, there probably is.

Take some time to think back on your relationship.  Are you aware this has ever happened before?  If he’s ever done it once before – even on something minor – he has the capacity to do it again.

Try and protect yourself from being taken in again either before, during or after the divorce. This might involve writing down things he says or does that don’t sound correct to you – and perhaps even e-mailing them to a friend.  If/when he denies he ever said or did them, you have the proof that you are not mad.

And if he does still try, or manage, to gaslight you… do NOT be hard on yourself.  You are NOT gullible. You are a good, trusting and trustworthy person – qualities you do not want to lose.

 

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/here-there-and-everywhere/201701/11-signs-gaslighting-in-relationship

 

Attitude and Gratitude

Healing from an emotional avalanche is a long, long journey, often beset by many setbacks. For me, the early days were the baby steps of putting one foot in front of the other in the hope of simply making it through the day – and night – before waking up and starting all over again.

I’ve talked before about the things that helped – family, friends, walking, eating properly, starting a gratitude journal, but there was something else that helped me a lot when mind was unable to focus on reading anything longer than a paragraph. Pinterest.

Yes, you read it right.

Pinterest.

Specifically the thousands and thousands of inspiring and motivational quotes you can find there.

These and many others helped me see I was not alone in my grief and that there was hope out there.

Only as my concentration and focus started to slowly return (it took over a year year) was I able to try to read some of the books recommended by friends and family. Vikki Stark’s Runaway Husbands. Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, Eckhardt Tolle’s The Power of Now, Brene Brown’s Rising Strong.

I still love Pinterest for its quotes and check it out every few days.

But there’s also one video I return to that is inspiring and humbling. Maybe you’ve seen it already – Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture. (Click here to view.) I saw him first on Oprah and then watched his Last Lecture in its entirety on Youtube before buying his book.

The lessons he teaches are simple yet profound. My body might not take too well to bouncing anymore, but I’m going to work hard at following his example and be a Tigger rather than an Eyeore.

A friend in need…

I always thought I was a pretty solitary person, and that I didn’t have many friends. How wrong I was. They say ‘a friend in need is a friend indeed’ and when I was in need, they showed up. I can only hope that in future, I can be such a friend to others.

The following is a letter of thanks I sent to those amazing people who helped me through that first year. I’m posting it here for the following reasons.

  • During that year, there were countless nights (and days) when I was literally on my knees with grief. The pain was so great there were times I dreamed of going to sleep and never waking up. But there were good moments too – more than I realised until I wrote them down – and I survived. And you will too.
  • Friends and family were – and remain – crucial. They will be there for you. Accept their help.
  • An acquaintance read my letter. She had a friend going through something similar, and she said the examples I gave, suggested ways she could help her friend.

Dear Friends:

Tomorrow, August 5th, 2016, is a day I never imagined would, or wanted to, happen. I will be signing the final settlement papers on my divorce.

When I took my wedding vows back in 1977, I meant every word, yet here I find myself, 39 years later, a soon to be divorcee. What the hell happened? If you’ve been told that we ‘drifted apart’ or that our split was a ‘mutual decision’, please know that’s not what happened. His ‘office wife’ demanded – and was given – a promotion.

The last 15 months have been hell. They say grief is the price we pay for love. Trust me, I have paid. Big time. I never realized grief hurts so much, both emotionally and physically, and there is no way I would ever have got through the terrifying sensation of teeteering on a high wire with no safety net below me, or the countless nights that found me curled up in a ball on the carpet sobbing, without the support of YOU – my family and friends. So if I have spoken to you in any form – in real life, by phone, skype or digitally – since that morning he walked out on me, please accept a huge thank you from the bottom of my heart.

This – in no particular order – is just some of what you have done for, and with, me over the past eighteen months: helped me carry 66 heavy packing boxes into my new apartment, refused to allow me to spend ‘trigger days’ alone; hauled me off for the weekend on my birthday; opened your homes to me so I can just ‘be’, cry, sleep and walk your dog; taken me dog-walking in the park at midnight; introduced me to Chinese food I would never have tried on my own; spent endless – endless – hours on skype or telephone calls assuring me I will be okay; accompanied me to legal or financial meetings; walked a labyrinth; tried to teach me to swim; taken me out on the lake in a paddle boat; taken me to the theatre, movies, a home music concert, a folk festival; invited me out for coffee, lunch or dinner; planned the entire itinerary of a holiday so all I had to do was show up; introduced me to live jazz; climbed hills and mountains; ticked a climb to a Highland lochan off my bucket list; written and thrown a message in a bottle into the ocean (no reply yet!); taken me to, and picked me up from, the airport; ordered in pizza and laughed with me at Graham on the Beeb; given me a hug just because I looked like I needed one; given me foot balm to ease my ‘soles’; made me laugh by signing yourself the founding member of FAAC – Frank’s An Arse Club; gone through my settlement line by line, time after time, helping me through the legal morass; stood under the Big Dipper, glittering in an indigo sky, and reminding me we were truly blessed; asked a musician to play my favourite tune for me when I was too shy to ask for myself; cooked for me; allowed me to cook for you; taught me Feelin’ Groovy on the ukulele at 8 in the morning; sat in the sun or round the kitchen table sharing a bottle of wine (or two) or a meal; walked – through fields, glens, parks, ancient historical buildings, city streets, shopping malls, lanes that Mary Queen of Scots once rode down; come with me to the vet when I had to put my beloved golden retriever down; shared a picnic in the park; played guitar and sung in front of an open fire in a Scottish pub; encouraged me to get back to writing; gone second-hand clothes shopping and giggling like teenagers as we mixed and matched outfits in the changing room; made me beautiful handmade Christmas decorations so I can start afresh with new holiday traditions; assured me that I wasn’t going mad – that it’s all part of the process; inspired me by surviving your own later-in-life divorces and showing me there is light at the end of the tunnel; shared the challenges of divorce from a kid’s point of view so I can try and understand what my own kids are going through; been present at the birth of my grandson – (was also present for the birth of both my granddaughters before all this began which was just as incredible); invited me to visit you, no matter which part of the world you live in – I hope you meant it because if I haven’t already, I will turn up on your doorstep (having given you warning and making sure the invitation is real) one day; encouraged me to (successfully) submit a photo to the BBC.

YOU ARE ALL AMAZING – EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU. To have you all in my life, to have your support and friendship, I truly am blessed. You know that saying, that when the night is the darkest, the stars sparkle the brightest? Well you have been my stars.

I know I’m not totally through it yet. In fact, the counsel from those of you who have already walked this path is that the sense of loss never – completely – goes away. Not 100%. My heart has been scarred emotionally, in the same way that the heart muscle of someone who has experienced a heart attack is physically scarred. You can’t love someone for 20, 30, 40 years and turn it off, just like that, when they do. There will still be days when it hits me hard, but I am stronger now because you were there when I needed you.

THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!!

 

Coping with the Stress of Divorce

Dog in blanket

One thing I learned early on in the process of becoming single again was that I had to find a way to protect my health. The stress of having my world turned upside down and inside out was my biggest enemy to battle. And being 60 when it all began didn’t help! Getting older has its own stress menu to deal with.

I wasn’t sleeping well, to say the least. I worried about money, about my relationships with my adult children, with my friends, with my lawyer. At my annual physical, I broke down in tears when the doctor asked me how I’d been feeling.

I got so tired of hearing about how bad stress is for me. Okay, I know that but how on earth does one “deal” with stress? It just is, isn’t it? How could I eat healthy when the only food I could stomach was potato chips and chocolate? Stress wouldn’t let me eat healthy.

And oh, big revelation, stress affects sleep. Lying in bed, thoughts and scenes played through my head, a dozen at a time and all bad, all leading to other worries, other what if’s. It got so that I dreaded going to bed. It got so I drank two glasses of wine every night to buy myself a couple of hours of relief. And then I had that to worry about–was I becoming dependent on alcohol?
All not good. All building stress upon stress.

I googled “How to cope with stress,” and read about eating well, meditating, exercising…all things that seemed impossible to accomplish at the time. An entire day of preparing statements and information for my lawyer would go by and me not eating anything, not wanting to eat anything, not even feeling hunger. I lived alone now–no one to cook for or share a meal with. Yes, I felt sorry for myself. I became dehydrated from shedding tears. I couldn’t stop crying.

Meditate? I couldn’t focus enough even to read a book, let alone meditate. As for exercising- well, I went for walks with my dog, but that wasn’t offering much in the area of cardio. I was heading downhill fast. I knew it but I thought that I couldn’t do anything about it.

Divorce Stress is Different

One article that I came across in my search actually took a look at stress specifically in relation to divorce, arguing that divorce is the most stressful experience a human being can experience in that it is ongoing and affects every aspect of life.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/contemplating-divorce/201207/where-are-you-the-divorce-stress-scale

In this article, the author recognizes that coping with (not eliminating) stress from divorce is an ongoing process that is different in many ways from the usual strategies. She talks about getting information and becoming knowledgeable about the legal processes, brainstorming options and making a plan. Working towards being in control of the situation as much as possible can really help. That was it! I had lost control of my life; I needed to find new stars to steer by. Maybe there was a way to get safely to shore on my own.

Dealing with stress was under my control.

After that, I did try to eat better; I didn’t always succeed, that’s for sure, but I became more aware of what I was eating and tried to see that it was my choice whether to go for the cheese and crackers or instead add some cheese to a quick salad. I went for rambling walks with my dog, deciding just being outdoors on its own was better than no exercise at all. (And it made my dog happy, which made me happier too!)

The arthritis in my joints wasn’t going to let me take up jogging or aerobics at the gym, so I had to stop berating myself about cardio. I kept track of my blood pressure and took yoga classes. I stated taking a mild dose of an anti-depressant to counteract the sleeplessness and emotional breakdowns.

These things all helped, but the strategy that benefited me the most was talking out loud about my situation, as difficult as that was, especially in the beginning. As I opened my own bank account, negotiated my first “single” auto insurance policy and having to explain the why of it, the kindness and understanding of strangers over the phone was a touching surprise. I wasn’t looking for sympathy, but nevertheless, it just felt so good when someone would say, “I’m sorry to hear that you’re going through a divorce. It’s a stressful process.”

There was such comfort in knowing I wasn’t alone in this sea of failure and rejection.

Expressing what was happening as a simple fact and dealing with what had to be done one step at a time, brought me out of my head and into the world. Casting light on my fears gave me the strength to find ways to overcome them.

And each time I achieved one step forward, I felt that little bit better about myself and my situation.

 

 

 

 

Runaway Husbands

RUNAWAY HUSBANDS: The Abandoned Wife’s Guide to Recovery and Renewal by Vikki Stark.

Website: http://runawayhusbands.com

I love this book. It was my ‘bible’ in those first few months after my husband walked out on me, assuring me I was not alone, and talking me through the healing process. Even now, two years later, I’ll pick it up, and read through a few pages. There’s always something in there that helps me see how far I’ve come, in both practical and emotional ways, but still acknowledges the hurt and loss that will probably – to some extent – always be with me.

Written by a therapist, who was blindsided when she found herself in the same situation as so many of us, she gathered together the stories and thoughts of over 400 women who had also been abandoned. Patterns emerge thoughout the book, both of pain and healing. You – and we – are not alone. Other women have walked this path before us. Their stories are painfully recognizable… and their healing and transformation inspiring.

Close to the beginning of the book, Vikki Stark gives the 10 Hallmarks of what she calls Wife Abandonment Syndrome. Working my way through the list, I ticked off nine-and-a half of them. (I was fortunate – my husband didn’t leave me destitute.) I found the list extremely helpful as it left me feeling less stupid. I wasn’t the only person who had been manipulated by a man I loved.

Here is Vikki Stark’s list. I hope it helps you the way it helped me.

1) Prior to the separation, the husband had seemed to be an attentive, emotionally engaged spouse, looked upon by his wife as honest and trustworthy.

2) The husband had never said that he was unhappy or thinking of leaving the marriage, and the wife believed herself to be in a secure relationship.

3) The husband typically blurts out the news that the marriage is over out-of-the-blue in the middle of a mundane domestic conversation.

4) Reasons given for his decision are nonsensical, exaggerated, trivial or fraudulent.

5) By the time the husband reveals his intentions to his wife, the end of the marriage is already a fait accompli and he often moves out quickly.

6) The husband’s behavior changes radically, so much so that it seems to his wife that he has become a cruel and vindictive stranger.

7) The husband shows no remorse; rather, he blames his wife and may describe himself as the victim.

8) In almost all cases, the husband had been having an affair. He typically moves in with his girlfriend.

9) The husband makes no attempt to help his wife, either financially or emotionally, as if all positive regard for her has been suddenly extinguished.

10) Systematically devaluing his wife and the marriage, the husband denies what he had previously described as positive aspects of the couple’s joint history.