Some people go through the stages of grief in the wake of a divorce decision. After the decision or maybe not until after the filing, do they go through denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. I went through all of those several times in my marriage, but in deep honesty for the last two years of living with Mr. Jones.
- Denial: I was in denial that I had made a mistake allowing him back into our life.
- Anger: I was angry that I was duped, yet again, and that I had put the kids back into the situation.
- Bargaining: I begged him to please. be. better. And then I bargained with God. "If I promise to do X, will you bring him to his knees and make him better?" I bargained with myself. "He leaves for five days at a time. You can put up with his behavior for the few days that he's home."
- Depression: But I couldn't deal with his behavior those few days. Neither could the kids. I sat for days, depressed that "this is my life."
- Acceptance: I finally accepted that it had been my decision to stay in that marriage... and that it was my responsibility to get out.
So it was with some confidence that I made Mr. Jones leave our home. I thought I'd already gone through all the rough stuff and life after this marriage would be much better. But in the last year and a half since I called it quits, "much better" hasn't quite happened. In some ways it has, however, it started off kind of chaotic.
I thought I was ready to manage the lack of support. No problem, I thought. I'm not without talents. I can get back to work. In retrospect, I realize I was being naive at the state of my mental health. While I was strong enough to make the end happen, I was ignoring the impact on my psyche the stress of living with Mr. Jones' behavior had caused. I had no idea I was starting to suffer from Divorce Brain.
Divorce Brain is like a constant veil of fog. You can't remember anything... not even when you showered last. It's like when you drive to work and don't even remember anything about the drive, but that feeling lasts all day for every little thing. Some days, I would stare right in one of my kids' faces and not be able to recall their name. I don't mean accidentally calling them one of their siblings' names. I mean, I could NOT remember naming them. I was afraid that I was really going crazy. That fear sometimes sent me deeper into that debilitating fog.
A friend of mine recently reminded me of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and how it relates to divorce. Maslow used the terms (in the shape of a pyramid, from bottom to top) Physiological, Safety, Belongingness and Love, Esteem, Self-Actualization, and Self-Transcendence to describe the pattern that human motivations generally move through. If any of those stages is corrupted, the entire psyche suffers. The base of the pyramid, the areas of human existence that are the foundation of psychology, are Physiological (air, water, food, shelter) and Safety (both physical and economic). Those two things were the areas of my life that had been adversely affected in my marriage and eventual separation.
Hence, Divorce Brain.
Because I couldn't seem to function like a normal person, I couldn't really work full time. I tried... and failed. I was forgetting the simplest tasks. I was mentally and physically exhausted all. the. time. I could only manage to work on freelance projects and my regular writing gigs. Anything more than that and my brain glitched out. It was even worse with every event that Mr. Jones created, like having my paid-off vehicle repossessed due to a loan he took out on it and never paid back.
Yeah... THAT happened.
With every crappy thing that happened, I swirled deeper. Eventually, I learned to come back out of those events faster and stronger. I learned to rely on multiple notifications and alarms to make sure I didn't miss anything. I rode my bike along the coast as much as I could to get my mind off of things. Then one day last summer, about a year after I asked Mr. Jones to leave and about eight months after the worst of the worst had occurred, I noticed that I had made it through my daily plan and to all of my appointed errands on time and without panic. I was so excited, I told a friend,
"My brain works again!"
I've read several papers on the effects of mental abuse and divorce on the brain. It's scary how much someone else's behavior can harm your own brain... the one you've been working to fill with beautiful words and memories all your life. But I had faith that I could come out of it. And I had two kids at home and two kids out in the world and two grand-babies to love to give me the motivation to get out of that dark hole.
My life was on pause because of Divorce Brain. I'm unpausing it now while trying to be gracious with myself about my lack of progress this year. I call 2016 My Year of Doing Nothing. But it's not completely true. I did do something. I allowed myself to heal. Now I have my footing again and I feel stronger, mentally and spiritually. I'm cautiously optimistic that the worst of the darkness is behind me. There's still a lot to do to get back to normal... or at least, my new normal... but for now, I'm just glad to be out of the fog and no longer suffering from Divorce Brain.