On 26th September 2014, my marriage ended. My husband, father of my two sons, divorced me. It wasn’t what I wanted but there’s not a lot you can do when the person you’ve been with for 15 years decides they don’t love you any more. We’d been separated for 14 months.
I’ve been thinking for some time about what to say, if anything, in public about this biggest crisis of my personal life. I’ve tried not to use social media as an outlet, the cauldron of high emotion (on both sides) really didn’t need me to stir it. Neither did I want my children to find mounds of ill-considered seething vitriol if they explored my online history in years to come.
I also don’t feel the need to share my story. That’s a degree of revelation and vulnerability too far, even for me. Also, everyone’s experience of divorce is probably as unique as their marriage, and the people in it. For example, I imagine mine would have been a very different experience if we didn’t have children or if either of us had been unfaithful. There are common strands to those individual stories but there are plenty of those stories online already (I know, I’ve read a lot of them) for someone to perform that analysis…what do I have to add?
One of the things I wasn’t expecting in the process of divorce was how many people I would lose. I’m very sociable and well-connected, and it’s not always easy to tell the difference between a close connection and a genuine friend. Until you go through something like a divorce, that is. Some took sides against me, but most honestly didn’t know what to say, so ignored me. I can understand both, but that doesn’t make it easier. Through these mechanisms, I have lost touch with many of those I once called my family and friends.
A few responded to my dramatic change in circumstances and status by trying to correct it, like my picture on their wall was suddenly out of line and needed straightening. I know they meant well, but some responded by telling me what I had done to cause my marriage to fail and others gave me dubious advice on how to fix it. I know these people were largely just thinking aloud, trying to make sense of something that had totally blind-sided them, but those thoughts would have been so much better staying inside their heads. I couldn’t change the situation I was in, or the things I’d done which had contributed to it, so these kinds of discussions only served to make me feel more wretched and powerless.
The most helpful response was to be quietly present. I kept going because I had to, I had two small boys depending on me, and (way down in distant second place) my colleagues at work and within ScienceGrrl. But there were many days where I dragged myself out of bed, in tears, to do that…and ended the day in a similar state. On those days an e-mail to say ‘stay strong’ or a text saying ‘thinking of you’ was the chink of light in the dark that gave me hope. I’m so grateful for those who kept that link, who gave in a way I could receive when I couldn’t talk about it and was stumbling, numb, through the days. On the whole, they were the ones I later invited in, who hugged me and held my hand, who listened over tea and wine, who took me out to show me the good things that existed beyond my current experience and even – surprisingly – in it, who I felt able to turn to for practical help with cooking meals, childcare, DIY, buying a car, and moving house three times. These people came from all corners of my life, male and female, old and young, of all faiths and none, family or not, friends for decades or months. What they all have in common is that they couldn’t let me go through this on my own, and I’m eternally grateful for them.
I guess this is what I wanted to share, out of it all. If you want to help a friend in crisis, let them know you’re there. And don’t let them forget it.
That said, there did come a point where what I was going through became too big for all but my very closest friends to bear, and even too much for me to comprehend and process. I got to a stage where my thoughts and emotions were so fragmented and tangled and frayed that I knew I needed professional help, and I found my mental health A&E in Elli Keavey. She has been my counsellor for over a year and has helped me understand what I’ve been through and my response to it. With her help I have arrived at a place where I know who I am, and what I need, and can look at the future with tentative hope rather than grim determination. If you’re going through a crisis and feeling like you’re really not coping, please, don’t go under – get help. Coming out of it sane is worth every penny.