I have been on a more even keel for the last week or so, and as the worst of recent heartbreak fades, I have looked back over the tear-stricken path I have climbed in the last year and nearly a half (golly, has it been that long already?).
Ok, so which advice did I follow to get over heartbreak? How did I get over it anyway, and what have I learnt from the experience? Firstly, I’d like to clarify that none of it was truly enjoyable, and if I were you, I would not try it at home.
But if you really, really have no choice and heartbreak is about to kick your door in, here is my first piece of advice: Take a deep breath, and adopt the brace position. Oxygen masks may fall from the ceiling if you are lucky.
Seriously, if you are about to get heartbroken, you are also about to get inundated with (mostly useless) advice. In my case, I could categorise the advice I received according to rough socio-ethnological groups (bear with me, you are also about to understand why I am not an anthropologist):
American friends said things like:
- Think positively (No1 useless advice)- Oh yes, of course, now why did I not think of that myself? I’ll just flick the switch and positive thoughts will magically have me skipping around the room.
- Take pills (antidepressants, anti-anxiety, sleeping pills)- This may actually be good advice if you feel it could help you. Getting enough sleep is especially important because, yes, sleep deprivation will make everything worse (no really, it can get worse). In my view, taking chemicals, is a bit like getting pain relief when giving birth: Good stuff, takes nothing pleasant away from the experience, and what is the point of suffering if you don’t need to? No-one will give you a medal for it, and repeat after me “I am not Jesus Christ…”. Right, now that this point is clear, I will add that pills are not mandatory. In other words, if you don’t feel like taking medications, don’t get bullied into it. In my case, for some reasons I cannot entirely work out, the idea of taking pills made me totally panicky, which kind of defeated the purpose, and so I did without.
- Pray– Now that’s an interesting one, given that I am a complete heathen who doesn’t believe in anything bar the power of chocolate mousse*. But by all means, do if it works for you.
British friends said things like:
- Get plastered– Mmm, well yes, sure, but I’d have to spend the next six months on a vodka & orange drip, and I hate needles.
- Keep calm and carry on– Are you having a laugh? My world just crumbled, and I am not English.
- Still, there is a nugget of good advice in there, it will seem positively impossible, when even brushing your teeth feels like a ridiculously hard thing to do, and what’s the point, because we’re all gonna die anyway…. But a minimum of normality (getting dressed before you go out, paying bills, letting the dog out) needs to carry on in your life, because trust me, you will survive, and you want to still have your children, your home and you job when you emerge.
- This is when you need to ask for help. Unless you live in Farnborough, or somewhere equally weird, lots of people will normally tell you “If you need anything, ask me”, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you”. Well, take them up on it. I know, I know, you’re not used to it, you don’t want to trouble them etc… Well, here’s some news: Most people (that includes you) like to help others, because it makes them feel good about themselves. I’m not saying move in with your friends, empty their freezer and hog the remote controls, but ask for meals, nights out, a shoulder to cry on, baby-sitting… Whatever makes you feel better, ask for it. You will be doing everyone a favour.
- Stop talking about it, it’ll only make you feel worse (useless advice No 348)- Avoid anyone who tells you something along those lines. Either they are psychopaths, or for some reason, your distress makes them feel uncomfortable. It is totally normal to need to talk/write about things endlessly, to repeat the same things over and over like you are a sandwich short of a picnic, it is a way to digest traumatic events. Wanting to understand what happened, when, why, and how at the subatomic scale will also happen, especially if you’re not the one who walked away from the relationship. This is a normal reaction to the feeling that you have lost control over your own life. Keep talking.
- Eat – When T left, I stopped eating and sleeping. It was my reaction to the shock. Other people start eating like it is going out of fashion, and sleeping all the time, we are all different. Anyway, as you may know, the French worship food, and someone who is not eating is a source of unbearable social anxiety. So I got plied by friends and family, who went out of their way to find things I could tolerate to ingest. I am immensely grateful for all these marks of affection.
- Seriously, not eating for a couple of weeks is all fair enough, and if you want to shed a few pounds and taunt your ex by looking fabulous in your trikini this Summer, fine. But not eating is a bit like not sleeping, it will make things worse. So try to keep consuming food. And if you’re worried, see a doctor. I sort of held out by buying anything I fancied at the supermarket, which made for some very weird shopping baskets at times (like when I went through a spring roll and sushi phase), and having snacks any time I could face eating.
- You need to go out and see people– Now I don’t know about you, but the idea of having to plaster a smile on in a crowd of happy, well-meaning people, and to go through the motions of pretending I am ok when I feel dead inside appeals almost as much as say… poking my own eyes out with a blunt spoon. If you feel good enough to go out, by all means do, but if not, don’t force yourself, it would only make things worse. I did need a lot of human contact when I felt down, and so favoured seeing friends on their own or in very small groups, so that I could bore them senseless with my broken record of indignation and sadness…
Male friends said:
- He’s a bastard, forget him (useless advice No1326)- To which my standard response would usually be something like”Yes, what a pig, let’s hide prawns in impossible-to-reach places inside his car, mwahahaha…I cannot believe I actually loved such a horrible person. Wait, he’s not horrible really, or I wouldn’t have loved him. In fact, I still love him, boohoohooohoo”.
- Along the same lines, you will hear “You need to stop thinking about him/her, you are only hurting yourself, you are better off without him/her, you need to move on, you need to focus on the future, etc…”. Haha, very funny stuff, I’ll just accidentally drop a very heavy object on your foot and ask you to forget about it and move on, shall I?
- There’s nothing you can do about it– Aah, ok, if you excuse me for a second, I’ll just go and throw myself in the nearest river, then.
- Shag anything with a pulse within a 50 km radius (10 if you live in a densely populated area)- The idea of being intimate with someone made me want to puke for several months. And when it no longer did, I still felt way too fragile to risk getting close to someone.
Retail therapy friends said:
- Get new clothes – If you’ve got the funds, and it does make you feel better, why not, hey.
- Get a new haircut– Same as above, why not. I went for a short cut, which involved running a hand through my hair as the sum and total of my styling routine, and left me with more time to do important stuff such as crying and demanding why oh why oh why. Just be mindful of the fact that now may not be the best time to go for dreadlocks, size 1 clippers, or green dye. It may feel liberating as you do it, but will also feel awful if you regret it five minutes later.
- Redecorate your bedroom/kitchen/toilet – Again, fine, especially if you cannot wait to wipe out his black and chrome bookshelves (what is it with men and black/chrome furniture?), or her floral patterned wallpaper. In my book, any kind of project which enthuses you is good (but don’t quote me if it involves breaking the law and you get caught), and anything which helps you reclaim your home and feel better is good. Combine the two, ask friends for help, and hey presto, one remarkably good piece of advice. Let’s have a round of applause.
My sister said:
- Hike at least 1500m height difference everyday and you will sleep at night– Sure. And that sounds highly practical with two children in the middle of winter. Still, it’s worth a try if you have some hills or mountains handy, and no children in tow.
- What about climbing ice cascades then?– She is my sister, and doesn’t give up easily. I love her really.
- Variations on the theme include “join a gym, go running, take up tennis again”– All worth having a go at if you feel like it, exercise does tend to make people feel better, but again do not let yourself be guilt-tripped into committing to anything which does not work for you.
Self-helpy friends said:
- Try Bach floral remedies– I did try, and remembered to take a few drops of the ill-tasting mixture for about three days. I’m skeptical about whether it did anything for me, but apparently a lot of people rave about these, they are relatively inexpensive and cannot do you any harm, so why not try?
- Read self-help books– Again, call me old fashioned, but I am a huge skeptic when anything claims to revolutionise your life easily and in a time frame which does not involve years. I tried a couple of books, including the popular The power of now, and new Attached. I know that these books help a lot of people, so again they are worth a try if you are into that kind of stuff.
- Try meditation– I haven’t actually tried meditation, but whatever helps you feel more centered is good. I practice yoga once a week, and think it has really helped me. I am not good at it by any stretch of the imagination, but any activity which helps you forget about your problems, feel less tense, or weepy is good.
Just remember that people will advise you about what works for them, and sadly, there is no universal recipe to getting over heartbreak… As a rule of thumb, I would say that anything or anyone who claims otherwise is a fraud.
But don’t go running for the nearest river just yet, it does not mean that you have to be miserable for ever and ever. Go with your instinct and try whatever sounds good to you, find out what works, and practice it religiously.
I know, I know, it sucks and you just want a magic wand to make it all go away. Well, that I cannot provide, but just know that it WILL get better. Honest.
Granted, you are probably thinking “But, but that Lady E just doesn’t understand, I feel awful, and will not ever ever recover from this heartbreak”. Trust me, trust pretty much everyone on my blogroll, we’ve all been there, felt like shite, lived to tell the tale, and I dare say that we’d all be cheering you on over the internet.
* If all else fails, there’s always chocolate. My one and only, real choc mousse recipe to come next.