For better or worse, eight years of living in the fast-paced city of Washington D.C. has honed my “Type-A” personality.
While the sense of urgency that comes along with getting things completed quickly is sometimes beneficial—I noticed far too late in the divorce process that the impatient “get it done now!” attitude added unnecessary stress and panic, to a situation that is already sad and confusing.
The solution is so simple, yet so difficult—we must stop thinking that we have to do everything, all at once.
Right after my husband moved out, I had it in my head that getting everything done, in as little time as possible, would somehow make all the heartbreak and anger go away.
Anyone going through divorce can attest that getting through the day can be a living hell. I remember having problems falling asleep at night—I’d stay awake, worrying. What if I couldn’t afford the lawyer retainer? What if my husband came back and demanded the furniture? What were people saying behind my back?
The worries didn’t disappear when I woke up, and I dreaded the anxiety that would follow me. I thought that the quicker I took care of all the tasks—mind you, at the beginning I had no clue what all those tasks even were—the sooner I would heal and feel better.
I soon learned it doesn’t quite work like that during a divorce.
To say I went crazy with planning, organizing and crossing things off multiple “to-do” lists would be an understatement. I remember running on three hours of sleep every night for a few weeks, staying up til three o’clock in the morning trying to arrange my closet, hiding anything that reminded me of my marriage, staring at separation agreement templates online with bleary bloodshot eyes, sneaking away on work breaks to call the utility company and get his name removed from the account.
Did all these little tasks get finished quickly? Yes.
But what did that accomplish? Did it make me feel any better? Was I being kind to myself—allowing myself to just breathe and heal? No and no.
That’s the worst part about separation and divorce—during those initial weeks and months (I refer to these as the nuclear fallout) we actually don’t even know what it is.
Do we need to find housing if we’re moving out of the marital home? Yes. Do we need to make sure we are financially secure, and protected by any craziness, by establishing our own checking account, savings account, credit card account and removing our name from joint accounts? Absolutely.
However, there are so many tasks that don’t actually require our immediate attention—so, those can wait.
When we are not patient and kind with ourselves or when we don’t give ourselves a second to just chill out—we get ridiculously overwhelmed, especially when we are already in pain. It’s like adding fuel to the fire in the “separation and divorce hell” we’re living.
So, how do we stop the madness? (Or at least simmer it down?)
We know that we that we’re making it harder on ourselves when we think we have to do everything all at once, but how can break this habit?
The solution is simple—we must create compassionate timelines for ourselves.
But why, exactly?
Well, I like to think of divorce as a marathon. (Actually, it’s more like those crazy ultra-triathlons, where athletes are running, swimming and biking for days.) But divorce is even crazier because we are forced to juggle the onslaught of grief, panic, fear and other emotions—as well as custody, other legal drama, financial issues and myriad other “to-dos” for months, sometime even years.
So, why don’t we plan our own course in the same way an athlete would plan their training?
I remember sitting in a boring Monday morning office meeting, when the division chief was droning on about mileposts—or whatever cheesy corporate buzz word was in style that week—for some big project that wasn’t even due for another 18 months.
That’s when it hit me—why not use a timeline, similar to the ones done with project management, and integrate that in my own divorce?
When I returned home that evening, I went through all the “to-dos” I had been losing sleep over. I put them in a calendar, mapping out my priorities—things to be accomplished in two weeks, a month, three months and six months. They changed over time, of course, but much to my surprise it worked!
Mapping out all the things I needed to still accomplish with the divorce, and giving myself the time to balance those tasks with the emotional and grieving aspects that I could not put a due date on, somehow worked! With the timeline, I had more time for myself and more time to heal.
The key was to be patient, accept that not everything had to be done right away and that there were some things that could actually wait.
I only wish that the idea of creating a timeline had come to me sooner. I could have saved myself that added stress and panic, at the beginning of the separation, that I try so hard to forget.
So many people make the divorce mistake of taking on too much.
We build these unrealistic expectations that we can do it all quickly, because we don’t know what else to do. Websites and well-intended advisers give divorcees the “must-dos” of divorce, but finding a unicorn is easier than finding a timeline that is reasonable for our own situation.
We must create them for ourselves. It doesn’t have to be time consuming, just compassionate. We can take a deep breath and think about what it is we need to get down right now (hint: it’s not everything), what can actually wait for a month or two and what can wait for a few months down the road.
We must balance those confusing divorce “to-dos”—the crazy logistics and business decisions—in equal parts, carving out time to heal and provide self-care.
Additionally, we must remember that our ability to reflect without self-guilt, accept without complacency and motivate ourselves without punishment, is what will help us get through these trying times.
It is our choice—it is the gift we give to ourselves and our future.
And some Buddhist wisdom for those who want to keep trying: