Q. I am in my 60’s. I dated a man for five years, and he suddenly dumped me. We were spending every weekend together. I really want him back, but he says there is no chance. I’ve ignored my friends and they aren’t happy with me. What can I do to rebuild my life?
A. Since your former partner says that the relationship cannot be restored, I would believe him. Oftentimes, people think the break-up is just a phase and wait for their partner to return. Even if he does return, it doesn’t mean he won’t desert you again.
A former patient of mine took her partner back several times. The final break came when, on the second night of a 10-day cruise, he told her that he had met someone else. She was devastated, and stuck with him in the middle of the ocean.
It is important for you to find healthy ways to deal with your emotions and to move forward with your life. Avoiding the break-up by getting into another relationship immediately, relying on drugs or alcohol, or distracting yourself with obligations may work short-term, but will likely add to your distress later. You will grieve for your partner’s absence. That is normal, so allow time to absorb the loss.
Reconnect with your friends and past social activities. Most of your friends will gladly welcome your return. Volunteer, exercise, read, take a vacation, or do anything enjoyable you put on hold while you were in the relationship.
There are several books you may find helpful. I recommend “Getting Past Your Break-Up” by Susan Elliott or “How to Survive the Loss of a Love” by Peter McWilliams. If you continue to mourn after a few months, please contact a mental health professional who can give you further techniques for break-up survival.
Q. Since I divorced my husband a year ago, I can’t stop worrying. My sleep is disturbed, I’m having trouble concentrating, and I just don’t feel good. I’m not depressed, but I feel on edge all of the time. I’ve tried exercise, but it doesn’t help much. What is wrong with me, and how can I manage it?
A. A traumatic experience can activate psychological distress. Although I cannot make a diagnosis without an evaluation, you may have developed a generalized anxiety disorder. Some of the symptoms include: constant worrying, restlessness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle aches or tension, trouble sleeping, and stomach problems.
First, you should have a complete medical check-up with your primary care physician to rule out any physical illness. Second, if you have been drinking to excess or using recreational drugs, you should stop immediately. Although substances may provide some short-term relief, it’s a dangerous Band-Aid approach to a serious situation. Third, you need to consider the possibility of medication and/or psychotherapy.
Although it seems counterintuitive, medications that are given for depression often seem to alleviate anxiety as well. Some of these are Prozac, Celexa, Zoloft and Lexapro. Additionally, your doctor may give you an anti-anxiety medication to use short-term.
I suggest that you also meet with a cognitive-behavioral therapist (CBT) who will help you correct dysfunctional thought patterns or behaviors that may have come about during the time of your divorce. For example, you may be frightened to live alone; you may feel a sense of betrayal; you may even feel guilt.
Since it may take time for medication and therapy to alleviate your distress, you can begin by reading about generalized anxiety and treatment options. A good start is the website for the National Institute for Mental Health (www.nimh.nih.gov). Additionally, there are many excellent resources in your local bookstore or on-line. Find the ones that you feel are most appropriate for your condition and interests.
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Nancy Ryburn holds a doctorate degree in psychology from Yeshiva University in New York City where she maintained a private practice. She now teaches psychology at Southeast Arkansas College. E-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. The questions could appear in a future column. There will be no identifying information and all e-mails remain confidential.