Divorce is the leading cause of temporary insanity. Trust me, I know. My work with divorcing women gives me a front row seat to the show. Whoever you are in your regular life -- whether you're Calm Carla, Together Tricia, or Fearless Frances -- you're not that same person while you are slogging through your divorce. And while there's nothing you can do to prevent the condition, there's a lot you can do to prepare for it.
There are five basic personality profiles that come standard with this temporary insanity. The tricky thing about these profiles is there's no telling who's likely to assume which personality. It's not like there's a pattern to it -- like if you are normally Bad-Ass Barbara, you can expect to transform into Stalker Stacy, but if you're typically Calm Carla, you'll morph into Runner-up Rhonda. It ends up being luck of the draw. Like the "prize" in a box of Cracker Jack, you may not know exactly what you're going to get but you do know this much: the options are limited and all of them crappy. (Anyone want a pencil topper? I didn't think so.)
But here's how you can prepare: Familiarize yourself with the following five profiles, and have your friends and family familiarize themselves with them, too. Then, when one of you notices that you're starting to change, you can spring into action and start the appropriate treatment plan.
Train-wreck Trina: Train-wreck Trina may be going through a grown-up life event like a divorce, but that doesn't mean she can't party like a sorority girl on academic probation. Train-wreck Trina thinks the best way to prove to everyone else -- but especially to her ex -- that her divorce hasn't caused her to miss a beat is to never pass up a happy hour or a one-night stand. For her, divorce is a race against her ex to see who can re-couple up the fastest. And the finish line of moving on is moving in together.
What Train-wreck Trina doesn't get is that replacing your partner without reviewing what went wrong with your last relationship sentences you to repeating your same mistakes. That's why rather than moving forward, Train-wreck Trina ends up spinning her wheels.
The treatment plan for Train-wreck Trina is a ramped up social life that doesn't involve men. Think girlfriend trips, book clubs, training for a triathlon -- anything to keep her busy, but out of bars and beds. That will help her to pass the time between relationships in a healthy way and give her the chance to sort out what went wrong before getting back into the ring.
Bitter Brittney: Bitter Brittney never wanted this divorce and she's not going to let anyone forget it. Her daily forecast is angry with a chance of tirade. She systematically blow-torches every opportunity for a fresh start. Even when she meets new people, the first (and only) thing she wants to talk about is all the ways her no-good, A-hole of an ex did her wrong. Her vibe is so toxic that she drives even her closest friends away. But because bitterness has become her baseline, Brittney has no way to gauge either how miserable she is or how miserable she is to be around.
The treatment plan for Bitter Brittney is to establish a strict rule that forbids her from talking about her ex. She'll need to enlist her friends' and family's help in this effort. To start, she should designate an alternative topic -- like movies or current events -- and let everyone know what this substitute topic is. Then, when she finds herself wanting to talk about her ex, she or her friends can deliberately switch tracks to the "go to" topic instead. Over time, this practice will retrain Bitter Brittney's brain so that trash talking her ex is no longer her only topic of conversation.
Stalker Stacy: Stalker Stacy has split up with her ex, but monitoring him is still her full-time job. And when it comes to stalking, she definitely has skills. We're not talking about a low-tech operation involving driving by her ex's house morning, noon, and night -- that's for beginners. She takes full advantage of today's technology, hacking into his credit card and email accounts so she can track all of his activities and interactions. Oh, and you know that GPS feature on cell phones? Well, her ex never thought to turn his off. And since she still knows the password to his cell phone account, she can log in and clock his every move, too.
Stalker Stacy is so consumed with secretly monitoring her ex that she has neither the interest nor the time to make plans with anyone else. For Stalker Stacy to get back to her regular self, she needs an intense new hobby -- something that will both occupy her time and get her adrenaline pumping. A consuming new pastime like a class in ghost hunting or a physically demanding sport like mountain climbing or cycling will keep her mind engaged and break her habit of ex-husband hunting.
Runner-up Rhonda: Sure, her husband dumped her for his hot administrative assistant, but Runner-up Rhonda still has "first wife" status. She knows deep down that her ex husband just can't live without her. After all, he needs her to pick up his dry cleaning, print out the kids' weekly schedule and send a card to his mom on Mother's Day (she even signed his name and everything). She knows she's still a VIP in her ex-husband's life. What she doesn't get is that the "P" stands for prisoner, not person -- and she's her own jailer. With all the errand-running she does for her ex, she doesn't have the time or energy to establish her own post-divorce life.
The problem with Runner-up Rhonda isn't that she has a lot to give, it's to whom she's giving it. In order to return to her normal personality, Runner-up Rhonda needs to find a new beneficiary for all of her nurturing energy. Volunteer gigs like spending time at a children's shelter or signing up for regular shifts for Meals on Wheels are good ways to indulge this tendency while moving forward with her own life rather than trying to keep her place in her ex's life.
Victim Valerie: Victim Valerie wants the world to know that she's still hurting over her divorce. So she uses Facebook as an outlet to share messages about healing, the precious nature of true friendship, the sacred value of women, and how it's not your fault when mean people hurt you, it's theirs.
What Victim Valerie needs to realize is that being a victim is supposed to be a temporary condition, not a permanent identity. And while her friends were truly sorry for her at first, the "sell-by" date of their sympathy has long since expired.
Victim Valerie needs to permanently pull the plug on her personal pity party. This requires putting herself in a position of power so she can begin to see herself in a different light. She doesn't have to run for governor (unless she's game, of course), but she should pick something in which she has interest and expertise and spearhead a project in that area. From coaching a youth basketball team to leading a Girl Scout troop to offering to serve as an officer in her neighborhood association, it's not the project that matters, it's the capacity in which she serves. By volunteering to lead an effort, Victim Valerie will see herself as someone who has the power to make good things happen, not someone who sits by powerlessly while bad things happen to her.
By catching these personality transformations early and instituting corrective measures as soon as possible, you can be assured of not just returning to your old self, but becoming You 2.0 -- a better version of who you were before your divorce. And there's a name for that girl, too -- it's Healthy Helen.
Healthy Helen doesn't seek out rocky roads, but when she finds herself on one she doesn't stall out, she navigates with both hands on the wheel. She stands up for herself yet she's honest about her own mistakes without beating herself up over them. She takes responsibility and learns what she can while always moving forward. can't wait for you to get to know Healthy Helen. You're going to really dig her.
Follow Christina Pesoli on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ChristinaPesoli