Divorce and Fear: How to Cope

04/29/2015 09:59 am ET | Updated Jun 27, 2015
Eric Michaud via Getty Images

As mediation day approaches, my anxiety rises. This, of course helps no one, least of all me. So, I work on that; daily, hourly. I breathe a lot. Not just your average in-and-out breathing. A lot of deep cleansing breaths, time outs where I lay on my bed, close my eyes, and wait for my cat to sit on me. I let his breathing and weight calm me. I take 10 minutes to slow my heart rate, to be in the present.

I have been paralyzed by the fear; but I can't stay in paralysis. I have to function as an adult, be a mom, and keep my panic quiet to protect my kids.

I have been paralyzed by the fear; but I can't stay in paralysis. I have to function as an adult, be a mom, and keep my panic quiet to protect my kids. I have to trust that I will persevere and even flourish as I have with every previous life challenge, daunting or not.

Life can be hard. The tough times make us stronger even if, while in them we'd rather crawl under the covers, watch bad TV, and eat ice cream. You can do that for a day here or there (and I have), but that won't get you through and past the hard times.

What am I afraid of? Everything. How much child support will I get? I am the primary caregiver of my children. Will I get spousal support? I am unable to work consistently due to a chronic illness. Will I be forced to sell the house and move my kids five months into the biggest trauma of their lives? If we do move, will I be able to stay in this neighborhood, where they go to school, have their life?

Looking at these questions, a reasonable person, an objective person, would say what needs to happen is what's in the best interest of the kids. And a reasonable person would agree, they should not have to move, they need financial support, as do I. Let's make sure they get through this as unscathed as possible. This is about them.

Unfortunately, things are so contentious with my ex that I cannot simply say: It's in the boys' best interest to put off selling the house a year. I know you want to sell now; it would be a cleaner break for us. It would be better financially. But, let's do what the boys need. Next year isn't that far away. We aren't even speaking. Every communication is run by my attorney. That's fear. And I'm sick of it. I'm ready to soar again.

I am still reeling from the change; so are the kids. It's been so fast--moving them out of their home seems like a blatant not in the best interest of the child violation that would get struck down by any reasonable mediator or parent. But it's all unknown. And that is where the fear comes in, the unknown.

When I was a kid, everything felt unknown. My parents had a messy divorce and we moved often--both parents combined, 10 times just through high school, the unknown. I changed schools six times, the unknown.

I am terrified, and the only way I can deal with the fear is by step-by-step, day-by-day following these four simple guidelines. I don't always succeed, but I'm doing my best.

Take it one day at a time. There is no other way to get through a tremendous life change than one day at a time. Anything else is overwhelming. The practical me is thinking ahead; I'm thinking of what-if scenarios, but nothing has been decided and I am not powerless. I have a say in what happens, I also like control and to know what to expect. And, although I can't dictate an outcome, I can plan, I can be ready, and I can stay calm.

I have to do this for myself and my kids so their world, our world, feels as secure as possible. I can only control my actions. I don't know what's coming next. Will it be a nasty email about finances or custody? Will one of my sons succumb to the stress or get sick, scared, depressed, cry for hours and need to be held? These have been regular occurrences, at least once a week for one or the other child since their dad left. And when this happens, I drop everything and nurture, and reassure, even when I'm exhausted, empty, and scared. One day at a time. Eventually, it's bedtime, and a new day comes.

Have faith that things will be OK. I am not a religious person, but I have found that through hardship comes strength, and with faith and trust, I will have good things, I will get what I need. Given that which I have lived through, physical abuse, verbal abuse, an unstable childhood, an eating disorder, financial stress, medical issues, I'd say I'm doing well. I have worked through my issues and learned how to parent in a healthy way. I do work that I love, when I can. I manage my physical illness, and I have forgiven and moved on from the past. So far, despite hurdles, this latest one an unexpected divorce, I am a survivor. I don't feel strong right now, but I know I am. I have history to back that up. I have a support system to remind me. And I have children to love and care for. I have to be strong. And have faith.

Lose it sometimes and give in to the fear. There are times when just curling up into a ball and crying or raging or zoning out helps. It just does. You can't stay that way. I can't. I have responsibilities. But if I let myself go there and really feel the fear, then I can come out of it. I can set it aside. Trying to keep my shit together all day every day is not realistic, even without a divorce. So, I allow myself to lose it. I just make sure I don't scare my kids. I cry, nap, write, rant to friends in my divorce support group, and let it out. And then, I have to be done. I have people helping me, and I have myself. Being afraid is OK; it doesn't mean things are doomed. Feeling the fear when I need to allows me to move forward; I have no other choice.

Finally, treat yourself as you would an ailing friend or child. You are in a shitstorm, there is just no other way to put it. But, it won't last. In the meantime, what would you do if a friend, or your child, was so distraught that they cried at the drop of a hat, felt like they couldn't function, or feared for their future? You would baby them. You would nurture them with whatever kindness and care works for them. For me, enough sleep is my top priority, emotionally and physically. Then, limiting stress; reaching out only to those who support me and avoiding all others; making sure I have my favorite foods to enjoy without overindulging and otherwise eating healthy fuel so I feel good; getting fresh air and sunshine and resting in a quiet, dark room when I need to. I exercise when I can and take breaks when I'm not up for it; now is not the time to sign up for a marathon. I'm already doing one. And it's taking an emotional and physical toll.

When my kids are sick or overwhelmed emotionally, I let them take a mental health day. I buy their favorite ice cream. I let them watch a little extra TV. I cuddle more, I read stories. I nurture. So, nurture yourself. That's what I'm trying to do, because I'm hurting, I'm struggling, and my reserves are low. It won't always be this way, but one day at a time, with faith and self-care I will come out on the other end, better, stronger, and happier. And, so will you.

This post originally appeared on The Good Men project as Coping With Fear During Divorce.

For more from this author, visit her blog at In Other Words.

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