A quick Google search on just that -- how to mend a broken heart -- results in nearly 10 billion entries. “Can you die of a broken heart?” nets about 400 million results.
It’s safe to say, then, that a broken heart may be just as common as the common cold -- and like the common cold, has no single, hard and fast, guaranteed cure.
Carlie, 27, just recently broke up with her boyfriend of ten years, Colin. They’d been high school sweethearts who went through college together, and were even engaged for a time. When Colin left her, saying he loved her but was no longer in love with her, Carlie spiraled into despair.
She couldn’t function; she called in sick so often that her performance and reputation at work plummeted. She withdrew from her friends and her family, prompting them to panic. She barely ate, and lost a significant amount of weight in mere weeks.
Many people know what this feels like. A broken heart is a devastating injury, and it takes just as much time as a visibly physical ailment to heal. Some recover faster than others; some, like Carlie, feel like there’s no end in sight to the pain. Everything is affected -- one’s job, relationships, health and everyday functioning.
A broken heart can be the result of several things: it can be due to a breakup, or it can follow the death of a partner. This post focuses on a breakup, and what one can do to move forward toward healing.
Is there such a thing as normal after a breakup?
When two people fall in love, it’s a beautiful thing -- suddenly someone is finishing your sentences for you, there’s someone to share meals with, there’s a bright and shiny and romantic future in the horizon. It feels like it’s always going to be this way forever.
Until a different kind of reality sets in, and these two people who seemed to never be able to stand any time apart suddenly can’t find medium ground. The intimacy seems forced, and then ruptured, and suddenly -- it all falls apart.
When we endure a breakup, it’s almost as if a part of us dies. We feel like the way we were living has been disrupted, and everything we know is suddenly foreign. We now have to consider how to go about our daily lives in a new way. In a breakup, sometimes it’s more than just household items that get divided. Sometimes it’s friends, sometimes it’s even family. Sometimes we feel like even we, inside, are falling apart.
Divorce is one of the most painful things to endure, considering the financial toll it might take. For couples with pets and kids, it’s even more shattering. But breakups hurt at any age -- even teenagers and young people can and do feel the complete torture of a shattered relationship. In fact, one in every five teenagers reports suffering from depression after a relationship has ended.
Why does it hurt so badly?
Medical experts say that a broken heart actually does feel like drug withdrawal. The symptoms are the same -- people report feeling real, legitimate physical pain. They can’t sleep. They’re anxious. They cry all the time. They feel no motivation to keep going. Sometimes, they think of death. And sometimes, in very severe situations, they try.
Amber, now 32, says that when her first boyfriend broke up with her at 19, she slept beside her parents for three weeks.
“In retrospect, I really idealized that relationship,” she says. “I felt like he was so perfect, and I had painted this picture of the rest of my life with him. He was in med school, he was wealthy, he was kind, he was handsome, he was athletic… he was just this perfect, beautiful human and I was like, ‘Wow, I am so lucky this man chose me.’
“So when he broke up with me, the devastation was… I can’t even explain it. It was like he’d become the very reason for my worth, and when he left me, I was like, ‘Who am I? If he doesn’t want me, I must be s***.’”
The afternoon her boyfriend broke it off, Amber says she moved around as if in a drunken stupor. She recalls asking her father to drive to his apartment, where she threw rocks at his window to try to get his attention. She wrote him letters and slipped them under his door, begging for him to change his mind. She called and hung up, called and hung up.
At night, when she couldn’t stop sobbing on her own, she crawled into her parents’ bed, seeking whatever comfort she could find. She feared being alone because she was so shattered that she wasn’t sure what she was going to do next.
And finally, one evening, Amber said she found herself in the bathtub, wondering how long she could hold her breath underwater… and what it would take not to breathe again.
“That was it for me,” she says. “I don’t know what woke me up, but I knew… in this state I wasn’t making decisions, I wasn’t me. I was emotionally and mentally and physically exhausted, and I had to admit I was beyond sad… this wasn’t sad, this was dangerous.”
How do I get over my broken heart?
If you’ve been experiencing the same type of symptoms for over several weeks -- you can’t sleep, eat, or function, your daily activities are being affected by your sadness, and you can’t seem to shake your low energy -- it’s time to see your doctor, because you may have moved from a broken heart to clinical depression. In this case, you must see a licensed therapist or medical professional, so you can start healing from what’s now a mood disorder.
Talking to a professional can and will certainly help your healing, and you may also be encouraged to supplement your talk therapy with antidepressants, which is a decision only you and your doctor can make together. However, there are also some things you can do on your own, outside of talk therapy and medication, that can help you recover from your broken heart.
Spend time with friends and loved ones. Having a support system around you is so important when you’re healing from a broken heart. Just spending thirty seconds laughing with people you love can serve as a reminder that life hasn’t ended; only a relationship has. There’s more to love in this life, including those who still love you.
Exercise, exercise, exercise. A 20-minute hike or a half-hour long yoga session do wonders for your mood -- so much so, in fact, that experts say these two activities can actually do as much for you as some antidepressants! Because exercise raises serotonin levels, which is the happy hormone, you’ll just naturally start to feel better, even if it’s just a little bit at a time.
Make positive choices. Hollywood may show us a lot of brokenhearted characters drowning themselves in alcohol, making it seem like an easy, sexy way of getting out of sadness. But alcohol actually may exacerbate your pain long-term, as can other substances. So choose positive things -- drink more water, try healthy recipes, and even ask your doctor for vitamins and supplements that will support and improve your current diet.
Find new hobbies. When you were with your ex, chances are you two loved doing certain things together. But maybe there are other activities you always wanted to try that you never got to when you were with them. So now’s your chance! Find a pottery class, take a Japanese language course, or join that archery club on the other side of town. By participating in activities that are brand new to you, you’ll find yourself falling in love with new things that aren’t tainted with memories of your past.
Help someone else. When we’re in pain, volunteering or giving ourselves in service to others is a surefire way to feel better. If animals are your passion, give your time to the local humane society. Maybe you’ve got some clothes you’ve always wanted to donate to a local shelter. Perhaps you’re excellent at math and the elementary school in your neighborhood is seeking a tutor.
Know this. It might not feel like it right now, but things will feel better. Like everything in life, this too shall pass -- and you’ll be better for it on the other side.
For now, take care, and love yourself.
For more information on how to heal your broken heart and begin your recovery from depression, visit us at www.hopetherapyandwellness.com.
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