need help surviving the worst breakup I've had
December 3, 2013 6:52 PM   Subscribe

I just got dumped by my partner. It was the best relationship I've ever been in. I feel like my life is falling apart. Please advise.

I'm not currently working. I'm really unmotivated about housekeeping stuff and he lived with me and did a lot of it and the stuff I was good about doing I motivated myself by doing it because it made us happier together to have a better space. Almost all of my friends live far away. I'm 25 and I've been in several relationships before but all of them had a deterioration period and I've never been dumped in one that was serious before.

I already suffer from depression and though it's under control with medication it's never really gone away.

In the relationship, I was the one who was really good at coming up with fun things to do, things to watch, places to go. But now I feel like I've shared all these things I love with him and now they all remind me of him, so it's really hard to use escapism== video games, books, tv, etc-- because none of them feel like they're mine anymore.

I don't know what to do with myself. I don't know how to keep my life together anymore. Part of it is that I just feel awful and can't stop crying, but having someone in my life was really helping me get on my feet with the depression and getting my life together and I'm terrified of doing that alone.

The combination of the fear of the future and the melancholy from the breakup has me paralyzed.

Just thinking about going outside is terrifying, I hate crying and being vulnerable in public. I had to psych myself up to be fake cheerful enough to answer the door when I ordered a pizza.

I need advice. I also need to hear that I can survive this, because right now I can't imagine being able to.
posted by Harry Potter and the Puppet of Sock to Human Relations (32 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
For me, it was music, and having friends over, and new furniture. I went through this, and I came home one day and my entire apartment was empty. No furniture, artwork all gone, everything gone. Not a couch to sit on, nor a chair. He had found another woman and I was left with getting a new lease with the landlord, and so I asked the landlord if he had any furniture, and he did! I got a great new couch, and my daughter gave me some stuff and other people came over and gave me things.

It did suck, but I survived it! And I realized that I was too dependent on this person. I got into my hobbies (rock collecting), or just plain redecorating, got some kittens, went back to work.

Give yourself a time period to get over this and then baby steps back into the world. Make a list and do 3 things on the list every day. Everyone can do 3 things. So can you. I know it's hard, but you will survive. 3 things at a time, brother.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:10 PM on December 3, 2013 [9 favorites]

I'm not going to say it's easy, because it isn't.
I'm not going to say it's fast, because it isn't.
I'm not going to say you'll be back to your old self once you get through this, because you won't.
What I will say, though, is that there IS life after this. Because there is.

....If you read back through a couple of my earliest AskMe's, from circa 2008, you may see a couple of relationship ones....and then a breakup one. And then in some of the comments I have in 2009 and 2010, I talk about how I'm friends with two exes "and it looks like I'll be friends with a third...." and then I stop saying that. Yeah - I was in the same boat.

I'm gonna be straight-up - I was messed up for a while. That breakup really, really knocked me for a loop, and took me a while to get over. I couldn't even think about even just plain sex for months after (and I still today feel like I should send a bouquet to the first couple guys I hooked up with months later, because I was still way hung up on my ex - with one guy I had to stop because I'd started crying). what I'm like now. It's been 5 years, and there's been time and distance, and...hell, I think I'm doing okay, whadda you think?

What helped get me there is just plain time. Time, and distance from him; and patience from friends, and patience from my own self TOWARDS myself, and giving myself the room to mourn (because dammit, it COULD have been such a good relationship if he'd sticked with it) followed by giving myself a reality check (because let's be honest, the reason he didn't stick with it was kinda entirely his issue; he just plain wasn't ever gonna be able to give me the kind of relationship I need to have). There was also a couple of talks with really, really wise friends (one of my best friends ever, the person who has always given me the absolutely most perfect advice ever every time I ask him, observed that "You know, I think the problem is that he loved you, but he just couldn't handle that") which gave me much food for thought to reflect upon.

Now, I'm also not gonna say that this is also going to take YOU five years to get over (I did have a lot of other things thrown at me at about the same time so I may have been on an especially long curve there). But I offer myself as proof that it is possible to have a life after the breakups that really hurt, and that that life isn't the shallow and empty husk you're feeling now. I promise you it will get better, but the only way you can get out of this particular tunnel is to go through it. But there is light at the end, I promise.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:11 PM on December 3, 2013 [26 favorites]

After my boyfriend broke up with me suddenly at the end of August with zero warning (seriously, he was holding my hand and telling me he loved me over dinner minutes before and talking about what my ring would look like and where we would live after we got married that afternoon). I was devastated to say the least. I couldn't eat or sleep. I didn't want to watch tv, read, listen to music, or do anything really because it all had his stink on it. I didn't want to be in my head or my body. It all hurt too much. Now it's December and I can see with clarity that I am so freaking lucky to have found out what kind of person he was when I did - before we were legally bound, had entwined lives, or kids. As perfect as I thought he was, I can see I dodged a bullet. I learned good things about myself. I found new music and books and tv shows and places to go that had nothing to do with him. It didn't kill me like I was sure it would.

My advice is talk about it until you can't stand to talk about it anymore. Lean on friends. Talk to a therapist. But let it out. Soon you'll be ready to let new untainted things into your life. And you will be happy again. I promise. Hugs to you.
posted by cecic at 7:28 PM on December 3, 2013 [7 favorites]

Oh, I'm sorry -- this sounds terribly painful. But you can totally survive this! Totally.

You can also reclaim the stuff that you want. Restaurants, movies, books, whatever -- the trick is mostly setting a powerful intention ("that is MINE and I'm KEEPING it") and then continuing to do it until it no longer evokes such memories.

Going outside when you're sad and vulnerable does suck. How long ago did this happen? Maybe you don't need to go outside yet. If this JUST happened, then maybe you can just call in sick tomorrow. (I'd only do this *one* day, especially since you're inclined toward depression.)

One possible idea for when you do go outside -- what about going for a walk around the block, or even a run? Runners look sweaty and pained half the time anyway, so nobody will notice. And it will help your mood. If you're out for a walk in the day time, you can wear sunglasses, and at night, nobody can see you. It's good practice for when you do have to go somewhere.

Since you see yourself maybe falling back towards depression, what are the coping strategies that have helped you in the past? A therapist? A healthy food, exercise, and sleep routine? Friends or family? You're smart to keep an eye on this and think about how to keep yourself safe as you go through this experience.

Last, since you mentioned fear of the future, you might read Pema Chodron's book When Things Fall Apart. It opens with her husband dumping her (or something like that). She points out that most of us just sleepwalk around, thinking about the past or the future or whatever story we tell ourselves, but really, a disaster could strike any of us at just about any moment. She argues that when you've had the floor drop out from under you and you're keenly aware that you don't know what's going to happen next, as you are now, then you're one of the few people who are really awake to reality, and that's worth appreciating.

All we really have is the present moment, and so (painful as it is), your current state of awareness is kind of a gift also. I don't know how your breakup went, but I remember a moment after a breakup where all I could do was sit on a couch stunned and watch the tree leaves flutter back and forth through a window. Dar Williams would argue that stuff like that, "all of those birds flying off of that tree," are the blessings that come with the pain you're experiencing.

Anyway -- easy for me to say. But I've been there and remember once thinking I couldn't survive a 20 minute bus ride because of the pain. It sounds like you're still in the phase of searing pain, and in a way all you can do is ...appreciate it for what it is, and breathe, and look around, until things start to shift a bit. You can definitely get through this. Best of luck.
posted by salvia at 7:33 PM on December 3, 2013 [13 favorites]

Hey. I'm not going to give you advice. I'm going to tell you I'm also having a really rough day and it's the holiday season and there are a ton of people not doing well. I am so sorry. Placing your emotional security in another person is a really natural thing to do, but when they run away, it fucking kills. And the abject unfixability of the situation just punches you in the face. This is why half the songs out there are about lost love and broken hearts.

One of the symptoms of depression is feeling alone, and it's beginning to dawn on me that a lot of people sit at home thinking they're alone and underreporting how bad they're doing and that's just totally crazy to me. Please just take one minute and tell yourself that you're a great person and you can get through this. Pick up the phone, call a friend and tell them it's an emergency and you need to leave the house. In fact, I might do the same.
posted by phaedon at 7:52 PM on December 3, 2013 [37 favorites]

Bad breakups are horrible, but you've got to get yourself through them somehow. Anger is underrated.

Hate the hell out of this man, who left you when you needed him. Hate everything about him. Demonize him. Every bad thought you ever had about yourself, project onto him and despise him for it and vow to prove him wrong. Remember every bad thing he ever did, and cut him no slack for any of them. Refuse to talk about him to anyone, because he doesn't deserve the breath you'd waste on the discussion. Refuse to talk to him altogether.

Let that anger burn you up, so that you feel the need to prove you're better than him and who you were with him. Make yourself do things as proof that you can. Make yourself have fun and be awesomely productive to spite him (even -- especially -- if that means faking it till you make it for a while).

You're going to get nostalgic soon, you're going to remember just the good times eventually, when you're raw and the breakup is new is probably the time when you can muster up the most anger and hate, so relish it. You're going to have to draw on the dregs of it when you're feeling better and wondering if you should try to get back with him or wondering if you'll ever meet someone else you love as much as him (the answers are no and yes, respectively).

-- Listen to Survivor on repeat. All of Aretha Franklin, really. *DO NOT* listen to Adele.

-- While you're listening, write out to-do lists and knock out chores. Do not let yourself sit unless you're absolutely exhausted. Chores include hiding or trashing or giving away all pictures of and presents from him.

-- Every time you start feeling an especially big wave of sadness, make yourself do *something* on your to-do list (and don't stop until your task is finished, even if you *are* absolutely exhausted).

-- Every time you start crying, make yourself go outside and go somewhere and get *something* done, even if "something" is just hanging out with a friend or getting a coffee.

-- Every night that you're at home alone, call a friend. Even if the phone call is short, it'll make yourself feel more "you" again to reconnect with people who care about you more than they care about your boyfriend.

It won't last forever, it shouldn't last forever, but being angry will get you moving in a way that crying won't. And eventually you'll have moved yourself into a new life, and that's when you can start feeling sad again, and start remembering who he is and the relationship you had again.
posted by rue72 at 8:29 PM on December 3, 2013 [16 favorites]

I'm sorry you're hurting. These are just some suggestions - try what interests you and ignore the rest.

Give yourself a deadline. For the rest of the year, you can cry when the pizza guy comes over (who cares what he thinks?), mope, watch rom coms, eat ice cream, drink wine, have the pity party of the year.

On January 1, the party is over. You pick yourself up by your bootstraps. No bootstraps? No excuses. You're going to make some damn bootstraps and they're going to be the best anyone has ever seen.

Bonus - everyone is trying to restart their lives on January 1. So whether you decide that you're finally going to run a marathon, go to grad school, or write a novel, you'll have company.

You mentioned the things you two did together. W hat have you always wanted to do that he didn't care for? I want to go to India. My husband doesn't so if I'm going, he's probably not coming. What's your going-to-India?

Reclaim the things from your shared life that you want for your future not-shared life. You were listening to the Ramones on your own before you were together? Take back the Ramones. Take back the things you like. When you do, you're making a choice abour what you want your future to look like.

Finally, when I have strong feelings, I like to remind myself that feelings are just feelings, they're temporary, and they pass.

You'll get through this. Hang in there.
posted by kat518 at 8:30 PM on December 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

For me, I did two things that helped after my marriage fell apart.
1) I studied grief and the grieving process, and I fully accepted that I was mourning.
2) I reclaimed my space - refinished floors, repurposed rooms...I made the space I live in (especially my bedroom) MY space, and really scrubbed out the history in the walls, floors, and fixtures.
Letting go takes a long time, but I found it helped to give myself a new environment that reflected the best of myself.

I would suggest that you redecorate your bedroom, or at least rearrange and refresh. Make it your favorite place in the whole world. It's a living metaphor for your heart. Make it loving, safe, comfortable, and beautiful.

I am so sorry for your pain. I was in your shoes just six months ago. I thought the grief would be overwhelming for at least a year, but healing happened sooner than I expected. I do think that these two choices helped significantly.

Also, of course, get a good therapist (one you actually like) and lean on whomever is a true friend in your life. Knowing you still have love in your life is a huge comfort.
Wishing you the best, and know that in your moments of intense pain, you are not alone. At the very least, we are here. :)
posted by SarahBellum at 8:40 PM on December 3, 2013 [7 favorites]

I'm very sorry you're going through this; you sound devastated and I don't blame you. I've been through extremely painful loss and truthfully it hurts like hell but you will survive and even grow from the experience.

Two things help: allowing yourself to process your feelings, and allowing yourself the space to put the grief aside for a time to feel moments of joy and peace. As time goes by, the time spent grieving will shrink and the time spent in peace will grow. Routine helps through the rawest days and weeks, so get yourself a rough schedule to follow. Find some new things to have all to yourself: a comedy series on netflix, a new band to listen to, new authors and games. And find people to talk to, including a professional.

Be kind to yourself.

My heart goes out to you and I wish you the best of luck.
posted by JenMarie at 8:47 PM on December 3, 2013

Here are things nearly everyone thinks after a breakup that aren't true:
--that this was the best relationship you've ever been in and you'll never find another one like it
--that you're destined to a life of loneliness and will never love anyone again
--that you'll never get over it and that it will hurt forever and always
--that there is something fundamentally wrong with you that caused the breakup, and/or that you could have done so much more to salvage the relationship
--that you are unloveable, unworthy, unattractive and unappealing

Here's what you will learn about each of these "truths" after some time:
--that while this may have seen like a great relationship, there were flaws and drawbacks. You cannot see this now because your heart is broken and things still smell like him and all the wonderful memories keep you up at night. But the further you get, the more you will see what the relationship was really like.
--you will love again. YOU WILL. If everyone who got dumped never loved again, a lot less people would be in relationships. And if you never get married, you are still not a failure. Your worth is not based on your relationship status.
--you will get over it because eventually after you've moped and listened to your breakup playlist you'll hear a funny joke or see a cute puppy and realize that the sun is still shining and you're still alive, and you're 25 and there is so. Much. Time. Left for you to discover yourself and what you want, and after awhile you will do new things and go to new places and those will be yours alone and not his.
--learn from the relationship, think of ways in which you can approach the next one differently, but know that you are not unloveable because one person decided not to be with you.

Give yourself six months.

Yes, six. And tell everyone who encourages you to move on already to fuck off.

It took me a year and a half to get over my boyfriend of 3 years. And GODDAMN was I miserable, oh so heartbroken, nobody could begin to understand. Then I met my current boyfriend and guess what?

I love him. It's awesome. How much do I miss my ex?

Not at all. I promise.
posted by thank you silence at 8:56 PM on December 3, 2013 [38 favorites]

You will survive this. I promise. Just 2 days ago, I was reminded of a significant ex of over a decade ago. Nothing noteworthy except that when I remembered him, I also realized I hadn't thought of him in months, if not years. I also remembered that at the time of the breakup, I could not imagine not thinking about him or not caring about him. In other words, I found it interesting that time and distance really did make him and the breakup it a blip (albeit a significant blip) in my life.

Today, I don't think about him much at all. The emotion and energy I feel when I think about him today are as charged as the turkey sandwich I just ate. Seriously. A lot of time, experience and life will have to happen in the meantime to get to where you just don't care anymore, but I promise you will get there.

But in the meantime, be kind to yourself, learn about yourself and hurt as much as you need to hurt. It is okay and it will be okay. I promise.
posted by murrey at 9:00 PM on December 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

Chiming in to say you will be okay again. I know right now it seems impossible. Go ahead and cry, do whatever makes you happy, and watch strong-woman movies. GI Jane and other romance-free films with kick-ass women in them helped me get recentered a bit.

Seconding the idea of calling a friend and telling them it's an emergency and you need them. If you're not near friends, can you ask a couple of them to be available to call when you're havi a deep sad moment? Knowing you can reach out and someone is there was very comforting for me, and I found I needed the support less over time. Your friends will want to help you - everyone has been here and understands what you're feeling.

I'm so sorry you're going through this. You will be shocked how much better you feel in a week, then two, then longer.
posted by BigJen at 10:23 PM on December 3, 2013

You have plenty of good advice here so far. Just speaking to the escapism stuff, there are thousands upon thousands of video games, books, movies, and TV shows that weren't part of this relationship. Every step you take into a new series or genre takes you further away from the memories that hurt right now. If you introduced him to MMOs, switch to puzzle games. If you introduced him to fantasy novels, try reading crime fiction. Etc., etc. Best of all, if there was some series or property you liked that he didn't, go that way for a while. Be the person you like that you haven't explored as much. Your old media friends will still be there for you later--don't catastrophize and think they're tainted forever or whatnot--it's all just too fresh right now, so escape elsewhere.

And escape into other good things like very hot showers, extra pillows and blankets, hot decaf tea, exercise, outings to places you've never been, foods you like but haven't had in a long time, friends you haven't seen in a while, art/music/sports rather than newer media, good things from your childhood that you haven't thought about in a long time, and so on. Just be good to yourself and remind yourself of how much world there is outside this one relationship. Don't get me wrong: bad thoughts will intrude. But less and less, as you give things like basic warmth, comforting feelings, distraction, and curiosity some time to work their way in from the places you're not looking at so intently.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 10:37 PM on December 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Crying all the time, not wanting to leave the house, being miserable, hating yourself, etc. Yeah, I experienced those things. I was depressed and thought it would last forever. Literally. I couldn't imagine anything else. I was sure it would be permanent. It wasn't though. I haven't been depressed in like 8 years at this point and my life is good. I spent about 3 years depressed I think.

For me, recovery started with wanting to get better even if I felt like maybe it was impossible, and taking steps to get better. I worked hard to recognize when I was being irrational and letting depression skew my perspective. I tried to force myself to think more positively -- "fake it 'til you make." And I started with therapy. I did it for a while but it was only helping so much. I was against medication for some reason. I felt like drugs that mess with your brain are bad. But I reached a point where I was so depressed and wanted to be dead that I was like "Who cares what these drugs to do me?" In my case, the first drug I was put on worked. Combined with that and therapy, I was slowly feeling less debilitated. It didn't make me better, but it helped give me a nudge so I could start leaving my house, start working out, start seeing people, start going back to school -- start doing things that helped me feel normal and made me feel better. (Side note, we take medicine for our heart when it's not working right. Why not our brain? As long as it isn't prescribed without adequate diagnosis or time to see if other treatments are helping, and as long as it's done conservatively starting with low doses to find the right dose, I don't see a problem.)

I was lucky in that my therapist and my antidepressant both worked and I didn't need to shop around. But you may have to. You'll have to be resolved to get through this though, and that means maybe seeing a couple therapists before the right one or trying a couple drugs before one starts to work.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:59 PM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Listen to sappy break up songs.
Let yourself cry.
Do both of these at the same time, perhaps even while singing along if you like to sing.
I've used this to sort of force catharsis into happening at more convenient times, so that I'm less likely to be ambushed by grief at embarrassing times.

Allowing yourself to be angry helps. Allowing yourself time to be sad helps. Distracting yourself by spending time with friends helps.

Exercise helps a lot. I remember getting insomnia after my big horrible mid-20s breakup, and getting physically exhausted helped.

Don't judge yourself for being upset. You're supposed to be upset. Kill the critic in your head.

And yeah, you'll get through it.

I've struggled with depression my entire adult life. My big mid-20s break up was me getting dumped after a four year relationship. I had grief ambushes for weeks.

But it passed. It will pass. You are going to be OK.

You don't have to kick your depression to get through this. There's a poetic melancholy that those of us with depression understand that nobody else does. Believe it or not, in a way, that helped me, it helped me find meaning in the pain, and even some beauty in the sadness. It doesn't make it hurt less during the process, but it makes the process feel more worthwhile once it's over.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 12:25 AM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Maybe re-cast his departure as a death? It kind of is.

What if it HAD been a death? You'd deal, right? Move on? Power through? What other choice would there have been?

And like any death, there needs to be a postmortem, once the shock dissipates? What were the warning signs? What do you own about what happened? How can you avoid it again? Be a better person? Do a better job of choosing?

Grief is hard. It comes to us all in different forms. It happens a lot, too, in a long life. By 25, it usually has paid at least one visit, and it's kind of like the guest who wouldn't leave... it hangs around and gets quieter, but never goes. Then, it gets company in a year or two.

Relationships are simultaneously both the best and worst things that can happen to you. Life without them stinks, though.

Good luck and I hope you can power through.
posted by FauxScot at 2:57 AM on December 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Sorry. I have been there. Nothing I can say will truly ease your pain.

Take it one day at a time.
Do not dwell on the rest of your life. Think about today. Make the best of today.
Despite this, I am sure you have plenty in your life to be thankful about. Focus on that.

It will get easier with each passing day.
posted by Flood at 4:01 AM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

That is hard. I'm sorry you're going through this.

My only piece of advice (apart from just giving it time, it will get better) is to find new things to do in your life. If everything reminds you of him then find new things. Learn to crochet. Read non-fiction books. Teach yourself to cook incredible Indian food. Volunteer at an animal shelter. Just find new things that have nothing to do with him.

Best wishes. It is hard but it will get better in time.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 4:29 AM on December 4, 2013

I'm so sorry. I will tell you this, it's temporary. You will feel better, and sooner than you think.

If it won't mess with your unemployment, go out and get a seasonal job, mostly to get out of the house and so you can focus on doing something mundane. Or, volunteer. This time of year there are tons of people who want to serve soup to the unfortunate, but if you can go someplace and help with administrative things for a few hours a day, that can be a HUGE help to a charitable agency.

I don't know how you're fixed for money, but if you can, ditch the stuff that reminds you of him:

1. Get new bed linens

2. Get a new outfit or two and trash the sweater he liked on you so much.

3. Get new fragrance.

4. Clean the FUCK out of your space. It's mindless, and easy and it will make you feel better. Take it one thing at a time. If not a room, a closet. Start in the front and work your way back.

5. Donate things to Goodwill.

If you can afford it, now might be the time to move back where your friends are. Or, go and couch surf for a change of scene. You can sit in their house, with their cat while they're at work.

You're still raw, but I always found that mindless industry was incredibly helpful in dealing with heartbreak and disappointment.

Call your doctor and see if a change in meds is in order. You never know, Prozac may not be getting the job done anymore and you may need to switch to Pristiq. It happens.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:15 AM on December 4, 2013

I'm so, so sorry. I got terribly, out-of-the-blue dumped a year and a half ago. One week we were at a family planning appointment with my doctor to start trying for kids, the next week he dumped me and I had to move out in like two days. Then I found out he'd had this other girlfriend in this other town for like six months. It still smarts (the cheating bit, I'm over the break up).

Can you realistically move? When your lease is up? It might be nice to sift through your things, take what's really yours and get rid of the rest. If not, set up a nice schedule to act like you're moving, get rid of a bunch of stuff and rearrange your furniture.

Start reclaiming activities that are yours. Really, he doesn't own all the books in the world. Join a book club to meet new people with similar interests. Get on Meetup while you're at it and find a board game night or something. You only have to go to one of these, that's your only goal. Pick one, put it on your calendar. It's going to take a lot of energy to muster the strength to put on pants and go, but it's OK.

Also make an appointment for some counseling. It's completely normal for a disruption like this to throw your depression into a spiral. Maybe the counselor can suggest a change in meds that will fix the underlying depression that never went away, as well.

What really helped me get over my break up was finally making new friends. All our friends were "his" friends. I eventually made an OKC profile that was very explicitly looking for friends to do stuff with. I met men (and through them, a woman they'd found on OKC) who are now the best friends I've had in my adult life.

If you have (or had) friends of your own before or during this relationship, don't be shy to reach out to them now. I had a good friend in graduate school who cut me off after I expressed my true feelings about her then-boyfriend. Maybe two years later she called me up while they were going through a final break up and I was thrilled to have drinks with her and just catch up. In fact, a guy I met online and went out with a few times called me last week to reconnect after his own break up with some other girl. Again, I was more than happy to catch up, express sympathy and take his mind off it for an evening. (Platonically.) What I'm saying is you might be surprised at the people who will come out of the woodwork for you because almost everyone has been in your shoes at some point.

Also: Pema Chodron saved my life after a different break up. (A divorce, in fact, and I re-read it after shit sack dumped me for wotsherface.)
posted by mibo at 5:22 AM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

All the things you like remind you of your ex and suck right now, but what about all the things you don't like doing but should do anyway? I'm serious. Whatever those things are, why not clean your whole house, repair broken things, scrub your toilet, organize your desktop and files, do that other thing you've been putting off, or just about anything that is also going to suck because hey - it couldn't make you feel worse right?

But then at the end your house will be clean, your stuff won't be broken, your toilet will sparkle, that thing you've been meaning to do will be done, your computer will be more useful and you won't feel any worse while you're making that happen. All you can do anyway is live well, might as well use how much this FUCKING SUCKS to do the things that would make better times suck worse but can't touch you now, right? You'll also be in a much better position mentally, emotionally, and socially to continue recovering with that cleaned and repaired stuff of yours. Also, pick up a musical instrument, everyone sucks at them at the beginning, which is why so few play them - but what the fuck does that matter to you now? Then by the time you've gained significant competency with it you'll not only feel better but you'll also have a really neat new skill.

Breakups, especially the terrible ones, give you superpowers - don't waste them.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:01 AM on December 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

So, I have been through two devastating level breakups. They were probably the most painful experiences of my life, or right up there. After both instances I felt totally lost and like I had to re-make part of myself that had gotten lost with the relationship. Whoever gave the Pema Chodron advice above is right, though. When you are going through intense grief you are broken open and raw and "awake" in a really unique way. All of your feelings feel more intense, and when you feel happy again it will be an intense kind of happy. Both of those breakups ended up being massive pivot points in my life when I grew and changed and made my life better in really important ways.

So, brace yourself and let yourself feel the pain and be open to what may come. You can get through it.
posted by mermily at 8:02 AM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've been there, and man, it is a rough stint in the Pit of Despair. I remember feeling much the same during my divorce, and when my last ex dumped me on Valentine's Day.1
I could have written much of this, both ten and two years ago.

Even though it doesn't feel like anything will ever be right again, it will get better. But you're going to have to hunker down and gut it out for a while. In my experience, it's better to make a determined effort to process and cope with your emotions, raw though they may be, rather than try to shove everything down.

Here's how I got through those gut-wrenching times in my life:
  • I read a lot of books on coping with breakups, grief, and divorce.
    • The one that helped me the most was Letting Go. It's got a 12-week plan of concrete things you can do, day by day, week by week. This is invaluable when you're in the throes of depression and are paralyzed about what to do next. 'Move on with your life,' is what people tell you but how exactly do you do that? This book lays it out for you, and you can pick it up used for 1¢. You mentioned you're not working, but dude, you can find the money for that in the couch cushions.
    • Nthing Pema Chodron's book, When Things Fall Apart.
    • Also good: The Breakup Bible, The Journey from Abandonment to Healing, Getting Past Your Breakup, and The Grief Recovery Handbook.

  • I rearranged my physical space so it looked different. That helped with the visual triggers of my ex.

  • I put everything of my ex's into a room where I wouldn't have to look at it every day. This was made more difficult by my last ex being a well-known artist in Hollywood. The week we split up, his artwork for a movie poster was plastered on the side of an office building across the street, ten stories high. I was like, 'really, Universe?! REALLY?!' All year, I was tormented every time I saw a trailer for a film he'd worked on, because I'd remember when he was working on the art while I was cooking dinner; the times I'd go bring him food and a change of clothes at the effects studio… it was very rough.

  • I set aside a time every day when I could let myself truly melt down and weep but I made where I wept as physically uncomfortable as possible. I sat in the coldest, most uncomfortable part of my house, and put my feet in ice water. At first, I needed to cry and rage so badly that I didn't care how cold and wet I was. Eventually, the hassle of being that uncomfortable outweighed the urge to cry.

  • Change the kind of music you listen to, to something without lyrics. So many songs are about either the beginning or end of relationships. So I started listening to classical music and electronica/trance. YMMV.

  • Do all the things your ex hated doing; eat the foods you loved and he hated.

  • I thought long and hard about what went wrong in both those relationships. Even though the external circumstances were different, what they had in common was that in the end, we did not want the same kind of relationship, and we wanted things from each other that we were unable to give. My ex-husband wanted a relationship where I was a combination of his mother/maid/cook/social coordinator/sex toy/breadwinner. My ex-boyfriend wanted a relationship with someone more broken than he was, so that he could feel superior. When you're ready, down the road, take a look at your relationship with your ex. See what you can see.

You mentioned that you're taking medication for depression. It's time to call your doctor, tell them what's going on, and ask for help. There's no shame in needing to alter your dosage, or change or add medication for a bit. Just as you'd use a crutch for a broken leg, you need a mental crutch right now, in addition to the meds that keep you functional on a regular basis. You're still going to hurt and feel pain; your goal isn't to zombify yourself, but rather to take the edge off the worst of your anxiety, so that you can start functioning enough to pick up the pieces of your life.

You are strong enough to cope with your depression, without a romantic partner. No romantic partner can give you the right kind of help or support to truly tackle it. No matter how much a partner wants to help you, it's unfair to them to put your happiness and emotional state on their shoulders; you're setting them up to fail. They can be supportive… but they're not a trained therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Even if you dated someone professionally and medically qualified, they still couldn't treat you for ethical reasons. Go find a support system that is not made up of people you sleep with.

Lastly, be vulnerable. It's when we're in the Pit of Despair that people can most relate to us, because we've all been there or we will be shortly. You will be surprised at how many people step up and offer kindness.

1. [Found out from a friend that he'd been cheating on me for weeks with another woman. I confronted him; he fessed up; I gave him two weeks to decide between us; he chose her. I have had better days.]
posted by culfinglin at 8:49 AM on December 4, 2013 [5 favorites]

You can survive this. You will survive this. You will wake up one morning and realize that you are okay, and all of the pain and fear you're feeling right now will seem like a bad dream you only half-remember. It might take weeks, or months. It might take a year. But you'll get there.

In the meantime, give yourself permission to grieve, because that's what this is. You're grieving the relationship and the future you thought you had. Crying is okay. Feeling afraid is okay. It will pass. That morning will come. Until then, take care of yourself. Drink lots of water. Deactivate your Facebook for a while. Make your bed (no, really).

I know what you mean about your usual escapes being a minefield of bad memories. I had the same problem after my last big, nasty breakup. I'm not sure if they'll work for you, but two things worked for me: I dug up albums I loved before we'd met. Like, way before. Stuff from high school. Stuff I hadn't listened to since George W. Bush was president. Teenage Zozo had... questionable taste, but still, it helped me feel connected to me-as-myself instead of me-as-half-of-"us."

The other thing I did was find new stuff. New music, new games, new shows. Things with no painful associations, blank slates I could fill with whatever meaning I wanted.

Be gentle with yourself. You're going to be okay.

(And check your MeMail.)
posted by Zozo at 10:45 AM on December 4, 2013

Oh, love. I am in this right now - the breakup was kinder compared to the aftermath (oy the semi-public spite and blaming me for everything).

Here's some things I haven't seen addressed that could be helpful:

1. Be willing to be surprised by who your support ends up being. Some of my strongest supports have either been acquaintances that barely knew me, or mutual friends who were somewhat more intimate with her than with me but knew me fairly well. My ex made a stink about me stealing her friends and claiming that I tried to pit them against her, but what she doesn't realise (and this is what the mutual friends have also told me when I checked in about it) is that these friends reached out to me and offered their help, because they cared for me as a person. Hell they were the ones trying to get me to not beat myself up when I was all "SHE IS RIGHT TO BE ANGRY AT ME I FUCKED EVERYTHING UP WAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH WHY DO YOU EVEN CARE ABOUT ME GO TALK TO HER" for weeks. If she has a problem with their agency that's her issue.

2. Be willing to accept the ugly side of grief. I was so frustrated at how openly and publicly my ex lambasted me (to the point that said mutual friends were uncomfortable) that I didn't feel like I had the right to be angry at her. I didn't want to stoop to her level, I didn't want to hate her, I didn't want to lose all this insight I suddenly had about how we weren't working right together and what I could have done differently and so on. I also felt like she took away any reason for me to be angry; anything I could come up with would have a counter-statement ("you hurt me this way!" "well you hurt me this way so NYAH!"). I was trying to be the better person and it left me empty.

Yesterday my therapist asked me what I was angry at her about, and I just went out at it - all the things I wished I could say out loud the way she has been, all the ways she hurt me, all the ways she won't acknowledge her behavior. I felt more whole then than I did for a while. That doesn't necessarily mean you have to respond similarly spitefully or vindicatively - but acknowledging that it's there can do wonders to moving that energy.

3. Fuck everyone who tries to assign you a timeline, or tells you that you should have moved on by now/this date/whatever. You can still go through life without having "moved on"; I made a significant international move partly to deal with a horrible breakdown and it wasn't until maybe 6 months after I've moved (and 3 years since the incident) that I could say that I've moved on in significant ways. And there's still some residue. I have noticed that I tend to be better at doing schoolwork when I'm grieving, interestingly. But anyway - grieving or being depressed or upset can coincide with doing life the way you want to do it. You don't have to wait till one process is over before doing something else.

Feel free to MefiMail me if you want to talk. <3
posted by divabat at 1:08 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

ALSO. Also also. This is a slightly offbeat example. But there were a group of us on Facebook dealing with breakups around the same time, and I started a Facebook group for it. It's become a space for us to vent, share, get support, ask questions. It's been really good catharsis and a way for me to do the "talk about her with people who listen without being as public as she is" thing.

(it's a secret group, but feel free to contact me about joining)
posted by divabat at 1:38 PM on December 4, 2013

You mentioned that you're taking medication for depression. It's time to call your doctor, tell them what's going on, and ask for help. There's no shame in needing to alter your dosage, or change or add medication for a bit.

This is really important. If the breakup was sudden, you're not only grieving the loss of the relationship, you've also had a traumatic shock. And your brain chemistry is doing unpredictable things. The first thing I did the morning after I was told, with virtually zero warning, that I was being left for someone else, was to call my shrink for an emergency appointment. I just wanted him to know what was going on, because I knew the trauma would increase my OCD and anxiety (and depression, of course). He upped my OCD meds, and gave me Risperdal, to take only as necessary, to help with the almost uncontrollable crying. Just knowing that I had something to fall back on when I was overwhelmed physically by the grief was helpful. I only took the Risperdal a handful of times, but just knowing I had it helped me to set limits: "If I cannot stop sobbing in five minutes, I will take something." I don't even know if the effect of the drug was real or psycosomatic, and it didn't matter. It gave me back some control over this thing that was engulfing me.

If you have a shrink, you should call her/him. If not you should see what public mental health resources are available in your area.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 2:22 PM on December 4, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. I still feel awful but I really needed to hear that I'll be okay. I'll mark some best answers one I've followed some advice for a bit, but thanks to all of you.
posted by Harry Potter and the Puppet of Sock at 4:12 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

In the wake of a break-up around 10 years ago I decided that, even if I was incapable of taking care of my heart or soul, taking care of my body was a different story - so I started jogging, quit drinking, became a juice fanatic (owe my life to my breville juice fountain!), and started meditating. Every day. It worked wonders then, and it's doing the same now.

I've also been memorizing poetry, with the help of metafilter. I can't easily find it right now on my phone, but i posted an askme about a month or 6 weeks ago requesting poetry recommendations designed to give me a sense of perspective and gratitude. when my brain starts spinning in to bad thoughts land, i just recite whatever poem i'm memorizing, comforted by the thought that i'm not distracting myself from negative thoughts and learning some poetry to boot.

time, my friend. every second of every day, awake or asleep, you are getting closer to better.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 4:30 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am so sorry. It is devastating and it sucks. You will be OK, but you aren't right now, so honor that. Take care of yourself. Try not to wallow, but acknowledge that you're hurt. Call your friends.

Long walks in nature help me when I'm in the deepest of pits. Even if it's gray and cold out-I don't know why. Is there a greenway or park near you that you haven't visited? Also, exercise is good for you, and just being outside is good for you. And when you're huffing and puffing along a trail, nobody expects you to smile or look put-together.

I am a big fan of redecorating. Absolutely get new bedding (at least a new quilt) and rearrange your furniture. If you have the budget for slipcovers and new throw pillows, new rugs, and new curtains, do that too. That will help break the associations you have with him. Change your laundry detergent and fabric softener so nothing smells like him. Change your shampoo and soap, even.

Go out and buy Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything and teach yourself a bunch of new recipes. Chopping vegetables is so soothing, and when I'm having a shitty day or week or month, sometimes making a good meal is a nice way to feel successful about something.

Is getting a cat out of the question? Dogs are a lot of work, but cats are easy. They don't always snuggle, but they can be marvelous company.
posted by elizeh at 4:30 PM on December 4, 2013

A minor thing to help:

I basically think that everyone who goes through a breakup should just be automatically issued a copy of Peter Gabriel's album Us because it's, like, Music To Get Through A Breakup By. Peter Gabriel made the album while he was getting over two major breakups, one after the other, so it's like no matter what damn mood you find yourself in over the next while - and you will go through a lot - there is a song on that album that fits it because Peter Was There.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:41 PM on December 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

You're not alone. So many of us have gone through this, and I'm one of them! I can tell you that even though it doesn't feel like it right now, you will get to where I am; that is to say, you will be content and happy again. So power through this. You are going to be OK.

Right now you're going through chemical withdrawals. When we 'pair bond' we can actually become chemically addicted to our partners. That's why break-ups can be compared to heroin detoxes, they can be that extreme for some people. There's a science behind it all, and for me at least, that is comforting.

Read this, it may help to think about it logically rather than solely focusing on it in an emotionally charged state
posted by OneHermit at 12:27 AM on December 5, 2013

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