When will life feel real again?
November 2, 2017 1:52 PM   Subscribe

I have gone through several massive, life altering changes in the past year and a half including separation and divorce that ended a 20 year marriage, local move from my marital move to an apartment, remarriage, buying a new home, move from east coast to Midwest usa, and taking on the role of stepmom to 3 kids (incl twins) when i never parented before. The whole experience has felt surreal more often then not.

Often i find myself imagining my parallel life as it would have continued... married to my ex, living on the east coast, coming home to him and my 2 doggies every day (he got them in the split). That still feels like my real life and that everything else has been some sort of vacation into an alternative reality. I love my life now and do not want my old one back but these annoying intrusive thoughts are upsetting me. My question is if you have gone through massive changes how long did it take bwfore you stopped running the alternative timeline of your previous life in your thoughts? When did your new life circumstances feel real? And is there any way to speed up the process? I feel like i have one foot mentally stuck in the past.
posted by TestamentToGrace to Human Relations (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I believe that the thoughts will always be there. If they are leaves floating past you in a stream, you can either watch the leaf pass, or you can reach out and try to grab it and hold on to it. I suggest the former :) I would highly recommend two things:
1) Get out of your thoughts. A meditation practice to gradually learn HOW to watch those leaves drift by, and
2) Get into your body.

Are you eating right? Are you working out?
Are you ACTIVE, or are you on the couch binge watching something just to pass the time and distract yourself. Exercise. Walk. Run.
VOLUNTEER. Get involved in making the lives of others better, and yours will become better as well. The busier you are (in a healthy way) the less time you will have for those annoying, intrusive thoughts. When they do come, you'll be able to watch them drift by, and get back to your life.

You got this.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 1:57 PM on November 2, 2017 [9 favorites]

I haven't been through anything so drastic but I have moved from Australia to the USA to live and married an American. I have been here 8 years now & I still find myself going wait is that memory from Australia or here so not sure I can be a big help.

Early on when things felt the most unreal What helped me is trying to be more present in the moment I'm currently in. I find the sense of non reality hit me hardest when I'm lost in my head. Also vocalizing the thoughts to others. What really helped me was going back to visit & seeing that the world I held in statis in my head had quite happily moved on without me. It made it so much easier to let go of the what ifs.

When those thoughts cross your mind, focus all your senses on where you are now. Exercise, get to know the neighbourhood where you live. Learn the routines of your neighbours, or say the habits of the birds that visit your feeder, or your neighbors dog, anything to get really familiar with where you are. Focus on trying new things where you are so all your current experiences aren't bleeding into one big blur.
posted by wwax at 2:12 PM on November 2, 2017

It took me a year just to get used to a new city. With all that's gone on for you, give yourself at least that much to get acclimated and over feeling like a New Kid, and probably double that to trust your instincts as a parent and negotiate the degree to which you wear that hat in the house. Agree that finding ways to ground yourself that aren't strictly family-based (could be volunteering, a book club, a hobby, even befriending other parents from your kids' school) will help that process along, make you feel more in control of your destiny. But let the waves push you around meantime without getting too freaked about it.

Oh, and, um, congratulations!
posted by acm at 3:48 PM on November 2, 2017

That is a lot of change for one person in a couple years. In addition, lots of people who haven't changed a thing currently feel a disconnection from reality just due to being american citizens in a very strange time. Nothing but the attitudes of people around me have changed but sometimes I feel like i'm living in a dream world. Or nightmare world.

Outdoors, exercise, good diet are all recommended for this sort of thing. I wish you the best with your new life and don't beat yourself up if it hasn't gelled yet. Most humans are creatures of habit and we live in interesting times. Congrats and good luck.
posted by love2potato at 5:57 PM on November 2, 2017

It’s hard to give an exact time table but reading about the stages of culture shock might help.
posted by SyraCarol at 6:51 PM on November 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

You did great. Recognizing that as the accomplishment it was will help.
posted by karmachameleon at 12:11 AM on November 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

I don't know if I have any advice for you, but I know exactly what you are talking about. I've been through major changes and upheavals in my life--moving countries multiples times, etc.--but none of that was remotely like the experience of combining all that change PLUS ending a long-term relationship and the life I thought was going to be mine until I died for something else. You describe so well how it feels, those mental meanderings into the parallel life and the sense you've fallen into an alternate timeline. Yes.

A year and a half out, I was doing far worse than you. I was still extremely unhappy and dealing with a lot of fallout from the changes I'd made and still trying to pull my life together. I can't remember when my new life started to feel like the "real" one but it definitely had by the 4-5 year mark. I suspect yours won't take nearly as long since you are a lot more stable and happy now than I was. I still think about that alternate life path I could be on, but now that one feels like the fantasy. I can imagine it, but I can't really, if you know what I mean. I don't think time heals all wounds, but it certainly covers them with enough scar tissue that you don't notice them so much any more. I'm not sure anything except the passage of time fixes it, but it will be fixed.

Also, just as a side note, I'm glad you're doing so well. I remember all your questions as you were trying to leave your troubled marriage and I was rooting for you.
posted by tiger tiger at 3:15 AM on November 3, 2017 [4 favorites]

Twenty years is a long time. It will take time for your new life to feel normal as you've had to do so much moving and adapting.

Try to accept the thoughts when you recognize them. Label the thoughts, and try to let them just be there without pushing them away or being upset with yourself for having them. Then you can turn your attention to other things. It's like a channel that might be playing sometimes but you can change it, or turn the volume down, or if you can't do that you can pay less attention to it.

When I get stuck I find it helpful to focus my attention on whatever daily task is at hand, like doing the dishes and try to just do the dishes. Walking is great, as is talking.
posted by lafemma at 6:54 AM on November 3, 2017

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