We have all experienced hard times. Financial concerns, relationship breakdowns, health issues and matters concerning both family and friends.
After my divorce, I certainly found it difficult to see the silver lining in anything. I was in an enforced financial hole, my marriage over and looking forward, all I could see was a lonely future after turning 50.
Of course, hindsight is a wonderful thing. I can look back now and realize that I had much to be grateful for. In fact, I firmly believe that coming through hard times can make us better and stronger.
When I was first married, we struggled financially, to the extent of having to sell personal items to simply pay bills. We made it through and became more understanding of those facing hard times financially.
In hard times, your mental health is understandably at its most fragile. As such your outlook on things can be negatively distorted and so it can be difficult to appreciate what you have.
So I thought I would compile a rudimentary list of things that can easily be taken for granted but shouldn't be.
I know that during hard times, not everything in the list may apply to you, but it is important to understand that you only need one thing to be thankful for , to be able to begin a rosier outlook on life.
Things to be thankful for and not taken for granted
Other things to be thankful for
No matter how bad you feel that things are in your life, there is always something for which you can be thankful for. All too often we forget the small things. The freedom to walk along a sandy beach or the opportunity to simply chat with another person.
Obviously this is a far from complete list, but hopefully it gives food for thought and allows you to mentally add to the list with things that you yourself are thankful for.
For many, Christmas is about family, but what happens when your family has been separated by divorce? Often, what has been your Christmas tradition for many years is now off the table. Divorce will all too often see a dramatic reduction in numbers of those you call family and friends. Many married men count the husbands of their wife's friends among their closest mates and divorce will often see them alienated as they break ties with their ex. Not to mention the loss of your ex's family from within your inner circle. Of course, the hardest part is having to split your children's time between you and your ex. It matters not if your children are young or grown up with families of their own, not being able to spend Christmas with them, hurts.
The Festive Season can be a time where many people will feel alone, with feelings of worthlessness and depression creeping in. It is also a time for socialising and work/office parties, a time when you may well be talking with people that you only see once a year. People like, colleagues from other offices/sites, the partners of workmates and friends of friends, people that may not know of the changes that have taken place in your life over the past year ( or so). These once a year acquaintances, in an attempt to be sociable, may well ask after your ex without knowing of your divorce/separation. Such situations can bring emotions to the surface, emotions that you had thought were under control, but now find yourself battling with. Many men having gone through divorce will try to abstain from socialising in an attempt to avoid questions of their relationship, however, during the festive season there is often a sense of obligation for you to attend. Combine all this with the presence and consumption of alcohol and it can become a dangerous time for anyone dealing with emotional issues. Alcohol and depression do not work well together, so if you are finding things tough this Christmas, watch how much you drink.
Dealing with a smaller social circle over Christmas
With divorce comes a reduction in the size of your social circle. A breakdown of a marriage or relationship will see a division and separation of assets and while most think of this only from a financial point of view, it is important to understand that in most cases there is also a separation and division of your social circle. Your ex's family will for the most part, tend to break of social ties with you, ( This doesn't necessarily mean they don't like you) and while it is quite understandable, it can still be hard. However it is the loss of the friends you shared as a couple, that can hurt the most. Unfortunately for all concerned, these common friends will often feel obligated to choose sides between you and your ex. It is an unfortunate fact that for the most part, your married friends will tend to side with your ex. The reason for this is actually quite simple. Think back to when you were happily married and imagine if you, as a couple, had to make that decision about some friends. Say what you will, but your wife would opt to stay friends with her "bestie" and whilst you could argue the case that you could remain friends with the husband, your wife would see it as betraying the trust of her friend. So, given the choice between your wife and her "bestie's" ex, the wise man chooses his wife.
The festive season is a time when we will feel the loss of these friends. Especially when it comes to those who you regularly saw at specific times. For instance, you may have, for the past 15 years spent Christmas Eve at a social gathering with a particular couple. Your ex remains very close friends with them and most likely will spend Christmas Eve with them again. So now, your left with not only a loss of some friends, but with the realization that you shall not be going to their houseparty again on Christmas Eve.
My advice is to accept that your Christmas Eve tradition is a thing of the past, move on and start a new tradition. This however does not mean you have to break all ties and civility with your friends. By all means send them a Christmas card, keep in touch via social media and even give them a quick call or text to wish them all the best for Christmas and New Year. Sure, they may no longer be part of your inner circle, but there is usually no need to cut ties as friends completely. They no doubt miss your friendship as much as you miss theirs.
The situation can be more complicated when you were very good friends with members of your ex's family. Again, for the most part there should be no harm in at least sending a Christmas card.
Sharing your children at Christmas after divorce
This is when it gets really hard. Like during the rest of the year, it is crucial that you never use your children as pawns in your battles with your ex. For most men in their 50's, their children will likely be adults and living a life of their own out of home. In this case then things are a little less complicated, much of the decisions on when you are to spend time with your children will be dictated by them. Many though, will have a partner of their own and so will be wanting to spend time with their partners family as well.
If however, like me, your children are younger and still at home then you will need to discuss seeing your children, with your ex. My teenage child lives with their Mum and so I am thankful that even though she has remarried we remain on good terms. For many of us without custody of our children, the festive season and particularly Christmas morning can be very difficult. I myself am a shift worker which makes scheduling visits even harder. The way you go about arranging to see your children over the Christmas period will very much depend on the relationship you have with your ex. My advice though, would be to speak with your children about what they would like to do and to not expect to have your children every year for Christmas day. One compromise that has worked for us, was for me to have my child until Christmas morning. This way both parents got to spend some of Christmas Day with them.
Something else that can get forgotten, is your family. Don't forget that your family will no doubt want to see your children over Christmas as well, most especially your parents. So please remember to allow your parents to see their Grandchildren over Christmas. I mentioned earlier that I had my teenager on Christmas Eve, what I didn't mention was that we spent that night at my parents. This gave my entire family the chance to see them and share gifts with them on Christmas morning.
Reboot your Festive Season
So what do I mean by "Reboot your Festive Season"? Your Christmas period is now going to be different to that of recent years, your divorce has made certain of that. So now is the ideal time to make the changes you want to make. Sure, you may not get to spend the season exactly how you would like, but then again, who actually does? So push that reset button and make the most of the opportunity to change. I myself love Christmas time and it is a wonderful family time. Now, ( if I am not working) I get to spend Christmas with my family and not having to share my time with my ex's family too. For those of you with Grinch like sentiments of disliking the whole Christmas thing, your single, make your own choices, book yourself on a cruise, go on a holiday, the choices are endless and yours alone to make.
Allow yourself to enjoy the season, don't hide yourself away at home. Go to those work parties, put up Christmas decorations and don't wallow in self pity. ( Plenty of time for that during the rest of the year)
Just remember though, not to go overboard with the Christmas spirits. Now that you no longer have a partner to watch how much you drink, remember to drink wisely. If you are still having a hard time dealing with the breakdown of your marriage, keep in mind that alcohol can make depressive thoughts much worse. So keep your self respect and dignity intact whilst enjoying this Festive season.
Divorce is a time that will see us at our most vulnerable, this is amplified somewhat by the complexities of going through it at around 50 or older. There is a rule of thumb which applies to the time taken in getting over divorce. The person who initiates the divorce will get over the divorce quite quickly as usually they have spent a few years building up to initiating it and it is in these preceding years that they are at most risk of depression and mental health issues. Whereas the partner who was not wanting the divorce (and likely blindsided by it ) is forced to come to terms with so many things in an instant and as such will often find that during the already traumatic divorce and separation proceedings that they may well struggle with their mental health.
Such was my own situation. I was in my mid to late forties when I was informed that my marriage was over and that there was no hope in its resuscitation. Thankfully for our teenage child, we have remained on very good terms. So does the fact that our divorce was without the animosity so often seen, mean that my state of mind was saved from mental health concerns? Yeah Right!!!! I still struggle on occasions, however thanks in part to my own previous experiences, I am able to not allow "the Black Dog" to take hold and am also aware of my early signs.
So lets have a look at what are some of the issues that can affect our mental health when going through divorce as we approach our Fifties and beyond. To begin, there is the obvious, the very fact that your relationship has come to an end. Unfortunately, many of us still feel they are in love with their partner and so the very real grief over the loss of them in your life is often enough to send your mental health spiraling down. Thoughts of " how am I going to live my life without them" are to be expected. Compound that with thoughts of why did they leave me, what did I do wrong, can I be happy ever again? ( Of course you can), whats wrong with me? etc and you are beginning to concoct a dangerous cocktail. Of course these things apply to any relationship break down at any age whether married or not.
Going through a divorce in and around your 50's, brings with it more questions and complexities. You would have been expecting to be growing old with your partner and so now your future has changed. A divorce closer to 30 will afford you a glimmer of hope for your future in your own mind.( Of course you won't think that way straight away, but knowing you have many years left will eventually fill you with hope). First of all, unless you are 120 years old or more, you still have the opportunity to find a new future and live a wonderful happy and contented life. The age of 50 need not be a stumbling block, if people such as Colonel Sanders, Ray Kroc and Morgan Freeman can become household names after 50 then surely, finding happiness again, is just a matter of living life again.
Homelessness is something, like suicide is a very hushed up dirt secret of divorce. Some figures suggest that 10% of divorces result in homelessness. So often people are left without they ability to pay rental deposits, even if they are working full time. Of course for most, this is only temporary. In most cases, unlike mine, those in and around their 50's are more financially secure so the rate of homelessness decreases.
The financial strain of divorce and the separation of assets, is very real and something that is far easier to deal with when mentally prepared for its onslaught. In my own situation, once I had to deal with the fact that I was to be divorced and would see less of my teen child, I had the separation of assets to deal with. This resulted in what was for me, one of my lowest times in my life. I faced financial ruin, due to factors beyond the control of myself or my ex. Whilst I will not offer up my financial figures, I shall give an overview of the unfortunate events that took place.Whilst I know there are many far worse than I, it is important to know that divorcees at 50 can and do bounce back, just like myself. My ex and I had originally agreed on a 50/50 split of assets, however due to laws unique to my State we were unable to utilize a private agreement. This meant that standard legal forms, the court system and lawyers were required and a 34/66 split was the best option. The intent was always for me to keep the house which was heavily mortgaged. However, luck was not on my side, a woefully high initial housing valuation, the courts taking way too long to process our application and a massive plummet of housing prices in the mean time saw me paying out 93%. ( The dollar amount remained the same but my net worth had plummeted resulting in the higher percentage) To compound my anxiety, I was legally required to pay a specified amount, an amount that was proving hard to obtain as the new house valuation meant that no lending institution would offer me a loan. My house was worth less than I now owed my ex. However, thanks to some miracles performed by my mortgage broker ( If your in Western Australia and want a great broker, let me know) and help from family I was able to narrowly avoid bankruptcy. Again, this is not meant as a "woe is me" story, but an example of the pressures divorce and separation can bring and that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Another factor that comes in to play for divorcees in their 50's and beyond, is the fear of growing old alone. Whilst you have many years left, a common fear is to be frail , old and alone. Let me assure you that you will have many years and opportunities to rectify being alone if you want to. For every Man that gets a divorce there is a Woman doing the same thing. Sure the dating scene has changed and is intimidating, but opportunities abound. Take a look at my blog post on Ready To Date Again and you will see that the future is indeed yours.
How to deal with all this stress?
Well, I can only talk from my own experience, but as a survivor I have learnt a few things. Firstly, I would say, accept that it may be a rough ride for a little while, allow yourself time to grieve. Try to avoid spending too much time on your own to dwell on the worst case scenarios. Spend time with the right friends and family. It is vitally important that you chose carefully who you spend time with whilst in a vulnerable state. Avoid those people who whilst they maybe great friends and good people, may have a tendency to be negative. Instead, spend time with those who are great listeners, those who can listen without the need to express many of their own opinions. Resist the urge to turn to alcohol or drugs as a way to combat the way you feel and of course avoid those people who will want to become drinking buddies, the temporary relief is NOT worth the longer term effects. I am not suggesting you go all teetotal, but be aware not to see your drinking increase. Seek out friends and family who are active and sociable, having a beer or two at a mates BBQ for instance will allow you to think of things aside from your current woes. Don't become a hermit and hide away, go to the footy, visit friends, watch a movie or see a live band. What you need to be doing is avoiding the temptation to overthink things, "stew in your own thoughts" and become more depressed.
Listen to your sensible friends if they suggest you see a doctor. Do not ever feel it is a sign of weakness to seek out professional help. For most people, depression brought on by a single event ( like divorce) is both treatable and temporary after seeking help. The best place to start is your local GP who can in many cases treat you themselves, if not they can refer you to those who can.
Of course professional help need not just be medical. Don't be afraid to seek out help or advice from those in the know. Basic divorce advice can be obtained online from both government agencies and other organizations. Places like the Citizens Advice Bureau or Relationships Australia are a great place to start. But it is more than simple divorce advice that may be needed, so don't be afraid to seek advice from Divorce Lawyers ( You will need one) or Financial Advisors. It is quite likely that you may feel trapped, overwhelmed and confused so getting advice from varying experts as well as research online is a great way to clear the fog and lift the weights weighing heavy upon you.
Divorce is a new beginning, not the end.
My own post divorce journey is far from over. Yes I am still single and my financial debt could be far smaller, but I have well and truly moved on. I am, for the most part very happy. I have had the opportunity to rediscover myself and to blog about it.
I am not saying that your post divorce life will be easy, but rest assured it is far better than it seems when your in the middle of it. There are some major hurdles to face whilst going through divorce and separation, all of which you will get past, it is simply a matter of if you choose the bumpy ride or the trek through mountainous rainforest inhabited by dangerous wildlife.
I'm sure that most people are well aware of R U OK Day. For those that are not, R U OK is an organization in Australia that promotes discussion on Mental health and suicide. At its core, is encouraging people to ask friends, family and workmates if they are O.K and in doing so, help to prevent suicide and to offer a friendly ear to those in need of help. There are a number of wonderful organizations that are available to offer help to those dealing with fragile mental health and R U OK is but one. I will post links to some other organizations throughout this post.
The reason I brought up R U OK first is I too am hoping to encourage discussion. Like so many men post divorce, I have had my share of dealings with the what Sir Winston Churchill referred to as the Black Dog. In fact, for much of my life, like so many people, I have had my fair share of battles with depression. However, for now I shall discuss how mental health affects both divorced men and men in their fifties.
Of course, for many men of my age, admitting that you are struggling with some mental health issues would be a sign of weakness and non manliness. The first thing we need to understand though, is that this is far from the truth, after all we find it quite acceptable to claim that we are in fact dying when struck down with "Man"Flu, yet when struck down with an illness that claims an alarmingly high number of lives, we expect ourselves to toughen up and push on through it. It is important to note, that I am not a Mental Health professional, but someone who has lived through bouts of depression and seen loved ones struggle with their own battle.
Divorce and the breakdown of any long term relationship, can be expected to leave anybody in a fragile mental state. Going through divorce, even one as amicable as mine was, is a harrowing experience at best. Your sense of self worth is likely to be at an all time low, your life has been turned upside down and all too often your financial security is under threat. From my own experience I recommend that anybody going through divorce, a relationship break up or any other traumatic experience, seek some advice from your regular doctor or at least get in touch with one of the many mental health services available online or by phone. Chances are that you will be fine, but why risk seeking advice too late. Most individuals who get diagnosed with depression, regret not seeking help sooner. The fact is that "feeling sad" is only one of the symptoms.
It is also important to understand that it is quite normal to have days when you feel down occasionally and that having the odd down day is not necessarily an indicator that you are depressed, it just means your are normal.
Divorced and nearly 50 I rediscovered who I was.