Over the past few months I couldn’t quite understand what I was feeling, or not feeling. I experienced a whirl of emotions, from love to loss to anger, sometimes landing in a place where I felt nothing but malaise. And that was the worst. In March I would have celebrated my mother’s 93rd birthday had she not passed away in November. I had broken off with a man I had been seeing for five months, who I probably shouldn’t have dated in the first place. I was following the public-health experts and staying in place in NJ where the beaches, parks and schools were closed, but the Covid-19 cases were climbing. The majority of consulting projects I was contracted for in February were in an indefinite holding pattern. With work, love and life on hold I was left with way too much time to overthink just about everything and perpetuate my desolate feelings.
Yet with all my newfound time I couldn’t find the focus or energy to jumpstart much of anything, and news aside I could barely read. Instead I baked brownies and cooked gourmet meals, set a place at the table, but sat down without an appetite. Throughout the day I watched myriad fitness and yoga videos, but didn’t come to my mat to practice. The days were a big blur, and when six o’clock came around I toasted to the fact that I had accomplished one thing, which was to get through yet another dull, uneventful day.
Being in the midst of the Covid pandemic I knew that many people were experiencing some degree of depression, anxiety, loneliness, boredom, yet I knew that my emotional state wasn’t totally in response to the pandemic, but rather something different. It occurred to me that I was feeling what it felt like to have a broken heart. Probably a heart broken many times to which I unknowingly applied little pieces of duct tape through the years. Yes duct tape. The perfect temporary and sometimes long term solution for dozens of broken things, like hanging car bumpers, so why not a broken heart?
To better understand my feelings, I started with research but freaked right out of the gate when I learned that a broken heart is actually a condition or syndrome, the broken heart syndrome. If you want to get technical, the Mayo clinic describes broken heart syndrome as a temporary heart condition that’s often brought on by stressful situations and extreme emotions. The condition can also be triggered by a serious physical illness or surgery. People with broken heart syndrome may have sudden chest pain or think they’re having a heart attack. For more on the broken heart syndrome: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/cardiomyopathy/what-is-cardiomyopathy-in-adults/is-broken-heart-syndrome-real
I’m not a healthcare expert, but I do know that chronic anxiety can cause chronic disease, so it was clear that I had to heal this broken heart before it became something more serious that duct tape couldn’t fix. One course of action was obvious, get on every online dating site available, and fall in love immediately. The other was to find a therapist specializing in broken hearts and schedule a full year of appointments. Because therapy takes time and commitment, and I was in a hurry to heal my heart before it became unfixable, dating sites were definitely the way to go. Scrolling through the dozens of unlikely prospective partners and swiping left much more than right, I stumbled on one interesting man with a kind face, inquisitive eyes and great hair, so I swiped right and so did he. Exchanging a few texts we moved to telephone and then to Facetime. I was ready for a new love and perhaps another little piece of duct tape to hold my heart together.
Like me, many of my clients have had their heartbroken from loss of someone or something they love and all agree that there is no quick fix. Grief experts concur that it takes time but they also tell us that it takes work to heal your heart. And a healed heart is needed before you can be fully available to feel love again.
Here are some things I’ve learned we can do to mend and be open to loving again.
- Don’t Deny You’re Hurting. I noticed that when my mother first passed we were so busy with the funeral arrangements and the dealings of the estate that I didn’t really have the time to grieve. It was only when I stopped doing, that I realized how much pain I was feeling from the loss of my best friend, confidante, and muse. Similarly, I was doing and not mending when I jumped on line shortly after a break-up telling my friends that I’d be okay after all I was good at being hurt having been there so many times before. Wrong. No matter how many times your heart has been broken, each one is different and each takes time to heal but you have to allow yourself to hurt.
- Identify Your Voids and Fill Them. A simple thing like not having my mother to call at 10 am every morning was a reminder of what I missed. Or not having a partner to take to the movies or run with to the gym can feel catastrophic if you created a ritual of having them there for you during these days. It is important to be brutally honest, and identify all the voids you have when you are heartbroken, not only the emotional ones, but the social, intellectual, financial, and/or emotional ones as well.
- Disengage and Liberate. People have told me that when they lose someone they love they spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out what happened, what they said or did to bring about the break-up. Because the feelings of loss are so dramatic we think the cause is equally dramatic, when it probably was not. For example in case of dating, going on line to look for your next love interest before the final text was exchanged with your last one. Or diving deep into a project at work to provide a distraction. This response is in direct contrast to what eastern wisdom tells us about suffering. Buddha taught that attachment leads to suffering. So the most direct path to happiness and peace is detachment. I try to remind myself that I don’t need anyone or anything to make me happy. Learning to love your self again and the liberation it brings is wonderful.
- Accept with Curiosity Not Judgment. Many years ago I remember hearing the expression “Live and Let Live.” At the time I thought it was about letting people do their own thing without judgment. Now I interpret it as being about acceptance. I am new to the practice of mindfulness and have learned a positive side effect of mindfulness is acceptance. When you non-judgmentally embrace the present moment, there is an underlying current of acceptance. Acceptance has a far-reaching positive impact not only on yourself, but also by extension touches everyone you know and those you don’t know directly. In times of crisis, like the pandemic, it is inordinately difficult to accept, but there are practices to get you there.
- Healing Takes Time. When you lose someone you love it takes time to heal. It is different depending on the relationship and the person, however, it can take as long as a year or even longer. And while those around you may say why can’t you just move on you cant. According to psychologist Guy Winch, when your heart is broken your instincts will take you down the wrong path, and that your mind will trick you into chasing what caused the loss, activating the same chemicals in your brain that an addict releases when going through withdrawal. In effect it isn’t just thoughts but neurochemistry that explains why it takes so long to get over a loss.
And now it is spring in full swing with rainstorms, pollen and love in the air, along with the reality of quarantine and Covid and social distancing. I’ve peeled away the duct tape, began to fill the voids, accepted what I need to accept and am keeping myself open to the possibility of finding my next lasting love. What greater gift to give yourself and others than the gift of love.