When Liadan Hynes’ marriage fell apart she had to work on adjusting to the new reality. In her weekly column, Things Fall Apart she explores the myriad ways a person can find their way back to themselves…
For six months after my marriage fell apart, I had a sore throat that I could not shift. Nothing major, it wasn’t going to stop me in my tracks. More slow me down – a low lying irritation.
It was an outward sign that my defences were down, my resources challenged to maximum capacity. When you are pushed to the limit, you are less able to fight off such things. More vulnerable to them.
It’s normal to feel this way
“I know what it’s like, you’re doing everything to keep body and soul together,” a colleague said to me out of the blue one day. She had gone through the same thing years before. And I realised she was right. So much effort goes into keeping the show on the road that you succumb to things you might have formerly not even noticed yourself batting off.
It’s the same with the invisible stuff. There is a reason why people in the throes of fresh grief often succumb to depression, or feel overcome regularly with anger so scary they simply do not know how to handle it. Or anxiety. The fear.
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When something like separation, or any of life’s major crises, happens, an amorphous cloud of fear can hover above you, just waiting for the inevitable crack in the armour of your well being. Waiting to find somewhere to settle.
It does not even require a crisis to create the cloud. Anything that pushes you to your limits. I’ve seen it happen to friends who are pregnant. The extreme anxiety that sets in when so much is at stake, when any sense of control over one’s life disappears.
Separated, you are remaking your life, so things that were a given are now thrown up in the air. Finances. The future. The amorphous cloud of anxiety sees the break in your defences and seeps in.
Makes you worry about things you might never have even considered before. Things that are irrational to even bother over.
I worried about how I would manage the steep, uncarpeted stairs in my house when I’m older. Like, decades from now.
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As if this was a concern that was previously sorted by being married. As if a spouse would have simply thrown me over his shoulder and carried me down, when mobility became challenged. As if one seventy-year-old carrying the other up and down the stairs was ever going to be a good idea. Reality isn’t necessarily a factor in anxiety.
Because this is not real, this kind of fear. The kind you didn’t previously feel. It is simply a symptom of the pressure you are under. Nobody has control of their future, whatever their circumstances. You will make it work. Buy a StairMaster, move house, whatever is needed.
Fear can make you stronger
But the things is, when you are faced with fears and you simply have to push through, what you come to realise, is that the thing about fear, is that it can make you stronger.
It can, in fact, be a launch pad, of sorts. I’m not sure that there is a way of making this point without using the sentence face the fear and do it anyway. If you do something from a place of fear, how much stronger are you afterwards, for having done it, fear and all, than from just doing something that takes little out of you?
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For a single mother, if you have parented a child on your own throughout nights when they are sick, faced into living without another adult, the new unknown of the future, done all those things you never thought you would have to, then you are simply that much stronger afterwards.
You had no choice but to do the things that before might have made you fearful. And in fact, they make you stronger.
Speaking from experience
You’ll notice it when you come to do things that formerly would have been too terrifying to contemplate, but now you take in your stride. Last weekend, I gave an after-dinner speech, my first time public speaking. The kind of thing even the thought of would formerly have brought me out in a cold sweat. And it did not bother me. Sure, five minutes beforehand I got nervous. But previously, I would simply have turned down the offer.
So you don’t fear the visible, or the invisible stuff, any more. You don’t fear doing things, because what you have got through was far more daunting. And you don’t fear the scary emotions anymore, because you have got through sadness, and know it passes.