In 2013 I did something I never thought I would – I got a divorce. I was only 26 years old and had mutually decided with my husband at the time that this wasn’t going to work long-term for us. We started dating at 16 and moved from Pennsylvania to Utah together for college. I gained independence moving that far from my family, but I always had someone to lean on. I had never eaten dinner, went to the movies, or even traveled alone until the divorce.
Do I have regrets? Absolutely not. I love who I am now from all that I’ve experienced. But the road to where I am now wasn’t easy, especially for an introvert with depression and anxiety.
When I moved out into my own place I was happy and excited. I could do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I didn’t have to listen to the TV while I was working. I could choose when to make dinner or if I’d rather just have a bowl of cereal. I could go to bed when I wanted. It was nice to not have to decide what I was doing based on someone else. But my new found “freedom” didn’t last long. I found loneliness to be much more overbearing. Sure, I had friends, but they have families of their own. I couldn’t be the tag along all of the time.
The loneliness I was feeling caused me to jump into dating right away. Talk about feeling out of my element. Online dating was the way to go – I wasn’t meeting anyone at my job of mostly female teachers and I wasn’t interested in going to a bar to meet someone. It was easy to respond to messages of those who were of interest to me, and block those who were rude and inappropriate. Going on my first adult date was completely terrifying, but liberating at the same time. I really didn’t care if someone didn’t like me for me; I wasn’t in high school anymore hoping to catch the attention of Mr. Popular. I knew that my future husband would be someone who loved me for me, not expecting me to change. I wasn’t going to be that girl again. I felt like I was going into dating knowing exactly what I was looking for in a husband and that I was ready to be in a relationship again.
I went on several dates just as a way to get out of the house and have some human interaction. Some of the dates led to another, many ended that same night. I found the more I dated, the more depressed I became. I was desperately seeking someone to fill the void I was feeling. I didn’t know how to be on my own – I’d had my ex-husband there for the last 10 years.
Everyone wanted to give me advice – especially those who had no idea what I was going through. I appreciated that people wanted to help in the best way they knew how – telling me what’s best for me. But I knew that the popular advice of “simply get over it” or “just move back to Pennsylvania where your family is” wasn’t what was going to work for me. The best advice I received was told to me by several people: you have to learn how to be happy by yourself before you can be happy with someone else. I thought that advice was ridiculous. I thought I was already happy by myself. After a year of failed dating attempts, I took the advice because I was emotionally slipping away.
My anxiety and depression became significantly worse. I had panic attacks almost every day that would last for upwards of 30 minutes. I wasn’t able to calm myself down. It was hard to breathe. I sobbed uncontrollably. Luckily, these only happened at home. On the weekends, I stayed in bed all day. I wasn’t able to sleep each night. I was miserable and knew that I had to figure this out because I wanted to move forward and live a happy life.
The first thing I did was go to the doctor. I had to get medication for the anxiety and depression so that I could figure this out. (I am by no means pushing medication as a fix for anything, but I was in such a dark place that I felt that was the way to go, personally.) About a week and a half later, I was feeling more at peace, mentally and emotionally. I could make it through the day without a panic attack and was able to sleep through the night. I was ready to take on the world and learn about myself. I stayed off social media as much as possible and started reading a lot of self-help books and blogs. I wanted all of the information I could get about how to get to know myself.
My first big step to becoming independent was eating at a restaurant by myself. Not fast food – that’s too easy. I went to Olive Garden for lunch one day. I was so nervous thinking that everyone would stare at me (no one did) and it would be awkward. I was the only one dining alone that day (that I saw in the restaurant) and it was strange not having someone to talk to, but it was so nice. I read a book and relax while I waited for my food. It wasn’t so bad after all.
After that experience, I often went out to lunch and dinner on my own. I even ventured out one night to Buffalo Wild Wings to watch a University of Utah football game by myself. That was a bit more awkward, being the only person sitting alone in the dining room area with big parties at tables around me, but I didn’t care at that point. It was empowering for me to know that I could do these things on my own. The loneliness started melting away as I did these things for myself.
I began meditating, going for walks, reading, building my Teachers Pay Teachers business, coloring, doing puzzles, keeping a gratitude journal, and other things that make for great solo hobbies. I made sure to still connect with friends and if I was needing human interaction, leaning on them and asking them to dinner or out for drinks. I worried less about “I can’t bug them because they have a life” and let them make that decision of whether or not they were free. I became less afraid of the “what if” and just started asking questions and doing. If someone was busy, I didn’t take offense to it. I made the best of every situation that came my way and started living my life, rather than waiting for life to come after me.
I even took 2 business trips by myself, which was completely terrifying for me since I’m not outgoing and didn’t know anyone that would be there. Luckily being business trips, I had an itinerary set up and had things to do, but it was hard putting myself out there.
Coming out of my shell and learning who I am was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to experience. It was so worth it. Through the lessons, I learned I decided after 11 years in Utah to move back east. I wasn’t too keen on moving back to Pennsylvania (the weather isn’t for me), so I took my Dad’s advice of moving to North Carolina (the weather is better). I had never visited NC and took a short trip with my Dad and Step-Mom in 2015. We visited the Charlotte area and I decided that NC was the place for me. Over the next year I applied to schools all over NC and in April 2016, was offered a job outside of Raleigh. I had never visited Raleigh, but read amazing things about the school. I took the job and didn’t know anyone in Raleigh.
My friends and family told me that I was so “brave” for picking up and moving someplace new with no connections. This is something that I could never have done if I hadn’t overcome the loneliness that plagued me after my divorce. Now I’m living in Raleigh with a boyfriend whom I am absolutely smitten with. My life has turned around and I am truly happy.
All of the pictures in this post are from after my divorce – at times that I felt good about where I’m at in life. In almost every picture I’m wearing the necklace in the black and white picture, which was given to me by a former co-worker. It reads, “all the strength you need is right there inside you“. It helped me through my divorce and reminded me that I am strong enough to get through anything.
If you’re going through something similar, please know you’re not alone. It was a very long, dark 2 years for me, but I didn’t give up and came out on the other side stronger than ever. You’ve got this.
New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings. -Lao Tzu