Just… Keep… Swimming…
As Mental Health Awareness Month comes to an end (May), I would be amiss not to address the impact family law cases have on one’s mental health. Whether it is a paternity case, divorce, or custody/parenting time modification, battling it out with an ex in court is always stressful; there is no denying that. Some people feel relieved the marriage is finally over while others are devastated with no will to live. Then there are others who are fine one minute but not the next; with mixed feelings of relief and then heartache, just trying to keep their head above water… one foot in front of the other. Regardless of where you find yourself on this emotional roller coaster, you can and will get through this hard time. Just… keep… swimming…
While I am not a mental health professional, I am an empathetic, compassionate family law attorney who has witnessed the havoc family law cases can have on one’s mental health. It does not matter what you do for a living or how much money you have in the bank or even if you have a history of mental illness. Divorce and child custody cases often trigger overwhelming anxiety, depression, rage, and hopelessness, in addition to, both homicidal and suicidal thoughts. Feelings of loneliness, insecurity, worthlessness, anger and confusion are also commonly manifested in people dealing with any family law case.
Destructive behaviors are often triggered with divorce and custody cases. People who feel out of control coupled with depression and a life-altering event like divorce or custody modification tend to abuse drugs and/or alcohol. Without a proper substance abuse treatment plan already in place, recovering addicts will likely relapse during a stressful, contested family law case. If children are involved, self-destructive behaviors of parents could cause severe emotional damage to children. When parents cannot seem to co-parent effectively and are fighting it out in court instead, children may also suffer from adjustment disorder, depression, and anxiety.
I have had outstanding clients throughout my career that fit into each category as described above. You cannot help how you feel or react at the onset of your family law case. What you can do, however, is cope… just keep swimming. To even get to this point of coping, I’ve learned you first have to realize that something isn’t right with you mentally or emotionally; that you feel [insert alarming symptom, mood, emotion]; and, that you’re willing to take baby steps to get to the other side. Some people are in such a state of shock or anger that they do not even realize how bad they are suffering mentally, physically, or emotionally.
Coping Strategies during a Divorce or Child Custody Case
The first baby step is keeping up with your daily routine.
Any extreme change to one’s sleep schedule or eating habits can exacerbate your symptoms. If you are having problems sleeping at night, then you may want to see your doctor for a recommended over-the-counter sleep aid or prescription medication.
Everyone hates the idea of therapy.
Nobody wants to go to therapy let alone seek out a new therapist or make that first appointment. If you could make any strides towards a better outlook on life during this miserable court process, then at least make an appointment with a therapist for an initial consultation and go from there.
Keep yourself busy and avoid isolating behaviors.
Most people have intrusive thoughts when alone with no distractions. This could be in the car, shower, or right before you fall asleep. Distract yourself. Phone a friend. Listen to podcasts, an audiobook, radio talk show, or even stand-up comedy skits when you’re in the car, shower, or at bedtime.
Exercising and eating healthy just make you feel better altogether no matter the tragedy.
They can help you manage feelings of stress, depression, anxiety, and anger. Good food will fuel your soul and give you the added nutrients your body needs to keep going. We all know that exercising releases endorphins, and endorphins are feel-good hormones. Which is exactly what you need during a divorce.
Surround yourself with family and friends.
They want you to bug them. Take advantage of the love and support from others so you do not feel alone or settle into isolating behaviors. “Alone time” may be needed, but don’t hide in the depths of despair for too long because your mental state may worsen without you realizing it.
Try to envision your life after the case is over.
Obviously, you need to have reasonable expectations for the outcome of your case, but, imagine how nice it will be for the stress to finally ease up once your case is done. Think of life after court. Dream for your future.
If money is a major source of anxiety and stress, then meet with a financial planner.
Your bank will likely have someone who can meet with you to go over your new budget or at least point you in the right direction.
If you need to find work, now is the time to apply for that job you always wanted.
Businesses are raising their wages so people will come work for them (and stay).
If you need to get some more education, training, or a certificate under your belt for your next career path, now is the time.
You are entering the next chapter in your life so why not also get that education or training you need for your dream job?
Divorce and custody modifications can take a toll on your soul, but they will not destroy you.
So many people have gone through your exact process with feelings of heartache, anger, hopelessness, resentment, anxiety and depression. You, too, may never get over it, but you will get through it.
Just… Keep… Swimming…
Sources: National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI); Psychreg Journal of Psychology (PJP)