Having your heart shattered is never easy. It’s one of the hardest, most challenging experiences that will ever come your way.
You develop an intimacy with someone, a closeness unmatched. That in itself required you to first open up and make yourself vulnerable.
When that partner, that friend, who shared in this vulnerability is gone from your life, what do you do? How do you get through it?
I’ve been through this a few times, and I still can’t pick out the worst one. Each relationship was unique with its own rhythm, so each heartbreak also had an element of “freshness” to it.
Years later, some of the stickier memories remain, but the pain is no longer potent. I can guarantee, however, that in my old moments of despair, when I couldn’t see past the person and the relationship I had lost, I couldn’t imagine how it would feel to have truly moved on.
The aftermath of one breakup stands out because of the way I chose to get myself through it.
I was in a long distance relationship while attending a very demanding post-graduate program.
During that time, the stress of piling homework and constant exams took a heavy toll on me. To do well in my classes, I led a strenuous, regimented life, and it led to the swift downward spiral of my mental health.
One night, after a few months of foreboding, my relationship came to an end. I stood outside of class, exchanging my last words with my best friend of almost two years over a phone call.
In the days that followed, I moved through my life with emotional gashes, a heavy heart, and exhausting anxiety.
It was really hard. My schedule at the time was: wake up, study, go to work, rush home to study more, and then attend classes until 10 pm at night.
I was taking a full course load, so this was my typical weekday. I even had 3-hour long classes on Saturday mornings. I’d chosen to push myself this much because I wanted to finish the program as soon as possible.
This rigorous schedule didn’t leave me with much time to process my emotions, but I knew I needed to find some way to cope with my feelings.
They weren’t going to be ignored.
So, here’s what I did: I built a quote wall.
My friends definitely scoffed at it, but I wasn’t bothered because it made me feel better.
At the end of the day, I was the one tossing and turning in bed, not anyone else.
I needed guidance and companionship at that time. Funny, in retrospect I see that those were the two big things my former partner brought to the table. Of course, I needed to fill those gaps.
I moved away from quotes that centered on my ex-partner or that particular heartbreak and toward general life truths that I wanted to incorporate into my practice of living.
In terms of guidance, I wanted to contextualize my situation within the greater truth of my life so that the breakup would stop having the power to overwhelm me.
Each afternoon, instead of calling my former partner or letting my hopelessness consume me, I would search online for quotes that alleviated my emotional pain and provided me with a booster shot of strength. Then I would print them, cut off the white borders, and tape them on my bedroom wall.
This became a ritual for me, and it helped me remember that even though what I was going through was no small sorrow, this wasn’t the complete story of my life.
Both the relationship and the ensuing heartbreak were parts of my story, but there were so many other experiences meant for me out in the world.
Those thin sheets of paper with a few words served as my life raft until I was better.
The quotes that I chose weren’t always of the same flavor. They weren’t all motivational and inspiring.
Sometimes they were morose. Those days, I needed companionship in my pain. I didn’t need a pep talk about how things would get better. I needed to know that I wasn’t alone, that this was a shared human experience.
I learned to ride the waves of many different emotions during that time.
There was guilt, rejection, anger, despair, loneliness, and often some twisted cocktail made from these ingredients.
Finding the right words written by other thinkers helped me to understand and process the complexity of what I was experiencing.
As I continued my ritual, I realized that the quotes that spoke to me evolved. I moved away from quotes that centered on my ex-partner or that particular heartbreak and toward general truths that I wanted to incorporate into my practice of living.
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” -Annie Dillard
I didn’t have a loving and nurturing relationship with myself during that time. I often felt not good enough and not worthy enough.
Dillard’s quote was a wake-up call. I certainly didn’t want to spend my life being miserable, but that was how I chose to spend my days.
I’ve improved the quality of my days significantly since then.
Eventually, my quote wall was huge.
I would look up at it to remind myself of its many lessons. It was a mosaic of curated advice for me, compiled by me. It was the gift of healing I’d given to myself.