When I am heartbroken, everything feels as though it’s collapsing around me (imagine the last scene of Fight Club: buildings are falling, ‘Where is My Mind’ by the Pixies is playing). It is a despondent and hopeless feeling, as most humans probably know, and often is accompanied by feelings of crushing disappointment, shame, insecurity, loneliness and fear. Heartbreak is dark, unpleasant and nobody wants to go through it, and yet, it is virtually inevitable that we all will at some point or the other, not unlikely more than once. I’m not an expert, but I have developed some practices that have helped me survive these sad times, and even turn them into experiences I look back on fondly. I’m sharing these tips now in hope that they might help you too.
• Give yourself an amount of time that feels appropriate to grieve (and you don’t judge yourself for completely imploding). If you have a full-time job then maybe this is just a weekend, or if you do not have a job (like me) then maybe it is a full week, or if you are extra sensitive and emotional (like me) let yourself take a month. During this time you should embrace the sadness of what you’re going through. Use it as an excuse to be extra kind to yourself and ask for extra kindness from your friends. Your heart is delicate and you deserve to give it time to mend, otherwise it could break in a more detrimental way.
•Binge watch an entire television show. During my first real breakup I watched all of Six Feet Under from beginning to end. Watching the whole thing in a row, marathon-style, helped get my mind off of my loss and sadness by falling into the loss and sadness of fictional characters. A more recent time I was feeling super heartbroken and miserable I watched all of Homeland in three days and honestly came out on the other side feeling like a new person. Watching an entire TV series shows you a new and different world where your pain is nonexistent and the lives of these fictional characters become more interesting to you the more you watch. Suddenly you are so invested in them that you’ve forgotten your ex’s face and you’re realizing you want to have an affair with a POW who has been turned by the enemy and now poses a significant risk to homeland security.
•Eat as much ice cream as you want. Normally, you limit the amount of ice cream that you eat and end up feeling deprived and distressed (right?). Now you can have as much as you want, which is reason to celebrate! What a life. Go to Ben and Jerry’s with your best friend and get two, three, four scoops of whatever you want i n a gigantic waffle cone with rainbow sprinkles. It will feel amazing. And then it will feel terrible as you descend into a sugar coma, at which point you will pass out and have no emotional pain whatsoever.
•Do something that really scares you. Personally, getting on an airplane without my anxiety medication is a terrifying experience for me. The same summer I binge watched Six Feet Under to get over my first breakup, I decided to visit my friend in England. That flight is over ten hours long. Those were ten hours that I was in no way sad about the breakup. During the worst parts of turbulence I longed for the days when heartbreak was my biggest problem. Are you afraid of the ocean? Go swimming in it. Are you afraid of spiders? Go hang out with a bunch of spiders. These situations will put your pain in perspective and remind you that at least when you’re heartbroken you can curl up in the comfort of your own bed without having to face death in the eye (obviously I’m not saying to be a risk-taking idiot, just be brave, okay?). The other benefit of this technique is that you could end up seeing beautiful things or learning beautiful things or meeting beautiful people that you wouldn’t have otherwise and you can always look back saying “Good thing so-and-so broke up with me, otherwise I never would have. . .”
•Dye your hair a crazy color. Or, if that feels too intense, just do a few strips of your hair. When you’re heartbroken, things in your life need to change, and changing your hair color can be a symbolic representation of turning over a new leaf. A crazy color (bright pink, light blue etc.) can make you feel wild and powerful. Your new hair color will send the message to yourself and others that you’re brave and in-control of your own actions. Are you also risking looking insane by doing this? Absolutely. But it will be fun and empowering, and that is all that really matters.
This whole process—binge-eating, binge-watching, being gentle with yourself—is a kind of “cocooning”. When you’re heartbroken, it is the perfect time to withdraw from regular life into a metaphorical hibernation in order to achieve self-growth. Allowing yourself this time makes it possible for you to emerge from your cocoon as a new and improved self, perhaps one with different-colored hair. You need this period of restoration if you want to come out on the other end feeling refreshed and, at least somewhat, ready for life again.