I had dinner last week with a friend who is going through a nasty divorce. She was about to lose her home, her husband had piled up over $1 million in back taxes, she had a temporary restraining order against him… the list goes on and on. She had never lived alone and had devoted herself to her husband so completely that she didn’t know how to do a lot of things that she needed to do such as balance the check book, pay the bills, etc. She found herself overwhelmed, somewhat paralyzed, and in deep despair; who could blame her?
She did, however, talk about some of her successes: she was having trouble getting the DVD player to work and she figured it out by finding the manual on the Internet, the utilities were about to be shut off (her lovely husband left her with an outstanding utility balance of over $1,000) so she negotiated with them for some additional time, she drove in snow for the first time and even put tire chains on her car by herself, etc.
She also told me about some of the things she wanted to do with her newfound, unexpected, and unwanted freedom; take a train trip, find a new church, read certain books, and discover who she really is. (I had asked her what she liked to do; she couldn’t think of an answer because she had been so dependent on her husband for so long.)
It occurred to me that, for her, making lists would be a tremendous technique for lowering her anxiety and overwhelm. Lists serve to organize the clutter in your mind, and give you a visual representation of what seems impossible.
In her case, there were several opportunities for lists. Here are a few ideas:
- Things that she wants to do, giving her something to look forward to which is a very powerful coping technique.
- Successes; things that she figured out how to do after thinking that she couldn’t do them. This will serve to remind her that she isn’t as helpless as she sometimes feels.
- Options for living arrangements after she moves out of her home, giving her hope and reminding her that she won’t be out on the street