If you can’t sleep – write!

In the early stages of divorce, it is often difficult to sleep.

Quite apart from the physical absence of your ex-partner beside you, you’re so very, very tired, yet at the same time overwrought, angry, upset and anxious about the future. You fall into bed at night, exhausted, but find yourself wide awake a couple of hours later, your head swimming with questions, recriminations and insecurities.

Even at the best of times, we don’t tend to think good thoughts in the middle of the night: it’s the time when dark fears and illogical worries crowd our mind. When life is difficult, night-time thoughts are even more traumatic. As you lie there, desperately trying to get back off to sleep, horrible scenarios rear their ugly head and your teeming consciousness adds layer upon layer of extra horrors: the small amount of debt you accumulated during your marriage becomes full-flown bankruptcy, which means you’ll be turfed out of your home by bailiffs and end up living on the street; your estranged spouse’s desire to see the kids regularly becomes a bitter custody battle which will result in you never seeing the children again.

And so it goes on.

By the time morning comes, you are beside yourself – and even more tired than you were the previous day. You also realise, as the day wears on, that your night-time fears were grossly exaggerated.

For anyone suffering this common but distressing symptom of divorce, there is a way of overcoming it – a kind of sleep training programme if you like. It involves having a notepad and pen by the side of the bed. As soon as you wake (or if you can’t go to sleep in the first place), rather than lying there, tossing and turning, switch on the light and start writing. Write down all the things you want to say to your estranged partner. Write down all the bad thoughts you have. Write down all the fears that are racing through your brain.

As you’ll soon discover, it’s quite boring committing garbled thoughts to paper, but stick at it anyway. The following afternoon, read through what you wrote the previous night and I bet you’ll be staggered at how ridiculous and misplaced a lot of it seems.

Nevertheless, do exactly the same the following night: When you wake up, switch on the light and write down your thoughts and feelings – however outrageous or raw those emotions are. Just write down what comes to mind.

Having been in such a situation myself, I can all but guarantee that by the fourth night of doing this, you’ll be so fed up with writing that when you wake in the wee hours, instead of reaching for your pen and notepad, your mind will clear and you’ll go back to sleep instead. It’s a bit like counting sheep, only better!

Whatever happens, though, hang on to that diary! And always keep it by the bed, even when your sleeping pattern returns to normal. In the months and years to come, when – as is natural – you question why you got divorced in the first place, reading back those night-time notes will help you remember the reasons you couldn’t have carried on as you were, in a marriage that wasn’t working, and why divorce was the only logical and emotionally positive step.

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