The Only Thing You Need to Know to Survive a Break-Up

If you’ve just had your heart broken, this is for you. I’m not talking about being sad but knowing you’ll be okay eventually because he’s just a fuckboy and you’re stronger than this. I’m not talking about feeling a mixture of nostalgia and relief because things were so hard the last few months. I’m not talking about deep down knowing it’s for the best. I’m talking about that horrid, eviscerating terror that cramps up your throat, a pain so profound your entire body aches with it. A pain so bad that you know with absolute certainty it will never end, and you seriously question whether you can bear it.

This is for you. And it’s simple.

What you need to understand right now, in this instant as you’re reading this through bleary, swollen eyes, is that for the foreseeable future, you’re going to be full-on, certifiably, battily crazy. You have boarded the cray-cray train, next stop Asylum.

And that’s okay.

I’m educated, analytical, and, more importantly, one of those people who is most commonly described as calm, collected, peaceful, and thoughtful. Yet, when I had my heart broken – really had it broken, in that hopeless way that left nothing to mend, nothing to put together – I turned into what is frequently and oh-so kindly described as a “psycho ex”. I sent incessant texts. I found any excuse to contact him, including mailing him an unused bus ticket because “he bought it, he should get to use it”. (A friend of mine mailed her ex empty chocolate boxes. Empty. Chocolate. Boxes.) I found the most clearly disturbed, dysfunctional guy on Tinder and convinced myself he was the love of my life and went out with him. I begged my ex to dump the woman he cheated on me with and take me back, despite previously swearing cheating was a deal-breaker for me. I spent hours lovingly crafting spectacularly cruel versions of memes with him photoshopped in and then emailed them to him. I harbored fantasies of getting cancer so I could guilt him with my illness. Ironically, the battier I got, the more time I spent googling various pathologies and assigning them to him, starting with narcissism and ending with split personality.

I was batshit. And odds are, so are you. You might think you’re not, in your feverish haze of hitting the gym to prove just how fine you are or in your frantic online dating because really, you’re so ready to move on. But if you got your heart broken, not just slightly dented, you’re batty. Just trust me.

So what to do? Good news is it will pass. Bad news is there is no specific timeframe. (I would say it took me three months to stop being 100% insane and another three to be mostly sane.) In the meantime, the name of the game is damage control. As smug and unhelpful as “trust me on this, I’ve been there” sounds, ever since I recovered from my looniness, I’ve been observing it among my friends and have come to realize that what lingers, what causes shame for years afterwards, tends to be things done in the batty zone without realizing you’re batty. So, be batty, but be smart about it.

Step one, as in any twelve-step program, is admitting the situation and making your peace with it. Look at yourself in the mirror and say out loud, “I am currently deranged with grief. And that’s okay.” You’ve just had a human heart’s worth of hopes, dreams, plans, memories, beliefs, and expectations crushed. There is a whole lot of refurbishing going on inside your brain, and unfortunately it’s rarely a neat process. Before you can renovate, your synapses are going to be like the childhood home in Sisters – basically a sinkhole of despair occasionally masquerading as a tempting pool to slip into.

Minimize contact with your ex. This is the tough one, and sometimes impossible if circumstances require you to spend time together. But understand that every second you spend with your ex is a second keeping you in the batty zone and a second in which you can make horrible mistakes. Maybe one day you will be good friends. Maybe you will always hate each other a little bit. Either way, the odds of a tolerable outcome are the better the more distance you can keep during those first, tumultuous months. Many people I know have ripped each other apart in the aftermath even worse than in the lead-up. Your ex is the source of your madness; do not feed the madness.

Choose your counsel wisely. You will be tempted to spill your guts to everyone who’s unfortunate enough to sit next to you on the bus, and that’s okay. Do not spill your guts to mutual friends or people who were in any way involved with your ex. Do not tell them anything beyond the barest facts (“We’re no longer together”) because right now your idea of what is appropriate to share is hilariously far-removed from reality. Importantly, people are not always very nice. Three years later, I’m still dealing with the consequences of mutual friends talking about the things I shared with them while distraught. Find a good friend or two who are not friends or even acquaintances with your ex, and then vent away to your heart’s content, safe in the knowledge that even if they gossip, it will not reach the ears of mutual friends. They are also less likely to feel awkwardly caught between you and your ex. If they’re real friends to begin with, your mutual friends will still be there when you are ready to talk to them without making your ex the centerpiece of the conversation.

Sleep on every decision. Solid advice in general, but an absolute necessity in your deranged state. Set solid deadlines: You must wait 48 hours before you send that message to your ex. You need to make it to date number five before you sleep with that guy you’re really not sure about. You need to think for a week before you decide to drop out of college. Even if something seems like a great idea, sleep on it. You might still make dumb decisions, but at least they won’t be panicked dumb decisions.

As a corollary, do not make major changes or decisions. I know this is controversial because we all want our own Eat Pray Love story, and break-ups can propel you to make a much-needed change. But the batty zone is not the time to make those decisions. Do not quit your job, do not move to a new city, do not join a cult. Write down your ideas and plans, and then return to them in a few months and select the ones that are worth pursuing with courage but without delusion.

Finally, be kind to yourself. You’re crazy, so you’re going to slip up and do crazy things. Laugh at yourself through the tears and just imagine the beauty of one day waking up again, sane and in control. That day will come.