My Relationship is Over, but I Still Have Work to Do

Over the past year, several of my #sistascholars have experienced breakups to varying degrees. Given the pain and frustration I’ve watched them deal with, I felt it necessary to discuss healing and growth within the break-up process too. To illuminate ways in which heartache does not mean the rest of the world stands still with us. After all, I, too, experienced a breakup within the last year, so I consider this piece both healing for me and helpful for others.

Being in graduate school is a journey that can only be understood by those who have experienced it themselves. When we read about people who liken it to undergrad 2.0, we know those folks have not pursued formal graduate education and if so they did it without taking the process seriously. Even then, everyone’s experience is different. Given the fact that relationships are difficult in and of themselves, adding the graduate school layer can lead to a different kind of stress when things go awry. pexels-photo-236229.jpegLast month I wrote about maintaining a relationship while in graduate school. But what happens when things simply do not work out? The work that we do is extremely draining mentally and emotionally. Many of the women I know in this space are doing work specifically related to our Black womanhood. Attempting to grieve the loss of a relationship (because it can be a grieving process) makes it very difficult to perform that work when it is directly tied to our experiences and the work reminds of us the pain we are enduring.

We are in pain. We question ourselves and our ex-partner’s motives and intentions. We question how we even let ourselves get involved with that f*ckboy in the first place. We worry if we will ever get married if we will ever be able to keep a relationship. The sh*t hurts. The whole process of love to heartbreak–the emotions listed here and otherwise. Sometimes, all we want to do is wrap up in our bed under a nice cozy blanket, drink some wine, binge watch some Netflix, and cry until the ducts are dry. But, what is a woman to do when there are final papers are due in a week? How do you manage if the break up happens in the middle of comprehensive exams? When a manuscript is due to an editor? When you have to teach a class tomorrow? Your dissertation is due to your committee? When you’re a new faculty member on the tenure clock? All of these things continue and as the deadlines pile up we have to rise to the task even when our hearts are broken. So how? How do we show up when our primary support is no longer there? How do we find the joy that was once our own?

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The “how” partially depends on the type of person you are.

Can you compartmentalize and get sh*t done during crunch time, then let it out when crunch time has passed? If so, do your thing and apply the rest of this later. For those of you out there like me, this is not our process. As a Black woman who finds herself very in tune with what’s happening around her, I feel EVERYTHING very deeply. There is no concentration in these moments. So, for the those of us who are not so good at compartmentalizing our feelings, I feel the need to share a few ideas that may be helpful on our journey to healing:

  1. Allow yourself to feel it. All of the things listed above can wait just a little bit. We know, it doesn’t feel like it. We know, comps and the diss are defining pieces of graduate education… And still: one day of letting yourself be in your emotions is not going to ruin you. Go ahead and wrap up in your blanket with your wine and favorite snacks and just cry it out. Crying is healing. It can be a release of all of that pain that is built up.
  2. Carve out time to get some work done and make it very focused and intentional. Have specific tasks that you would like to get done in that time. Utilize a space with minimal reminders of what you’re going through. I personally prefer public spaces so that I am not tempted to crawl back in my bed. Once your work time is complete, take some more time to emote if you need it. Repeat this until less and less time is spent on the emotional healing process and more time can be devoted to work. Just remember to adjust for your programmatic needs!
  3. Lean on your village. I don’t know a single woman who has never been through a breakup. There’s some wisdom there. pexels-photo-197465.jpegLean on the women who support you most and let them be there for you. Let them know what you need. Do you need them to just be there and feel their loving energy? Or, do you need them to tell how much of a f*ckboy he was and how great you are? Whatever your style, express that and let them be there for you. Allow your friends to drag you out of bed, to the beach, to the pool, to that party, to a place that can be one of happiness and joy if only for the moment because you deserve to experience these things and it’s the role of our friends to help create these memories. This is especially true during the tough times.
  4. Go see a therapist! A therapist can help you work through those thoughts and emotions in an unbiased, supportive, healing way. And if you can, try seeing a Black woman– even if this means online/ phone only forms of support.
  5.  Finally, understand that it takes time. Cliché, I know… But there’s a reason people say it. It will take you longer to heal if you try to push it down and pretend that everything is ok. Acknowledge your pain and figure out healthy ways to ease it. Breakups are difficult, especially if you planned to spend your life with this person (e.g. broken engagements). Know that you are strong enough to get through it, but you’re also allowed to be vulnerable and feel the pain of that loss. Your emotional well-being is as important as (if not more so) this degree or career. Take that space for yourself. Lean on your village and do not be afraid to seek the support of a professional.

Remember there is no right way to heal. Allow yourself to enjoy the presence of friends and family, the joy of solace, and the immense relief that comes with cry. If all else fails, remember that joy cometh in the morning–maybe not a morning this week, this month, or even this year. But it comes. And it will be yours. You will know what it feels like again, because you deserve to.

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Peace, love, and blessings my sistas!

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