The Cost of Healing Heartbreak

This isn’t my first run through Splitsville, but it is definitely the most trying.

Photo credit: Foton28, CC BY 2.0.

Last year I fell deeply, stupidly, in love. I knew that the chances of us working out were slim, but I just couldn’t walk away to save my heart, so I floored the gas until we hit the brick wall. It was of those breakups where logically it makes sense, but emotionally all the reasons were Dali paintings. I felt like I was living in a beautiful, surreal, hellish landscape and I had no idea what was real and what was imagined.

This isn’t my first run through Splitsville, but it is definitely the most trying. Previously, I would dance, talk to EVERYONE, stay out until 4 a.m. three nights a week, and generally oscillate between socialite and hermit. This time, because I’m older and all of my friends are busy with their families and careers, I decided that I was going to “use this as an opportunity to become a better version of myself,” as per all breakup advice. I already had a gym membership, classes included, so I didn’t have to shell out for that. Instead, I spent my money this way:

Paint and supplies for my condo: $384.55

When I moved into my place in 2014, I had grand designs but no motivation to change the color scheme. After the breakup, I learned just how much motivation you can get out of rage. The first weekend, I went to Home Depot and Sherwin-Williams, got a bunch of paint samples, and started putting patches of color all over the walls. I spent the next week looking at all of the patches in various night/day/evening light before taking the plunge and picking a color for my dining room.

Then I dove head-first into the manual labor. As I taped up windows and edges then worked my way through the dining room, I alternately gave myself pep talks and shouted at my ex for basically everything. My head and heart were battling over what happened, whether it was right, and whether or not I had any control over this. When the dining room was done I didn’t feel much better about the breakup, but I did like the color and was proud of myself for a job well done.

Living room in process.

The next weekend I did my hallway, and the weekend after that I painted my living room. As I made progress on my walls, I was really hoping to make some progress on my heart. I thought that if I could make my surroundings peaceful and calm, it would help me feel the same way. It didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I’m super proud of myself for tackling huge home improvement projects all alone. I feel like a total badass lady who doesn’t need anyone’s help. More importantly, I’m so much happier with my place because it feels like MY place now. Nonetheless, the blues and grays and gauzy white curtains haven’t been able to air out the storm of emotions.

Finished living room.

Six-month subscription to $107.94

Maybe five or six weeks after the break up, I woke up one morning with the conviction that I needed to join to find men who were serious about real relationships. I don’t know where this thought came from, but it was honestly the worst decision I’ve made in the entire process.

I chose the six-month subscription because I thought it was smart to give myself some time to find the next love of my life—and, according to Match, it was the best deal. Emboldened by my intuition, I immediately started looking through all of the potential men I could fall in love with.

I was on the site no longer than four minutes before I ran into my ex’s profile. I knew that this could happen, but I honestly wasn’t ready to see it. That didn’t stop me from clicking on his picture and then reading through his profile. As I scrolled through his pictures, trying to move from one to the next, I accidentally liked one of his pictures.

For the next hour I furiously googled “how to unlike a picture on” Guess what? You can’t. Their website says, “Note: If you clicked “Like” by accident, there is no way to “unlike” or take it back. The good news is that you may have made someone’s day by liking his/her photo!” Thanks, Match.

I spent the next four hours dealing with the trauma of him moving on and me embarrassing myself. I didn’t want him to think I was stalking or hitting on him, but I wasn’t about to contact him to clear it up. I haven’t signed on to since, and I’ve had my friend cancel my account so I don’t look at his profile ever again.

A trip to South Africa: $5,600

During a previous trip through Splitsville a decade ago, I took off for a long weekend and went to Cancun. This began a pattern of me using breakups as perfect reasons to leave town—or, if the breakup was really bad, the country. In fact, some of my best trips have been born out of my escapism.

This time I was so destroyed that I needed to leave both the Western and Northern hemispheres and go as far away as possible. I’ve been dreaming about visiting Australia and Africa for years, but Australia was too expensive for a short-notice trip like this, so for whatever reason—probably because it was winter and I wanted to go somewhere warm and sunny—I decided that I had to go to South Africa as soon as possible.

I’ve done solo trips, where I booked all the cars and hotels myself and just generally wandered at my whims. This time, I didn’t have a lot of time or brain space to make such plans, didn’t want to drive on the wrong side of the road, and didn’t want to spend two weeks not talking to anyone. So I signed on with a tour that started in Johannesburg and ended in Cape Town 14 days later. All of the driving, hotels, meals, and logistics were taken care of; all my fellow travelers and I had to do was experience the landscape and enjoy our time together.

He was 10 feet away!

During the first half of the trip, we drove north from Johannesburg to the Panoramic Route/Kruger National Park, then on to Swaziland, a rhino safari at Hluhluwe, and then to Durban where I put my feet into—and watched the sun rise over—the Indian Ocean. In this time I went on four different safaris, and I was lucky enough to see all of the Big Five: rhino, elephant, water buffalo, lion, and leopard. I felt pure joy for the first time in two months, and I started crying when we left Kruger because I was so grateful to have finally had this experience.

The trip wasn’t completely magical, though. I kept wishing I could call my ex and tell him all about the amazing things I was experiencing. Also, I was the youngest person in my tour group by 30 years, and they all insisted on talking about politics that I vehemently disagree with. I can’t tell you how many times I thought, “shit, that’s so racist” or “I came here to escape this crap!”

The sunrise over the Indian Ocean.

The second half of the trip took us from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town through what’s known as the Garden Route. We went to an ostrich farm, wineries, caves, the Cape of Good Hope (sooo windy!), and a beach where real penguins lived in the wild.

I know I wasn’t invited, but it was so cool to be hanging out with penguins!

When the trip was over, I still had a day to kill before my flight left at midnight—so I fired up Tinder and went on a really fun date with a South African gentleman. He took me to a winery and we did a tasting while talking about travel, love, wanderlust, and the best way to live one’s life. It was perfect.

Painting and Drawing classes at Lilstreet Art Center: $325

After I got back from South Africa, I was feeling particularly uninspired because I had no more rooms to paint, no more chores to do, and while I spend a lot of time both watching and performing stand-up, I wasn’t really feeling funny. I wanted to do something that got me out of my head (and it couldn’t be exercise because I was already going to the gym four days a week), so I signed up to learn how to draw and paint. I figured if I could paint my condo, I might be able to paint an apple next to a few bottles.

Drawing and painting turned out to be one of the first things I’ve ever tried as an adult that actually gave me a sense of flow. I loved these classes because while I was there I didn’t think about anything but creating lines, shapes, and shadows. Every Tuesday night I’d get out of my head and end up with a piece of art. Next term I’m taking a drawing class, and I’m really looking forward to getting better at something that I never thought I’d be able to do.

All of my drawings lean to the left.

Therapy: $520 (and increasing)

I have actually been in therapy for years, but I’m not going to pretend that I can deal with this kind of sadness without talking to my therapist. Like my gym membership, this isn’t technically a breakup cost, but I’m including it anyway.

Boxed Pinot Grigio: $120 (estimated)

On the list of “not technically breakup costs but still:” I’ve also been drinking the occasional glass or two of wine. I like good wine, but I am not about to spend $20 dollars on a single bottle of wine when a $20 box of wine will suffice. I can also take as long as I need to finish it, though the boxes went a little quicker post-breakup.

Acupuncture: $450

As soon as my ex and I broke up, I went from being able to sleep through the night to waking up at 3 a.m. Then I started waking up at 3 a.m. covered in sweat. I never felt rested, and I didn’t know how to deal with it, so I turned to Facebook and asked people if they had any solutions to sleeping hot.

While a bunch of people told me about cooling pillows, new mattresses, and ice packs, one of my high school friends told me to try acupuncture because it might be an internal issue. I’m not one to discount others’ wisdom—and I didn’t really want to go mattress shopping—so off to the acupuncturist I went.

My acupuncturist told me that my 3 a.m. wakeups happen because all of my emotions are getting stuck and causing an imbalance in my energies. Basically, my sadness was screwing up my whole body. I’ve had ten appointments or so, and slowly I stopped sweating every night. I haven’t been able to regularly sleep through the night without waking up, but it’s getting better.

TOTAL COSTS: $7,507.49

I knew I’d spent a serious chunk of change trying to get better from all of this, but I didn’t realize that it was $7,500. I’m honestly embarrassed. I didn’t put myself in any kind of debt, but I also didn’t realize how quickly this all added up.

The truth is, I miss feeling normal. I went out and tried painting, traveling, classes, and whatnot because I just want to feel normal again. I don’t like carrying around this grief.

I am so grateful that I have a job that provides me with the resources and time to deal in this way. I know that most people aren’t so lucky, and it’s a privilege to be able to leave on a whim, learn new things, and try to find a new normal in this way. I’m also learning that I can’t just force myself to heal and be happy again. Sometimes you can throw every possible resource at a problem and still end up crying while looking at pictures of penguins and lions as you sit on your couch in your newly painted living room.

I have made one decision, though — I’m already setting aside money for the next trip to Splitsville.

Erin Conlon is a comedian, writer, and producer based in Chicago. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @epiconlon.

This story is part of The Billfold’s Financial Fails series.

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