The mind and body in divorce

Divorce|September 29th 2016

My eye was caught this week by a short report in The Times. It’s a simple 200 word story about the actor Laurence Fox.. He’s best known, perhaps, for co-starring in Inspector Morse-spin-off Lewis. 

I confess I am an avid fan. I loved watching Morse, constantly watch the reruns and the same goes for Lewis. I think Fox plays his role fantastically well, and strangely, I’ve often wondered whether all the subtlety he brings to the role, all the light and dark, reflects his real life persona in any way. Having read this story I now suspect I may have been on to something.

The Times reports the actor’s reaction to the end of his marriage to fellow thesp Billie Piper, formerly of Doctor Who and once well-known for marrying considerably older DJ Chris Evans. She and Laurence Fox tied the knot in 2007, just a few months after the completion of her divorce from Evans. During the latter break-up the former pop star caused a media stir by refusing to take any money from her multimillionaire husband, saying that to do so would be “disgusting”.

Her marriage to Laurence lasted a full eight years and they had two sons together. But earlier this year he announced on social media that the couple had separated and their decree absolute followed just a few months later.

‘So what?’ you may be thinking. Showbiz marriages end all the time, just like ordinary ones in fact. And you’d be right of course. What made the story stand out for me was Mr Fox’s comments on the experience of divorce. He talks of anxiety attacks, seeing a therapist and little sleep, saying:

“The physical symptoms of trauma and suffering are profound panic attacks for an extended period of time, and I’ve never had a panic attack in my life before last year.”

The 38 year-old continued, using a rather vivid metaphor:

“It’s like being plugged into an electric socket where you go mental. I’ve learnt to put on my running shoes and sprint as fast as I can until I can’t move any more, then there’s something else distracting me and the endorphins kick in and you start to feel better. Thankfully [the panic attacks are] getting less all the time.”

As a keen runner myself, I can certainly relate to his faith in the power of exercise.

The Times story is actually based on an interview the actor gave to the Sunday Mirror. Turn that to that and you find even more thought-provoking comments from the actor.

“I haven’t slept for six months, even with sleeping pills. I go to bed the same time, same bed as the kids and just lie awake, sleeping two or three hours. My mind’s whirring round.”

He talks of his “amazing therapist” and urges readers to seek help if they’re struggling, whether from a counsellor, family members or even fitness trainers.

Mr Fox also recalls the role played by his brother Robin, who foresaw the pending separation and tried to warn him.

“I shouted and got angry with him. But I am my brother’s keeper and will never be able to thank him for how wonderful he’s been to me.”

It’s relatively rare to see such candour about the emotional trauma that can follow in the wake of divorce, especially from men who are not encouraged by society to be honest about their feelings.

Our minds and bodies are intimately connected. Stress, anxiety, depression – all usually in plentiful supply during the average unhappy divorce – are just as likely to send people to the doctor’s waiting room as they are to the therapist’s sofa.

Just this week the Divorce Support Group highlighted how frequently they encounter physical symptoms amongst their clients, including migraine, eczema and back pain.

Over the years, I have seen many distraught clients. The fundamentals of their lives may have been overturned – no wonder they are feeling emotional. They may be boiling over with anger and resentment towards their soon-to-be-ex or they may simply be depressed – perhaps clinically. But of course we are not therapists or doctors. As lawyers it is our job to encourage our clients to remain as calm and rational as they can as their case progresses. A clear focus on practical issues is the best way to protect their interests and try and secure them the best result. Judges will not be impressed by emotional outbursts or inflammatory emails.

But of course we cannot remain stonily indifferent to clients who are genuinely struggling to cope with their situations. I never hesitate to tell such people to seek the help they need even as I discuss the practicalities of their cases with them– and I do so as sympathetically as I can. Mr Fox’s advice is very sensible – being open about his situation, getting counselling to help his sleeping patterns and anxiety, turning to trusted and honest friends and family, and ensuring plenty of physical exercise.

But even with all that, the actor is, by his own admission, still struggling to get to sleep at night and suffering highly unpleasant anxiety attacks. The pain of marital breakdown can run very deep. For some, antidepressants may help, but the key, ultimately, has to be acceptance. It’s happened. Time to move on, not back.

Much anxiety is really feeling of being out of control and I’d say Mr Fox’s panic attacks reflect this. But once he appreciates that this is in reality only a transient phase, not a permanent one, acceptance should follow and that’s when he will start to recover. Life goes on and gets better too. Time is a great healer. Tomorrow is another day.

Image by Lars Plougmann via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence

Author: Stowe Family Law

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