“Heartbreak is real, heartbreak hurts.”

by Paloma Giustizieri

Source: Unsplash

I’m sitting on the floor of my room at 2 am, listening to Willow Smith’s Female Energy, having a 3-hour conversation with an old friend via text.


The topic that navigated the conversation was breakups. We both recently have been broken up with and have sought advice from each other.


As most people do – I begin to give advice based on my own experiences knowing willingly that I would never actually take my own advice (it's one of my toxic traits, I know.)

“You know, I just want to be loved without feeling like that person is just going to leave – so I tend to leave first,” explains my friend.

I started to explain to him that sometimes I don’t think we truly understand the damage that human beings cause each other. I’ve seen handfuls of friends go through breakups. I’ve held back my friends' hair from their faces as they peer over toilet bowls after binge-drinking at the Rat.


I've held their hands while they are triggered by a song or a scent; I've seen them hold back tears as I squeeze. I’ve seen friends go in and out of talking stages with other people and wonder why it’s failed or why they just cannot commit.

My theory is: we need time, and rushing things after a break up is possibly the worst thing one can do to themselves.

While doing my research for this piece I came across a series of articles titled along the lines of, “why breakups feel so painful and how to overcome one”. Now as I clicked on 20+ tabs seeking the answers in these published articles, hoping that my heartache will fade if I follow a few steps, it dawned on me that breakups are incredibly romanticised.

A very specific article – which I will not name – explained that your body goes into this “fight or flight” mode. This supposedly explains why we feel literal pain when we are heartbroken, why we may experience sleeping difficulties and a series of other side-effects from an increase in hormone releases.


The very next paragraph it mentions how (and I literally almost quote) the best way to get over someone is to get und… and, you know how the rest of the saying goes.

Amina Asma, a journalist, explains, “A lot of self-help articles make it seem like moving on is something that you just decide to do… just because of the way you get so invested into the relationship, there are a lot of things that go into that for you to just break up with a person and move on.”

“It [break ups] has a huge impact on how you see yourself moving forward and also in relationships because it's difficult to divorce yourself from a certain idea that you experience in your previous relationship, to your new one.”


She gives an example of how her ex-boyfriend never liked her style or her body type, whereas her girlfriend after him loved both those things.


Amina elaborates, “It took me a really long time to believe those things that she was saying… The romanticisation of breakups is messed up. Heartbreak is real, heartbreak hurts.”

You never go into a relationship thinking about its end, right? At least, this is what I tell myself.


When everything is going swimmingly in a relationship, you do not normally imagine it ending. Although this may only be true for some, as an over-thinker like myself, I tend to imagine all sorts of scenarios in my head.

Overthinking is a possible symptom of PTSD, trauma, panic disorder, and anxiety disorder as well as caused by self-doubt and self-esteem issues. A submission on Urban Dictionary defined over-thinking as “the art of creating problems that aren’t there”. For me, that is precisely what the action feels like.

My therapist told me that when I create a situation in my head, the body responds as if the situation is my reality. My body quite literally reacts; sometimes resulting in my own self inflicted panic attacks.

This for me is something that has affected the way I cope with my current heartache as well as my mental health at the moment. Over-analyzing, thinking: did I do this wrong? Maybe I am the problem? And the list goes on.

Psychologist Michael Border explains the 5 stages of loss by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross that originally apply to loss through death. He elaborates that these stages – denial, bargaining, depression, anger and acceptance – are all relatable to breakups.


Denial may look like “why would you do this to me?” Whereas bargaining might mean, “I will change, let's work through this,” and so on.


He also says that these stages are not linear; you can go back and forth through them.


“The difficulty with psychology is that there is no one size fits all; we all experience things differently.” Michael also exclaims, “When your relationship ends, your next relationship has to be with yourself. Relationships change us, and when we come out of one, we have to get to know ourselves again and ask, who am I now?”

Ayanga Baleni explains his perspective on the effects of breakups on mental health.


“You unintentionally find a muse and an escape in a person. They make things a bit better. When you are anxious they make you less anxious. When that relationship ends, you end up thinking about what you may have done wrong. This makes you think that you might not be a worthy person because this person didn’t want to be with you.”


He elaborates, “it really can affect a person’s mental health in terms of, there’s not a lot of me – I am anxious and I am depressed and whatever I had left, I gave it all to you. It really can affect your mental health.”

Ayanga also explains how doubt plays a huge role in this process. Many people begin to doubt themselves, what they did or didn’t do, who they are as people. "You are scared that the person you are with will wake up and not love you, and when that day does come, what do you do?”

In a nutshell, my point is: heartbreak is messy. Heartbreak is painful and it hurts. And it's okay if you read something online that tells you if you drink some green tea, meditate a bit, paint your nails and do a facemask, that everything will be okay. Then you try it, and nothing is okay. It is okay to be sad, to be disappointed. It is also okay if your mental health takes a decline.

The best advice that I’ve received these past few weeks is this: be gentle with yourself. This means not making yourself feel bad for having a bad day, or for not wanting to get out of bed.


Being gentle with yourself might mean a facemask for some and it might mean guiltless crying for others. Whatever your process is, it is okay.

Activate Online | Student Media

Rhodes University (UCKAR), Makhanda (Grahastown), Eastern Cape

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