Alfred Lord Tennyson once wrote: “‘Tis better to have loved and lost/Than never to have loved at all.”
Clearly, Alfred Lord Tennyson had never been cheated on or unceremoniously dumped.
When a romantic relationship ends, we often describe ourselves as “heartbroken.” In this case, the notion of heartbreak encompasses a multitude of intense emotions: rejection, anger, shock, betrayal, loneliness and grief, among others. The emotional and mental anguish of heartbreak can usher in physical pain (what we often refer to as “heartache”) and other very tangible physical symptoms.
“I got anxiety. I would wake up crying,” says Rita, a 31-year-old writer. “Every time I would see someone who looked vaguely like him, I would get a gut-wrenching pain in my chest.”
Rita eventually ran into the man who had broken her heart.
“He didn’t see me, or he would’ve seen my body involuntary ran in the other direction. I found myself in a hardware store, my heart beating so rapidly I had to be helped to a chair.”
Sometimes the intensity of the emotional, mental and physical pain of a break-up can greatly affect our day-to-day lives.
“When I’ve been heartbroken, I’ve easily slept for fifteen or sixteen hours straight,” says Julia Tausch, author of Another Book About Another Broken Heart (Conundrum Press, 2003). “I can remember, too, dull physical pain in my chest. Aching. And I remember wondering if it’s because we’ve created this metaphor of heartbreak that I am feeling it there, or because lots of us tend to feel it there that we started thinking of it as heartbreak.”
But chest pain is only one of the many complicated and recurring symptoms of heartache.
“Gutted doesn’t even begin to describe it,” says Kimberley, a 41-year-old events professional who recently discovered that her long-term boyfriend had been cheating on her. “My realization that the relationship was indeed over brought on headaches, insomnia, feelings of heaviness, mild depression and an actual ache in my chest.”
Kimberley has also been experiencing nightmares and other sleep disturbances, shortness of breath, shaking, weakness, exhaustion and nausea.
“Some days I can’t eat because of the nausea.”
Kimberley’s heartbreak saddles her with the physical symptoms of illness (and, appropriately, withdrawal symptoms) with none of the comfort that it can be cured in 7 – 10 days with the aid of a prescription and a pot of ginger tea.
A recent study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences proves that physical and emotional pain go hand-in-hand. Men and women who had been recently dumped were given MRIs in two distinct situations: the first situation was touching a heat source akin to “holding a cup of hot coffee without the sleeve,” and the other was gazing at photos of their former loves and recalling memories that they shared together.
These MRIs showed that parts of the brain that perceive pain lit up similarly in both situations.
(Similar studies have showed that social rejection of a non-romantic variety – such as being excluded from a group activity – is also a source of pain, and that simply taking a painkiller such as Tylenol can actually alleviate the intensity of such emotional pain.)
Aside from mourning a dead loved one (which is really what Tennyson was getting at in that famous line from “In Memoriam”), coming to terms with the end of a romantic relationship can be one of the most agonizing things that a human being must suffer through.
Sexy Typewriter blogs about her dating failures – online and otherwise – at Sexytypewriter.com.