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Is a Bucket List the Cure to Post-Breakup Depression?

Mar 07, 2014 | Updated May 07, 2014
Mike Kemp via Getty Images

"Often we see a couple who has separated or divorced and look with sadness at the 'failure' of their relationship. But if both people learned what they were meant to learn, then that relationship was a success." -- Marianne Williamson

The Breakup Bucket List, the brainchild of an American named Ali who lives in London, became Ali's tool for surviving the breakup of her nine-year relationship. Instead of crawling into bed and pulling the covers over her head (which she admittedly wanted to do), she made a bucket list of things she hadn't done in nine years -- or ever, for that matter -- and set out to accomplish 100 things in 2013.

Her Breakup Bucket List contains everything you could imagine, ranging from the simple ("Clean house of Ex's things for a fresh start," and "Get that odd job done,") to the ambitious ("Be promoted at work," "Fall in love") to the whimsical ("Have drinks at London Gin Club," "Play strip poker") and the fantastic ("Be in a flash mob," "Kiss someone in Paris"). As Ali checks each item off her list, she writes about it on her blog, My New Life: Things to Do. With honesty and openness, she shares her emotional journey as well as her progress through the list.

About six months into the list, Ali surprised herself by reaching her goal of 100. With more items left on the list, she kept going and doubled her target to 200. Now 14 months later, she has passed that milestone and is continuing on to 300.

Wanting to know more about the person behind the story, I emailed her asking for an interview. What unfolded from our discussion is an inspiring account about rebuilding one's life through the creation of a breakup bucket list. Ali started the list to survive the breakup. Now it is has become her "life list." Below are excerpts from our interview:

Q: Tell me about yourself and your nine-year relationship.

Ali: I lived in New York before moving to England in 2003. I met my ex shortly after moving and so my entire life in London essentially had been built around my ex. Our relationship was normal, with really happy times and other times that were more mundane. A month before we broke up, we were named Godparents to my ex's niece which my ex had wanted. So I really didn't see the breakup coming.

Q: What was the cause of your breakup, and has your perspective changed as time has passed?

Ali: One of the key things I've realized is I completely lost myself in our relationship. That's one reason the relationship didn't work. I'd let myself go. I'd gained weight and had stopped pursuing things that interested me. I hadn't made a real effort to establish my own life outside of my ex. But I was content and didn't want anything else. I thought that love was enough. I was wrong. At the time, it didn't seem like a sacrifice, but later, looking back on the compromises I made, I realized I gave away too much of myself. To be fair to my ex, by the end, I wasn't the same person I'd been when we first met.

Q: What was the motivation and inspiration for your breakup bucket list?

Ali: The first three months of the breakup were particularly difficult. I was crying every day. It was hard to make it through the week. To make matters worse, I found out that my ex started seeing someone from work a few weeks after our breakup. This was particularly painful and made me question our entire relationship and breakup. I'm a shy person and I realized I could spend the next several months or even years coming home from work, doing nothing and getting into a funk. A friend told me of a 30-day list -- do one new thing every day for 30 days. It stimulated the idea of doing 100 things in one year. So between Christmas and New Year's of 2012, I came up with a list of all the different things I wanted to do in the year ahead as I started my new life. And so "the List" became my 2013 New Year's resolution. Friends started asking me about the List and how it was going, so that's how it materialized into Twitter and the blog.

Q: How did the list help you move on?

Ali: The List became the reason to get out and do things. It was easier to force myself out of the house and do things because I had to report back and blog about it. For example, one thing on my List that made a big difference was speed dating. I'd never done this and I thought it would be just a laugh and get me out of my house for one night ... so on the List it went! I never expected to meet anyone. But I met someone special who came along for the journey as I worked my way through the List. This person was very supportive and would say, "Well, what's next on the List?" Now with the benefit of hindsight, I realize that my ex wouldn't have wanted to do many of these things with me. So the List has also made me realize that I need to be with someone who happily will do things that are important to me.

Q: What has been the hardest part of being single again?

Ali: What I missed the most after the breakup was just hanging out with my ex and having a laugh over a shared memory. That person is no longer there to talk about it, laugh about it. You can explain it to new people in your life, but it's not the same. So the memories, history and having someone who knew me so well for so long were what I missed most. And I missed the extended family and community we had together as well as my ex's family, who are lovely. Some friends and family have kept in touch and some haven't. That's what happens in a breakup. I don't fault anyone.

Q: Tell me a little about your grief process.

Ali: The first several months were the worst. Making it through five consecutive work days in one piece was very daunting in the immediate aftermath of the breakup. A day or two was the most I could do some weeks without a day off, so I tried to take Wednesdays off when I could. Getting away and having a change of scenery, whether it's a holiday or a friend's house to get your head clear, that really helped too. After six months, I still had moments of severe grief that would overtake me. At the 10-month mark, moments would hit that were out of the blue and terrible, but I would shake myself out of it. At the year anniversary, I went through a couple of hard weeks remembering all the raw pain I'd been through a year before. Then I took a trip and came back in a completely different place. At the end of 2013, at the 14-month mark, I had made it through nearly 200 items on the List and felt like I had regained my sense of self again.

Q: What are your thoughts on forgiveness?

Ali: Two of the things on my List are: to forgive my ex and to forgive myself. I had not been able to cross those things off until recently. It took so long, partly because every time I was ready to forgive, something happened or I had a moment of grief and I just felt like I was not quite there. About forgiving myself: I feel like I'm still discovering myself and what I should be forgiving myself for. By the time I forgive myself for some things, I will have another list of things I have to forgive myself for! (Said with a laugh) I'm very good with lists, after all!

Q: Is there anything you'd do differently if you could do it all over again?

Ali: Yes. I would keep a list! And I wouldn't wait to break up to do it! I should have started the List as part of my life during the relationship, before it got too late. Instead of needing the List as a tool to get through the breakup, it would have been good to have the List so I didn't lose myself. I no longer need the List to help me survive the breakup, but I keep the List now to help me remember who I am. It pushes me to try new things and enjoy life.

Readers, what would be on your breakup bucket list?