Byline: by Tanith Carey
OPENING a bottle of wine, Rachel Boyd settled down on the sofa beside her husband Paul, ready to spend a relaxing Sunday evening in front of the television. When he turned to her and announced he had something to say, she wondered what on earth it could be.
News about work? Plans for an evening out? 'We'd just come back from a romantic weekend away and we'd had a lovely time, so I had no reason to suspect anything was wrong,' says Rachel. 'But then Paul said he'd met another woman in a nightclub on a trip away nine months earlier, and he was leaving me.'
That night in September 2010, while her company director husband 'slept like a baby' beside her, Rachel, now 53, lay wide-awake in a state of shock. For 24 hours after that exchange on the sofa, she didn't sleep at all.
She survived the first day on autopilot, unable to comprehend that life as she knew it had been pulled from under her like a flimsy rug. But by the time she had driven the 20-minute journey home from her job as a slimming consultant, her body was no longer able to support the emotional stress she was suffering.
'I had to stop the car about five times. I was suffering flashbacks to the moment my husband told me he was leaving me. My chest felt tight as if I was going to suffocate -- it was as if I had post-traumatic stress.'
For the next month, Rachel, who married Paul in 1979 and has four children with him, experienced terrifying panic attacks. Her throat felt so constricted she was unable to eat solid foods, and she lost a stone-and-half in weight. Her lips were parched from continual hyperventilation and she had to sleep upright: if she lay down, she felt she could not breathe.
RACHEL is just one of countless women to experience how debilitating the physical effects of a break-up can be. Actress Demi Moore, 49, has suffered seriously deteriorating health since her marriage to Ashton Kutcher broke down last November.
Her weight apparently fell to a worrying six-and-a-half stone and after a dramatic collapse month she is still recovering in rehab.
Meanwhile, Loose Women presenter Andrea McLean, 42, recently suffered a panic attack minutes before she was due to appear live on television. She collapsed backstage, crying uncontrollably, as she struggled with the aftermath of the collapse of her second marriage to builder Steve Toms after two years.
Researchers at Michigan State University in the U.S. followed people over a 15-year period -- and this month revealed that those who divorced experienced a more rapid decline in their health than those who stayed married. Other studies have found that while men suffer more long-term health problems after divorce if they don't remarry, women tend to suffer more seriously in the short-term because of the sudden loss of status, financial support and the emotional safety net provided by marriage.
Recognising that she needed help, Rachel Boyd went to see a counsellor. 'She told me I was in such shock that she wouldn't be able to get through to me unless I took medication first,' Rachel recalls. 'So I saw my GP, who prescribed antidepressants, sleeping tablets and anti-anxiety drugs.'
Rachel now believes she was suffering from an overwhelming fear of being alone. 'I'd thought my husband and I were the ideal couple,' she says.
'Friends used to say that if they had half the marriage we had, they'd have been so happy. For my husband to suddenly say he wanted someone new and sparkling was devastating.'
Looking back, Rachel believes she was suffering from divorce stress syndrome -- a little-recognised but widespread condition which can follow traumatic marital breakdown.
In a recent book on the syndrome, U.S. legal professor Dr David Pastrana argued that the newly-divorced go through the same stages of emotional readjustment as those coming to terms with bereavement -- denial, anger, depression and acceptance. …