One of the most reliable things about life is that you can count on it to fuck you over at some point. Whether that is through difficult life events, relationships or circumstances, it is rare to sail through to old age completely unscathed.
I’ve employed various coping mechanisms over the years to deal with depression, anxiety, long-term health problems and a variety of other difficult things that came my way. Some of them were good and some were very bad indeed. Before I received proper therapy and support and got to know myself inside out, my coping strategies included heavy drinking, over-eating, self-harm, exuberant credit fuelled shopping sprees and hanging out with people who were as fucked up as I was, or worse. I’ve always had an invisible sign on my head saying ‘Come meet me!’ that only the seriously messed up could read.
It’s taken me the best part of 25 years to rid myself of all this destruction and find more helpful and less damaging ways to cope with life and the problems I’ve faced.
I’m proud of the fact that I haven’t carried out any of the above unhelpful methods of coping for many many years. These days, I am sober and eat healthily, the credit cards have been banished and my friends are either completely normal (whatever that is) or of a pretty similar level of battiness to how I am now.
Although I am on a stable footing at the moment, I’ve learnt that I must always have coping strategies hard-wired into my brain. Staying on top of mental and physical health problems requires vigilence, discipline and self-awareness. It’s not a very relaxing life, but it’s one I feel in control of.
Perhaps the most important factor in coping is your belief system and attitude. I’ve always believed things would get better, even when they were fucking terrible. No matter how improbable it seemed, I knew that if I didn’t believe this I would be doomed. Having this belief opens you up to things which may help and improve your situation. If you don’t believe things will get better, you dismiss or don’t even notice anything good that comes your way. Running closely alongside this belief is to categorically believe there will always be SOMETHING that you can do to improve your situation, no matter how small and insignificant it may seem. After noticing I am still alive and prospering after many years of hell, it is now part of my coping hard-wiring to believe that I will get through any future shit that comes my way.
Another important coping strategy is fine-tuned self-awareness. I’ve learnt to recognise all my own signs of stress, depression and being overwhelmed. It’s been very important to me in coping with problems to recognise when I am NOT coping.
If I feel I am not coping, I have learned by trial and error that certain actions will always help. Talking about it to someone I am close with can often stop any problems dead in their tracks. Learning that some people are better than others to talk to has been a key development in my life. As was letting go of the expectation that certain people ‘should’ be there for me. I wish I’d known 20 years ago to just give up if people don’t offer their time, attention and support freely.
A branch of this coping mechanism is to never isolate myself if going through a tough time. I have a tendency to get right in my own head, over-analyse things and feel very intensely overloaded indeed when I am alone. I know that to maintain my current and future sanity I must police how much time I spend sans company. I also know now that I cope with life best when I am not living on my own. I’ve tried it 3 times, even though I vowed after the first time never to do it again. All 3 times I did it, I was completely unable to deal with what life threw at me. I think I felt I ‘should’ be able to conquer it, but it’s just not for me. It brings out my absolute worst self and you should all hit me around the head with a wet fish if you ever hear me planning to do it again. Maybe for other people, a break from the world is exactly what’s needed and living on your own suits you. The important thing is to know yourself and your needs and listen to them.
Another favourite coping strategy is acceptance coupled with being realistic. Don’t get me wrong, by acceptance I don’t mean settling back and not doing anything about your situation. I’m a firm believer in taking postive action and making changes if you can. I’m talking about accepting things that you can’t really change, like other people or a lifelong health problem. It’s taken me a long time to learn, but I’ve realised that you can waste a whole lot of energy fighting things instead of working within the boundaries of what you have been dealt. It’s about accepting when you have changed everything you possibly can and being realistic about the world, life and your situation.
There are so many other things I’ve found useful and helpful that I could carry on indefinitely. The coping mechanisms I’ve mentioned above are top of the list but there are many others such as keeping a routine, eating well, writing and having a bar of soap from Lush in the bathroom at all times.
It’s all about taking responsibility and being honest with yourself, identifying what helps and what doesn’t. What works for someone else might not work for you. I’ve been advised numerous times to do Yoga and meditation for example, but they don’t help me. I end up thinking about all kinds of bad stuff or composing shopping lists in my head when I’m meant to be focusing on my breathing. I can’t switch off this way and find it more relaxing to put funky music on and have a dance. Work out your own way of coping and pull on your resources when times get tough. You can’t stop shit happening but you don’t have to be at the mercy of how you feel.