healing, Musing


I’ve been reading an excellent book on psychotherapy on my lunchbreaks, and listening to my usual podcasts at work to fill in the time. Given that lunch is only 30 min, the reading is obviously moving slower, even if I do read quickly. But a combination of Tomasz Witkowski’s acerbic take on the, ah, art of Psychology and a comment by Sydney McElroy of Sawbones got me to thinking. She’d suggested to her husband in a conversation on the podcast that he consider how well his coping skills and mechanisms were working before he tried more snake oil (I suspect some of that conversation was a put-on for the episode, but he’s talked honestly about his anxiety before). So I started contemplating something I’ve been doing recently.

The last couple of weeks have been rough. I’ve been a tad (coff) over-scheduled. As a result, this last weekend when I had set time aside to catch up on my to-do list, I wound up down for a day with the first migraine I’ve had in two years. And since then, I’ve been scrambling to try and catch up again, with all the attendant guilt, stress, and worry. So how do I cope? Personally, I make art. I used to write poetry (lo, these many years ago) but that all stopped when I was told to stop hiding behind my writing and learn to talk. ‘Use your words.’ As much as I hate this trait about myself, when I am attacked personally on my vulnerable points, I shut down. I haven’t really written poetry since 1997. It’s not that I want to, and can’t. It’s that there’s a gaping hole where that ability used to be and it’s gone, utterly and permanently. Like missing a limb.  I nearly lost my ability to make art just a couple of years ago when I was attacked by a client, and I am so grateful to friends who provided the mechanism to keep me going in spite of my own crippling self-doubt. Coping with this feeling of being overwhelmed and incapable with the art helps, a lot. It’s funny – I can’t force myself to write fiction like this, but I can sit down with a pen and make marks, and those marks evolve into… something. Whatever falls out of my head.

The overscheduling continues, naturally. I’m carving out the time to do the vital things that keep the house running, painfully. I’m doing my best to get into bed at a reasonable hour, but I am fighting my brain on that one – it tends to jolt me awake as I am nodding off to remind me of the urgent Very Important tasks I’m not doing This Minute!!11! I do have to fight that, because I’ve learned that if I don’t sleep on a regular schedule, I get sick and then I don’t do things and it’s a vicious cycle. I’m coping with that by trying to relax my brain as I create art, until I start to feel sleepy, then I curl up and let my body take over while the brain is lulled.

But this isn’t just about me. It’s about learning your coping skills, the mechanisms you construct to help you get through the rough patches. Because no-one is perfect. Perfection is a myth. Learning how to accept that sometimes you just can’t do everything and figuring out what you can put off for a while, what must be done, and what you can ditch altogether is a good first step. Learning how not to panic is a good second step. Panic will not only turn you into a gibbering loon, it means you waste precious energy and resources on stomping out a fire you might have been able to let someone else take care of for you. Which brings me to another mechanism for dealing with stress and anxiety: delegation. Not only is it as simple as asking for help when you can’t manage it all, it’s about asking for an outside perspective. Often, I’m too close to the problem to see the full ramifications. Something that’s huge and ‘in my face’ might really seem small and insignificant to someone further away from the issue at hand.

If it’s big enough and severe enough to be interfering with your ability to live  – not necessarily that you are considering harming yourself, but you are unable to work and support yourself well enough to stand alone – then seeking help might be useful. It also might not. It’s only one route to coping with your inmost mind. For one thing, many of the avenues followed by psychotherapy are rightly dubbed pseudoscience, and there’s a reason they are not only not-helpful but often downright dangerous. And while medication might help, it might not, and even if you do need it sometimes, you might not always. You are, as am I, a unique piece of artwork. What works for me might be the worst possible thing for you to try. But what you must do, as any of us must, is try things. Self-sufficiency isn’t just a goal to aim for, it’s a vital part of living a full and happy life. Not allowing our pasts to destroy our futures. Taking measured risks as we step outside our comfort zones. Looking back to assess where we are, and realizing that the ‘zone’ has expanded hugely as we grew and developed through experiences. And accepting that there will be times we fall. Falling doesn’t matter. What matters is how you cope with the fall and get back to your feet again. If you have to crawl for a while before you can stand and stagger, before you can run with confidence… that’s life. Get out and live it.


7 thoughts on “Coping

  1. You may already be doing this, but one thing I’ve seen mentioned several times over the years that sometimes helps with the racing brain at night is to stop and put all of those things down on a list. I’ve tried it, and it does help me. It seems that once they are listed, and sort of scheduled, the brain is better able to relax and let them drop because they aren’t going to be forgotten.

    Also, I’ve been reading books about minimalism, and reducing clutter of all kinds, and so on. I’m not there yet, but it’s a goal — not to get down to having nearly nothing, but to get the ‘things’ down to where they are an asset instead of a liability to my mental health. The same can apply to the ‘things’ we do, and not just to the ‘things’ we own. There are quite a few books on the topic on KU, if you can make time (LOL!) to read one or two of them (most of them aren’t very long). It might help a little with the over-scheduling, though it is, as you know, hard to even do everything that really needs to be done. Superwoman is mythical for a reason!

    1. I do lists. And they do help, to an extent. When they get really long… that’s a problem for me. So I will sometimes break the list into many lists!

      I am glad I had the time to get the house in order. One stress point is that the kids did something last week (with permission!) that made a mess I am going to have to straighten out, they can’t manage it on their own. Plus, my desk is out of control. So yes, mess and clutter are stressors for me. I’m hoping when I have time (!!) to get my filing system back up and running, that will help with the ongoing desk problem.

  2. Since I spend 2/3 of my time on my boat, sometimes more, ‘vacation’ time is anything but.
    With age and hard use catching up to me, and a certain awareness of the need for quantity of time vs just quality, that has slowed down. As have I.
    …and that’s the thing. What was that poem about ‘I could not stop for death, so death kindly stopped for me?” The older I get the more wise those words seem. We all ‘spin plates’ like one of those acts on the old variety shows where some frantic little fella runs around keeping a room full of dinnerware spinning… but really, when the anxiety subsides, how big a deal is it if we break a few plates? When we get sick, we somehow make up for lost time.

    I’m often enough a victim of my own ambition. All people with nervous energy seem to take on too much as a distraction. I suspect down deep it starts as an anxiety-coping mechanism, but it ends up becoming a source, and taking away from more meaningful goals… I feel your pain, is what I’m saying. Still, the first rule of caregiving is that you *must* provide self-care first. I can’t help but think that your migraine might have been a reminder. Our subconscious has a way of being heard when ignored.

    1. Oh, I know the migraine was my body saying ‘stay still for two seconds, why doncha?’ because this isn’t the first time I’ve gotten sick when overdoing. I try to take care, because the involuntary downtime is usually longer – and much more painful! – than if I anticipate and take the rest periods on my own.

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