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.