I have had a very stressful and sad couple of days. The frustrating thing is that I can’t talk about the two biggest sources of stress on my blog, to protect the privacy of other people. I could make a password protected post on the subject(s), but I am lacking the motivation or energy to do so at the moment. People who have me on Facebook might have noticed me mention at least one of the upsetting situations from the last few days (this one is still ongoing, but I wouldn’t avoid being a part of it regardless, it’s important and I feel able to cope with it), but with some things I’m largely on my own. I have dealt with things by a) making stars, b) baking a cake, c) going for a (healthy, well fuelled, non-eating disordered 😛 ) run and d) having a nice long bath with a book. It’s quite nice to know that I can take care of myself and cope with stressful weeks without harming myself in any way. I guess if everything always went well then I would never have any confidence in my ability to cope. I really do have a sickening ability to find a silver lining in most circumstances, heh. Not going to complain anyway 😉
One of the other things I did today was listen to live coverage of the earthquake/tsunami in Japan for a few hours. This made me think of one of the concepts in DBT that I did NOT like or find helpful – the idea of comparing your life to that of others who are worse off. I think people with mental health problems do this quite often enough, and even if in DBT you are supposed to keep a non-judgmental stance towards yourself, it is usually far too difficult to maintain this if you are actively looking for people who are coping more healthily than you with harder situations. So comparisons never did it for me – although I do find a lot of DBT techniques very helpful for managing my anxiety, like mindfulness and the other distress tolerance exercises.
Anyway, back to comparisons. There is actually one form of comparison-related coping mechanism that can lift my mood and make me feel better about my life. Whenever I feel really low, anxious or overwhelmed, I check the updates on this site. I defy you not to laugh. Seriously, I have it bookmarked on my mobile phone internet 😛 so that is one form of comparison that I can get behind!
Healthy coping mechanisms are very personal things, and I think sometimes they are better learnt by trial and error than taught. I stumbled on the fact that my coping mechanisms needed to engage at least two of my senses/cognitive functions by accident (bath+book, driving+listening to radio, feeling+describing visually an object, and etc), but now I know that about myself I find it easier to distract myself. I also needed to get over my tendency to want to subscribe to one approach only and/or dismiss anything that I don’t agree with completely – now I pick and mix exercises I’ve learnt from all sorts of different sources, from CBT to DBT to motivational interviewing and relaxation exercises. I leave out the parts I don’t find helpful (coughcomparisonscough) and use those that work. I even make up my own variations along those themes – for example, one of my favourite relaxation exercises is to lie down on my bed with some classical or otherwise heavily instrumental music on, and imagine that I’m in a massive ruined cathedral or castle. I imagine that the different sections of the orchestra are in different parts of the building, so I go and find the violins (concentrating hard on the violin music), then the wind instruments, and so on. I’ve become a sort of coping virtuoso 😛
The main problem with healthy coping mechanisms is not finding ones that work – the internet is FULL of information, and with a bit of practise a lot of them can really make a difference. I think the main problems are learning to keep your head and remember them, and then finding the motivation to use them. It is much quicker and easier to cut myself or lose myself in designing a weight loss plan or pour myself a vodka and orange. The way I’ve short circuited that loop is to first of all practise like crazy, to try and make coping healthily my new default setting, and secondly to keep on reminding myself of the consequences of my actions. Thinking about the consequences wasn’t something that deterred me when I was ill, partly because I was too spaced out to think straight, partly because I didn’t believe anything bad would happen to me (I wasn’t sick enough, of course) and partly because I didn’t really care if anything bad DID happen to me. But now I’m a way into recovery one way that I maintain my motivation is by constantly questioning my behaviour and reminding myself of what would happen if I gave myself a day off and gave into any urges which might creep up on me when I’m stressed. The answer is invariably that one slip would make it a hundred times harder to resist next time, which could escalate quickly and easily into a full blown relapse.
This takes varying amounts of effort. Some days I cope with things automatically, with little conscious thought. Like today, when I distracted myself in several ways without really thinking that I was doing those things for the purpose of distraction. Other days might be a real battle to avoid hurting myself in any one of several rather creative ways. Luckily those days don’t happen too often (long term stress and/or PMS are probably the biggest triggers!), but they do still happen.
Uh, yes. So I started writing a post about how sad I was and it turned into an essay on coping strategies. What was that I was saying about silver linings?