Thursday, 7 April 2011

'Coping Mechanisms'

I've heard this phrase a fair few times now, & it never fails to amuse me. It just seems to me to be putting a fancy name to something that is - to me at least - more common sense & reactionary than anything planned or well looked into. Still, my counsellor has praised me for my 'coping mechanisms' several times now, & seems to think they're worth sharing with others, so I guess I'll share them here. Again, this is mostly stuff I just started doing as a reaction to what I was going through, with only a few bits & pieces picked up from books or classes. I'm sure most of it will strike you as blindingly obvious ...

Self Awareness
I can't help this. I have always been very self-critical, & now that I've got a diagnosis it isn't going to get any better - in fact it'll probably get worse. But as far as my moods go, I try to just be a bit more aware of how I'm feeling & acting on an objective level; if I'm in a good mood, or a bad mood, or feeling irritable, are these reasonable reactions to what's going on around me or might they be a sign of something more?

It's tiring, though, constantly doing this. I seem to be second-guessing myself an awful lot. But hopefully I'll get used to it, or become more aware of the warning signs so I don't have to keep this up all the time.

Stress Management
Coping with stress has never been one of my best skills, I'll admit. But after being sent on a stress management course by my doctors I did pick up some tips that do help with depression and anxiety, even when they are due to the disorder. It might sound obvious to some, but I bet there are others to whom these sort of things never occured. I'm talking about getting enough sleep, taking 'me' time, cutting down on stimulants like caffeine (I found a lovely side effect of doing this to be the almost total disappearance of my migraines, by the way), avoiding stressful situations where I can, & so on.

Challenge Negative Thoughts
This is what gets me through some of my depressions. When my brain is throwing all sorts of terrible thoughts out at me, telling me I'm useless, I'm to blame, I'm a waste of space, trying to challenge those thoughts can give me a bit more perspective. Questions like 'Are other people really going to be thinking this about me?', 'Am I expecting too much of myself?', 'Is this going to matter in a year's time?'

Another fancy phrase (which I found in a book about exorcism, of all places), which is apparently an actual therapeutic technique for helping people get control of their behaviour (with things like OCD & other compulsive behaviours). All it is is putting the blame for this behaviour - or thoughts & feelings, in my case - on the disorder, & not on myself. So when I'm in the depths of a depression & feeling like I'd be better off dead, or if I'm beating myself up over some stupid stupid thing I did while I was ... in one of my odd moods, I try to remind myself that no, those thoughts aren't mine, they're the depression talking. & that stupid thing wasn't a result of me being an idiot, but of a weak moment caused by the disorder.

This isn't about shifting the blame - I'm not about to go out & rob a bank & try to plead insanity - it's about putting less blame on myself, & not making myself feel terrible over something I actually can't entirely help. Yes, I can do more to try & manage the situations, or to cope with the moods, & I am going to. So this isn't me making excuses & letting the moods take me wherever. It's about forgiving myself the slip-ups & moving on.

Self Suicide Watch
This is the freakiest thing. When I get really depressed I start to slip into the worst, blackest thoughts, thoughts of self harm & suicide. When I catch myself thinking about these things, when they really start to take hold of my mind (& they do, like fish hooks they latch on & refuse to let go), I try for a bit more of that objectivity. I talk myself down from the proverbial ledge. If I did kill myself, what would be left after me? I think of the people who would mourn me, the suffering I would cause them, even the silly little inconveniences I would cause my boss & colleagues by suddenly not being there any more. I think of all the things I would miss in the future that I'm looking forward to. I think about who would get lumbered with my bills, who would look after my cat, who would have to sort out all the stupid little details like selling my car & cancelling my phone contract. Daft things to consider, I know, & sometimes I am painfully aware that the only way I talk myself down is by guilt-tripping myself into sticking around for fear of inconveniencing other people, but that's how it is when the depression gets really bad. If I can't convince myself I'm worth living for, then I'll use any tactic that works.

Talking To People
When I first started seeing a counsellor, I was surprised to find just how much the simple act of talking to someone about this stuff helped me. It was such a relief just to lift the weight off of my shoulders a little, so to speak. It didn't stop the problem, of course, but it somehow made it a little easier to bear. Now that I know the problem & have been open about it, I have had so many messages of support from my friends, & each one has made the burden a little easier. & this is after only a few weeks!

Not to mention the value of a sympathetic gesture here & there. If your friends & family know you're having a tough time of it, they'll try to help. & personally I find that even the deepest depression has to recede a little when my boyfriend responds to a text from me about 'having a bad day' by having a hot bubble bath, a cup of tea & my favourite meal all ready for me when I get home from work. I might have convinced myself the world hates me, but such concrete displays of care & affection cannot be denied.

Physical Symptoms
Stress, anxiety & depression, whatever the cause, trigger certain physical symptoms in a lot of people, & sometimes countering those can help ease the feelings too. Personally I suffer shortness of breath & chest pains when I'm feeling very anxious; I get very sluggish & lethargic when I'm depressed. I've found that controlling my breathing, forcing myself to take long, deep breaths, can counter the breathlessness & chest pains when I'm stressed, & forcing myself into activity when I feel the sluggishness coming on helps to fend it off too. Not always, but sometimes, if I catch it quickly enough or if I can gather the willpower to get out & do something. I picked this up from the stress management class I was sent to; it wasn't something I'd really considered before.

So that's what I'm doing at the moment to keep on top of things; there is one more thing, but I'll save it for the next 'chapter'. It could be a lengthy one.

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