Healthy Coping

I am not cured. I still have days where I feel I can’t face the world. I still get overwhelmed by confrontation and any intense emotions. I still have panic attacks. I still get anxious most of the time. What has changed is not a lack of mental illness, but the way I cope with it. You may never get better, but if you can find better ways to deal with it, you can still lead a full life!
– Chloe G.

The path to finding which coping mechanisms work for me was rocky. You’re given a list of ideas from your therapist, or suggestions from friends, or guidance from family – but every individual is different. It’s up to you to try these different methods and (hopefully) weed out anything that does not benefit you. Everyone wants a quick fix. The pain feels endless and you’re short-termed focused. You take that drug, you swallow that drink, you cut your skin, anything to numb the feeling you have right now. You self-medicate without thinking of the risks, or without a care.

In September 2017, I accepted an offer with a new firm and was preparing to celebrate the transition at a happy hour sponsored by my old firm. I was struggling with my mental health at the time and experiencing social phobia, but I put those feelings in my back pocket. It was going to be a good day. I had a relaxed work day, my bold red lipstick on and was ready to spend the evening with friends. I’m not the casual drinker (a few beers here and there.) I drink for the buzz. I too, was short-term focused. I made a habit out of drinking past the buzz, drinking until I was numb, or until I couldn’t remember. So here I am throwing back shots after some hard cider. As the night progressed and I began telling my friends goodbye, I noticed my smile became less and less sincere. All the sudden there became less and less distractions from those feelings in my back pocket. I remember texting my close friend who was having similar struggles, letting her know that things were not okay. At the time I was at odd-ends with my old firm and left feeling undervalued. As you could imagine – my brain was filled with negative self-talk and curiosity about whether I even contributed to the company. I felt like the turnouts of send-off happy hours were always under judgment, it revealed your value, it showed how much or how little you were liked. As much as I preferred the turnout how it was with friends, I did make connections with management and I hoped for one to walk through the door to relieve my thoughts. That did not happen. My thoughts instantly turned into beliefs. I was fully convinced that I wasted mine and the company’s time, I was not a respectable worker, I harmed the company more than brought contributions, I didn’t hide my depression well enough, that I meant nothing. All this self-doubt that I couldn’t shake – but logically know is not at all true (and even if it were, the standard I set for a manager to come in order to justify my worth to the company does not make sense). The worst feeling is when I know my thoughts are illogical but I still cannot overpower the voice drawing these conclusions and wearing me down. I was surrounded by friends but all I could focus on is the emptiness in my back pocket and the newly formed belief of unworthiness (like icing on the cake of my misery.) I continued to drink, faster paced now. Laughing with friends and chasing that numbing feeling. I kept in touch with my friend, but began to lean on my coworker that I built a personal connection with as well. I shared with her that I wanted to die. I shared with her that it’s all I could think about. As I explained these intimate feelings, I saw my friends having a great time and it made me smile, I thought I could hold on a little longer, savor this moment. But, I reached the point of no return. I was so intoxicated that I was not only expressing my suicidal thoughts to my friend via text/call and my coworker in person, but now also sharing these feelings over text with my ex. I vividly remember I was to the point of praising death and mocking my purpose. Laughing it off while I held up a shield to block every loving comment and caring touch, every attempt to snap me out of it. Luckily, every time I have had suicidal thoughts I was saved by a loved one, and this was not any different.

I was scared about what was happening because you also shared with me that night how you thought of driving off the road intentionally the week prior. Honestly, I’ve never been in a situation like that so I was very confused on what I should do. I figured I would get you to drink water to help sober up and maybe it’ll help. That didn’t work. I knew that I needed to drive you home because I didn’t want you to be alone. I was relieved when your friend showed up. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to help, it was more of I had no idea what to do. – Anonymous

My friend came to pick me up despite my attempts to push her away. She sat by me while I whaled and cried out my desire to die. My unworthiness. My hatred towards myself. My pain. She saved my life that night. She took me home and refused to leave, stayed with me over night and contacted my mother to let her know the seriousness of her concerns. I spoke to no one the next day. I was embarrassed and still soaking in the same feelings, but now alone on my couch, sunk in feeling the weight of the world on my body. I heard a knock at the door and my mother was there, at the time I had no clue that my friend messaged her or that she was coming. I could not even express emotions and only few words were shared. She understood. She too struggles with her mental health and could relate to my feelings. In the following weeks she kept a close eye and visited weekly. I did not want to die and I am thankful that I have loved ones that take me seriously and know that my battle with depression takes an army at my weakest moments.

I texted you asking if you wanted me to pick you up and you kept saying “No” over and over. You wouldn’t tell me specifically where you were, only the street and that it had a pool table. I hopped in my car in pajamas and was about to go into every single bar on the street until I found you. Thank god you guys had just left and I saw you walking. I felt like your mom but I remember yelling your full name and your coworker helped you into my car and we thanked each other. You thought I was so mad at you but I was just terrified and didn’t know what to do. You were sobbing and shaking on the way to my house and kept banging your head into the door. All I could do was hold your hand and tell you “I know.” It was weird because I didn’t know how to comfort you except to assure you I have felt the same way and just keep you company while you let it out because that’s what I would’ve wanted. Not a pep talk. It didn’t get any better when we got back to my house and you had been texting your ex. He called you and you didn’t want to talk with him so I answered and he said “I can’t deal with this tonight.” I never wanted to punch anyone more in my entire life because I thought you were going to die. So, I stole your mom’s phone number and texted her because you told me you had told her what was going on. I kept in contact with her all night because I didn’t know whether to take you somewhere or just to take you home. On the way to your apartment you continued sobbing and shaking. I remember just holding your hand and telling you that you matter. At one point I got really upset with you and told you that if you left me I would never forgive you, I don’t know what I’d do. You began crying harder so that wasn’t any good. I was frustrated because you kept telling me you didn’t matter to anyone and here I was holding your hand telling you how much I love you. I knew exactly what you were feeling and I hadn’t been on the outside before. It’s terrifying and you feel helpless. Your brain was telling you no one cares and I was confused because I thought I was making it clear that I do. I couldn’t take off work the next day because I had a presentation, but your mom assured me she would drive down the next morning so you wouldn’t be alone all day, which was my main concern. I was terrified that you would wake up and be mad at me for 1. picking you up when you told me not to and 2. contacting your mom. Instead, you texted me an apology and thanked me. I started crying at my desk because I just wanted to hug you. I knew exactly what you were feeling. It was really all these emotions mixed into one – scared I was about to lose my best friend, angry that you had gotten this drunk, frustrated that you kept telling me no one cares when I was there, and happy that I could be there for you. To know that I could be there for you made me feel good and purposeful in a weird twisted way. It’s not a question or an inconvenience, it’s what we do. – Kate F.

I first saw you at the bar, huge smile on your face; could tell you appreciated people showing up to celebrate your career before moving on. I didn’t see any resemblance of anxiety, hopelessness, loneliness, or any other sign I would associate with mental illness. Could have been that I wasn’t looking for it, or that I was not educated enough to detect it. After learning about your story and experiences with mental health, I have tried to look back and think about the memories I have had with you. I thought about these experiences because I wanted to hopefully remember something that would hint at the struggles you had with mental health. At first, it made me feel arrogant that I wasn’t able to pick up a sign and help. But that feeling has changed. There wasn’t a sign I personally was capable of picking up on. But there was a story behind it all. That’s the story you’re sharing now. Your story has made me more aware of the mental health issue so many people face. – Anonymous

I share this story because I know how easy it is to be short-term focused, to turn to the coping strategies that do not help to build yourself back up, the methods that are dangerous. Sometimes it feels easier, it feels like the only option or even the only one that you’re worthy of because you don’t deserve to be okay. I know how it feels when your illness takes control and you feel like no one would care if you were dead. I know the burning desire to do anything that numbs the pain. But I also know that you are cared about, that you are loved. Sure, I may not know you personally (maybe I do), but notice the people above that care for me and were impacted by my decision to drink excessively and not take proper actions when I on the other hand was convinced that no one cared. If one thing is for sure, I’m very talented at hiding my mental illness. If I hadn’t expressed those thoughts, no one would have known and I’m not sure if I would be here today. That was a wake-up call for me.

I felt utterly embarrassed that I unleashed these heavy thoughts to a coworker in the wrong place, wrong time. But that’s reality. Depression strikes at any time. I just need to do what is best for me to manage it. I am not sure that this is good advice to give, but if you (like myself) cannot steer away from these methods for your own needs, start off doing it for others. I, for one, am hypersensitive and worry more about others than I do myself. I’ve let the love of others motivate me to better myself for them, which eventually turned into wanting to better myself for ME. I began exploring nature, taking piano lessons, writing poetry, painting my feelings, and openly sharing my stories – eventually through blogging which has struck a feeling in myself that I haven’t felt in a long time, passion. I feel purpose. Expression has saved my life –  but at times I can fall back into old patterns with methods that were ineffective or deteriorating for me. For anyone else struggling to stay on path, struggling to find which strategies work, struggling to ask for help to even receive such suggestions. I’m here and I want to help, so do these beautiful souls.

I cope with comedy. I threw myself into funny shows on Netflix, or watching stand up comedy. Or even going online and watching videos of funny dogs. It was just a way for me to escape and think of happy things and remember that things aren’t so sad and serious. Just laugh. Laughter is truly the best medicine. I also try and cope with music. Happy songs. I have physically made myself get up and dance it out before. Sounds dumb, and for the first few minutes I was still freaking out. But just trying to be light or have fun and get out of your own head, that’s what helps. – Aileen S.

For myself, getting out of the house, eating properly, getting proper alone time (not shutting myself away, but just taking time to breathe and gather my thoughts), keeping busy, working on passionate projects, and having a job I love. One of the biggest is talking to a loved one about how you feel. This however, requires you to know how you feel, so it’s important to spend time reflecting on how you feel, how to explain those feelings, and what triggers them. Mindfulness is a great help. – Chloe G.

I have a few different things I do to help myself cope. One of them is seeing my therapist on a regular basis. I also take time to myself to gather my thoughts, sometimes this might include writing down why I am feeling the way I am. I have notecards with positive sayings in my room, my car, even on my phone, these are my daily reminders!  – Jaclyn S.

I have a list of my positive attributes written on my mirror, where I see it every day. I have a time-management journal that has me reflect on three things I am grateful for in the morning and at night. The background image on my phone is a text message that a friend sent me reminding me of all the wonderful things I am. I give myself permission to believe those things about myself. I think the most empowering way to manage depression is through finding others with similar experiences. It makes the isolation of depression less gripping when you know others feel it too. It makes you feel less broken. Empathy, compassion and having a support system are the most effective anti-depressant I’ve ever had. I cannot say enough how important Brene Brown’s works are to my life. Her book ‘Rising Strong’ is my absolute favorite because she advocates for living in the messy part of life, the rising part of a hero’s journey. That’s what navigating depression is: the messy middle part as we fight every day to be the hero. The hard part is when your brain is both the hero and the villain. And you never know which side is going to be the strongest that day. – Amanda H.

Human contact is very comforting for me, so being around someone who understands me and isn’t judgmental helps a lot. It’s indescribable, but having someone like that over when I’m in a funk and want to isolate almost serves as an extension of myself… It’s like I can do everything I would want to do when I’m alone, even if it’s just sitting there silent, but I feel comfort in knowing that person is there. When something positive happens, the first thing that happens in my mind is the realization that if I would have listened to my brain and isolated, this moment would not have happened. It encourages me to overcome it every day. – Kate F.

Sometimes I like to compare depression to the Dementors from Harry Potter. I fight it off with fond memories of happy times. With things that bring a smile to my face, even if it’s just endless kitten and puppy videos. Comfort food helps but in moderation. – Anonymous

I give myself pep talks and remind myself that I can handle any situation. I control my reactions. I accept the feelings as they come and focus on productive things. That’s on a good day. If I’m struggling, I have a good cry and then I come up with a plan. – Mia W.

I’ve gathered a handful of good coping techniques throughout the year from my mom, yoga and a therapist. When I start feeling like I’m not in control of my thoughts anymore I usually pause, look around, and start calling out loud (or in my head if I’m in public) what I’m seeing, physically feeling or smelling. For example, “A white curtain; the smell of fried food from last night; the wavy texture of the couch.” That has helped me prevent panic attacks a lot. – Anonymous

My therapist recommended equal breathing years ago when I was getting panic attacks all the time. It works best if you have a watch with a second hand. It’s 4-6-8. Looking at your watch, take a slow deep breath for 4 seconds. Not sucking in real fast and holding, but slowly draw in the breath. Release it in 4 seconds. Slowly. Repeat but the second time, take 6 seconds to inhale and 6 seconds to release. Third time, do the same but for 8 seconds. The goal is 8 seconds. When you can breath in and out in 8 second intervals, you’ll feel calmer. For me, it’s a combination of the slowed breathing and concentration on counting the seconds. It usually takes me 3 or 4 tries to get to 8 seconds but when I remember to do this, it helps tremendously. I find it to be one of the best was to get my breathing under control. If I can control my breathing, my panic attacks are a lot shorter. – Autumn M.

Journaling, meditating, deep breaths, THC and/or CBD, yoga, nature walks, puppy cuddles, long hot showers, talking to my counselor or my wife. – Melissa J.

Meditating feels like a waterfall that slowly washes away the random and useless thoughts. My mind is a lot clearer when I’m done and I feel so much more able to focus. – Julia W.  

Please do not think short-term. Together, let’s think long-term.
Let’s think life.

Please reach out to me via the Contact page if you need an outlet or help brainstorming additional coping mechanisms.

You are not alone.

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