When I was a kid and growing up, I often seemed to almost drown in this question. They’ll ask you in therapy or hospitals, “What are your coping skills?” “How do you cope?” and for me, the answers were ambiguous and nearly unreachable.
“I write,” I’d say, “but it hurts to write. I love art, but art hurts.”
I focused on this one subject so much: Something I value above most other things–creative expression–and how much it hurts to commit to but how much it hurts not to. Art and I have always had a tumultuous relationship. It has saved a lot of people, but truthfully it has only complicated and added weight to my life. It’s okay. I love it. And I feel great sacrifice often comes with great commitments.
So what are my coping skills? Some hospitals will give you print-outs of suggestions that I often found sometimes silly or counterintuitive–holding ice cubes in your hand or snapping rubber bands against your wrist, (which in itself is still self-harm.) I’ve known from an early age that different things work for different people, but nothing seemed to work at me.
I cried a lot. I still cry a lot. Many times it’s worse than crying. It’s that shrieking that accompanies a lot of internal violence and darkness, throwing oneself at a wall and the floor. But crying doesn’t help much, either. In fact it literally physically hurts and ties me too tightly with my pain.
But I have become much more self aware since I was 7, 12, 15, et cetera and have realized I’ve had a really high standard for coping skills. Many people, even professionals, like to act as if coping skills are “it.” They’re “survival things;” “things that make you feel better.” I didn’t really understand this concept, because I felt nothing really helped and that I’d just have to wade the pain out.
Then I started looking at three major elements:
1.) What are my instinctual responses to negative feelings and/or situations and why?
2.) What is something healthful I should try? and probably most helpfully:
3.) Is what I’m doing now something that will bring negative repercussions?
I struggled with self-hatred for a long time and still sometimes do–or, nowadays, low self-worth I guess. Self-hatred is something I feel I had to absolutely shut down some years ago, and I’ve worked really hard to do that. But, speaking of it then, many of my urges to were to act on negative or harmful behaviors that more often than not had negative consequences and added more stress. E.g. although self-harm made me feel calmer, it was something I was obligated to report to my doctor or my mother would see it or I’d have to wear long sleeves in summer to cover it up or et cetera, and truthfully, just pragmatically, it was more trouble than it was worth.
Let’s look at #2 now. We’ve more or less covered #1 and #3, so two is, again: “What is something healthful I should try?” Trying is a key thing in not just therapy but progress and development. It’s important–always–to keep going and to keep trying. If something doesn’t work, then it doesn’t work. Move on. Go to something new, something healthful and helpful. I prefer coping skills that work things “out.” They’re rare. I don’t count “venting” because honestly, for me, talking about the thing directly sometimes stresses me out further. And as I’ve said, writing’s not tremendously healthy for me in these situations.
There is something about art I didn’t factor in though–until I tried painting with an OSP (Open Studio Process) therapist. More on the process itself later, but painting was something I had never truly done much of. But when I tried it–awesome. I was 19 and in this therapy session, I was basically asked to use any colors I felt I “jived” with and paint anything I “felt” like painting. OSP helped me to be non-critical of myself and considering it is not a major art of mine, I quickly unlearned the pressure to be good. I bought some acrylic paints, cheap canvasses, cheap brushes, and then realized how freeing it was to paint with my hands. I further connected to the canvas and to my “inner eye” and now in hard times, it is my best coping skill. I can use it to express the pain, to work some of it out. It’s creative, which is something I appreciate and flourish with. So it’s great. And things that have come into play also have been warm showers, although with body image and PTSD that has taken a while to develop into a coping skill; taking walks; adding things to a “beautiful things” list which I suppose is my equivalent of a gratitude journal, etc.
Many of the people I have talked to in the past have gone right along with my old mindset and have said, “Well, nothing works.” But I’ve learned: something’s gotta work. Something. And it doesn’t always have to carry negativity with it. Something positive has got to work. But you have to keep trying and thinking outside the box. With depression, it’s something that is often very hard to do. But you’ll find something if you keep trying. It’s not as unreachable as you might think it is!