Mental Health

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Coping mechanismsThis one’s about coping mechanisms.  Years ago I saw a shrink because I was really bothered by my tendency to escape into ridiculous fantasies of time travel or winning lotto.  I noticed the more I was struggling with the realities of life, the more I would lie in bed or sit for hours disappearing into my hobby of devising various alternative scenarios.  I was distressed because I thought I might be a bit nuts.  Turns out it wasn’t life threatening, just a coping mechanism.  A fairly harmless one at that.  Still, it served as a gauge to show me how well I was coping with things at any given time.

Whilst this coping mechanism did no great harm other than suck time, I was aware that there were way more constructive things I could be doing.  I noticed that if I could engage myself in something that seemed meaningful or valuable to me, this old coping mechanism would fade off and I’d forget about it.  The main thing that seemed to make it re-appear was when I had difficulty accepting something, like the current reality.

Sadly, people get sucked into all kinds of way more destructive coping mechanisms or ways of escaping reality like gambling, drinking, smoking, drug abuse, being abusively controlling to others, violence, crime and watching the news.  By that last one, I mean where people delight in being shocked and outraged and lied to.  Shock update, this just in:  this is what you need to be scared of and outraged by today.  Bit of a digression there.  Where was I?

Oh yes, so there are things you can do to help yourself cope which are not good for you, and there are things which are fairly harmless or even constructive, like fantasising about better things, watching your favourite TV show, crafty things like knitting (I am no expert on anything remotely crafty), playing or listening to music, playing with your kids or your pets, sports (I hear some people quite like that), cleaning (I know, it’s weird, but even I clean sometimes to distract myself, though I don’t generally enjoy it), or even colouring in (yes, you can get adult colouring pages – they’re awesome).

So that’s all cool, we can distract ourselves from reality harmlessly or even constructively.  It’s really worth adding to our arsenal of things we can turn to when we’re just not coping.  It generally needs to be something which occupies your attention and takes your mind off things.

Now, you knew I was going to come to this bit, didn’t you.  Yes, ultimately we do need to learn to face reality and accept it.  Accepting it doesn’t mean we can’t take action to change it and improve it.  We can certainly do that, whatever limitations we may be working with.  But I do understand that sometimes reality smacks you in the face so hard you just need to go to bed and binge watch that TV show or knit the world’s longest scarf, or both, simultaneously, whilst eating potato chips.  I just made that up – I don’t really knit – I’d just like to, it looks fun.

When you’re ready to ease yourself gently into looking at bits of reality, I recommend journaling.  Once you get going, it can be very therapeutic.  It feels very free when you get it flowing, just letting your feelings out, your gripes, your wishes, your frustrations, your confusion.  As you write, you’ll get glimpses of golden truth that stand out to you, especially the more honest you are able to be with yourself.  Keep it up regularly and you’ll notice patterns.  When this happens it’s immensely helpful.

As you are able to make peace with your reality and accept it, warts and all, you’ll find you can cope with it better, deal with it better, and have less need to escape it.  Still, a little harmless holiday from it sometimes is perfectly ok.  My shrink said so.  “Go forth into the world” he said, “because you are perfectly sane”.  Or something like that.


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