Every time I was hospitalized there was always a group therapy session about healthy coping skills. Some days I’d skip the class and sleep instead, other times I’d force myself to attend and pay attention. They preached about journaling, meditating, and channeling your pain into something creative and productive. Even so, after every coping skills class i attended throughout my hospital stays, I was still ridiculed by doctors about my poor coping skills. Was I surprised? Looking at my scars and counting the times I’d play that one song that reminded me of my abuser on repeat and just cry into the dark had me feeling the least bit of shock. And it doesn’t help when I log into social media and see bubble bath snapchat’s and ‘just choose to be happy’ tweets.
One thing that should be known about mental illness is that nobody chooses it. No one wakes up one day and tells themselves, “Today I’m going to be depressed and suicidal, but tomorrow I’ll choose to be happy.” It doesn’t work like that. Mental health is mental, yes, but not as controllable as people seem to think. There have been days where my mind convinced me that everyone in my life would be better without me, and that I was incapable of being loved. And the thing with your thoughts, is that they always feel real, because your own mind can’t lie to you right? Well there are some illnesses where you can’t decipher what’s real or not and it’s hard. How do you cope in a mind you don’t even trust? That’s where I always struggled. I wanted to be the person that ate healthy and was always happy, not the person who isolated themselves and ate an entire pack of double stuffed oreos in one night. But coping with a mental illness isn’t always meditation and positive thinking. Sometimes coping is binge watching ‘Santa Clarita Diet’ for two days straight. Or rewatching the closing scene of ‘Call Me By Your Name’ on repeat just so you can feel a pain that isn’t your own for awhile. Sometimes it’s buying yourself a pint of Coldstone’s cake batter ice cream and then eating it in one sitting. Or spending half a paycheck on Victoria’s Secret underwear to make yourself feel sexy. My point is, there’s no “right way” to cope with a mental illness. You will have your good days with your bad, regardless if you drink that kale smoothie or attend that yoga class. Coping is surviving when every part of you wants to give up. And for me, that sometimes means I stay in bed all day and hug my dog a little extra hard.
I wanted to write about coping for you guys, and part of me thought about grabbing my notes from group therapy and putting that up, but I just couldn’t. A friend of mine reminded me that the reason I’ve touched so many people is because I’ve always been real and authentic and open about what I’ve gone through. So to end this, I’m going to tell you what I really do, and what genuinely keeps me alive.
- When my mental health gets bad and I feel the crushing weight of my depression, I try to distract myself. Sometimes I catch up on my tv shows, or watch a few movies I’ve been wanting to see. Sometimes I read from my book, or watch youtube videos on hauntings and serial killers. Other times, when I’m feeling more inspired, I’ll draw or write poetry. All of these things get me out of my head, and sometimes that’s all I need.
- When my anxiety feels like it’s crippling me, and I’m afraid I’ll go into full on panic mode, I focus on my breathing. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes I can’t regain myself. But when I do, it’s because I count my breathes, and remind myself that I’m okay. I repeat it. “You’re okay,” over and over, until I believe myself.
- Now when it comes to my PTSD, I’m still learning to cope. What I have found helpful during flashbacks is to hold my head and tell myself it’s not real. I start to name off things that I know to be true. My name is Bailey Drew, I’m 20 years old, I live in Seattle Washington, I have a dog named Zeppelin, and so on and so forth. A PTSD flashback feels real and the emotions are still there and I just try to remind myself that I am safe and they can’t hurt me anymore.
I learned to cope with things as I lived through it, and just because it works for me doesn’t mean it will work for you. The whole point of this piece is to remind you that any sort of living you do when you don’t want to, IS considered coping, and there is power in that.