Expressive Arts Carnival: Coping

The theme for this months Expressive Arts Carnival is:

Through drawing, painting, photography or any other visual means, create an image about mechanisms you have used to cope when you thought you could not.

I admit it, I have a love/hate relationship with coping mechanisms.  I’m often told by mental health professionals that I know plenty of coping mechanisms…  I’m often told by the crisis lines to “go do your coping techniques”…  Both of these statements have a tendency to annoy me.  While they’re both true, I also see them as a cop out.  So I know plenty of coping mechanisms, does that mean I can’t learn any more?  Yes, doing various coping techniques help me when I’m feeling overwhelmed; but by the time I’ve called the crisis lines, I’ve usually been doing them for at least 12 hours straight and need some support beyond what the coping mechanisms can provide.  So while I see the need for coping mechanisms, I sometimes approach them with a sense of dread.

Even after all of these years, I still label the activities “coping mechanisms”, which can sometimes cause an odd tension.  I know that I need to do them in order to help keep me present and safe; but because of the connotations surrounding their use, it feels as if they are assigned a label, and trotted out on special occasions.  This is even for the techniques I have managed to build into my life as part of my routine and attempts to enrich my life.  One week I may go out and take photos because I feel like it; but the next week, taking photos becomes a coping technique which must be carried out in order to keep the crazy at bay.  Same activity, but totally different meanings.

It can be challenging to use coping techniques.  They can act as a distraction from the emotions which threaten to overwhelm, but they also encourage you to sit with the emotions without “checking out” through the use of the old, less healthy means of coping (self-injury, etc).  It can also be challenging finding ones which work… something that works one day, might not work another.  Even realising that you are worthy of using a healthy coping mechanism, instead of self-injuring, can be difficult.  There are times when no matter what I try, I’m still swept along with the old ways of coping… but I’ve found that the more I get angry at myself for that, the more anxiety there is the next time I begin to get overwhelmed.  That’s not to say that I accept that the self-injury has happened, I don’t; instead I try to learn from it.  The more I can learn about the triggers and the motivations, the more likely I am to recognise the warning signs, and try different coping mechanisms before it’s too late.

My entry for this months carnival is an indication of my attempts to learn about new ways of coping.  Last year, I underwent a psychiatric assessment to determine my level of impairment.  I don’t react well to any assessment, but this one was particularly difficult.  I wrote a history of my abuse… something that I’d never done before, and it caused a great deal of turmoil and confusion.

I knew beforehand that I might react badly to the assessment, so I made plans to try and help myself cope with it all.  I arranged for some time off work, asked my mother to stay, and organised a trip by the sea as a reward for getting through the assessment.  On one level, these arrangements made sense… I was unlikely to be able to function at work, so arrange some time off work, etc.  But, on another level, they were also attempts at self care and utilising positive coping mechanisms.  Trying to understand my limits, and working within them.

Not everything went as planned, and there was some serious bumps along the way.  Probably the most challenging time was when I went away for the trip.  What should have been a restful time at the beach, turned into a messy contradiction in terms of coping and safety.  At times, I could go for a walk along the beach and feel the sense of peace; but at times, I was swept away by the emotions which were stirred by the assessment.  After one particularly bad night, I forced myself to pick up my camera and go for a walk.  I walked for hours… something that is rare for me, as I usually need a purpose when going out.  During that walk, I took the photo below.  It’s not my best photo, but it represents a time when I was struggling so desperately to stay present and safe.  If I’d been more present, I would have chosen a different angle, and camera settings… but as it is, the photo shows my attempts to connect to the environment around me. It’s not perfect, but it stills works… especially if you squint a bit, and tilt your head to the right.

Now playing: Natalie Merchant – Wonder
via FoxyTunes


16 thoughts on “Expressive Arts Carnival: Coping

  1. That’s a beautiful picture! Where was it taken? Walking always helps me…it just offers enough of a deterence in whatever I am feeling that I can sometimes come out of it.
    CG, do you have any ideas about what is triggering you so badly right now? Is it the time of year? Sometimes different seasons can trigger some real tough stuff. How is therapy going? Are you working on things there that are really painful?
    What do you use for coping strategies? I really don’t have any that I use regularly except xanax…hmmm. I do sometimes exercise til I feel weak and too tired to think about anything. It’s hard for me to know what feels soothing because I don’t know alot about that feeling or enough about it to know how to find it or what to do to bring it about.
    Your going through so much…I pray it passes quickly for you and relief comes. Please take good care of yourself and go slow. How long has it been since you’ve felt any sense of soothing or relief from any of this? Is there a way to find relief? I know how bad things can be at times and I just wish there was a magic button we could all push that would offer instant safety and relief.

    • Hi Nansie,

      The photo was taken last winter in Mount Maunganui. It’s an absolutely beautiful place, and has a beach very similar to the one where I grew up.

      There’s a few things that are triggering me at the moment – work, abuse anniversaries, my birthday, etc. So I know that there are things boiling away under the surface. I’m not sure how to deal with it all. The last few sessions with Allison have been very odd, with me very much in “work mode” and not seeing the point of therapy or anything to do with healing. I’m “fine” when in work mode. Thing is, I also lose time in work mode.

      I’m trying different coping strategies, but they don’t seem to be working very well. I’m still losing time and finding evidence of dysfunctional coping.

      I hear what you mean about finding something soothing. It’s difficult when you’ve never really known what soothing is, to understand how to create that feeling for yourself. Takes time and practice. But I’m told that it can be done.

      Thanks and take care,

      • CG I know what you mean about anniversaries, birthdays a/o holidays. Your seasons are getting cooler now right? I know when we go into cold weather or headed into colder seasons I get triggered badly. I never knew why and still don’t know why February is always a horrid month for me. It is the darkest and coldest month…it seems to bring back all the pain in full force of my mother abandoning me. The anxiety and panic combine and it’s awful. This year did go somewhat better that way but then there were other things going on that made it bad too. Do you see a time frame soon when these dates will be passing and you will experience some easing up of this? I have found some relief when I have just hung on knowing in weeks or days the month will be behind me for another year?
        Soothing is another story altogether. I just don’t have any clue how to do this for myself. Sleeping helps but I can’t always do that. Some people I know swear by camomile tea for soothing anxiety and bringing about restful feelings. They say just drink it or sip it all day or all night until you begin to experience an easing up or calmness…they swear by it..don’t know if you’ve tried it. They told me to just keep drinking it and when it begins to work take note of how much it took to get there and then work from that point. I don’t know…it’s worth a try. There is also sleepytime tea that has been known to help take the edge off things too.
        I also lose time when things are bad. I allow myself that because I know that I must do that for whatever reason in order to cope and until I get a better way this is how it will have to be. Try not to be too hard on yourself about that and give yourself the freedom you need with it. When you are ready to replace that method with more conventional methods you’ll do it. Try not to lose sight that this method (losing time) IS functional for us for now. Where we are now is a temporary situation even though it can be excruciating at times.
        Please take good care of yourself…I am sad that things are this tough for you right now. That pic is beautiful. That is the type of pic you could blow up and frame into a large pic to hang somewhere at home? Warm safe hugs to you right now and I pray this will ease up for you soon!

        • Hi Nansie,

          Yes, we’re heading into Winter now… been raining or foggy all week. The cold, darker weather always seems to bring on depression and worsening mental health for many people.

          I’m sorry you struggle during winter too. I know this past one was really difficult for you, but you did so well in getting through.

          I’m hoping that a majority of the stress will be over in another two weeks – that’s when my birthday is over and most of the project that I’m heavily involved with will be finished at work.

          I don’t know how to soothe either. It’s a mystery to me still. I seem to have lost the skills that I did have, and don’t know how to get in touch with them again. I’ve tried camomile tea, sleepy tea, all sorts of things. I’m still an insomniac.

          Thanks for the compliment about the photo, but it’s one where I wasn’t really connected… I was taking photos because I “should”, rather than because they were going to be good. But it did help me connect, as by the time I’d gone for a walk, I took this photo which I like a lot better –

          Take care,

            • Thanks Nansie 🙂

              I have a Canon 450D, and for this photo used the EF-S18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens with Aperture of f/5.6 and an
              ISO Speed of 200. I’d have usually taken this shot with my macro lens, but I didn’t take it with me.

              Do you have a camera too?

              Take care,

  2. CG – I like the image, too. It looks like a beautiful place. What I like even more, though, is how you used photography, something you love, to help ground yourself and keep you safe. Great work at what I know was a really difficult time for you. 🙂

  3. CG I do have a camera that I love…it is not nearly as good as yours but I am a beginner and don’t get alot of time to play with pictures…but I love it! I have a panasonic DMC-FZ28..I have loved how some of my pics have come out but they are not nearly as nice as yours. Yours just have a clarity to them and color that I don’t get with mine or maybe I am not using the right setting? Any ideas on that?

    • Hi Nansie,

      I’m very much an amateur photographer too. I had a look at the camera you have, and it seems like a good one. The main thing about photography is to get to know your camera, and to keep practising. Have you tried out the manual modes on the camera? That’s the first thing I’d recommend. The AI mode is great, but because it does so many calculations on your behalf, it often ends up with trying to average out all of the settings, and you end up with an image that is ok, but doesn’t jump out at you.

      No matter what camera you have, it’s the composition that makes the shot. I know that even though I say that, I still want a better camera and lens… but even if I had the best camera in the world; if I didn’t learn how to use the camera, and know about composition, I would still take average photos.

      So my main advice is to keep on practising…

      I’m thinking of taking a course next semester to try and get better… as well as venture into the whole concept of meeting people. Will see how I go.

      Paul is a much better photographer than me, have you checked out his photos?

      • I have ck’d out his photos and they are also very nice and jump out at you too! Your right about my practicing with the camera…I have limited time these days. Thank you for looking up my camera and telling me more about it. Isn’t it funny how you, me and Paul are into this stuff? I find that really interesting…we are all using this method for self expression? lol

        • I find that taking photos sort of forces me to connect with my environment. It provides the buffer of the camera to hide behind, but encourages me to look at the world around me. I think that’s why many survivors find it healing.

          I had another look at the specs on your camera… it has the ability to shoot in RAW, so I’d definitely try that out, as it gives you so many more options in tweaking the image during processing. RAW does take up more space though, so you might need a bigger memory card.

          Looking at a few reviews of the camera, they’re all really positive, so that’s a good start 🙂

          Another thing I do is check out the other photos that are using your camera on Flickr. Sometimes they include the information about the settings they used to get the shot, so it can be a great way to learn about what your camera can do – see the Flickr page about the DMC-FZ28.

          Take care,

          • OH Wow CG thank you so much. I will go look at those pics on flkr and see. I never understood what RAW meant with cameras…I will have to research this. It’s kinda overwhelming with all the different things you can do and I it’s hard to memorize what each one does when your looking for a certain look in your pic. I do need to spend more time with it and play. Sometimes I can get so into it and other times I can’t even get near it. It’s weird that way for me. But thank you again! Your sucha great help!

            • No problem Nansie, glad to help 🙂

              I’ve had my camera for a couple of years and only just starting to feel comfortable with it, so it takes time – especially when you’re busy doing other stuff.

              Take care,

  4. Nansie & CG.

    National Geographic have some useful tips on photography

    Kodak also has some useful tips as well also seems quite helpful.

    There are also heaps of books out there about digital photography.

    CG gave some very good advice to keep on practising. The good thing about digital is you don’t always have to leave the house to try different techniques. i.e you don’t waste film.

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