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.