Coping Mechanisms

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Coping mechanisms are important in life. They are what gets you through tough times. And if they are healthy, they make you stronger and better able to handle future disasters.

My current coping mechanisms: eating (mostly anything with sugar), crying, lashing out at people, sleeping, sleeping with a stuffed animal in my arms (yes, I am 28 and still sleep with a little stuffed dog, and yes, I need it), taking really really hot showers, watching really super emotional movies that make me cry, hiding under the covers, writing, and sometimes just laying and staring at the ceiling and completely zoning out  and going numb (though I’m not sure that’s really a coping mechanism). I also like to lay on the bathroom floor when I’m having an anxiety/panic attack because it’s cold and makes me feel better.

I think the only truly healthy one on that list is writing.

I clearly need some healthier options. Coping is something we have to do in order to not completely fall apart. But I don’t think that the same coping mechanisms work for everyone. I suppose it may just be a matter of trial an error to find what works for you.

I do know one thing that helps me cope very well. Hugs. Being held. Oh how I wish I had someone to hug every single day. I can’t begin to adequately tell you how very much I like hugs. Having a physical person there to hug you and hold you even when you don’t know what to say or do is irreplaceable. It’s hard to go day after day, week after week not having someone to just hug you. It’s such a simple, basic act that holds so much power. Some hugs can change your life.

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I’m sure there is probably an endless list of different types of healthy coping mechanisms. But one thing I know for certain is not a good coping mechanism is buying into all of the things that people try to tell you is wrong with you. Allowing people to convince you that saying or not saying certain things, or doing or not doing certain things, or that being exactly who you are is not acceptable is not a good coping mechanism and actually makes things much worse.

Here’s the thing, depression is not a personal failing. It is not a moral character flaw. No matter how many people try to tell you otherwise, depression is not a lack of faith, laziness, complacency, failure to pray, or sadness. Some days I wake up and I feel hopeless, exhausted, and don’t really care about anything and it’s for absolutely no reason at all. I’m not depressed because of a certain thing. I’m just depressed. Depression is not sadness. Everyone gets sad. People use the word depressed too much in reference to sadness. But it goes way beyond simply being sad. People can shake sadness after some time has passed. But sadness doesn’t even begin to encompass what living with depression feels like.

I’ve heard the stories over and over again for my entire life about how much “Jesus loves you.” The greatest problem I have had though is that I don’t nor have I ever felt loved by Jesus or God or whoever. And I’m sorry but some imaginary being in the sky who supposedly loves me is just not enough. You can tell as many stories as you want but that doesn’t make an invisible, “loving” god any more real.

I think religion in my life has played the role of being a coping mechanism. The problem is that it stopped working. So at 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 17, 18, 19, and 23, 24, 25 years old church and religious practice was enough of a distraction for me. But it did stop working. And when I decided to actually start feeling all the feelings everything literally came crashing down. Let me just tell you that 25 years of repressed emotions is quite the display when it all comes pouring out. And it is not a pretty picture. Not having ever learned any kind of healthy coping mechanisms, I don’t usually know what to do with it all. Unfortunately people in my life end up taking the brunt of it and I know that isn’t fair. I’m trying to figure out what’s going to actually work without hurting people.

I pretended I was happy for a long time. And I can’t do the pretending anymore. So even if that means that right now there are more sad, painful days than happy ones, it’s ok. I don’t want to not talk about the hard things just because I don’t like the way it makes me feel. You still have to feel all the things you don’t like to feel just as much as the things you do like to feel. It’s all a part of you. One thing that I like so much about yoga is that I’ve learned that acceptance of whatever it is your currently feeling is necessary to being present and real in your own life. You can’t outrun yourself.

Feelings are feelings are feelings. There is nothing inherently good or bad about any feeling. It’s just a feeling. It exists because it exists. It is what it is. I think fighting emotions, good or bad, is what creates misery in our lives. Some of the greatest songs ever written were written by people who have had their hearts and lives ripped to shreds. You don’t get those songs without processing the feelings that are uncomfortable. And honestly I don’t think that comfort is necessarily something to strive for. It feels good, but being comfortable is what leads to complacency and fear instead of courage.

I have had my meds adjusted and I have noticed a marked improvement in my motivation to work things out. I am also starting in some support groups. I begin with Codependents Anonymous on Sunday and I think it is going to be really good for me. I work well having some kind of routine to follow. I hope I can find some help to become a better version of myself. Because I’m not the kind of person who can do things by myself.

What do you see?

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A lot of people tell me that no one’s life is perfect. And I am fully aware of that fact. But in this world we live in, saturated by social media, why don’t we ever see that no one’s life is perfect? Go look through your Instagram feed and you will see just the opposite. That it appears as if everyone’s life is perfect. Why don’t we share the imperfect things? The ugly things, the hard things, the things that shape us. Because the pretty perfect things are not the things that make us who we are.

It’s the pain, and the fights, and the tears, and the confusion, and the doubts, and the dirty things that really shape our character. We don’t say “look how beautiful my house was” and credit that with making us who we are. We look back at the heartbreak, and the betrayal, and the lonliness, and the sickness, and the anguish, and the uncomfortable times and realize that going through those things and coming out on the other side alive is what really shapes our character.

We say it all the time without really thinking about how it plays out in our lives. No one is perfect. No one’s life is perfect. But why are we so afraid then to show that that is true. We show people the pretty things, the accomplishments, the successes, the days when we look beautiful. But we don’t show anyone that our lives are far from perfect.

I love stories. And sometimes I really wish that I could hear all the stories in people’s lives that brought them to those beautiful Instagram pictures. Because before beauty comes hardship. Those beautiful pictures you see haven’t just always existed. Each of those people went  through something or many things that probably almost broke them or did break them. But we don’t see that. No one shows that. Why?

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Why can’t we, along with saying “no one is perfect”, actually share all those awful, ugly, imperfect things? Why can’t we say those words and then actually connect with people by showing them the ugly and hard things that brought them to a better place. Why can’t we share in the very moment that it is happening how hard those ugly things are?

I don’t really like to say it because most people honestly can’t handle it. But I am depressed. I have suicidal thoughts quite often. But I want to tell you that I see the light at the end of the tunnel. I see a better life for myself. But this here, right now, this is the ugly part. And I am sorry for any hurt it may cause by my telling people about my ugly parts. But you can’t get to the beautiful things without first struggling through and dealing with the ugly things. Ignoring doesn’t work. Pretending everything is honkey-dory doesn’t work. You can’t run away from yourself. Whatever is there inside you will always be there until you acknowledge it and experience all of the ugly nasty feelings along with the wonderful feelings.

At the same time that we are walking around telling ourselves and everyone else that we aren’t perfect and our lives aren’t perfect, we are putting a lot of effort into proving just the opposite. Our online lives don’t actually reflect an accurate picture of real life. Our pictures are staged. Our homes are neat, tidy, and perfectly decorated. Our food is always fresh, healthy, and beautiful to look at. Our clothes are neatly arranged and properly dispalyed. Our relationships appear to be without conflict or disagreements. Our daily routines are productive and always moving us forward.

We don’t dare show people the things out of place, or the messy things, or the uncomfortable things, or the failures, or the times we tried something and totally bombed and then got back up again. We make it appear as if everything always works out exactly as it should and we are always happy and beautiful. From our photographic journals we show people that with whatever we’re saying, we do actually want people to think that our lives are always perfect and beautiful.

I don’t just want to see the end result. I want to hear about the grit and endurance and tears it took to get there. Tell me about it. I love to hear about the hard stuff that got you to the pretty stuff. I want to hear all the stories. I want to know where you came from, what got you to where you are now, and what you went through to get to the beautiful things.

Hearing people’s stories makes us more empathetic.

When confidence leads to misery

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If you read my about me page you will get some background on where my parents came from and how they got pulled in to the Independent Fundamental Baptist movement. I was born in Indiana when my parents were under the tutelege of Hyles-Anderson college. And therein lies the root of so many problems in the next 25 years of my life.

I talked with my dad not too long ago about what happened when he initially got saved and what drew him in to that particular type of Christianity. His older brother was the first to hear of it, while in the Navy. They were a catholic family and attended catholic school up until high school. My dad was 17 and in his senior year of high school when his brother came to him with the wonderful news. My dad said that he really looked up to his older brother and so very readily listened to what he had to say about this getting saved thing.

Their parents were not so quick to jump on board but did also later on get saved. My dad’s two sisters never really had an interest in it. One thing that my dad said to me that really stood out though was that the preachers were very confident in their message. “This is the absolute only one right way so you don’t need to look any further. Just believe what I say.” I suppose most people are attracted to people who speak a message with confidence. But it ingrigued me because my famliy is very much lacking in confidence. I think it is a major downfall for every member of my famliy and sometimes quite debilitating.

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My dad no longer believes anything that he taught us growing up. And while I am glad he has figured things out and changed his mind, it is also a bit hard to wrap my mind around the fact that my now dad doesn’t believe anything that my then dad so dogmatically taught us. He was even a pastor for a short time. Sometimes it feels like a dream to me that that life was mine because my dad is such a completely different person.

My mother, on the other hand is exactly the same. I don’t know much about her story. She was saved as a young teenager through a bus ministry at a church, closely affiliated with Bob Jones University, that just a few years ago was involved in a sex scandal involving a 15 year old girl and a married man in the church who raped her. My mother has never really opened up about anything so aside from this bit of information I know about her former church (which my parents were married in), I don’t know anything else about her childhood and young adult years. So many things went bad after my parents got married. And most of my memories of my mother are of her yelling and screaming at my dad or us kids, or always being either out or in her room.

It breaks my heart when I think about it. That my most prominent memories of my dad are of him being profoundly sad. I have very few memories from my early childhood, but when my mother left us, I very clearly noticed that it seemed my dad aged 10 years in the span of a few months. I was only 14. But I could see the weariness, and brokenness, and pain in his face even then. Unfortunately things didn’t really change or get better for a very long time after that. My parents divorced last year after about 28 years of marriage. I can’t help but think how much better it would have been for everyone involved, including all of us children, if they had divorced a long time ago.

Seeing my dad so genuinly happy now thrills me. But again it also breaks my heart that it took so long for him to be able to get to this place.  Fundamentalism did nothing but further tear apart two people who were already broken. And they passed it on to their 5 children who now want nothing to do with it.

I know it’s not as simple as “do this and do that and you’ll have confidence”, but oh how I wish it was. I still can’t seem to get over the hump that I don’t have to be like everyone or anyone else, even the people I greatly admire. It’s so easy to get caught up in social media and look and wish that I was something else. I see all these beautiful people with confidence and charisma and exuberence for life and I wonder what happened to me. Something went wrong somewhere along the way. My family and my religion made me feel like I was never good enough for anyone or anything. They made me feel like there was constatnly something hanging over my head that I wasn’t doing right that made me less than everyone else.

I have a quote above my desk at home that says “don’t be afraid to make waves”. I think it spoke to me because I have always been terrified to make waves. To do something that people are not going to like or approve of. I’m the people pleaser. And if I don’t think there is anything I can do, I hide. I hide so no one has to see how very weak I am.

Confidence is a funny thing. We all want it. And yet at times with certain people and in certain situations confidence isn’t necessarily good. The confident message my dad heard over and over again led to a whole lot of pain and regrets. The real kind of confidence he needed was that it is perfectly ok and good to grow, and learn, and change, and become a better person without having to follow a certain man or a certain religion, or a certain set of rules that say “I’m holier than you”.

I think he has that confidence now. Unfortunately his children are all grown. We didn’t learn it. I didn’t learn it. So I’m on my own now to go find it.

Something inside me somewhere wants to make waves.

Take off the mask: No more pretending

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I don’t really like to show people that I’m not ok.

As a child, pretending is the best thing ever. You take what very little experience and knowledge you have of the world and you create worlds in your mind to help you understand new things. Imagination is, in my opinion, one of the absolute best parts of being a kid. It can take you places. It can relieve you of some confusion or unknown feeling as you attempt to figure out what is going on around you. How do you relate to these magical people called “adults”? How did they get to be where they are? How are you going to get there? These thoughts may be a little deep for a young child and he may not think in exactly this way, but the questions are there nonetheless. Imagination is powerful. You want your kids to pretend.

I had been considering attending church for Easter for weeks and weeks ahead of time. But when the day came I didn’t go. I felt something deep inside me saying, “why go and pretend?” I kept thinking back to what Easter was like for me growing up and then as an adult still attending church. Honestly all I really cared about as a little girl was getting a new dress for Easter. It was a rare occasion and very exciting. One year my sister and I had matching mint green and white striped dresses with puffy sleeves and a pink ribbon tied around the waist. I think they were our all-time favorite dresses. I distinctly remember standing on our beds and spinning around wishing we could be ballerinas.

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As I got older, Easter was mostly just a really busy time. Preparing music and getting ready to sing in church. I don’t remember feeling any kind of special connection to this particular holiday. Aside from going to church, it was not something we celebrated. The last Easter service I attended was in 2013 back at my church from home and just before I permanently broke things off with my boyfriend. I was applying for jobs, and taking interviews six hours away, and getting ready to move after my teaching assistant job ended in June.

When things were finalized and I was ready to leave, my (by that point) ex-boyfriend basically told me he didn’t want me to go. That if I stayed we could live together/he would marry me. And he told me that he “almost” bought a ring for me that day. This was the night before I left. It was mostly just frustrating. Had it been in the first year that we were dating I would have said yes. And I would have stayed there, miserable for the rest of my life. I am thankful for whatever it was that was telling me I had to leave. It was the scariest thing I have ever done and the first year was terrible to say the least. But I was in a new place and that was all I really cared about.

With Easter this year, I couldn’t stop thinking about all the years after I graduated from college that I went into autopilot. I was quite depressed and didn’t feel connected to anything, including my boyfriend. I tried to force some kind of relationship out of something that was never going to work. I tried to make him go to church with me. I tried to make everyone believe that I was so very happy. I tried to prove that I was in love. I don’t think anyone believed me. No one really talked about it with me but I know they all knew I was not happy or in love. I was the great pretender. Although maybe not so good at it as I thought I was at the time.

At this point though, I was used to pretending. I’d been doing it for a very long time. When it came to a relationship, I don’t think I was very good at faking it. But it was comfortable in a weird way. To say I was comfortable with myself and my own life is false. But I was comfortable pretending. I faked it at church, I faked it at work, I faked it in my relationship. And the only time I let myself actually feel anything was when I was certain I was alone. This resulted in a lot of tears and continuing to dig myself deeper into depression. And no one really cared.

My ex was one of the most dispassionate people I have ever known. He mostly just cared about baseball and working out. And things, having lots of things. He used to make fun of me when I cried so I learned to turn off the tears unless I was by myself. I knew for sure that I was too emotional. It cut me to the heart. I honestly thought he was my only chance to have a “relationship” and I figured I would just have to put up with his disdain for my emotions and tears.  As time went by I found myself wanting to be alone much more than with him.

It did finally get to the point where I was completely broken. I still tried to make things work. I still tried to feel something outside of my own darkness. I still tried to act like my miserable family wasn’t killing me. I still tried to act like church meant something to me. But I slowly began to realize that it was not working and I was not going to be able to keep it up for much longer without totally losing it. I am an extremely passionate person. Sometimes I think that is a downfall of mine. But truly, decades of suppressed emotions can make you afraid to show passion for anything.

My point in telling you all of this is that I am here to say I’m not pretending anymore. It has exhausted me. And I can’t do it. So while I still really don’t like showing people that I’m not ok, I will not pretend.