I don’t tend to dwell on what it is I’m doing that helps me to cope, in fact, I’d go as far as saying I pretty much never even think about it.
“How do you cope? I couldn’t handle it.”
If only I had a dollar for every time I’d heard that sentence. It seems to be the default for those finding out how hard life with an illness truly is.
But, you see, there’s the problem, laid out in plain text. Immediately the illness has been placed in this impossible to reach part of the mind. Couldn’t. It’s like the code word for ‘I don’t really understand any of this and it all seems very hard so I’m going to block it out and hope it never happens to me.’ I know, I’m making this sound all very selfish, and to be honest, it kind of is, but I’m not holding that against anyone. It’s human nature. We SHOULD be selfish, someone has to look out for us. In some ways I think this response is like an overload feature, it’s just all too much to take in. The thought of even trying to comprehend what is going on is so far-fetched that we have a tendency to just block it out. Of course you could handle it, you’d handle it for the same reason 1000000’s of other people are handling it right now. Because what other alternative is there? ‘Handling it’ isn’t optional, it’s life or death. And so you see, telling me that you couldn’t handle it, although meant as a compliment, doesn’t sit well. To me it says, ‘aaarrrgghhh scary, don’t know what to do, I’m glad it’s you not me cause it sounds shit, maybe you should give up’. I don’t think I need to explain why this isn’t all that comforting…
Often my response is simple, “I don’t know, I take naps a lot?” Because I truly don’t know. I don’t tend to dwell on what it is I’m doing that helps me to cope, in fact, I’d go as far as saying I pretty much never even think about it. I guess this answer kind of belittles my condition, simplifies what I’m going through but often I just truly don’t know. It’s a complicated and long story and even I’m not sure where it starts and finishes. When I really think about it, I have a lot of coping strategies. I’m learning to manage my condition, when I can and can’t do things, which activities use the most energy, which activities use the least. I’m learning to listen to my body, so I know how much energy I have. I’m trying to monitor what foods make me feel better and worse (emphasis on TRYING). I have tattoos that remind me of all the struggles I’ve made it through in the past and the stories of how I overcame them. I have a job to give me something to focus on and I volunteer so I can feel like I’ve made a valued contribution to something. I have hobbies that give me something to look forward to and I plan trips away for the same reason. I have a partner who knows that certain tone of voice I use that says, “Please help me, I can’t do it today”. I take naps, I have sick days and I have days where I stay in bed and do not move other than to eat when food is brought to me. I cry, I yell, I smile and I laugh. These things are all coping strategies but how do you explain that to someone without sounding insane?
Maybe I am insane, maybe it’s insanity that gets me through. But whatever it is, it’s working. It’s not always a conscious effort, but it’s always there. Chances are even those who say they couldn’t handle it have demonstrated in the past that they can and they would. They probably just didn’t even notice they were doing it. Everyone goes through tough times in life, they’re all different in context but I think how we as humans cope is much the same. It’s survival instinct – we are all capable.
What do you use to cope when life gets tough? Are your strategies similar to mine or completely different?