There’s an old saying: “Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day. Teach a person how to fish and they feed themselves for life.”
The same is true of coping strategies. A good coping strategy means we can all better manage our day-to-day struggles without constant input from mental health professionals who play a major role at the beginning of our illness.
As one of the lucky ones who has managed to build a successful new life from the ruins of my old one, I can honestly say I owe it all to coping strategies. For several years I have got on with my life and not consciously employed coping strategies, because they have become second nature to me.
But it was all so different when I was first diagnosed. For around a year I had no idea what was happening to me, and soldiered on, as I suspect a great many of us do. Eventually, my mind reached overload point. During a ten-week spell in hospital, I was sectioned for 28 days and a nurse was assigned to be constantly by my side for around four weeks.
My life was at rock bottom. My family never thought I’d work again…in fact, at one point they never thought I’d leave the hospital.
Those dark days turned towards dawn and the light began to shine on me. Thanks to the love of my family and the dedication of superb mental health professionals, I learned how to create effective coping strategies and actually changed my whole outlook on life. Before my diagnosis, I was an overly ambitious perfectionist, keen to please everyone and get everything absolutely spot on. That, coupled with the fact that three people who were very close to me died within a few months of each other, drove me over the edge.
During my treatment, it was found I had repressed memories from my childhood. With everything out in the open, I was on the way to recovery. And once I was discharged, my first coping strategy became all about casting off the things I no longer needed in my life, including corporate success and the stress that comes with it. I returned to my first love of writing, and now work as a novelist and Public Relations writer, and have my own monthly magazine column.
To me, coping strategies are highly personal, and you need one for every situation that can cause difficulty. For example, I realised that if I were to continue seeking perfection in my work and myself, I was destined to fail, and would, in all probability face an even longer spell as a hospital in-patient. So my coping strategy for that was to accept compromise, both from myself and other people.
Whenever a deadline approaches I ask myself what is the worst that can happen if I don’t meet it? Occasionally I need to burn the midnight oil, but in the olden days, it was a daily occurrence. Now, time and again I miss deadlines and no-one worries. Least of all me.
I have now learned how to handle the stigma from some quarters facing anyone with mental health issues. Social media is a double-edged sword for this, and, in my opinion, requires its own coping strategy. On the one hand, social media is a positive, empowering tool, connecting us with others who can support us through the difficult times. On the other hand, it can be used as a medium of evil and vileness, with people posting less than helpful comments.
So another coping strategy quickly came about – to simply ignore the attacks which were focused on my mental health. Simple, but effective.
And that’s the secret, not only of handling how the stigma is perpetrated by the darker side of social media but coping with the stigma in the “real” world too. You can’t make everyone be kind. You can’t turn everyone into a decent human being. So don’t try too hard. Enjoy the successes you have, and enjoy your family, friends and online supporters. And ignore those who give you grief. In other words, ignore those who are willfully ignorant of mental health issues.
So, while I have numerous coping strategies for individual aspects, which have just become part of my psyche now, I have one overall philosophy: today, I am very much my own person, going barefoot most of the time, which I find is a powerful influence on my mental wellbeing. The physical connection in this way with the planet that supports me gives me inner peace.
I live my life by the wonderful ethos of Desiderata:
as well as the words of the titular character from my favourite TV programme, Doctor Who: “Never be cruel. Never be cowardly…Remember, hate is always foolish, love is always wise. Always try to be nice, but never fail to be kind.”
I want to say a huge thank you to Stewart for kindly sharing his experiences with us here at SeeTheUniverse. There will be two more posts from Stewart in the upcoming weeks, please keep an eye out for them, I am sure they will not want to be missed!
I think that Stewart is a very strong gentleman, who has come a very long way since his past mental health struggles. Despite mental health still being an issue within Stewart’s life, he has overcome many hurdles and has learnt various coping strategies that have shaped him into the person that he is today. Despite everything, Stewart has come out on top and had turned his life around, publishing many wonderful books and sharing his mental health journey through blog posts and magazine columns across the country. One step at a time, we can beat the stigma surrounding mental health… but to do so, we need to start talking.
Thank you again for writing this guest post for us, take care and Have Hope Always xo