I’m Sharing My Coping Skills

It’s unfortunate that life seldom flows in ways that are consistent and expected.  Those who marry would never divorce.  Parents would never bury their children. Dreams and plans would never be deferred or denied and disappointments would not be part of the human experience. But then we’d also never understand the peace and joy that come from knowing what their absence really looks like.

I wasn’t always a coping kinda gal.  There were a few times in my life when I decided quitting made more sense, or that I needed help because I couldn’t do it on my own.  I’m really glad that I’m not a superstar at everything I do.  Failure can be an amazing blessing.  Depression has been a life time companion since the 7th grade.  Don’t get me wrong, I was a bit of a loner long before then, but I think of the 7th grade as the starting point because that was when puberty hit, and those grown up hormones destroyed what ever illusion of normalcy I had going.

Hormones made my body change.  Long before that, I remember walking home from school one day and I must have been in about the third grade when a guy in a red car pulled up to me to ask for directions. I don’t think my parents allowed me to walk to and from school before then.  I lived in East Hollywood in the 80’s and early 90’s and I was walking down Virgil near the city property on Santa Monica. I saw my first penis that day.  I didn’t realize I should feel fear when the driver pulled over and asked me questions while his pants were unzipped and he had his penis in his hand.  I was confused about what he was doing and had no idea where he wanted to go. I think I was most concerned about not knowing where he wanted to go.  When I was 10 years old, a neighbor in his teens put his hand on my ankle and started moving up.  I didn’t know what to do and stopped him at the the middle of my thigh.  There were plenty of other stories about my youth being perverted and my personal space invaded but by Grace alone I can say it stopped at physical violence and I feel without being physically beaten my emotional scars are harder to see but are getting easier to heal. Puberty made me much more obvious to men and the hormones made me feel like I wasn’t loved on top of that. Rejecting advances is a skill I learned early on, but that brokenness that wanted acceptance made that a bag of confusion that I still have collecting dust in my closet somewhere. I pick it up from time to time and start to unpack things, but then I shove it deeper than it was.  It’s on my to do list and will probably be worked out in a blog post one day. Usually when I’m feeling low, I start exposing flesh in skimpier than normal clothes. That’s me regressing. My first real attempt at suicide happened in the 7th grade with a bottle and a half of over the counter pain medication.

I was hospitalized.  My stomach was pumped and I’ll never forget the neon green bile that made it’s way out of me through the tube that was shoved up my nose.  Ice water was supposed to numb my throat, but it didn’t.  I was in intensive care next to an anorexic infant and when her mother discovered why I was there, the curtain around them closed so she could hold her contempt without having to see me. My great grandfather died and I was alone in a hospital bed while most of the family went to Texas for his funeral.  My oldest sister stayed behind and checked on me from time to time. I was in the hospital bed when I got my third period.  It took a few more to realize PMS was real and genuinely going to mess with me as long as I am fertile. It’s one of the reasons I loved being pregnant.

Years later there was another attempt or two but nothing quite as serious or dangerous as that first time, and the last attempt was before my second decade.  In hindsight I wasn’t quite as motivated to end my life as I was to end that feeling.  Time and experience has taught me that those feelings are cyclical and will pass. It helps to not dwell on the low points, but to change my focus. It helps to curtail the low before it bottoms out, and it hurts to not let other burdens add pressure when I’m already feeling like Atlas with my world on my shoulders. When I’m good, I’m really good.  When I’m low, I’m doing everything I can think of to get better.  I try to find something positive or stick to something physical.  Angry sex used to be my go to. Now I pull weeds.

I gave my firstborn life, and he gave me the baby blues.  I finally sought help when he was about 4 months old.  I remember crying on the phone with my mom and thanking her for not killing me in my infancy.  That was when I realized it wasn’t normal. Therapy helped.  Talking to someone that didn’t expect me to do it all and do it well was enough.

There was one point when I was on medication a few years back.  I had been dealing with funeral arrangements and cleaning out a hoarder nightmare without the support I needed. It was my father in law’s brother and at his request but against my husband’s wishes.  It was also at a time when my second child was transitioning from his public school to a nonpublic school because his emotional needs weren’t being met and his depression and suicide attempts were hard on me too.  Going off of the meds was difficult.  I was often dizzy and started having irrational panic attacks when my youngest wanted to snuggle with me.  I was glad when things settled into normalcy which is still a constantly shifting landscape. If I can help it I will never go on anti-depressants again.

Last year my marriage ended.  I’m still married, but it’s over.  Neither of us has filed but that just speaks of our stubbornness. He decided we were done and it was almost a year before I decided I liked his decision and while I continue to forgive him, I no longer want him back.  I told my doctor in the beginning and she asked if I wanted to go back on meds.  I was quick to say no.  I started seeing a therapist.  I realized I had given her enough of my deductible when she was telling me I was inspiring her.  I already had the skills I needed to get through that phase and I thought she might have been taking notes.

I was setting goals.  I was reading books on finance because it was an area of my life I needed control over.  I started setting 18 month plans and long term goals because Suze Orman and Sheryl Sandberg give great advice.  I learned about Leaning In and it showed me where to focus my energies.

I made improvements to my home.  I created a space that I wanted to be in, putting my degrees in frames and on the walls, along with the kid’s certificates and awards.  I didn’t for so long because for  long time my husband only had his high school diploma, certificate of baptism, and a picture with other security guards from and old job.  I didn’t want to make him feel bad. I was doing the things around the house I had always wanted to do, but I was no longer waiting for someone to do things for me.  When the kids are gone, I’m not in a hurry to get home, but once I am home, I love being in the quiet.

I started buying things I had wanted for myself without waiting for someone to buy them for me.  I love Pandora charms and fresh flowers.  I didn’t realize how much I love fresh cut flowers until recently.  He didn’t buy them often, and sometimes not at all. I’m still not a fan of baby’s breath, but flowers cut in their prime and set on my table for a private show have made that something I now do for myself, along with regular hair cuts and nail appointments. Some things require planning and saving, but I am no longer waiting for something that might not happen and hoping it might be able to happen without planning for it to.

I apply sensory techniques I learned for my autistic sons.  I have a plastic bin filled with playground sand that I stick my feet in on some mornings while sipping coffee on my front porch.  Just an hour ago I was walking on bubble wrap in my bare feet. I keep Play Doh cups in my desk at work and work the dough with my left hand while clicking my mouse with my right.  I have a small bottle of bubbles in my car.  When I get stuck in traffic I blow bubbles.  It is silly.  Other grown ups giggle at me or smile.  I sometimes smile or wink back. Slow intentional breaths required for blowing bubbles also triggers the parasympathetic response. The breathing helps slow down my heart rate and lower my blood pressure.  Most commutes to work include loud music that I sing and dance to in my seat.

This is how I cope when life throws me a curve ball and I’ve just finished a manicure with wet nails. This is how I face the lemons I was handed and make a gluten free lemon curd tart with spiced whipped cream and stretch what’s left into lemonade.

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