The Coping Skills You Didn’t Know You Needed

Chris's Eye CC

There Is Always Hope Of Reducing Your Pain

You can calm and soothe yourself when you hurt.

It takes a long time, some training, and a lot of practice, but by using coping skills, you can learn how to calm yourself during a depressive episode, an anxiety attack, a panic attack, a bipolar episode, or something similar.

When I have a situation that causes me pain, the first thing I need to do is figure out how to feel better. After that, I can try to resolve the situation. This is where my coping skills come in. My coping skills are anything I can think or do to make me feel better. They range from meditation and mindfulness to re-watching comedy specials on Netflix and cuddling with my husband. Some are extremely simple, like reading or cleaning when I’m on the manic side. Others are just statements I reread that I originally had physically written down on index cards kept in my “toolbox”, which is the box I keep made out of a re-purposed shoe box. Now I use this article to “thumb through” my tools at a glance.

Actions

I have many soothing or calming actions I can take to feel better. Here are the actions from my toolbox:

  • Read a book if manic.
  • Call a friend if you need compassion or to be heard by someone.
  • Lay down, close your eyes, and relax from toes to scalp if you are tense.
  • Play guitar if you need a distraction.
  • Listen to an affirming Spotify playlist if you need to center yourself or re-establish your personality.
  • Do the big/medium/small ears centering meditation. (This is where you sit silently with your eyes closed and imagine your ears are getting bigger. When they are very large, listen for all the sounds you can hear outside of the room you are in. Once you can hear all the sounds, shrink your ears to half their previous size, and listen to everything you can hear inside the room you are in. Imagine your ears going back to normal, and listen carefully for all the sounds inside your body. This helps to ground you in the present moment, and it also helps with fear and anxiety. It is a very quick and easy meditation, and only takes a few minutes.)
  • Meditate freestyle. Let thoughts occur inside of imaginary helium balloons in your mind, and then let each balloon go up and away as your thoughts come up. Have a thought, but then let it float away.
  • Drink cold water.
  • Sing until you are distracted.
  • Exercise.
  • Hold ice cubes in both hands and feel them melt. This is good for distracting your brain from your anxiety, which calms you down for a little bit. It’s good for panic attacks, but the relief doesn’t always last, so have another skill prepared for after.
  • Walk. Thinking while walking helps you process emotion, due to the bi-lateral communication between the two hemispheres of your brain.
  • Go outside and ground yourself. You ground yourself by noticing something near you and trying to take in as much information about it as you can. Use sight, smell, touch, color, lines, your emotional response to it, its history and where it originated. You can do this with anything. I recommend a tree or a plant.
  • Meditate any way you like.
  • Splash cold water in your face.
  • Watch something comforting you’ve seen before on Netflix. This one is great for depressive and dissociative episodes, especially comedy specials. They have no plot to follow, it’s okay if you tune out sometimes, they have the same volume all the way through (which is good if you are tense, anxious, or agitated), and if you’ve seen it before, you’re not being challenged by trying to take in new information at a time when you already can’t process things you usually know.
  • Write about all of your feelings.
  • Talk to someone in your family. It is highly likely that they want to help you.
  • Paint.
  • Draw.
  • Think about science.
  • Color in your coloring book.
  • Yoga.
  • Do crunches or lift weights.
  • Find the present moment. Become completely present. Not worrying about the future or the past, just noticing exactly what is happening right now.
  • Warm up like you would before a voice lesson (or any instrument).
  • Make sure you’ve eaten. If you haven’t, have fruit. This one is a good solution for when I don’t want to eat anything at all.
  • Meditate by watching your breath.
  • Cuddle with a loved one.
  • Give attention and kindness to your pet. Take your time. Be present with them. They are always in the moment.
  • Take a hydroxyzine or Benadryl (or whatever you are prescribed for an as-needed anxiety med). I only name hydroxizine and Benadryl because both of them are non-addictive anti-anxiety medicines to be used as-needed for anxiety attacks and episodes. You have options when it comes to psychiatric medication, so keep your doctor informed if something doesn’t work or causes problems. Please note that lorazepam, alprazolam, clonazepam, and diazepam all have the potential for abuse and addiction because they work so well and make you numb if you abuse them, so discuss any addictive tendencies you have with your doctor. Like I said, you have options.

Continue reading

“How do I comfort a loved one who is in mourning?”

red moon during night time

First and foremost, be patient. This is a wound that will only heal with time. And don’t worry. There’s nothing for you to fix.

Be supportive. This refers back to patience. You will temporarily have to pick up some extra responsibilities, because there are things your loved one can’t do right now, like dishes, running errands, or laundry. They just can’t. They’re not being lazy, they are actually incapacitated.

You will also have to help them with self-care, by reminding them to eat, shower, and brush their teeth. If they are not sleeping well, buy an over-the-counter sleep aid and remind them to take it, because if they sleep poorly, that will drastically worsen their depression. Inversely, if their sleep gets better, they will have an easier time with their depression.

Since this is what is considered a situational depression, these problems will not be long term. The depression will probably be over in less than a year, and will gradually get better day by day. It may even be better in a few months, depending on how quickly your loved one processes their loss.

If you can make an appointment for them with a therapist, do so, and offer to drive her/him to her/his first appointment. If they hate the therapist, try again with someone else. A therapist can teach your loved one coping tools that will help ease her/his suffering. You can learn coping tools alongside your loved one, both for you to use yourself, as well as for you to remember so that you can remind your beloved to use specific tools. If you would like to borrow some of my tools, I have a list here with explanations of how to use them: Coping Tools You Can Borrow! – The Goldfish Painter

Let them be angry, and remember that if they get angry with you for doing nothing wrong, it’s their grief talking and that their anger probably Continue reading

Angry At Everything

I’m really struggling, and I just want to be heard. Please hear me. Please don’t be offended.

I need to vent.

This is me angry. I’m not angry at you. Please keep that in mind. I just need someone to hear me say all of this. I need it out. I need it said. You’re my readers, so I’m having faith in you that you will still follow me after you read all this mess that I just want out of me.

I almost feel like I don’t have a right to complain about my circumstances, but fuck it, I need to do it. Some things feel like poison if you keep them inside. My therapist says “Some things just need to be said.”

I am angry.

I’m angry that I’m not autonomous. There are so many “normal” things that most people take for granted that I just can’t do. And since I don’t look sick, people around me assume I can do normal, daily things like

  • drive: It’s too dangerous. I’ve been in two car accidents, and now when I get behind the wheel I get terrified and tremble. My family is also uncomfortable with me driving. I haven’t driven a vehicle in over a year.
  • walk through a grocery store without having my soul catch fire with anxiety, which usually triggers a dissociative dysphoric episode: It leaves me confused and dumb, unable to complete simple tasks. When I dissociate, I lose my rights as an autonomous adult: I am not allowed to use knives, the stove, or our gas heaters (our only source of heat, so if I’m by myself, I just stay cold). It’s not safe for me to wash the dishes. I can’t plug in or unplug appliances because it’s too dangerous. I can’t go for a walk by myself because I might get lost. All of this, triggered by 20 minutes in a grocery store.
  • have any sort of conflict without shaking like a leaf for hours afterward: In any scenario involving someone having a negative feeling that I caused or a scenario in which I’m nervous or feel judged, my hands start to shake. Actually, my whole body shakes, but the tremors in my hands are the most visible. I’ve had people tell me to calm down and not be so nervous. I lie and say I have a tremor from a seizure disorder. It’s close to true, but not the truth.
  • have any strong feeling without crying: this is typical of dissociative disorders, which I learned about recently, when my doctor added “dissociative disorder” to my official diagnosis. It is very inconvenient, and even more embarrassing. I can’t stop it. A very strong feeling can make me cry anywhere: the store, out to dinner, in a movie theater, in the mall, at the salon… I can’t escape it, and it hits me hard where the self-esteem lives. It makes me feel like a child if I’m in front of other people. These strong feelings, followed by crying, usually lead to the same kind of episode I described in the grocery store.
  • remember anything about a movie a few days after I watched it: I have no retention. I forget everything. When my husband mentions a movie, I hardly ever know anything about it and have no clue whether I’ve seen it or not. Last night, we watched a comedy special that I had already seen 3 times, but I was convinced that we were watching a slightly altered movie because parts of it were completely new to me.
  • remember a date with a friend even if it was important to me: Like I said, I forget everything. This includes friend dates and family dinners at my parents’ house. I can be told the day before and still forget and miss the meeting. For doctors’ appointments, I write down the appointment on the paper calendar on the wall and put a reminder in my phone. It’s not so easy to remember to put every date in my phone right away. That’s a skill I’m trying to cultivate because at least I have that little bit of control.

I can’t do these things. And these are only some my limitations. These are all part of my disability. If I’m being measured by healthy standards, I will always fall short of what I “should” be. I will always fail.

I don’t want to be measured by healthy standards because I don’t want to be a disappointment or a failure. But I don’t get to choose how I’m measured. I can live up to my own expectations all I want, it doesn’t stop me from being a problem for other people.

I need you to hear this because I need SOMEONE to hear this. It’s exhausting to constantly be failing in the eyes of others, especially when I am absolutely powerless to change the scope of my abilities. I didn’t ask for this, I did not choose this for myself, but I’m responsible for it and it’s something that becomes a problem for the people that I love. And it’s a problem I can’t fix. I can apologize all I want and still be stuck in the limbo of watching other people get disappointed or irritated or angry with me over things that I can’t change.

I fight to get healthy and stay healthy because I know that if I don’t fight, if I don’t keep this as under-control as possible, it will exhaust my support system and people will start giving up on me. I don’t want to be put in care because I have no one left who can put up with me. If I did not stay on top of my pill schedule, keep my blood sugar level, exercise, go to all my therapy appointments, use coping skills to get through most of the day, and do everything I can to keep this under control, I would lose everything.

To people on the outside, I’m sure it looks like I have it extremely easy. No job. Not many bills. There’s nothing I can do to change that perception outside of telling people the reality of my situation one person at a time and trying to find a way for them to relate to things they’ve never experienced. But I don’t know how to communicate what a dissociative episode is like. I can’t bottle the essence of dysphoric mania. I can’t describe the terror of delusions and paranoia. Sure, I can describe a hallucination, but the relatability stops there, at the physical. How could they possibly know how it feels to be hungry but do not know how to make food, or even what I can eat? How could they know how it feels to be terrified of making even a tiny decision, like which candy to buy? Or to be cold and be afraid to light the gas heater? Or to have to rely on the emotional and monetary charity of others daily, just to survive? Or to watch myself upset people over and over in so many different ways because of things that I am responsible for but not able to change?

This is not a pity party. This is an expression of anger. I’m angry at my circumstances and my brain. I’m angry at my limitations. I’m angry at my life. I’m angry because most people don’t understand that by healthy standards, I am always going to fail. These are things that I need to be said, and I’m also angry because I don’t think this will be well-received, and may even fall on deaf ears. If you’re still reading, thank you for falling down this hole with me. It’s dark and lonely down here. Knowing that someone will read this is what is sustaining me today.

I don’t deal well with anger. I don’t deal well with any strong feeling. I can’t help it. I’m getting ready to double up on therapy to try to get more control, faster. I know I’m exhausting my support system. What the fuck am I supposed to do? Just continue to fuck up and continue to say I’m sorry and ask for forgiveness? I don’t see any options. Just the shitty, shitty status quo. But I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to fix it. So I’m sitting here, terrified of losing everyone, terrified of exhausting everyone, terrified of hurting everyone. I’m scared. I want to fix it. I want to fix myself. I’m trying, I promise I’m trying. And I’ll keep trying. I’m so tired of saying “I’m sorry.”

I know I just have to keep moving forward. Therapy helps me gain some control over my feelings and thoughts, but not the chemicals in my brain. My self-esteem is shot to shit right now, so I’ve got to build that back up. I feel worthless. I’ll keep doing what I can to change.

 

Post-Script: I wrote this during a dissociative and mixed-state episode, and it began as a letter to my partner. I decided to edit and then publish it even though I’m worried that it may be offensive to some people. Not everything in this is objectively true: my partner assures me (he’s an honest person when it comes to my shortcomings) that I’m not exhausting him or my support system. The problem with incorrect thinking inspired by negative feelings is that I believe all of the horrible things I tell myself, which increases my fear and despair. In the moment I wrote this, none of it felt like hyperbole. In the moment, I was sure I’d lose my partner, my family, and my friends because I was too large a burden and not worth the effort. Self-esteem is a bouncing ball for me, and that day, I was on the floor.

If you live with mental illness, please, please recognize that your thoughts lie to you when you feel bad. They can make you feel worthless. They can make you believe horrible things about yourself and your life that are simply not true. You eventually see that when you come out the other side. If you’re stuck right now in a place where you hate yourself and think other people hate you too, and if it might be a while before you see daylight again, you’re going to have to take your own thoughts and beliefs with a grain of salt. That grain of salt is “I cannot be sure this is objectively true. No matter how true it feels, I cannot be sure it’s true.” Take those thoughts and beliefs to someone else to help you confirm or deny the truth of your beliefs. Then, trust that person to tell you the truth. This takes some practice and some courage, but asking others to help you fact-check is amazingly therapeutic. I had to take these feelings to my partner in order to figure out what was true and what wasn’t.

I’m not worthless, and I’m not exhausting anyone. The rest, unfortunately, is true.

 

Like my artwork? Lots of different paintings are for sale here on Etsy!

“How Can People On The Internet Help Me With Severe Depression?”

All people on the internet can do for you is to listen and respond. We can offer our support through words and remind you that you are not alone. We will be here in the middle of the night. We will hear you, and we will try to help.

 

Move forward with the hope of treatment and remission. You need to be seeing a psychiatrist and a therapist. Depression is hard, and you may not have much energy or functionality today. That’s okay. Make your one task for the day “Make an appointment with a psychiatrist”, and even if there is a long waiting list, set the appointment and put it on your calendar so that you will have help in the future. Do the same thing tomorrow, only with a therapist.

 

If you already have a psychiatrist and therapist, stay vigilant in keeping your appointments and taking your medicine. Start to build your toolbox of coping strategies,(that link is to a list of all of my coping tools) and use it when you’re in pain, even if that Sunflower CCmeans you are using it all day, every day. You cannot be cured, but your pain can be managed. For your next appointment, take any notes you can on your symptoms, triggers, medicine effects/side-effects, sleep problems, eating problems, and daily moods. There is no wrong way to take these notes, just write down information every couple of days about things you experience in your illness. The important thing is that you have everything written down for the doctor. The doctor will only be as good as the information you give them, and you are your best and only advocate as the patient. Don’t rely on only your memory to communicate with your doctor, because memory is fickle and fallible, and doubly so with Continue reading

Memories That Almost Break Me

Yesterday in therapy I told the story of the last days with Sophie and my first days of incapacitating mental illness, just before I was officially diagnosed. I was surprised at how upset I became in therapy, and by the clarity of my often faulty memory. Timeline was:

 

I started to feel like I was becoming invisible in October, right after I started dating Sophie, right when I turned 19.

 

My depression increased. I started to disappear.

By Christmas, I knew something was wrong with me, but I didn’t know what. I remember saying “Something is really wrong with me,” to my mom when I came home for Christmas break. When my folks drove me to Austin at the New Year to put me on a plane back to Ohio, my dad gave me a giant teddy bear in the parking lot, and I hugged him and cried very hard. My mom took a picture of us that I have here in my house. Our eyes are red, even though we’re smiling. His arm is around my shoulder, and we both look like we’re holding our breath.

 

January was something called “Winter Term,” which exists because it’s basically too cold to live in Ohio in January. The campus empties out. Everyone did an individual project during Winter Term, appropriately called a “Winter Term Project,” and you could complete your project anywhere in the world. Oberlin is mostly wealthy, so students would do their projects in Hawaii or Barbados or Portugal. Wherever they wanted, basically. A tiny minority of students would stay on campus, so the ice-laden, snow-covered campus stayed partially open. The libraries had some limited operating hours, and one of the cafeterias was kept functioning. I chose a listening/research project on mezzo-sopranos of the last century. My roommate, Laura, went away somewhere for the month, so Sophie and I had a giant room to ourselves. We hid inside, only leaving to find food or go to the conservatory to research. Baldwin had a large, round practice room on the first floor with a piano in it, directly below my own round room, so we didn’t even need to go to the conservatory to practice. There were two places near us that delivered food: a Chinese place on Main Street and a Dominos about 30 miles away. With temperatures severely below zero, it was worth the money and the wait to not have to leave the house. We binge-watched TV and movies on her laptop, ate takeout, and existed naked with the radiators cranked. The sky was only ever grey or black.

 

I started to think that I would marry this girl, and soon after I had that thought, I started Continue reading

How to Survive Depression

I have lots of practice dealing with depression, and I hope I can help you with what I’ve learned. When you’re depressed, not much appeals. Nothing sounds fun. Nothing seems worth doing. When that happens to me, I know I’m depressed. Losing interest in things you usually care about is a normal and typical symptom of depression. For many very lucky people, sadness passes in a day or so. For those of us whose sadness lasts weeks and expands into full depression, we need a plan. Deep depression can lead to suicide or suicide attempts. If you’re going to stay alive, you need tools to help you do so. Suicide happens when the pain you experience exceeds your ability to cope with it, so if you’re going to stay alive, your options are to lower the level of pain or increase your coping ability. This explanation is not original to me, so don’t credit me for it. I use it because it’s a clear and simple analysis of a messy state of mind.Above the Spiral CC

So. You’re depressed. Time to get to work. Self-care is where you begin. Self-care is easier than all-out self-love, which is often not possible when you’re depressed. Taking a shower, brushing your teeth, or eating something is a good place to start. If you’re severely depressed, all three of those things may be impossible. If those things remain impossible for more than two weeks, you need medical intervention. If that’s where you are right now, then the job I assign you for today is to make a doctor’s appointment. That is the only task you need to do today. You can do one thing. You can spend the rest of the day watching TV and crying if you need to, just get that one thing done. It’s the first step to saving your own life. Continue reading

The Coping Skills You Didn’t Know You Needed

Chris's Eye CCThere Is Always Hope Of Reducing Your Pain

You can calm and soothe yourself when you hurt.

It takes a long time, some training, and a lot of practice, but you can learn how to calm yourself during a depressive episode, an anxiety attack, a panic attack, a bipolar episode, or something similar.

When I have a situation that causes me pain, the first thing I need to do is figure out how to feel better. After that, I can try to resolve the situation. This is where my coping skills come in. My coping skills are anything I can think or do to make me feel better. They range from meditation and mindfulness to re-watching comedy specials on Netflix and cuddling with my husband. Some are extremely simple, like reading or cleaning when I’m on the manic side. Others are just statements I reread that I originally had physically written down on index cards kept in my “toolbox”, which is the box I keep made out of a re-purposed shoe box. Now I use this article to “thumb through” my tools at a glance.

Actions

I have many soothing or calming actions I can take to feel better. Here are the actions from my toolbox:

  • Read a book if manic.
  • Call a friend if you need compassion or to be heard by someone.
  • Lay down, close your eyes, and relax from toes to scalp if you are tense.
  • Play guitar if you need a distraction.
  • Listen to an affirming Spotify playlist if you need to center yourself or re-establish your personality.
  • Do the big/medium/small ears centering meditation. (This is where you sit silently with your eyes closed and imagine your ears are getting bigger. When they are very large, listen for all the sounds you can hear outside of the room you are in. Once you can hear all the sounds, shrink your ears to half their previous size, and listen to everything you can hear inside the room you are in. Imagine your ears going back to normal, and listen carefully for all the sounds inside your body. This helps to ground you in the present moment, and it also helps with fear and anxiety. It is a very quick and easy meditation, and only takes a few minutes.)
  • Meditate freestyle. Let thoughts occur inside of imaginary helium balloons in your mind, and then let each balloon go up and away as your thoughts come up. Have a thought, but then let it float away.
  • Drink cold water.
  • Sing until you are distracted.
  • Exercise.
  • Hold ice cubes in both hands and feel them melt. This is good for distracting your brain from your anxiety, which calms you down for a little bit. It’s good for panic attacks, but the relief doesn’t always last, so have another skill prepared for after.
  • Walk. Thinking while walking helps you process emotion, due to the bi-lateral communication between the two hemispheres of your brain.
  • Go outside and ground yourself. You ground yourself by noticing something near you and trying to take in as much information about it as you can. Use sight, smell, touch, color, lines, your emotional response to it, its history and where it originated. You can do this with anything. I recommend a tree or a plant.
  • Meditate any way you like.
  • Splash cold water in your face.
  • Watch something comforting you’ve seen before on Netflix. This one is great for depressive and dissociative episodes, especially comedy specials. They have no plot to follow, it’s okay if you tune out sometimes, they have the same volume all the way through (which is good if you are tense, anxious, or agitated), and if you’ve seen it before, you’re not being challenged by trying to take in new information at a time when you already can’t process things you usually know.
  • Write about all of your feelings.
  • Talk to someone in your family. It is highly likely that they want to help you.
  • Paint.
  • Draw.
  • Think about science.
  • Color in your coloring book.
  • Yoga.
  • Do crunches or lift weights.
  • Find the present moment. Become completely present. Not worrying about the future or the past, just noticing exactly what is happening right now.
  • Warm up like you would before a voice lesson (or any instrument).
  • Make sure you’ve eaten. If you haven’t, have fruit. This one is a good solution for when I don’t want to eat anything at all.
  • Meditate by watching your breath.
  • Cuddle with a loved one.
  • Give attention and kindness to your pet. Take your time. Be present with them. They are always in the moment.
  • Take a hydroxyzine or Benadryl (or whatever you are prescribed for an as-needed anxiety med). I only name hydroxizine and Benadryl because both of them are non-addictive anti-anxiety medicines to be used as-needed for anxiety attacks and episodes. You have options when it comes to psychiatric medication, so keep your doctor informed if something doesn’t work or causes problems. Please note that lorazepam, alprazolam, clonazepam, and diazepam all have the potential for abuse and addiction because they work so well and make you numb if you abuse them, so discuss any addictive tendencies you have with your doctor. Like I said, you have options.

Truths

Many examples of statements, affirmations, and truths are listed here. Remember that they are true for you, too, and you are free to write them down yourself to use when you get upset.

  • You are strong.
  • You can do hard things.
  • You are so loved.
  • You have been through this before, and you always come back. It just takes time. Wait it out.
  • You are enough. You are more than enough. It is unbelievable how enough you are.
  • You will not let depression win. Just be stubborn enough to not let it take you out.
  • You are loved. Always. No matter what.
  • You are worthy.
  • Stay where your feet are.
  • This WILL pass.
  • You are beautiful, inside and out.
  • Breathe. Breathe. Slow down.
  • Your life has a purpose of your own choosing.
  • Forgive yourself immediately.
  • You will survive this and be happy again.
  • This is not your fault.
  • You are loving kindness.
  • You matter.
  • Your loved ones would be heartbroken if you died.
  • You deserve to be in less pain. You deserve to be happy. You deserve to have your needs respected.
  • Other people want to help you, so tell them what you need.
  • You go far away, but you always come back.

How Do I Build My Own Toolbox?

You start the process of building your more personal skills by noticing what things calm you down: concrete actions that take place outside of your mind, like reading a book, writing in a journal, playing on social media, eating an apple, meditating, being mindful, or talking on the phone. Whenever you find something remotely soothing, write it down. You need to write them down and practice them whenever you are in emotional distress. It’s best to always continue to build your “toolbox”, and write down any new helpful behaviors or solutions that come up along the way.

Why Do I Have To Write Them Down?

Writing down behaviors is important because most of us will not remember off-hand what to do in the middle of a crisis, even if we’ve been doing it for years. This is why you should write down your coping skills in a place where they will not get lost and that you can refer back to easily. A note or email on your phone is useful. I use this article, and you are free to use it as well. Take comfort wherever you can. I add to my toolbox as I go along. Some tools are better suited to particular feelings or situations than others, so I rifle through all of them to find one or two that fit the situation.

Writing down truths or affirmations is equally as important to your toolbox as concrete actions. Write down all of the statements that you need or want someone to say to you in a time of crisis to comfort you. Write down true things that are hard to remember when you are upset, like “I am loved”, “I will feel normal again”, “I am good enough”, I am strong”, “I have survived this before”, or “This will pass.” The fact that you wrote these things down at a time when you believed them will be an enormous boon to their validity when you are hurting. You know that they were objectively true to you at one point in the past and therefore remain true in crisis, regardless of how many negative things you currently believe about yourself and your life.

Am I Using My Skills Wrong?

When you have a difficult situation come up, go to your toolbox and see what fits. The immediate goal is to lessen suffering, not eliminate it. You are not failing by not becoming instantly happy. The more you practice these skills, the stronger your ability to cope will become. You will eventually get to a place where you do use a skill and truly feel better. Use patience with yourself. Speak kindly to yourself; no name-calling. You are not stupid or weak or a burden or ugly or worthless. You officially no longer have permission to call yourself any of those things, even if they feel true. You’re being told what to do by a stranger on the internet, but I know that any voice telling you such an important truth will carry at least a little weight. The truth is that you are a human with intrinsic worth, your experience as a human is valid, there is beauty in you, and you are surviving something terribly difficult. You deserve to be loved, especially by yourself. No more name-calling.

Calming and soothing yourself takes lots of practice, and it is not the only tactic you can use to feel better. Medicine is the cornerstone of many people’s treatment as well as mine personally, and therapy is also enormously helpful. If you do get to go to therapy, enlist your therapist in your efforts to build a set of coping skills. That’s what they’re there for. You have the right as a patient to determine the goals you have for yourself in therapy. My current goal is simply “to reduce suffering”.

I recommend medicine and therapy as a primary treatment strategy, but I know that’s not an option for everyone. Using coping skills and tools, however, is something anyone can practice. Remember that you have to build up your skills through practice and that they will become more effective over time. Don’t give up. It is possible to feel better. But “better” doesn’t mean “happy.” It means reducing the amount of pain you feel in the moment.

I highly recommend building your own toolbox, no matter what your issue is. Try the ones above to find out if they work for you, and add to it whenever you find something soothing; either thoughts or actions. It will give you a physical touchstone (because it is written down) whenever you need it.

I wish you the best of luck in developing your own set of coping skills.

 

By Emily Harrington, The Goldfish Painter

 

My disclaimer:

I am not a doctor or any sort of mental health professional. I am a psychiatric patient with multiple mental illnesses that I have survived for 12 years now. My secondhand knowledge comes from doctors, psychologists, therapists, books, college courses in psychology, and the internet. My firsthand knowledge comes from the feelings, experiences, thoughts, symptoms, problems, and solutions that I have lived through. I know myself well, but again, I am not a professional. The information on this site is not a replacement for getting an actual diagnosis or professional help. Coping skills are fantastic, and I hope you learn some here and that they help you, but please seek and continue real medical treatment if you are struggling with mental illness. I wish you the best. You can do hard things.

Sometimes I Can Only Sit And Feel Hard Things

Since my mental illnesses presented 12 years ago, I haven’t been able to do much. This website is the largest thing I’ve accomplished since I was 19, and I’ve only been able to do this by building it slowly, little by little. It has taken me over a year. There are whole weeks when I make no progress. The past year has been more productive than I’ve been in a long time and has been the easiest year to handle since I was diagnosed. For that, I am incredibly grateful. Living well with mental illness takes skills, and I’m working on mine every day. I am making progress.Sunflower CC

In college, I abandoned school in the middle of spring semester four out of four years. Springtime always makes my symptoms more intense and sometimes even unbearable. Most of my time at Oberlin I couldn’t do simple self-care tasks like laundry, or go to class or parties; I basically could do nothing but stay in my room, sit, and try to cope. Sometimes I’d use an episode to make a painting, and god, those paintings born of episodes are the darkest ones I’ve made. None of them are on this site yet, and I burned many of them one night during a manic episode. I thought it would be cleansing. It was just destructive. I get a lot of “great” ideas when I’m manic, and Continue reading

Staying In A Psychiatric Hospital: A Story In First Person

(Quick! Take a 4-question quiz to let me know how you feel!)

It starts out scary and uncomfortable. I didn’t want to go to the psychiatric hospital. I didn’t want to be there. I was already suicidal, and here I was voluntarily giving up every comforting thing I had in my life: people, places, and things, in order to commit myself to not dying.

Fuck. I should have killed myself, this is going to be unbearable. My soul is on fire and we haven’t even completed the intake interview. Yes, I am suicidal. Yes, I do have a plan. No, I’m not on any medication. Please make my mother my emergency contact. Yes, I understand that I will not be released until the doctor determines that I am no longer in danger.

I’m on the ward itself, and I hurt all over. I’m in a mixed-state episode: irritable, hopeless, suicidal, full of energy, thoughts racing, sad beyond measure. I’ve never felt these things before; it’s one of my first mixed state episodes and I have zero in terms of coping skills, as well as zero self-knowledge of what is happening to me. I pace the hallway for a while, splash my face in the bathroom, spy at other patients from my bedroom door, lay on the bed, try to read a book my mom brought for me. My soul is still on fire.

I’ve been here for three hours, and I’m in agony. I can’t take one more minute of this. I have to get out. NOW. I take my phone charger, tie it as tight as I can around my neck, making sure I can’t breathe, get up on a chair next to the tall bathroom door and wrap the other end of the charger around the hinge. I kick the chair out from under me. Continue reading

How Mental Illness Affects My Life

I am disabled because of my mental illnesses. I have bipolar II, major depressive disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. I was diagnosed when I first presented my bipolar symptoms at age 19, 12 years ago. I also dealt with major depression as a child.

I am disabled because I have mixed-state, rapid cycling episodes with psychotic features. That means I have episodes with severe depression, mania, and anxiety all at once, in addition to having hallucinations, paranoia, and delusions. What an episode looks like for me is here: What Is a Mixed-State Episode? – The Goldfish Painter

One way my mental illnesses affect me is by reducing the number of things I can do successfully. I cannot work a job, because my episodes are not safe or appropriate for a workplace. I frequently need monitoring if I’m trying to complete tasks. At home, during an episode, there is a long list of things I can’t do, including driving, using knives, mowing the lawn, washing dishes, and lighting any of the gas appliances, because if I make a mistake with any of these tasks I can accidentally hurt myself or others. I have no desire to burn down the house. If I have an episode in public, I need help from a loved one to Continue reading