I am still in hospital, I am waiting for a placement at a group home. I am still having pretty bad days, which is why I am doing this particular post...a more positive one! After the last few posts that have been around my symptoms, I thought that I would write a post that is about my coping strategies and other ideas that people have tried.
Everyone has their own coping strategies to deal with stress, whether it is coming home after a hard day at work and having a glass of wine, or walking the dog to get out of the house as its stressing you out. People with mental health problems have to get their own coping strategies to deal with the different symptoms that they may have. This is no different from someone with a physical health problem doing what they need to take care of themselves! This is what coping strategies are for me, a way to keep myself safe and taking care of myself (although some of mine are quite maladaptive, but as I am trying to keep this post quite positive I wont go into those!)
I have learnt these from all over the place, from the behavioural therapies that I have done, and other therapy work, to friends both “real” and online.
With self harm there are a large number of websites that not only give information but also have alternatives to self harm such as the national self-harm network has a downloadable list, some might not be your thing, but others maybe worth a try. Although many of these don’t give the same release as self harm does (its been proven that it releases endorphins – the happy hormone – and that’s why many people continue to self harm), my reasons are in a previous post its also important for me to remind you that I no longer self harm when I am aware of what I am doing. The two that are meant to give the nearest to self harm are pinging an elastic band on your wrist or holding ice cubes in something. These don't leave determinant damage but seem to work in some self harmer. For me this doesn’t work and actually makes me want to self harm more, but one thing that does work for me if I ever get the urge to cut when I am mostly dissociating (And this happens when I am dissociating as well but doesn’t work as well) is writing all over my arms what I feel about myself in red pen. But, you just have to try things and find out what works for you.
Dissociation also has many coping strategies, both to deal with the amnesia and DID that I talked about in my last post. They tend to be called grounding techniques and over the years I have learnt many, some work some don't but that’s different for different people. For example, me, I cant cope with anything that focuses on the body as this tends to freak me out rather than help me. People who have worked with me have used the senses in order to stay in the here and now. You can use any sense – sight, sound, smell, speech taste or touch – although I find when I am dissociating the first things to go are that my hearing and sight become “fuzzy”. The idea of this is to having something so strong that it helps you stay in reality.
Ones that have really helped me is having something really smelly (hopefully a nice one!) that isn’t related to the trauma on a rag or something you can carry around in your pocket. I use obus oil (thank you Amy for giving me this idea!). This way that if you can feel yourself going anywhere you can smell this – even if it is a hundred times – while reminding yourself that you are in 2014 and that you are safe.
The other one that I have just started using is taste. When I was at Lavender Doge, one of the staff always said try chilli – although that never appealed to me, and it might look a bit weird carrying it around. I carry around chewing gum, as the strong mint taste helps. With this it needs to be a strong taste, otherwise it won't work. Also if i have someone with me when I start to go a cold water (it has to be cold) can help – also splashing cold or hot water works – and all this is to change the sensations and so that grounds you.
Although I have said sight doesn’t work for me when I am going into a dissociative state, it does when I am coming out of it, and one thing that my old psychologist and I used to do was pick 3 things in the room and then say 3 things about it. It may seem simple but I can tell you it is so difficult. Another one I have heard about is choosing a colour before hand and finding all the things in that room that are that colour.
Sound never really works for me, although music is important to me (see later), it doesn’t ground me in the ways that the others do. Like in the other senses, simple things are the best! Listen to what’s around you, can you hear cars outside? Or the birds singing? What's the quietest sound you can hear? Put your favourite song on your MP3 player or stereo and listen to ever lyric. I have to thank Fort Refuge website for this as was really struggling with how to use sounds.
With speech there are various things that you can say that will remind you that you are in the hear and now. One is you can repeat to yourself a mantra such as “I am Lucy and I am safe now, no one is going to hurt me” another or the date, prime minister etc. A friend of mine does mental arithmetic, or you could repeat the states of America (if you know them!). Its about using your brain in a way that won't let it switch off. I also find using these also takes you away from the trigger that s overwhelming you.
Now touch- this one I really struggle with, and I also know a lot of people who have had trauma that their body doesn't feel their own, and so this may not work. But then again, I also know that it really works for some people. A lot of it is mindfulness techniques, which I learnt a lot of when I was doing the Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) in Bangor. Simple things like feeling your feet on the floor and bum on seat, but really feel how your feet feel on the floor and how the seat feels against you.
One that I do is find a safe space in a room, for me this is a small area, and sit on the floor and remi
These are all simple things, but they need to be to be so that when you are in that state that you can remember what to do., especially if you are on your own.
OK, I will get onto the coping strategies that I use, I hope that this helps someone!
The biggest thing in my life (apart from my friends) is music. There is different ways that I use it. I use it to drown out the arguments between my alters and other voices that I have in my head such as the “ED Voice”, I constantly have my pod on in here and when I am out and when I am home (wherever that may be) I either have my music or TV on to try and help drown out these. When I am at home and all the voices I here are really loud I put on my iPod on with my ear phones. I know that people that hear voices as part of their psychosis music can be really important to drown out these. The music you listen to is also very important, it can change your mood, or …. how you are feeling. For example if I am feeling sad and weepy listening to one of my favourite songs Concrete Angel (by Martina McBride) can actually mean that I can let my feelings out. However if I was very angry and wanted to calm down, listening to Nirvana say isn’t going to help you calm down, its just like watching a particular film and how it makes you feel. I hope that you understand what I mean.
Another big one for me is walking. Its an exercise that I really enjoy and its a natural way of releasing endorphins and keeping yourself fit (after all your physical health impacts on your mental health just as it is the other way around), this is important especially if you are on particular psychiatric medication, as it also helps kick off your metabolism. I find walking so peaceful along the sea and it helps make me realise that my problems are just a small part of the world, even though they are currently a big part of me. I am very lucky living by the sea as the waves and smell is so relaxing. Another reason that I like walking is that it gives me time to think rather than just reacting and ending up in self destruct mode. I can try to rationalise things that don’t make sense originally and try to make sense of me and the world. I don’t always succeed in getting answers but I am one of those people who need to understand what is going on, and what has gone on and how it affects me now (without hopefully completely dissociating). I also found getting out of the flat when lived there helped make me feel more safe. For some reason being by the sea makes me feel so safe and know that no one will hurt me again, as I am stronger so wont let it happen again! Having written this I have realised how much walking means to me, rather than it just being a way to exercise (which I am slightly obsessed with) but a way to deal with issues in my head by giving me a quiet space to think things through without the fear of automatically going into self destruct mode!
The final one that I am going to explain (after all this is getting quite long!) is talking to people, whether you are talking to professionals about what is going on with you, or friends about their latest news. Connecting with people is so important. I know that when I get unwell one of the first things that happens is I start to isolate. I know for a lot of people the worse time is when the professionals aren't available, so whether its you call or text a friend, or even ring someone like the Samaritans or other helplines (see the Eastbourne Survivors website for a list of help, they also have a resources page for survivors). Isolating isn’t good, while it might feel the best thing to do, it just makes things 10 times worse – and that is from personal experience. I know that I find ringing helplines very difficult, and I am really lucky that I have really good friends, but some of the help is online or via text. Just reach out and not feel alone. Another way to do this is to go out. I know that my body and mind are screaming at me that this is the wrong thing to do, and it doesn’t always work, but being around strangers reminds you that you are not the only one around and that helps!
I really hope that this can help people.
Just keep Swimming!!!