When events overwhelm coping skills

We’ve all got our toolbox of coping skills to draw on when things start to get difficult.  It’s usually not quite as simple as that, though.  My toolbox has multiple different compartments, and multiple different keys.  When I’m well, I’ve got the master key and I have access to all the different compartments with all the different skills.

Things change when I get depressed.  Perhaps the guinea pigs have stolen the master key, or perhaps I swallowed it in my self-defeating misery, but wherever it is, I can’t find it.  That means there’s a bunch of higher level compartments that I just can’t access.  And there are damn good locks on those puppies, plus I have zero locksmithing skills.

Still, there are a few different compartments with a few different tools that I can still use.  Then something stressful happens, and boom, the keys to a few of those compartments have disappeared.  I fumble along trying to pull myself together, and maybe I find one or two of those lost keys.  Then life comes along with another kick in the ass, and I might end up reduced to my 7-Eleven strategies that are available 24/7/365, namely avoidance, and alcohol to lubricate that avoidance.  Then maybe I’ve decided to venture out into reality again, and some other shit comes along, sending me straight into fuck-it mode, where I’m ready to throw the whole fucking toolbox off a roof, and perhaps myself along with it.  But just as I’m getting ready to head up to the roof, one of the guinea pigs coughs and out pops a key.  Then once I’ve got one toolbox compartment open, I realize that hidden in there was a key to another compartment.  And slowly I’m able to gain access again to more and more of my toolbox.

I’ve probably overdone the metaphor,  but I suppose I’m trying to remind myself that even though it feels like I can’t cope most of the time, the tools are still there and hopefully I’ll be able to use them again.

Do you ever struggle with being to access the coping skills that you’ve developed?

 

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36 thoughts on “When events overwhelm coping skills

  1. Luftmentsch says:

    I’m not sure I have many coping skills. People have said to me over the years, “Doesn’t your therapist teach some to you?” but no therapist I’ve seen has, except maybe for the CBT ones, but CBT doesn’t work for depression on me.

    I guess some of it is the borderline autism thing. I strongly suspect I’m on the spectrum, but as I have no diagnosis, no one has ever taught me coping strategies. I’ve learnt a bit from books. I’ve tried reading blogs too, but the autism blogs I’ve read tend to suggest avoidance as an answer to everything, often backed up by the assertion that the world is built for neurotypicals and the best thing an autistic person can do is just avoid it all costs. As avoidance is basically my only coping strategy, and has been since childhood, that’s probably evidence that it doesn’t work for me. They don’t really seem to understand that sometimes I have to engage more and sometimes I want to engage more.

    • ashleyleia says:

      Do you follow the Neurodivergent Rebel blog? She’s pretty upfront and non-avoidant. Another blogger on the spectrum who hasn’t been formally diagnosed is Behind The Glass. I like how blogging has made it easier to see how other people cope (or don’t cope, for that matter), and that makes it easier to see where I kind of fit in.

      • Luftmentsch says:

        I did follow the Neurodivergent Rebel for a while, but it was mostly a video blog, and I prefer text. I haven’t seen Behind the Glass, will have to check that out.

        • Daniel Saunders says:

          Just went over to Neurodivergent Rebel and saw that she writes transcripts of her video posts now, so following that again now.

  2. Kerry says:

    I don’t think my problem is accessing my coping skills, but more that I have trouble accessing the better, more healthier coping skills. When I’m too overwhelmed it’s straight to the negative ones for sure. :/

  3. Invisibly Me says:

    This is a brilliant metaphor and way of seeing it. I’m the same, I struggle to find the keys to the different compartments, and to be honest, when I’m struggling, I don’t always even try to find them or know where to look. But you’re right, they’re there and will be usable again, it’s just sometimes it’s hard to reach them or find them during the extra tough times. x

  4. Liz says:

    I like your explanation on it and yes, there has been a couple of times where I can’t access my coping tools.
    I am being very cautious this week as the court case gets nearer that I want to attend. (It’s tomorrow.) I am hoping if I need to access it, that I am able to after what I hear and be aware of what I need to do should I find I am in a difficult moment.

  5. lavenderandlevity says:

    Get away from the immediate trigger if possible. Run to the coffee shop or vending machine for a break from work bullies. Put yourself on mute with the regulators and half cough up a lung from anxiety. Pull out a squishy to squeeze to death as you walk. Hope the moment plus liquid plus comfort items grounds enough to avoid dissociation or crying when you return?

  6. Libby says:

    Oh my, so much yes!! DBT is my lifeline but distraction (sometimes avoidance when it’s best), prioritizing, and limiting myself on how far to push (because I have a tendency to push myself to the brink and keep pushing) seem to be core ones for me. These days distraction, intentional avoidance, and writing are the only ones I can access but also the only ones that will get me anywhere lol
    Libby

  7. Meg says:

    That was a really good metaphor!! Those naughty guinea pigs!! 😀

    I tend to go into shut-down mode. I go to bed and lie there, and if needed, I take extra sedative to induce a daytime nap. (My doctor allows this.) If I’m that exhausted and demoralized, I don’t think anything good will come from trying to stay awake and out of bed. So I just crash, and allow the rest of the day to be a write-off day in the name of catching up on my rest.

    If exhaustion isn’t involved, I just mess around online with no expectation of productivity whatsoever and try to hang in there until bedtime.

    If it’s something involving my mother or some other drama, I try to find someone to talk to about it.

    If it’s something more practical, like, “How can I afford to repair my car?” I talk to my dad about it and brainstorm. (Just for the record, I drive a beat-up, broken-down 1995 Saturn named Carlene. She has a freakin’ nonfunctional audio cassette deck. Yeah, she’s seen better decades.)

    I think it’s okay to decide, “The rest of the day is going to be entirely non-productive and restful.” I do that a lot.

  8. eirlysgwenllian says:

    Accessing my coping skills, particularly those not harmful or potentially harmful, is an ongoing issue for me. I feel like I might have made some progress over the last year or so, but still it can be quite problematic.

  9. BeckiesMentalMess.wordpress.com says:

    I can certainly relate to the metaphor you used. When I had that massive panic attack a couple months back, then the withdrawals, nothing in my coping skills box of goodies did a damn thing for me. I just rode the wave and prayed like crazy to get through it. My friends and mother were fantastic through it all, not to mention the support system of friends such as yourself.

  10. Johnzelle says:

    Great post! I’ve found that coping skills require ongoing practice/ trial & error before they can become more consistent. Sometimes the symptoms override reasoning, which results in us going into fight-or-flight. Focus on the effort put in and less on the results. Take care

  11. suninthespring says:

    I like this metaphor!!! When my stress levels are high, I normally run away to the bathroom. I try self soothing stuff like listening to music and running my hands under the water for a while. The key thing, for me, I think, is to not spend too long on that and to rejoin society shortly thereafter or find some more productive way to cope instead of wallowing in the misery.

  12. scarlettcat says:

    The answer to your question is it depends. When I’m in really bad shape, I seem to forget every coping skill and just cry. Fortunately,
    that hasn’t happened in a while. When I feel bad but I’m not overwhelmed, I usually meditate and welcome the feeling. Now, I see it as a opportunity to grow and become stronger. Meditation, Alan Watts and Buddhist teacher talks have really opened my mind. Medication and having less BPD symptoms have also been very beneficial.

  13. Karen says:

    Love your metaphor! I’ve had a quick read through your responses and there’s some great stuff in there too.
    It sucks when you get to the place where you can’t get to the things that help only the things that throw a blanket over it and hide stuff from sight. It takes an enormous amount of mental effort to get to the strategies (find the keys) and another load more to use them, when feeling bad we can’t/won’t put the effort into doing that, why should we when avoidant techniques are easy to grasp?
    At the moment I try to go with the feelings, give myself permission to feel every negative feeling as deeply as my mind wants because then it sort of gets processed and tomorrow will be easier (hopefully). However, if the negative emotions linger for more than a day or so this strategy would be pretty risky.
    Hang on in there and keep those keys safe from thieving guinea pigs! 😀 xx

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