When you’re still functioning, but find yourself embattled mentally with feelings that drain you– almost surprisingly you’re able to get things done with acceptable quality, then we are coping. We are motivated by the love of family, or compelled for the want of another solution. Humans are adaptable animals, capable of carrying very heavy burdens, sometimes for long periods of time. How can we do it too?
If you’ve ever seen animals who lose limbs to accidents or to disease, they will learn to walk with one less leg. My beloved golden retriever suffered a very aggressive cancer that began in the toe of her hind foot. My veterinarian explained to me that he removed the cancerous tissue, but he insisted that I come to his office so we could discuss the pathology lab report, and then the medical journal explaining this cancer was going to return. It did return, and quickly. After 8 months my sweet Karat was undergoing a second surgery to remove half of the afflicted foot, and eventually 6 months later her third surgery to remove the hind leg. Her affect was the same throughout the ordeal of this illness. The vet did not prescribe pain pills, which I thought was a mistake. He schooled me that she needed to stay off that foot, or she would damage the wound and begin to bleed. Eventually she walked again, cared for herself when nature called, and she continued to function like she did before these two cancer interventions. After the third surgery the cancer spread and encroached upon her bowel and I made the tough decision to put her down. I wrestled with that decision for weeks afterwards, and those around me assured me it was the right decision, unselfish, and timely due to the inability of managing her bowel habits normally.
Humans cope quite differently. We remember what it was like to function fully. We look backward and we grieve more lastingly than would an animal like my beloved Karat. What force compels us to dwell on the past, and to mourn losses over which we have little to no control? We age. We end relationships. We lose our sense of security in many ways: loss of a job, loss of a spouse, child, friend or family member. We contemplate our mortality. We live on, and often flourish like beautiful plants that receive watering, a light source, and food.
Coping can be a healthy change of habits like water, sunlight, and food to a plant, or it can be self medicating, without the counsel of knowledgeable professionals. We have the power at any time to get an outsider’s opinion, yet many people simply live with some form of depression and endure it’s creeping, cumulative impact to our ability to function. Unhealthy coping can lead us to addiction or masking of mental problems. We may not see it, but we have important choices to consider when faced with episodes of depression.
We learn favorite coping skills early in life, often at home while living with parents. Maybe your parents were good at telling you after a fall or a failure, “Good try!” “Now shake it off, and get back in that game!” My parents didn’t take that approach, but that I believe was because they did not have good role models in their upbringing. Their bumps were huge craters, and their era was far different than was mine.
After the onset of adulthood however, it’s incumbent on intelligent people concerned with their health to prioritize the importance of looking after our own health, physical and mental. Life can be stressful, and we must find effective ways to cope with problems. My parents used alcohol or prescription drugs to get through the toughest of stressful times.
We might do well to monitor our reactions to obstacles, especially those outcomes that don’t go our way. My mother could hold onto a grudge like a grizzly bear holds onto a salmon– she was not letting go, and you’d better not get near her until she had processed through the anger.
My early career taught me that my employer had high expectations of my business results and the formal performance evaluation process every year was where we learned our manager’s perspective of the level of contribution we made as compared to others in similar jobs. I had very successful role models both inside and outside of work, and I had a mentor. If something at work went wrong, I evaluated the feedback I received about my actions for fairness and consistency. If I felt slighted, then I held on to negative feelings for too long. It wasn’t until my forties, after working with a mentor, that I began to realize the great importance of letting go of toxic people and unproductive feelings like guilt, regret, and anger. I’m still learning, and I enjoy opportunities to hear about those in my circle of friends who smartly live life for themselves and not for career or only financial reward alone. I have some really smart friends.
How do you cope?
Do you have a successful coping technique that you’d be willing to share? Maybe it’s yoga, great nutritious diet, or exercise. There are great hobbies that take people far away from their jobs for long enough to recharge batteries and rejoin the working world with renewed resolve. Some people like reading or playing or listening to music.
Others have told me about “Mental Health Holidays,” those days we could be at work, but we take time off on short notice in order to enjoy a break in stress. I’m encouraging anyone reading this post to please weigh in on your favorite coping strategy, and how it fits into your budget, your family life, and your mental health. How do you cope? Do you cope effectively? Do you have a mentor? Is there someone at church who gives you support and counsel? What life obstacles have you had to deal with, and why could others benefit by taking a page from your book?