By Stewart Bint
There’s an old saying: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man how to fish and he feeds himself for life.”
The same is true of coping strategies. A good coping strategy means we can all better manage our day-to-day struggles without constant input from mental health professionals who play a major role at the beginning of our illness.
I owe a lot to coping strategies
As one of the lucky ones who has managed to build a successful new life from the ruins of my old one, I can honestly say I owe it all to coping strategies. For several years I have got on with my life and not consciously employed coping strategies, because they have become second nature to me.
But it was all so different when I was first diagnosed. For around a year I had no idea what was happening to me, and soldiered on, as I suspect a great many of us do. Eventually my mind reached overload point. During a ten week spell in hospital I was sectioned for 28 days and a nurse was assigned to never be more than six feet from me for around four weeks.
My life was at rock bottom. My family never thought I’d work again…in fact at one point they never thought I’d leave hospital.
The dark days turned around
Those dark days turned towards dawn and the light began to shine on me. Thanks to the love of my family and the dedication of superb mental health professionals, I learned how to create effective coping strategies and actually changed my whole outlook on life. Before my diagnosis I was an overly ambitious perfectionist, keen to please everyone and get everything absolutely spot on. That, coupled with the fact that three people who were very close to me died within a few months of each other, drove me over the edge.
During my treatment it was found I had suppressed memories from my childhood which became repressed. With everything out in the open I was on the way to recovery. And once I was discharged, my coping strategy became all about casting off the things I no longer needed in my life, including corporate success and the stress that comes with it. I returned to my first love of writing, and now work as a novelist and Public Relations writer, and have my own fortnightly magazine column.
Coping strategies are highly personal
To me, coping strategies are highly personal, and you need one for every situation that can cause difficulty. For example, I realised that if I were to continue seeking perfection in my work and myself, I was destined to fail, and would, in all probability face an even longer spell as a hospital in-patient. So my coping strategy for that was to accept compromise, both from myself and other people.
Whenever a deadline approaches I ask myself what is the worst that can happen if I don’t meet it? Occasionally I need to burn the midnight oil, but in the olden days it was a daily occurrence. Now, time and again I miss deadlines and no-one worries. Least of all me.
Learning how to handle mental health stigma online
I have now learned how to handle the stigma from some quarters facing anyone with mental health issues. Social media is a double-edge sword for this, and, in my opinion, requires its own coping strategy. On the one hand social media is a positive, empowering tool, connecting us with others who can support us through the difficult times. On the other hand, it can be used as a medium of evil and vileness, with people posting less than helpful comments. After initially choosing to defend myself robustly against untrue, negative comments, I realised that was simply inflaming the situation, as my aggressors seemed to relish the anguish they were causing me.
So another coping strategy quickly came about – to simply ignore the attacks which not only focused on me, but were also aimed at the causes and charities I support. That works for me. I don’t know whether they continue their vile attacks, but in all honesty I don’t care.
And that’s the secret, not only of handling how the stigma is perpetrated by the darker side of social media, but coping with the stigma in the “real” world too. You can’t make everyone see the truth. You can’t make everyone be kind. You can’t turn everyone into a decent human being. So don’t try too hard. Enjoy the successes you have, and enjoy your family, friends and online supporters. And ignore those who revel in giving you grief. In other words, ignore the ignorant.
So, while I have numerous coping strategies for individual aspects, which have just become part of my psyche now, I have one overall philosophy: today, I am very much my own person, going barefoot most of the time, which I find is a powerful influence on my mental wellbeing. The physical connection in this way with the planet that supports me gives me inner peace.