A Non-Constructive, Life-Saving Coping Mechanism

A while ago, I listened to this short talk from therapist Gilbert Renaud where he talks about depression as a coping mechanism that helps us protect ourselves from harm:

Gilbert Renaud on Depression

To say the least, this is questionable because clinical depression is an illness that often takes lives. However, if we’re talking about a depressive mood that is handled with support from friends and/or professionals, Renaud nails it. A depressive mood handled with care lets us go through the difficult emotions of grief, sadness and hopelessness, without inflicting too much harm on ourselves. It gets us preserved throughout the bad times — like a pickle in a jar.

Difficult emotions need acknowledgement. We need to take the time to listen to them, and see what they can teach us. They may be telling us that we lost something important, remind us about something that happened in the past, or simply indicate that our present life is just difficult.

I was surprised to find out that letting myself be depressed and listening to myself may help me in any way. Before I first tried it, it just seemed so counterintuitive. But now, I agree with Renauld that depressive moods may protect our lives and, with time, deliver us to a better place — where we can grow. A place where we can learn new coping mechanisms that are more conducive to our well-being, where we can accept and appreciate ourselves, and experience an array of emotions — good and bad — that we have kept frozen.

Some time after watching Renauld’s talk, I met with a similar approach to coping in an article by Alicja Senejko:

Senejko Alicja (2017). Szczypta optymizmu, czyli różne wyjścia z sytuacji bez wyjścia. In: Gdzie się podziało moje dzieciństwo. O dorosłych dzieciach alkoholików (pp. 85—94). Kielce: Charaktery.  In Polish, pp. 53-57 at scribd.com.

Senejko divided coping mechanisms into constructive and non-constructive ones. The former are reactions to stress that actually help relieve the stress, such as discussing the possible ways of resolving a problem. The latter are seemingly irrational reactions that help us adapt to the stressful situation without really getting out of it. Examples that Senejko gave were avoidance of situations and people that we associate with the stress, and engaging in activities that help us temporarily dissociate from it.

Arguably, a depressive mood is one of the non-constructive methods of coping with difficult emotions. Without promoting progress, it allows us to adapt, and preserve ourselves until the time we feel strong enough to confront the stressful situation. According to Senejko’s research, people who use both constructive and non-constructive methods of coping, cope with stressful situations more effectively.

That’s a reason not to beat ourselves up for feeling low and apathetic, but to accept this state, and employ some constructive coping mechanisms as well, such as seeking support from other people and/or professional help.

I’m living proof that this combination works — after a long time of going through depression and staying in therapy, I’m in a place where I can grow, learning and trying out new things, trying to reconcile my past with the more self-aware person I’m becoming. Placing carefully there a strange thing and a known thing here… Carefully moving a perhaps fraction of flower here placing an inch of air there… Yes, spring is coming, and I had the urge to finish this post by quoting e. e. cummings.

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Sociability Isn’t About Partying

Hey, fellow introverts! The internet says staying at home is a sociable thing to do. So… it must be right, right?

Why Truly Sociable People Hate Parties

Well, I think it’s about right.

Start Where You Are

I meant the thoughts I’d take into the new year to be more powerful and positive, but at the end of the last one I found myself repeating this one to remind myself that change doesn’t start somewhere you haven’t been yet — it starts where you are. A simple, neutral thought whose logic can hardly escape anyone.

Broadford, Isle of Skye | September 2017
Broadford, Isle of Skye | September 2017

Whether you want to change your profession, eating habits or attitude to adversity, you need to start in the place you are now. Not a place you want to be, probably. A bad place, perhaps. But it’s not possible to become the idealized image of yourself in no time.

It starts with realizing where you are.

It may take some courage and seriousness to take the first step towards change.

More courage and seriousness to step back and try again if the first step didn’t take you where you wanted.

A shit-ton of work to find the right path!

Patience to stay put if your heart, mind, lungs and the rest of your lovely self don’t quite keep up with the pace.

More work to keep searching, and stay on the right path if you’ve found it.

And perserverance.

And more of it.

 

Good luck, everyone.

A Lesson in Resigning

My twenty fifth birthday was one of the saddest so far. I didn’t feel like celebrating it, few people remembered about it, and at the end of it I couldn’t fall asleep: I was projecting the things I heard about being over twenty five onto my future. It made me cry. I was anticipating that I’d have the same problems I used to have, and that the only difference would be that I’d be less emotional about them. I was anticipating a resignation from my ambitious plan to gradually change the things that make me unhappy.

That’s what I heard people over twenty five become: emotionally cold, and resigned. Everyone gets those projections somewhere. They might be ridiculous and untrue, but they stay with us.

But, of, course they don’t have to define our future. We all have our needs, dreams, and plans that run against any bleak visions of the future that other people or the present feed into our minds. I, for example, need to listen to myself more. I dream about filling my life with interesting books. I have the ambitious plans I mentioned above.

And all of it didn’t go away when I turned twenty five. Quite the contrary: with each success and failure in fulfilling the above, I’m more and more aware of what these needs, dreams and plans mean to me… and in the end, it’s them that define me, not the projections.

Resignation is tempting, very tempting sometimes. It makes things so much easier to say: “this is too hard,” and give up. But I wouldn’t want to do so when I care about something deeply. And of course I care about my needs, dreams and plans deeply!

There is another kind of resignation, though, one I didn’t know until this year. It came unexpectedly naturally to me – a person used to fighting her own perceived weaknesses – after someone casually exposed my “people anxiety” by pointing out that I curled up when someone else sat beside me.

I always tried not to draw attention to my fear of people, wanted others to see me, ideally, as a confident person, and hated it when somebody made comments towards the contrary. I wanted to become confident, there and then, even if only in the eyes of some random beholders.

But at that moment, I resigned from pretending, and from my own hasty efforts to get rid of the anxiety (one of the things that make me unhappy, part of the big plan). I acknowledged the state I was in at the moment, and accepted the exposure, thinking: “yes, I am scared, why would I deny it?”

And, even though I’d never have expected any kind of resignation to be good, it was good for me. It had a calming effect. I’m not really sure how else to comment on this, or what to call this new kind of resignation, so I’ll just leave this discovery here for your consideration, and mine too. Maybe it will make us both more accepting towards ourselves…?

Post scriptum: Two days after I scheduled this post, during a yoga class, the teacher unexpectedly summed up my roundabout reflections on resignation by saying that all work starts from the place we’re in at the moment, and it can’t start from the place we would like to be in. It seems that everything around me conspires to teach me something.

Yalla!

Yet another piece from the collection Over Land, Over Sea that I translated as part of the Journeys in Translation project. This one, written by Trevor Wright, is actually my favourite one. What I like most about it is the powerful imagery that sticks in one’s mind long after one has finished reading. And the hope it brings, too.

***

Yalla

Shadowed by fissured rock,
fingers funnelling cooling sand,
the pull of the moon carving
the rhythm I need to pierce
the gloom, smell the horizon,
taste futures. I hunker down
to take soft hand to hand as
she quietly asks, who hears?
Who sees? Will land touch us?
Night folds in. Of course, I laugh.
The stars listen, the moon sees,
new land will find us. Yalla!

Yet another dawn,
chin to chest, rib to rib, my
last daughter curves in my lap,
exposed to a firmament fully
intent on pressing our shared
breath to the depths. I raise
my trailed palm, cool my brow,
wrinkled fingers stroke dreams,
residue all at odds with the tides.
Does anyone tune into the stars?
Who cares what the moon sees?
Will land reach out? Yalla. Yalla!

***

Yalla[1]

W cieniu spękanej skały
Palce przebierają stygnący piasek
A przyciąganie księżyca rzeźbi
Rytm, którego mi trzeba, by przebić
Mrok, poczuć zapach widnokręgu,
Smak możliwych przyszłości. Kucam,
By wziąć jej miękką dłoń w swoją,
Gdy cicho pyta, kto słyszy?
Kto widzi? Czy ląd nas dosięgnie?
Zapada noc. Śmieję się: oczywiście.
Gwiazdy słuchają, księżyc widzi,
Nowy ląd nas znajdzie. Yalla!

Kolejnego ranka,
Oparta brodą o moją pierś, ostatnia
Córka kuli się na moich kolanach,
Tuż pod sklepieniem, które usilnie
Chce zepchnąć nasz wspólny
Oddech w głębiny. Podnoszę
Rękę i schładzam czoło,
Pomarszczone palce głaszczą sny,
Osad, co powstał wbrew ruchowi fal.
Czy ktoś wsłuchuje się w gwiazdy?
Kogo obchodzi, co widzi księżyc?
Czy ląd poda nam dłoń? Yalla. Yalla!

[1] W języku arabskim wezwanie do pośpiechu: „prędzej”, „chodźmy”.

Waiting

A piece from the collection Over Land, Over Sea, written by Kathleen Bell, that I translated as part of the Journeys in Translation project (which is still open to contributors!):

***

In English:

Waiting

When morning came, she knew that the people outside were not ghosts. Cautious, she stood, walked to the window, and looked. There were more than she thought. Their silence had deceived her. They were careful too. Grown-up hands steered infants away from her flower-beds. Next year’s vegetable harvest was safe. A man looked up and the bundle close to his chest stirred. How unwise to bring a baby here. The man’s glance caught hers, and beneath his patience she perceived a dreadful urgency. They were not ghosts – not yet. She drew the curtain across, returned to her chair, and waited.

***

In Polish:

Czekanie

Kiedy nastał ranek, wiedziała, że ludzie na zewnątrz nie są duchami. Ostrożnie wstała, podeszła do okna i wyjrzała. Było ich więcej, niż myślała. Cisza za oknem ją zmyliła. Byli ostrożni tak jak ona. Dorosłe ręce zawracały dzieci z drogi, kiedy szły w stronę jej grządek. Przyszłoroczne plony były bezpieczne. Jeden z mężczyzn podniósł głowę i zawiniątko, które trzymał przy piersi, poruszyło się. Jak niemądrze wziąć tu ze sobą niemowlę. Spojrzenie mężczyzny schwyciło jej spojrzenie i pod pozorem cierpliwości dostrzegła przerażenie, i naglącą potrzebę. Nie są duchami – jeszcze nie. Zaciągnęła zasłony, usiadła z powrotem na krześle i czekała.

Why I No Longer Set an Alarm When I Go to Sleep

I used to believe it’s sad to think about sleep during the day, to be longing for sleep when you’re awake. Sleep, I thought, is an escape, and if you feel the need to escape, it must be quite bad.

But is sleep indeed an escape? And an escape from what? If the waking state was the primary reality of human beings, and if our living in that reality was always and without exceptions a hardship, then we could consider sleep an escape.

But our reality is composed of both sleep and wake, both playing a huge role in our well-being. That the waking state takes up two thirds, and sleep only one third of our lives, does not mean the latter is less important. We live in both, and need both.

The waking state is not always a hardship, either. I used to think it is for personal reasons, but now I’ve become acquainted with many more of the experiences that life has in store.

There is pleasure in life, and there is love. There is enthusiasm and exhaustion, and there is sadness and pain. There is also the feeling that one is actually lucky to be alive. And there is much more.

Coming back to not-so-personal beliefs, let’s remember that the time we spend asleep is equally valuable as our waking time. It is a time for rest, a time perfect for connecting with our inner lives, a time for dreaming and, let’s not forget about that: for growing.

But we’re reluctant to accept this fact of life, aren’t we, the twenty-first-century high-speed human machines? We minimize the time for sleep to have more of it for work, game playing, partying and whatnot. We treat sleep as if it was a necessary evil, often resorting to it only when we’re completely exhausted.

You’ve been there, haven’t you? If you haven’t, then my congratulations. But most of us relegate sleep to a place down at the bottom on their list of priorities. “Sleeping won’t get us a financial upgrade, awesome friends and photos from an enviable exotic trip, so why waste our time?”

There are at least two reasons… no, not to “waste our time”, but to change our minds about sleep so that it doesn’t seem a waste of time. Aaand to finally sleep enough.

Reason one is very simple, and you already know it: we need sleep. Our bodies, our minds, our everything needs sleep like plants need the sun. There’s no denying it, even if we like denying our needs so much. Remember: there’s no shame in being in need of something, so there’s no need to deny it.

Reason two is arguable, and I am going to argue for it: sleep makes our lives richer and more interesting. If we were to go with the current conception of a human being as a sort of organic robot, with brain for its main computer, stomach for the fuel tank and so on, we’d make ourselves dull and exhausted.

We’re not machines. We’re animals with an enormous capacity for experiencing things. Numerous things (see the personal paragraph above). And I have no doubt that we experience and remember them more fully when we are rested than we do when trying to fight exhaustion and boredom.

Our lives get more interesting also thanks to the dreaming we do while asleep. Seriously, wWhat would they be without those strange nightly phantasms, reflections on their possible meaning in the daily light, and evening discussions with our loved ones about whether they mean anything at all?

These are my reasons for not feeling bad when I think about sleep during the day, not setting an alarm when I go to sleep, and enjoying most of all the days when absolutely no external force can make my eyes open until they open by themselves in the morning.

What are yours? If you don’t have any, go find some, quickly. Because sleep is quite a lovely state.

***

A source that made me reflect on my attitude to sleep, and also a place for you to look for reasons to start getting enough sleep: The Cure for Insomnia Is to Fall in Love with Sleep Again

On a less serious note: A video presenting a healthy attitude to sleep

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Nighty night!
mulan