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.


The Enemy Inside Our Heads

I really like this comic by lunarbaboon. I’m sharing it with you as something to take into the coming week and draw inspiration from. Have a good week, y’all.

“Enemy” by lunarbaboon

This Is Going to Be a Good Autumn

For a couple of years now, the coming of autumn always meant trouble for me: won’t a rainy October deject me? Will I have gathered enough strength to be able to get up from the bed every morning? Won’t the persistent thoughts that I’m worthless and should’ve died long ago come back? Oh, those regular autumnal thoughts; moods quite fitting for the unfriendly autumnal weather.

“This autumn, though, is going to be a good one,” I’m thinking now, even when the wind is raging all around me, all I can see in the darkness is some lights reflected in the wet asphalt under my feet, and all I’m dreaming about is to finally stop this trudge-along and fall asleep in the warmth and quite of home.

This autumn is going to be a good one because this autumn I let myself do just this: take care of myself when I’m feeling so bad, and cold, and gloomy. It doesn’t mean that every time I get back home from work, I hit the bed right away. Sometimes it means that when I’m irritated, I turn on Yukari’s “Echo”. When I feel lonely, I reach out to a friend, or just think about the few I have. When I haven’t slept well at night, I put off this damned difficult task I’ve planned to finish today until a better time.

There’s no point in nurturing irritation; that parasite will devour the greater part of your energy with much enthusiasm if you let it do so. I won’t do myself a favour if I go on pondering the loneliness of my existence, either. It’s better to go back a couple of days or weeks, and recall that it doesn’t always feel this way. And what about work, what about sacrifice? I value both very much, but not more than my own well-being. The world needs me? Well, it probably does, but probably not too much; not to the extent where I’d have to carry on all stressed out and exhausted.

But what about autumn, and the wayward thoughts it will bring me all the same? …I can tell you that this year is the first one when I feel that I don’t have to yield to them. I already know those thoughts well enough to be able to stop the one that, running at full speed, would hit me and send me flying downwards a murky autumnal depression. They are my thoughts, and I can do with them whatever I want to — not the other way round.

So this autumn, instead of picking up all the fatigue and dejection that autumn will inevitably bring me as if it was the greatest of gifts, I’m going to take care of myself. I’m strong enough now to make it a plan, and I think I’m strong enough to keep to it, too.

And that is all. But this little is enough to say that this is going to be a good autumn.

P. s.: You can read a Polish version of this post at uczesiemowic.blogspot.com.


Once again it took another blogger’s post to motivate me to post something myself… and here it is.

Some people think I’m awesome. Some even think that because I work at a company people generally associate with phone making, I know how to fix their phones. The latter couldn’t be more mistaken.

I have a phone that keeps switching off at random moments during the day. Low or fully charged, it just keeps doing that. I thought about replacing it with a new one but then again, it’s a good phone. It works like a phone should, it just switches off sometimes. Also, it cost an amount I’d never paid for a phone before. And you know the story about sunk costs.

As I find it switched off for the n-th time during a day, I usually just think “oh, well” and don’t go on with any heavy rant about life, coping with difficulties and stuff… but let me have it just this once.

In the ideal world where I am a highly skilled phone fixer, I’d fix that phone myself. I like fixing things. It gives me an incredible sense of pride and power, greater even than any little neo-Nazi piece of shit can imagine.

But it rarely happens: I’m no phone fixer, and as far as other things go, no one ever taught me how to fix them either. So my skills are rather lousy, and my attempts at fixing things — clumsy and frequently inefficient.

Still, I believe in fixing. Don’t know where that comes from — if I was a diligent student of life, I’d be happy to accept things as they are without trying to fix them. But some time ago, I decided to fuck this and be a creative student instead.

A creative student deals with problems by trying a variety of solutions and inventing new ones if the old ones don’t work; gets into uncomfortable situations due to this silly inventiveness; fails exams that are easy to pass for anyone with some degree of self-neglect.

There are things that nettle me much more than my silly phone, and I spend a lot of time thinking about how to fix them. Simple things, all of them. I think about how to make getting out of the bed in the morning easier. Where to find enthusiasm for my translation studies. What to do to stop feeling low.

These are all simple and private things, which is one of the reasons why I won’t share any of my solutions with you here. Chances are they wouldn’t fit your problems/personality/temper anyway. The other reason, hinted at above, is that they’re not very good solutions.

So this post won’t be about sharing my awesome experience with self-fixing. It will be about one fundamental principle of fixing anything, which I finally formulated for myself some time ago after much self-reflection and people-watching.

There are two ways of fixing a thing that makes you dissatisfied, both generally recognized as valid paths to improvement. One is to try and actually fix that thing. It requires a hell of a lot of thinking. Before you do any fixing, you need to identify what it is that makes you so unhappy. Is it the weather? Come on, it’s never really just the weather. Is it a shortage of positive experiences? If so, why is that the case? Is it too much work? Then think about why you are doing this to yourself. Is it someone who promised to call but didn’t? Just coming to an answer to the “What is wrong?” question is extremely hard work in itself.

Then, there’s the fixing part, which may turn out even more difficult. Try to find a non-stupid, effective and long-lasting solution to your dissatisfaction that doesn’t make anyone else unhappy in the process. Ha! Shit’s difficult, there’s no denying. So you find a stupid one, one that doesn’t really work in spite of all your effort, one that works only for a while, or one that hurts somebody. I guess that’s the necessary risk to be taken when you decide to fix something by yourself: your solutions are shit.

The other way to fix things is to replace them with new ones. It’s quick. It’s in the ads. You can do it if you don’t know any better. Sounds perfect, huh? The drive to acquire new stuff, aggressively encouraged by everyone who has something to sell… The “dump him” advice that a friend gives you off the top of her head… The objects, careers, hobbies, courses, people and fucking aquarium fish [*] that you throw out of your life to quickly replace them with new ones, hanging on the promise of their novelty…

I’m not saying it’s all bad, or that it doesn’t ever work. I suppose replacement might be the best of possible ideas in some cases. But I’m suspicious of this idea. I’m afraid of rushing to something new to replace the old too quickly. I feel bad about the unused resources we all have at our disposal to try and really fix the things that make us unsatisfied.

So the principle I’m holding on to is to avoid replacing, and focus on the possibilities that are there to fix things. To fix ourselves, too.

And believe me, it’s not so difficult to hold on to that principle. For me, the things I most often feel the need to fix, the ones I’m most often dissatisfied with, are my lousy mood and lack of concentration. So there’s not much I can do other than trying to fix myself. What can I do, buy a new brain? Come off it man, that’s illegal and wouldn’t work anyway. Plus, there’s the pride factor that I mentioned earlier. So be warned, neo-Nazis, I’m trespassing your domain. Feeling more and more pride every day in my shitty fixing skills.

And a final word to the readers: sorry if I let down your expectations of something more conclusive to come at the end. Hope I gave you food for thought, though.

Have a good day,

[*] My father threw my brother’s aquarium fish into the toilet when they were ill. It happened some ten years ago but I still can’t forget it.

Protection. A Story

When I was a kid, I liked to watch as my father welded pieces of metal together. He’d wear that big dull grey mask that always seemed dusty and, when I tried to lift it, felt as heavy as the world. That was his protection. It saved him from going blind due to the overly bright light.
It worked – he never did go blind from welding. But as time passed, and my young eyes, accustomed to being wide open when I watched him at work, gained more focus, I began to notice a different blindness in his movements, opinions, and habits.
He’d go tired for days. I could see it in his movements: the fatigue of the muscles; of the mind, perhaps; the back pain that stooped him more and more every day. When he watched the news, he did it without the agitation he once showed at the mention of any one topic that stirred opinions. His own opinions froze. He stopped paying attention to what he ate. Lard sandwiches day in, day out – he didn’t care what it was doing to his heart.
I think he was blind to it. His heart, I mean. It sounds foolish but what else could make a man shut himself off from friends and family and go on like he was the only person in his own world? Not talking for days, not sharing any of his pain, physical or otherwise? It must have been blindness. A wise woman once told me people go blind due to bad experiences because they don’t want to look back at them.
It’s fall, and I’m remembering him again: his muffled voice when he explained to me about welding from under the mask, the prolonged periods he had of being alone with books, which later turned into days, weeks, months of not talking at all, the shaky gait and eyes that were forever avoiding us.
I wish I had that welding mask of his but I couldn’t find it even though I’ve tried to every November when I come to see our old home after visiting his grave. When fall comes in, I start to feel unsure. I spend evenings thinking of how, as a kid, I saw a man go blind and become a different person. I’m worried this could happen to me; to my future, which then would get as if erased; to my family, who’d probably be scared.
I need some sort of protection against it. At those times, I have this silly idea that the mask would help.
But it’s just a mask that a man mislaid somewhere and died. I must come up with something better.

How to Stop Playing Yourself Down

A friend and fellow blogger inspired me to write about the ways to free oneself from that stupid compulsion that overpowers so many of us: the compulsion to play oneself down.

HERE, you can read the resounding piece (PL) she posted on her blog about how we make less of ourselves in the eyes of other people, and consequently push those people away from us, convince ourselves ever more strongly that we are hopeless, and often end up in shitty situations (but accept it).

I’ve noticed that tendency in too many people, and I have trouble with it myself. So, in response to Anna’s call for tips on how to get rid of this crappy thinking habit (or is it more than a thinking habit?… might be, but let’s start with changing our habits rather than our whole selves), I’m sharing my ideas:

I. Listen to the good things people say about you whenever they do and, even though a nasty little voice will be telling you to disagree, protest, and play yourself down some more – suspend your disbelief for once. Believe them. After all, why would they bother to lie to you?

II. Try paying slightly less attention to what others might think about you, and slightly more attention to what you do in your life. Learn, read, travel, talk to people, do things that interest you – there are plenty options that are better than sitting and analyzing other people’s supposed opinions of you.

III. Lastly, show some consideration for those who listen to you as you keep telling them how boring, incompetent, unattractive, etc. you are. This can be tiring, even overwhelming, especially for people who see you not as a pile of shit, but as… just a person like any other, with good and bad qualities alike (i.e. for most people).

My ideas stem mostly from watching other people’s struggles. I’m putting them into practice every day, and although I still cannot say I’m free from the compulsion to always think the worst about myself, I feel less troubled, I have gained more confidence, and I know that I’m doing something good for myself.

So why don’t you do the same?

Cockroaches Don’t Stand a Chance // Word Issues #5

This is my end-of-year rant about security plus a little lesson of Polish.

There is a beautiful Polish expression used to refer to the place one lives in: “u siebie”. It’s difficult to translate it into English literally because, unlike the English “at one’s (place)”, it uses a form of the reflexive rather than the possessive pronoun. In this way, on the lexical level, it doesn’t point to a place but to a person — its owner and/or inhabitant. “At oneself” could be the closest lexical equivalent… if it wasn’t so unintelligible.

Anyhow, it’s one of the expressions in the Polish language I thoroughly love. Because even if it stands only for the simple concept of “place of habitation”, to me it carries a load of very important meaning. What does it mean to be at your own place or, forgive the crudity of the translation, “at oneself”?

For the period of my life which I spent living in my parents’ house and with a depressive mindset dominated by insecurity, I didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t feel like the house was my own place and in fact, no place was “home enough” for my troubled mind. Then, as I began to realize the trouble, I slowly convinced myself that I should take better care of myself. In the meantime, I made some awesome friends, moved out to Krakow, began therapy, and all along was learning how to simply be good to myself so that I don’t fall in any trap my own mind may have in store for me.

Photo by Toby Hudson (Wikimedia Commons)

Because for many reasons, my mind isn’t a great place to be. But as I was learning to take care of myself, I recently realized that every physical place I have lived in for some time — my first Krakow kitchen/room, which I hated because it had no doors and no privacy; my second, cosy room in what is known as one of the more dangerous districts of Krakow; and my current place of living, an ugly flat that I’m sharing with two guys and an army of cockroaches — is my place, a place where I can “be at myself” (być u siebie), where I can “go back to myself” (wrócić do siebie) every evening, and where I can also “invite someone to myself” (zaprosić kogoś do siebie).

Once again, forgive me the crudity of it, but you get the concept, don’t you? It’s not really about the place you live in. It’s about the feeling of security you have found in yourself. Not in the fact of being in the place you made your first steps in, and where your mom is to bake your favourite cake to cheer you up, or anything. Not in the fact of living on your own, and having personally bought all the items that are in your flat, either. Not even in the fact of liking the place: as I moved into my current place of living, I was repulsed by it. I remember telling SO, who helped me move my stuff there, that it’s so ugly I was never going to like it.

But now, I like it regardless of the cockroaches and all — because I live there, and if I live there, it must be a nice place. C’mon, with all the reading, thinking, crying, talking, and laughing I’ve done there? With everything good I’ve done there to maintain that feeling of security, even if I lose it sometimes? Cockroaches don’t stand a chance of making me dislike it.

I wish for all of you to feel secure in yourselves in the coming year and on, so that we all have a secure “place” to go back to, wherever that might be.