Snow. Have you been enjoying it or been annoyed by it? I love watching the blizzard rage outside whilst I wear my cosiest clothes and drink hot chocolate. I also love venturing outside picking out the patches of virgin powder to stamp through and indulging in the way it crunches and creaks beneath my feet. It’s the most oddly satisfying feeling.
I had grand plans for some pictures of my gorgeous girl in the gorgeous snow, but she had other ideas, screwing up her face like I’d snuck her a lemon to suck. It’s the joy of having a two year old. She’s two going on twenty, with strong feelings about EVERYTHING. She knows what she wants and she knows how to articulate it. Mostly. When she can’t find the words she turns into a weapon of mass destruction. Boom.
I can identify. I’ve had times when mental illness has robbed me of my normal emotional coping skills and has left me with a limited range of coping skills. When I had postpartum psychosis this was embodied as anger. I felt such rage at not being understood. It was like I’d been plugged into the mains and I had this raw current of electricity running through me and I would verbally zap those around me when they said something I felt was stupid or contemptible (basically anything I disagreed with, which was a lot of things). I felt giddy with the righteous power of just saying exactly what I thought and I can still remember the tingling feeling in my fingers and the furious heat rising through my body before I would unleash a tirade.
The depression was different, there wasn’t any energy for anger. Yet I felt the same rawness in response to any vaguely trying circumstances. My coping skills were dismantled in a way that meant crying and hopelessness were my go to responses for most circumstances. I had no resilience. If I was a ball I’d sag when I was meant to bounce.
For me, getting well and staying well is about reclaiming those coping skills, something that’s easier said than done. When I was ill one of my most common refrains was that I just couldn’t cope and that’s why I find it can help to have a list of go to things to try when you feel the first glimmers of illness. For instance, one of the most important skills to ward off illness is self-care, something I have never been adept at but which I now try to practice every day. Instead of pushing through an interminably difficult piece of writing, I stop and take a break to do something I enjoy, then go back to more ready to take on the task. Equally, if I feel the niggle of anxiety I go for a walk or try deep breathing or do a word search or watch some crappy TV. These distraction techniques help me avoid getting caught in a spiral of being anxious about being anxious. Which is so easily done, and so difficult to break out of.
I found that when I was depressed going through the motions of applying coping skills, even when I had zero faith they would work, was helpful. I had to be cajoled by my husband and the improvement was just by a tiny degree and at a great cost in terms of mental effort, but when you’re at the bottom of a blackhole seeing even a tiny chink of light a long way off is better than just sitting in the dark.