There are tons of websites with lists of coping skills people can use when they’re in distress. I’ve done DBT, which is all about learning ways to cope with various stressors. These are good tools to have at your disposal.
But sometimes, all the coping skills in the world just don’t work.
I know it’s something close to sacrilege to say that, and I don’t know if it’s true for everyone–but it’s certainly true for me.
I take good care of myself. I eat healthy, I get enough sleep, and sometimes I even put my hair up. I have supportive people in my life who I can talk to about what’s going on with me. I have hobbies I enjoy, I find things to laugh about.
But sometimes those coping skills and that self-care don’t make me feel better. They do keep me from self-destructing, which used to be my go-to coping mechanism. But they don’t make me feel less depressed or anxious or triggered. Sometimes, all I can do is sit with it. I used to hate when people would tell me I had to learn to sit with it. I was all about the distractions and quick exits, whether that meant dissociating, running away, hurting myself, or going into denial. I thought people who told me I had to sit with it were full of crap and had no idea how painful it was for me. I thought they were trivializing my experience, and that pissed me off. I wanted those people to give me an easy, quick answer that would solve all my problems and make me feel better instantly.
Slowly, I’m learning that it’s not a brush-off when someone reminds me to sit with it. To my mind, sitting with whatever horrible memories or feelings I’m experiencing requires more of my courage and strength than distracting myself does. For people who dissociate, mental escapism is second-nature. I often dissociate without even realizing I’m doing it, without meaning to. I’ve always been good at non-dissociative escapism, too; I was always the geeky kid with her nose in a book, and I always excelled at physical escapism and hiding.
To sit with something–to really present and feel the feelings–is much scarier and much more difficult for me. I want to push it all away. But I’m learning that only by feeling what I’ve hidden from myself my entire life can I begin to move past those horrible feelings. Dissociation keeps me trapped in the abuse and the feelings I had about it. It wasn’t safe for me to feel those things then, but now I have to let myself feel them so I can get my life back. I have to fall apart over and over to put the pieces back together, and it hurts like hell while I’m doing it. But I believe it’s worth it.