Coping Mechanisms And How To Change Them

Hi everyone. Here is me, writing this blogpost while a voice in my head keeps insisting that it makes no sense to do that and it isn’t worth it.

Charming, huh.

I attended a workshop recently and the facilitator said something very interesting. She said “I really respect people, who have addictions and vices, like alcoholics. These things are coping mechanisms. And if you want to take them away, you need to put something in their place”. It stuck with me. I, too, have coping mechanisms – behaviours that get activated when I’m not well. I’m very aware that they are not helpful… and I’m not sure what to put in their place.

My coping mechanisms would be broadly classified as Media Intake.I binge-watch youtube (rarely films, it feels like too much of a commitment). I read fanfiction and random articles on politics, social justice, literary things. Advice blogs. Friends’ blogs. Whatever happens to interest me that day. I almost always have 50 windows open in my phone browser.

then

It started as reading, when I was a kid – I literally never put a book down. I was a weekly visitor to the library and got an adult library card as a teen. The librarians knew me, and they’d realised that I ran out of things to read. I would bring stacks of books home and attack them with relish. My brother complained (we shared a room) that I would wake him up on Saturday morning with rustling of the pages.

It’s hard to say at which point “I love reading” became “I read to not deal with life”. My dad certainly noticed it and tried to read what I read, just to monitor the content a little. I was bullied at school and had little in a way of social life, and music school that I attended had a pretty busy schedule. So instead of sneaking around with friends, I would put a book on the piano and try to read and play at the same time, so that my parents would hear me practice. I’d shove a book under the piano when checked on. At that point it was maybe a compulsive behaviour. But even so, to a certain point I did pretty well in school – my reading habit helped with general literacy and understanding and gave me lots of extra information, so it wasn’t all bad.

A lot of the time I read things that would have been broadly classified as “trash”. Okay, that’s snobbish. I am a Lit graduate, after all, but things that I read As Coping Mechanisms were fantasy, sci-fi (anyone read Star Wars before watching it, or just me? and all the published fanfiction?), romance and mystery books. Oh, and adventure books – travel, cowboy-and-noble-Native-Americans genre, three musketeers and anything else that Dumas ever wrote. Books “for girls” and books “for boys”, if it had a plot, I was on it.

Then Internet happened.

Around my A-levels and in the beginning of university I was having a bad time. It was then that my fanfiction addiction has truly blossomed. I discovered fanfic in middle school, age 14, but it was in high school that I switched to reading it in English. As a result, I graduated from the limited puddle of Polish-language Harry Potter fanfic to the limitless ocean of English-language, any-fandom-you-want fanfic that the Internet offered. I was able to mainline fanfic for sixteen hours a day if there was nothing else to do. My family were worried, but there was little they could do at the time. I still went to school, but I spent every other minute inside the computer screen. In the end,  I managed to graduate high school and pass A-levels despite not having studied; to no one’s surprise my highest scores were languages and writing, Polish and English. (I actually scored higher in English than in Polish, although that’s a different story altogether).

My parents finally divorced when I was 20 and at university (and if you think this is a non-sequitur, let’s just say that there were Reasons why I’d not been able to deal with life well), and I went and got myself 3 years of therapy, so I managed to graduate my MA levels and get back to halfway functional. But my media intake coping mechanism remained.

now

Fast forward to today. This weekend. I recently attended a workshop that gave me a lot of Feelings. I have work tonight and tomorrow and a lot of things to do and to plan. And I haven’t been able to do a goddamn thing – not clean my room, or the kitchen (my turn); not cook the week’s lunches, not take my vitamins, go to the swimming pool, do a bit of yoga. Not learn the quiz, which I will lead in 5 hours time. No nothing. I’ve eaten random foods and watched everything by Try Guys, and read a bunch of fanfic.

I realise that there are things that would help me right now. Meditation would help. So would exercise. Even cleaning would give me back a feeling of control and impact over my life. But frankly, I keep having a feeling of despair instead, of failure. I failed. I didn’t do All The Things that need to be done. I have a deadline (a.k.a. quiz and work tomorrow), so however imperfectly, I will be forced to deal with stuff. In general, deadlines help. Social commitments help, unless I am deep enough in the funk that I start avoiding people, which can also be part of the pattern. I don’t want to deal with life, so doing things that I “should” do is a no-go, but doing anything else is also a no-go, because I “should” be doing The Things That I Need To Do.

Even writing this blog is difficult, because I promised myself that I would blog weekly, so this is a “should” activity. But writing this down helps a little. So here is the thing: I am locked up in a room inside of my head, and the way it works is that being stuck seems to be the best option (don’t want to do a “should” activity! should not do a “not-should” activity! best stay and watch another video!). I know about things that help – literally anything that breaks the stalemate in my brain – a conversation, a shower sometimes (other times I’ll go straight back to watching after the shower).

I haven’t had an episode this bad in a while.

The kicker is, this, right here, is the reason why I can’t be a freelancer. This is why I’m not a full-time actor or writer. Because my brain gets me stuck in places. Much as I don’t always like having a Muggle day-job, if things get really bad, it gets me unstuck and also pays regular money.

The thing is that reading and watching videos are things I do to chill. To rest and enjoy myself. So it’s hard to distinguish between having a bit of a rest and sinking into a funk. Not until I’m already deep under. And there is no resolution to this blogpost. I hope that I can run a semi-decent quiz tonight. I hope that I don’t hate myself for wasting all this time. I hope I can clean the kitchen at some point.

I hope I can break free. But that’s a tall order right now. Maybe I could start with a shower.

 

From Borderline Burnout To Something Like Satisfaction

This story begins sometime not now.

I’m not sure when it started or what are its actual ingredients. But the symptoms have persisted through the years. That is, I may be bad at resting. Or maybe: my priorities can be really out of whack. Or maybe: if I can’t summarise it, I can’t tell it fully. But I can tell you the results.

Last two months of 2018 were the hardest ever, workwise (aside from first two months of 2018, but that’s a separate story). I had two shows, two pub quizes per week, an emotionally and physically demanding full-time job with autistic children and my own artistic practice. Rather tellingly, all the work I was doing required being very Out There for other people: whether I’m hosting a pub quiz or working in the school, there is always an audience that I perform for. And I love that; it plays to my strengths. And yet.

Above me in the shows: Behind The Scenes at Studio Mandelbrot (a charming improv sci-fi set in alternative 70s) and Snow Q (a blend of fairy tale, poetry and performance art, in which I was the solo actor). I loved doing both of those!

There are people who routinely work 70-hour weeks. I have the greatest respect for those people and I presume that it takes a unique combination of endurance, determination and balance in creating efficient work routines as well as building in self-care. This is something I understand in abstract, but when it comes to work, I just expect myself to take everything on and excel. To make this more complex, I really do enjoy a demanding, fast-paced environment: I cook lunches and organise myself ruthlessly and – thrive. But in the last months of 2018 things got out of control: my motivation was flickering, I was angry, sad and got sick all the time. I kept trying to rest; I reserved Wednesday evenings for soothing baths; I refused social invitations, because between quizes and rehearsals I was out way too much – but I was also missing my friends and had no time to see them. All of these attempts were too little, too late. I was hoping that I’d rest during Christmas, but despite a wonderful holiday I came back to work with a sense of doom and unhappiness.

And so I had to deal with it.

First week back to school I asked for risk assessment for my injury – something I postponed, because the injury didn’t seem very serious and me being put on risk assessment would put pressure on the rest of my team. I followed this by three days of sickness absence and a decision to go from full-time to four days a week. I quit one of my two pub quizes. I quit the improv team I was heavily involved in. I started quitting things left and right, and saying “no” to more things cropping up. I quit media (as you know if you read my previous posts), I quit reading about politics especially, I quit trying to make all of my art projects at the same time. I quit, I quit, I quit. And then I quit some more.

There is more to it, of course. I have injuries that needs physiotherapy and general dealing with. I’m in my thirties now, which seems like a good time to get some spine muscles and improve my posture: I will likely keep that spine for next 30-50 years, so it’d be nice to maintain a decent user experience. My mental health could also use a tune-up – another thing that I’ve been postponing, but inevitably will need more if I don’t look at it sooner rather than later. All these things require time and effort and I had to make space for them.

And there is British citizenship – something I keep being scared about and need to do research on. Miraculously, my tax return actually affords me the money to pursue it. I hope that’s a sign of some sort.

So what now? Last week was my first week on a 4 day contract. On Friday I slept in, did some admin and went on a date to a museum and to see a show. Saturday was taxes, Sunday – brunch with friends and quiz. I try not to worry about citizenship, if only because it won’t help. I think twice before accepting any invitations, but also have more energy to be social as well as some actual time to enjoy London. Chances are I’ll be earning less: on average this move cost me some serious money that I hope my freelance work will absorb a little. But overall, I am happy: my personal life is thriving, I have plans to finish a play this year and maybe learn how to apply to Arts Council. I found some small satisfaction in things being as they are. I keep reminding myself to enjoy it.

A mostly vegan brunch: large frying pan with chickpeas, a smaller one with tofu, also olives, hummus, tomatoes, guacamole, goat cheese (non-vegan), fruit, tea and several mugs. All set on a table with some feet/legs visible around.
May 2019 include more brunches with nice people!

#TimeToTalk – #BreakTheSilence on mental health


It’s Thursday morning and anxiety is being a bit of a bitch. I slept badly – too cold, rough dreams – and struggle to make myself do things. I talk myself through it – through shower, nice breakfast, a bit of calming exercise – but I still fail at time management. I’m late. A bit mad with myself. Make that very mad. I don’t know what to do. 

I’m late to a very nice workshop that I attended last week too. It’s made for and by refugees and free (donations for food) and it makes me feel conflicted. Those familiar with my situation know that I’m not earning much and haven’t been for a while. It might change soon (fingers crossed), but doing anything nice that isn’t a gig (or otherwise directly career-related) makes me feel guilty. Nevermind that if I want to help refugees, here is the thing I can do – donate time, attention, workshop-leading skills and some English language conversation. So on top of all these feelings now I have being late, which is a particular emotional bruise – I’d say trigger, but who knows what could crawl out of the depths of the Internet to accuse me of being a snowflake? – and so, I struggle. To go or not to go.

After provoking an argument with one of my nearest and dearest (argument that didn’t need to happen, only I was so mad) I sit down with myself and hash out a solution. I’ll go to the very end of the event. Then I’ll have shown up but I’ll sidestep being late AND still
leave the house. The mental labirynth required here is still better than curling up with my phone, reading about politics for the rest of the day. I curled up for about an hour an a half, but it’s still a win.

This blog, Good Enough Diary, is a bit of an homage to writer’s block – after all, suffering writer needing something to kickstart
creativity is a figure we’re all familiar with. It’s harder to admit that I likely suffer from some species of anxiety mixed with previously diagnosed moodiness and depression. When I’m low, going out of the house is hard – but being around people tends to make me feel better. Conversation, speaking out, expressing – those things make me feel better. And yet it’s so hard to say this, what I’m saying now. It is so very hard. Yes, I have suffered from depression, but I don’t like even saying that. So many people have worse problems, worse bouts. I’m not self-harming, my self-neglect tendencies are presently manageable (mostly I tend to go the other way, making healthy food and such) and people with “real” problems would laugh me out of the door.

Except what is real? And why do I invalidate my own reality?

I’m currently on a no sugar diet (health-related), but if I’m not – an argument with my partner could be a box of cookies, or binge watching a show. I enjoy both of those things, but they can be abused as well. Externalising emotion, guilt, blame – and on top I’d rather say that I’m fine. English culture is not helping here – does anyone ever expect an honest answer to a “How are you?”. I don’t like to complain and when I’m sad, being candid feels like laying my problems at someone’s feet.

There, I’ve said it. Not all. People who know me as a chatterbox could likely be shocked by the presence of hidden depths. I talk a lot, but there are things held back, too. Things I’m scared to talk about, or reluctant. Ashamed. Like when I’m late or cancel, caught up in my brain, I often make a story up because I can’t bear to admit I’m feeling too low to struggle through the door. Or how I numb feeling by reading too much. Or eating, or watching. You throw stuff at feelings you don’t know how to deal with. I’m not alone in this strategy but it feels like I am, sometimes.

I’m reading a number of wonderful books (Brene Brown is a particular favourite) that make me realise that my problems are legitimate and I’m adding to them by my silence. By self-shaming. Well, I’m talking now. My problems are real, but their weight wouldn’t be so heavy if I wasn’t ashamed, if I didn’t feel alone, if I wasn’t scared that they make me unlovable. And I am a person with a significant support network. So if you’re reading this, please know that I love you and am grateful for you, just my brain was not socialised to treat me well.

We’re retraining, brain and I.

So now it’s time to apologise for the missed workshop. And later a friend will WhatsApp from Italy – she’s somebody with whom I can talk about all this. And it’s important, people – because you need to hear the right message again and again if it’s to stay in your brain, especially if your default setting is the opposite. If you’re set up for shame, guilt, invalidating your own emotion – if you can’t deal with sadness or anger or disappointment other than burying it under sugar or alcohol or Facebook – there can never be too many times to hear that you’re alright, you’re valued, you’re allowed to speak out.

Beautiful people, love yourselves. Learn to, slowly. Patiently. Time to talk. Time to talk. Time to talk.

Halfway To Thirty (Also Brexit, Fuck)

6 months left until I hit the big 30! Feeling lost, confused, helpless, sad, confused… Granted, some of it might be due to Brexit. And no sugar diet (hello, withdrawal).

The big leading Thing of Things that seems to be happening in my life: in my race to Become A Cool Person (which is not always successful, let’s face it) I seem to have lost the person that I actually am. Cue rude awakening. See confusion. Example: I want to be the person who gets up early (I do function better in the mornings), but right this minute I am not that person. Responding in my favorite way (with guilt and bitter self-recrimination) really does not yield the desired effects. Changing the response incoming. Frankly, I’m not sure who I am, who I think I should be, who I’m becoming, who I want to become. There are things going right – I have to work on the appreciation of The Good Things – but mostly I’m looking around, wide-eyed, going: is this me?

Also, this just in: I might be an introvert. Please stop laughing. Is there a late onset? I love people; I tend to be at my best in (good) company, enjoy being centre of attention, etc etc. But people exhaust me, too. Maybe just now I have a lower tolerance – crowds definitely a no-no. Also, I’ve not been leaving the house due to freelance/mugging and subsequent fear of dark & outdoors/post-Brexit low mood.

On the bright side, there is writing. Writing is the best. If I rouse myself from reading-induced stupor (favorite escapism, now that eating a pack of cookies is not an option) and start writing, I know I’m gonna be okay. Writing, verbalizing – they keep me sane. That’s why I talk so much. Well, I talk for many reasons. I hide in plain sight sometimes – if I speak of it all, no one suspects there’s anything deeper. But writing… is the easiest, most accessible way of coping. So if I have enough energy to write a blog post, an article, recently (!) a fanfic, I know I’ll be okay eventually.

Ongoing creative projects: #GirlfagThePlay (egads, it’s slow-going! I’ll get there), Safe, the one-woman show (might rename it Shame, or something related). Newest idea: a stand-up show called A Fucking European. Oh, and the Polish-language show, No Such Place As London. Now just need enough focus to do these. 🙂

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