Wednesday, January 16, 2008

coping mechanisms

Alright, fess up. Everybody's got them. Some people eat when they get upset. Some people drink when they get upset. Some people do drugs when they get upset. Self-medication, while not a formal category of coping mechanism in the Freudian sense, acts as a defacto one in everyday life. And one we tend to enjoy more than, say, denial.

I've been thinking about sanity a lot over the last few days. I am aware that I am now and have always been qualified for some serious meds. I'm not interested. I've got this far (and it's further than one might think) on will power, an evil sense of humor and sheer stubbornness. And there are times when I'm even proud of it. I am invaluably grateful to my parents for insisting, all the way through my childhood and on into my adulthood (as of two weeks ago with the thyroid comment in the sHuckabee post), that I was, in fact, insane and would never go anywhere or do anything. We had family therapy a while back and they had no problem telling the therapist, me and anyone who wandered past. In a genteel way for strangers and bluntly to the therapist and I. They are sure something's wrong with me, since I'm all liberal and stuff.

Living them down has been difficult, but deeply satisfying, even though being a liberal is, to their mind, at least marginal proof I'm not all there.

I'll take a victory where I can find it.

In any case, coping with stress situations tends, at least with me, to fall into small, medium and large categories. I find that no matter the size of the stressor, I do best to get on it promptly in terms of stress management, or it gets worse (sometimes by creating an aggregate; this and this and this, as opposed to just one thing.) I class them that way based on what effect they have on me, not based on what kind of stressors they're supposed to be, though I pay attention to what they're supposed to do, because I tend to suppress my feelings until I feel calm enough to deal with them (thanks to a very stressful life, I tend to try to wait to sort things out until the 'danger' has passed, whether that's the stressful situation or the violence of the emotion I'm experiencing.)

The small category is made up of things like being late to class (which I hate doing, but it happens), being unable to find my keys; you know, little naggy, persistent things. Sometimes, I don't even need to do anything about it but sigh. When those kinds of things need addressing, I usually have a cup of coffee, listen to a mood-appropriate song, give a quick dance around the house, think about sex (aka go to my happy place) or slay something on a video game.

The medium category is tricky. It's stuff that's not quite nasty enough to qualify for a full-on 'get me outta here', but not that far off. Things like a bad workshop critique, feeling fat or unattractive, realizing I forgot homework at home (which really bothers me) or one of those weirdness index moments. Those get much worse quickly if they aren't discharged. For those, I do physical things. But very, very carefully. I have a bit of a sadistic and masochistic streak, so if I chose to workout, say, in response to being aggravated, if I am not careful, I will work out until I rip my calf muscles or until I pull something. Sometimes I won't feel it until an hour or more after I finish working out. I try, if I am nearing the large(r) category of frustration, to be very, very careful not to drink, hang out in the kitchen, top anyone or workout more than a preset amount of time.

The large category doesn't happen all that often, but it requires me to be very, very careful. I think I am not alone in being able to notice my reactions are not what they should be and being super cautious. If I know I'm in that category, I will not drink, smoke, eat more than a small, preset portion, work out and I will refuse to talk (because I got a mean mouth) to people more than I have to. But mostly, I refuse to engage in anything that has the potential for self-abuse or the abuse of others. There are times when this has made me somewhat less than social (to put it lightly), but I know what kinds of things I am capable of, and there's no excuse for taking it out on someone who has not enthusiastically consented to whatever I'm doing (but it's bad form and being a bad person to let my devastation out on someone, even if they consent.) A few times in my life (and only a few is good, considering my history), I've asked someone to keep an eye on me, but I can usually police me, which I prefer.

I suppose this has to do with sanity because coping strategies are how we maintain sanity (by which I mean the social strictures necessary for everyone to get along, to some degree.) If anyone feels like fessing up, how do you handle things?

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