How I've Learned To Cope When I'm Not OK

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depressed woman

By Adele Espy

We’ve all been to that dark place in our minds where we don’t know how we are going to keep going.

Some of us go deeper than others; some go where no person should ever have to go alone. Some of us live there. Others just touch the darkness, but don’t get sucked into the empty hole inside our souls.

All of our holes have grown larger as we’ve experienced hardship, grief, loss, and trauma.

Regardless of how dark it gets in your internal landscape, we all know what it feels like to not be okay — to feel like we won’t make it out alive.

The truth is, we won’t. But this is not because of the anxiety tightening our chests and the voice whispering to repeat mantras to keep us alive. It’s because we are all mortal, and eventually we all will pass on.

So what do we do when shattered to pieces? When nothing feels like it’s going well, and we are desperate for a reprieve, a sense of peace, even just a moment to breathe in a warm place, what do we do? What can we do?

I’ll tell you what I do — I write.

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I write it all down. Every thought, every voice, every conflict within myself. If something wonderful comes out of writing, I’ll send it to publish online, but usually my writing is just thoughts on a page. Probably thoughts that would make no sense to anyone but me.

Sometimes I feel like I cannot hold something alone any longer, and I have written it down several times and I just need to tell someone. My providers have been open to me writing emails to them, or using their portal to express when I’m not okay, and need assurance, or validation that something is real.

I reach out to friends when I need someone to talk to. Even if I wind up listening the whole time, I feel better afterwards, like I’m not alone.

Sometimes just sharing my experience helps me move through that moment of panic, despair, or grief.

Sometimes wrapping myself up in a weighted blanket helps. Listening to one song on repeat helps soothe my nervous system, by giving me one familiar, reliable song to listen to.

Reliability is a big theme of mine. My body has not been reliable since 2010 when I first was diagnosed with gastrointestinal issues. I never know when I’ll be well enough to do something and when I’ll be too sick and too tired.

I wish I could predict what my body will do, but I can’t. So instead, I predict the song, the lyrics, and melody that I know will play again and again. I will listen to songs for hours on end, because predictability feels comforting to me.

I also paint when I’m not okay. I put bright colors and black paint on a large canvas and I paint with vigor. If I don’t like what I paint, I just paint right over it.

A melting boy can turn into a blossoming tree, a bird, or an eagle. Mountains enlighten the phases of the moon, and eyes reveal the pain deep within.

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Other things I do to distract myself include (but are not limited to):

  • Playing the fiddle
  • Picking at my cuticles
  • Pulling out my leg hairs (I don’t recommend those last two)
  • Sewing pajama pants and bags
  • Watching The Great British Baking Show (because there is never any drama in it)
  • Cleaning
  • Lying on my bed holding a crystal
  • Burning palo santo or sage and “smudging” myself, my dog, and the condo
  • Sleeping (if I can)
  • Baking cookies for others
  • Stretching
  • Telling myself stories to calm my anxiety
  • Cuddling with my dog
  • Taking photos of my dog
  • Scrolling through social media

Nothing works as well as crying, but sometimes I’ve pushed tears so far back it’s hard to access them. And sometimes crying feels scary because it might never stop once it starts.

But I’ve found that they do eventually stop flowing. And while it’s hard to be alone with your own huge tears, you are the only person who can really comfort you best.

I call this part of mine “Self.” She has the wisdom of a lioness, the ferocity of a bald eagle, the stoicness of a lone wolf, the loyalty of a pitbull, the light of the sun, the power of a goddess, and the stamina of a stallion.

She is me, and she will get me through my darkest times.

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Adele Espy is a writer and contributor to Unwritten who focuses on topics of health and wellness, sexuality, and self-care

This article was originally published at Unwritten. Reprinted with permission from the author.