MY Most Basic Coping Skill

Robin Cunningham Health Guide

    Most of you who regularly read my blogs are aware that I've been dealing with schizophrenia, day in and day out, for over 50 years. Very few of you know that I also struggle daily with eight other chronic illnesses. Some of these latter conditions are life threatening. Others subject me to continuous, high levels of pain.


    When speaking about my experience with schizophrenia in public, the discussion often turns to coping mechanisms. The coping skills I was taught during the first ten years of my illness, while highly effective, are often different in many ways than those that are typically taught today.

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    All my coping skills involve the use of cognitive behavior therapy, which I have internalized. By this I mean that I employ these skills automatically. Rarely do I any longer find it necessary to consciously focus on the use of one or more of these skills, even when in situations involving high levels of stress.


    In my discussions with others, I'm often asked if the coping skills I routinely employ in dealing with schizophrenia have been helpful in living with any of the other serious illnesses that are a part of my daily life. The answer is YES, but in ways that might not occur to most people. Also, over the long haul, these coping skills have evolved into guidelines for living that have greatly improved my quality of life and even contributed to my success in business.


    Each of my coping skills is designed, in one way or another, to reduce stress. Only in extraordinary circumstances do these skills involve fleeing from the source of stress. They all call for me to stand my ground, face stress head on, and overcome it. The use of this approach is not always comfortable, but it has been beneficial, especially over the long term.


    Being taken to the hospital in an ambulance and entering through the emergency room, often in the dead of night, would be considered stressful by most people. Being immediately ushered in for treatment ahead of all the other patients in the waiting room is also stress inducing. This is a form of acute stress, i.e., it is episodic and can create extraordinarily high and intense peaks of stress. Over the last forty years this scenario has happened to me on average about once or twice a year.


    The constant levels and varieties of pain that I experience represent a different source and kind of stress. The unrelenting pain becomes very much like carrying a heavily loaded backpack. I wake up in the morning to find this load already strapped to my back and it stays with me, no matter what else may happen, until I finally nod off to sleep at night.


    One of the coping mechanisms I use on continuing basis is simply the knowledge that things could be worse, a lot worse. I could continue to suffer from all these sources of stress and pain, and also be locked up on the back ward of a state mental hospital. When I first became ill in 1956, this had not only been a real possibility, but highly likely as well. If this had happened to me then, I believe I would have eventually become one the homeless living on the street and would I have long since perished.


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    So, from my perspective the glass is always at least half full and on occasion even topped off. I tell people in my public appearances that every day I wake up in the morning and look around the room to discover that I am NOT on the back ward of psychiatric hospital is a good day for me; everything after that is gravy. Some may dismiss this as simplistic or trivial, but with all I've had to deal with over my life, it has been a life saver.


    In the near future, as a part of the series of blogs I have been writing entitled CHOICES, I will set out in greater detail some of the more specific coping mechanisms I have employed over the years and will provide practical ways of implementing these.

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    Please remember, this writing reflects my own experience and opinions. If you, or a loved one, are experiencing the symptoms of schizophrenia, or any other mental illness, you should immediately seek professional assistance.



Published On: December 30, 2007