Coping Skills - #10 - Balance and Courage
Maintaining a balance in our lives is thought by most to be a critical coping skill, myself included. There are many derivatives of this important basic skill, such as sticking to a daily routine, going to a movie with friends every third Tuesday of the month, participation in a day program, going to a support group on a regular basis, and so forth. The relative value of any of these variations depends on the consumer's past, present, and expected future circumstances. The objective is to create a stable equilibrium, both internally and externally, that will make recovery possible. But what is a "stable equilibrium?"
A "stable equilibrium" is analogous to marble resting in the bottom of a mixing bowl. If the mixing bowl is disturbed, the marble may roll around within the bowl, but once the disturbance is over, the marble will return to rest on the bottom of the bowl and all will be well again. Some think of this as being in a state of recovery, and although this may be a valid definition of recovery, I've never been completely satisfied with it. [On the other hand, an "unstable equilibrium" is like balancing the marble on the end of your finger. If you are disturbed, the marble is unlikely to remain in place and cannot be expected to automatically return to its perch on the end of your finger once the disturbance is over.]
The nine coping skills we have talked about so far are by in large "reactive," or defensive in nature, i.e. these describe how we can best respond when faced with disruptive events that we believe are not of our own making. The use of the term "coping skills" with regard to these seems quite natural. After all, these are designed to help us "cope" with untoward events by reducing the associated stress.
There are, however, proactive coping skills, i.e. coping skills whereby we deliberately generate the "disturbance" with the expectation of accomplishing something positive in our lives, with the intent of shaking things up and making our lives better. Many therapists do not refer to these as "proactive coping skills." Instead, they tend to label them as "objectives" or "goals." In my personal experience, the use of terms like objectives and goals can be misleading.
These terms underestimate what is required of consumers to develop and execute such coping skills and trivialize the impact that these can have on a consumer's life. The terms also imply that there is some definitive end to the consumers struggles. In addition, having a therapist suggest objectives and goals for an adult in recovery can be stigmatizing. [It should come as a surprise to no one that some consumers find the whole process of goal setting with their therapists a bit of a joke.] To paraphrase an old cliché - "It's the journey not the destination that counts." It is what we learn about ourselves and how to best conduct our lives within our society that represents the real value of proactive coping skills. These coping skills can, and should, be beneficial for the remainder of a consumer's life.
Once a consumer finally finds his or her self in recovery, it takes real courage to deliberately precipitate a "disturbance" in order to develop and execute a proactive coping skill, even if this has the promise of improving our live thereafter. Once in recovery, many of us just want to enjoy the moment, to celebrate victory, and to rest, even if just for a little while. This is possible, of course, but not for very long.
My uncle, who never graduated from high school, but nonetheless worked his way up the corporate latter from night janitor to president of a large west coast wood products company, had a saying - "In the corporate world you cannot remain in the status quo. Either you're working your way up the ladder or you're spiraling downward. This precisely why we as consumers need to develop and manage proactive coping skills that work for us.
In upcoming blogs I will share with you how I learned (the hard way) valuable proactive coping skills. I think you will be surprised by what I present.
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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 seek professional assistance.