Continuing in the vein of the first three techniques, I'll offer three more that are interconnected: know yourself, be aware of triggers, and plan your day.
First, to be self-aware leads to self-acceptance (and I'll devote my next blog entry to that). When you know what makes you tick (or tock), you can be aware of the triggers that set you off. I dislike noisy crowds, and people talking loud or talking trash on the train.
There are ways you can deal with triggers: avoid them if you'd have a breakdown or setback if you stayed in that environment, or if you can't, work around them. On the train, I simply have to read a magazine. I've also been able to re-frame my perceptions, in keeping with the three techniques in my first blog of this series. I "examined the reality": teenagers had the prerogative to talk trash and use offensive language, even though I didn't think it would get them anywhere in life and was a way of internalizing hate. They saw it as empowering, to co-opt language. After years of getting upset, I slowly realized it was a person's right to talk the way he or she wanted, even if I didn't understand it and never would. I told myself: it's not your problem, let it be. And so on a noisy train, I bury my head in a decorating magazine, visualizing in my head the rooms of my next apartment. Or I only pretend to be reading, and plan the day's or evening's events.
Susan Jeffers, PhD, wrote Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, a book I will possibly review at the end of April. She tells us to do the thing we fear, over and over, until we're at ease. Her revolutionary idea is that the fear never goes away, but thousands of people succeed in things like public speaking, asking for a raise at work, or doing anything that terrifies them. Now, if you have panic attacks or clinical anxiety, that's another story; it's not simply a case of "chin up, do what you fear"- you may need treatment for your anxiety. Yet for most of us, her words ring true. I still have a fear of meetings, yet later today I will arrive at one "just in time," take a seat, and talk to the person next to me.
As I've said, once you know yourself and the triggers that set you off, you can decide if staying in that environment is going to cause you to melt down or get sick. Set a time limit, if you really must go somewhere you can't get out of. If the walls are closing in and you feel you can't breathe, two or three times a year you can bow out, saying you have a migraine. The truth: I've had a migraine that disabled me, so much that a co-worker had to drive me home at noon. As soon as Berry dropped me off, I went into the bathroom and vomited. I spent the day and all of the night in bed, lying under the covers, sensitive to light and sound. If you've had one of these headaches, you understand. If not, know that they're the occasional perfect excuse for not doing something.
In keeping with the Greeks' philosophy to "know yourself," I feel you don't have to do things you don't like. A friend took a rain check once when I invited her to an African percussion ensemble, because she didn't like loud drums. A lot of what I'm saying is applicable to everyone, not just those of us with schizophrenia, and I feel compelled in this blog to write about real-life techniques as well.
The last coping skill, plan your day, is actually the foundation. To impose structure is a way to contain yourself and not let the day or your thoughts run wild. It gives us a sense of purpose. I like to use the largest kind of ruled index cards to write down, at night, my to-do list for the next day. Not to have a plan, I could set myself up to lie in bed with the alarm clock on "snooze." Hey, sometimes a day of doing absolutely nothing is a way to rest and recharge your batteries. Yet making a habit of planning your day allows you to distract from your worries, or the voices, or what's going on in your head. It's the sure-fire way to feel productive and like you've accomplished something, even if it's just to do something like walk to the market for groceries, and then come home.
It wasn't until recently that I understood how a lot of us could withdraw from other people, faced with the suggestion that they aren't kind to us. I dine at a restaurant once a month with the people I meet at a poetry reading. Though it's awkward for me (I read from my memoir at the open mic), I've decided to continue dining out with them after the event, if not always but often. The truth is, I get praise for my performances at the open mic. I refuse to worry, "Is it stigma or isn't it?"
This refers back to self-awareness: I understand that I don't have the gift of gab at every moment. At the restaurant, I listen more than I talk. That is the key to recovery: self-acceptance, and I'll talk about that in the next blog entry. For now, I hope that some or all of what I've talked about here resonates with you. I'd love to hear from you about your own coping skills and what you find to be of benefit in your recovery.
Published On: April 15, 2008