We all know that life can be tough. For many of us, we’ve had to fight through some dark times in our lives, and having put so much effort into surviving, we find that in certain areas we are stronger – stronger than before certainly, and perhaps also stronger than had we not gone through what we went through.
However, I don’t agree with the phrase, “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. It’s got a positive sentiment behind it, but the fact of the matter is that the things in life that can crush us, challenge us and hurt us the most don’t in and of themselves make us stronger: it’s what we do with those things, how we respond, whether we sink or swim, and that’s where the training comes in.
What’s your problem?
I don’t use that sub-heading flippantly. It’s simply the case that we all have problems to differing degrees. However, for some of us, we have long-standing things that on a regular basis we have to work hard to first survive, then try to stay on top of, and ultimately to overcome so that we can move from surviving to thriving and helping other people along the way.
The thing is, as you may well know from your own experiences in life, that these processes are rarely linear. We have peaks and troughs, ups and downs, awful days and pretty good days. We might have days when we begin to forget that we have such problems, and others when there is no way humanly possible for us not to remember because those days are tough, so tough we may feel we can’t even go on in life.
So what is your problem? Is it chronic illness or chronic pain? Mental, emotional and psychological suffering? Poor health? Anxiety, fear, depression? The burden of being a carer? PTSD, panic attacks, social anxiety? An eating disorder, poor body image, OCD? Grief, abuse, relationship breakdowns, loneliness, isolation? Addiction? Confusion?……sadly, in this fallen world, the list goes on….
Whatever it is, my heart goes out to you, and I’d like to encourage you firstly that you’re not alone, and secondly that you are pretty amazing and have made it so far already. If you’ve made it this far with any of the above, or anything else you can think of that you would fill in the gaps with, then you probably have some idea of what tools and techniques you can use to help you on a day to day basis.
What’s your solution?
At the deepest level, I believe the root of our problems needs a solution that goes beyond anything we or others can do to help us. I believe we need God. However, on a practical and day to day level there are things we can do to help ourselves and other people even if that level of help is just to get by, to cope, to move forwards, to begin to get better, to be better than before.
We need to use the good days as well as the bad to take time to really figure out the healthy things that help us through. For some people, I realise you are all but completely dependent on other people for help and support, and I can’t imagine how tough that may be, but I hope and pray that the people caring for you are kind and supportive in every way.
For those of us who can for the most part do things for ourselves, even if we need help with that, then we need to be resolute in figuring out what is beneficial and what we need to maintain to help us in our recovery, in getting stronger, in our lives.
What could some of these things be?
Perhaps for example: emergency contact numbers, supportive friends and family, a daily routine, remembering to take your medication, a healthy meal plan and exercise routine, hobbies, mental health and self care resources and so forth.
Do I need to train on the good days?
Basically, yes. You do and so do I. By ‘training’ I don’t mean going to the gym or physically working out. What I do mean is that we need to persist in the healthy habits that help us move out of crisis, out of survival and into maintaining a more balanced day to day existence. Because no doubt, or at least in my experience it has very much been the case, those more difficult days can sometimes come ‘out of the blue’ and when we are not prepared, we might have an emotional response to coping with those difficulties that can be detrimental for us. If we stay in training, if we keep up our healthy habits, routines and practices, then on those difficult days, we are more likely to turn to those for help, we have a ‘fall back’, something that has become intuitive and habitual that can help to guard us against those less helpful, or even very damaging coping mechanisms.
So for example, my ‘healthy’ coping mechanisms are staying in a routine, breathing exercises, time in nature, keeping in contact with family and friends, taking medicine, training my mind with brain training exercises, meditating on Scripture, prayer, walks in the fresh air, creativity, some physical exercise and eating well. They can also include writing down my thoughts, blogging, photography, things to get my mind off my pain and my struggles and to grow stronger in a positive focus. I also have certain songs that are encouraging as music can have a really powerful effect and can make a real positive difference when we allow the right things into our minds. I might also turn to other forms of writing, I might plan my day, work to keep my home and environment about me tidy and calming, and read and think about affirmations that I have already prepared.
On tough days, all of our helpful coping mechanisms can ‘go out the window’. However, we are more likely to be able to reach out and grasp for at least one helpful coping technique if we ‘stay in training’ on the good days as well as the bad. I can see how far I have come, or at least begin to be able to see, in thinking about what I have listed as my healthy coping techniques. A few years ago they would most likely have been reaching out for professional help via crisis helplines, support workers, and key family and friends who knew about my struggles. Now, a few years on and I don’t even think of calling those helplines, I don’t need to, and part of that is the resilience and strength that comes from daily training and forming new and healthy habits and means of coping.
What about you? Reflecting back on your own journey, can you think of ways that you have grown and changed that might encourage you as you move forward?
Why do I need to work at it, even on the good days?
Why? Because when we struggle, ‘relapse’ or get into difficulty, we usually have emotional and psychological reactions, and sometimes these can be quite intense. We seek immediate ‘fixes’ or ways to numb the pain, block it out, cope with it, or to feel better some how. If we aren’t training regularly then we are more likely to fall into (or fall back into) unhealthy ‘fixes’.
For me, my unhealthy responses tend to be comfort eating, escapism through ‘binge watching’ shows, negative self talk which can trigger relapses into depression, PTSD, anxiety, etc. I also tend to isolate myself, retreat, avoid company, and try to ‘fix’ things psychologically by maybe watching or reading about other people’s stories online, but when I’m vulnerable I can end up in a dark place. Knowing this, and having experienced it, I realise that it is crucial to keep working at it on the better days, because then my healthier coping mechanisms will have formed pathways and patterns in my brain that make it easier for me to turn to them as a ‘fall back’ than to these other things.
Some people may turn to much more dangerous ways of coping with their pain and struggles. This might (*TRIGGER WARNING*) involve drugs, alcohol, self-harm, anger, lashing out, etcetera. This can quickly cause one to relapse and fall back into that hole they had tried and worked so hard to get out of. This is why we need to work at things everyday. And by doing so, we give not only ourselves a better chance of getting better, making progress and thriving but we also give other people the chance to benefit from the help we will be able to give them if we keep working at getting stronger.
Wherever you are on your journey, think about the positive things that you need to keep doing in your life to stay on track. Don’t be discouraged if you have fallen into that pit – call out for help, and keep getting stronger, stay in training EVERY DAY, and never give up. I believe in you. x