This is just a quick meditation on recovery– or coping– or whatever name you want to give it. Happy New Year, by the way.
For many of us, including folks who don’t necessarily carry a DSM 5 label, life is full of what we may call hassles, challenges, or nightmares, depending on how we feel & how well (or badly) things are going.
I try to avoid labeling things “nightmare” personally, and I encourage others to think very carefully about using that particular word. This is partly because of a passage from a favorite author whose name will go unsaid because I’m not going to quote directly. He pointed out that it’s hard to explain in waking life why, in the nightmare, seeing uncle Albert standing behind the rhododendrons was so disturbing. Usually we are very clear on why it is disturbing to be trapped in a car in traffic on the Bay Bridge with a small child who needs to go potty while we ourselves run a fever of a hundred and two. I think the quality of nightmare that we are referring to is the time dilation effect I talked about in “depression forever,” the post before this.
Coping, as I’m thinking of it right now, is also called “dealing with” or sometimes “putting up with” something in life. It can also, more clinically perhaps, be called “adapting to.” Some things in life are not going to be overcome. They will not go away. Some conditions are permanent. A very obvious one– loss of a limb. If someone experiences amputation, it’s possible to get a prosthetic and regain a lot of function. There are work-arounds that make life possible. But the loss is always the loss. In a less physical way, growing older and losing one’s parents is another example. I have known people in their 60’s who have both parents living and in their 80’s or 90’s, and I have known at least one person who lost both parents by age 18. In an example that’s both physical and mental, growing older is something that everyone encounters. Usually, we look forward to gaining independence as we grow up, but we dread loss of independence as we grow old. But given the choice of dying right now, most people choose to live one more day.
So we adapt. It’s not seen as an enjoyable learning experience. It’s a struggle. It’s a hassle. It may even actually take on a truly nightmare quality. But we do it. Not only that, we get good at it. And there are millions of us, everywhere, all the time. People learn to adapt to chronic pain. People learn to adapt to side effects of medications. People learn to live missing a hand, or without sight, or hearing. We learn to live knowing that a seizure may strike without warning, or with precious little warning. Some conditions, like a physical disability, are visible. Others, including barely tolerable chronic pain, are not.
People can be shockingly inconsiderate of a physical disability, or even openly disdainful of one that is not visible.”Get over it.” Don’t be a whiner.” “Aren’t you used to it by now?” “Move on with your life.” Or, perhaps worse, there are what are called micro-aggressions, the little insults that are built into the language of every day life. To a person fighting an addiction, drunk jokes may not be so funny. So someone whose anti-psychotic medication isn’t stopping the horrible voices, slighting references to hallucinations can be discouraging and isolating.
We learn to adapt, because given the choice to die right now or live one more day, we choose one more day. If this description fits, you know who you are. To you I say this– even though you wish you weren’t so good at this, you are. Even though others don’t know this story, you are its hero. Give yourself credit.