i checked myself into the hospital for the first time in march 2014. upon my arrival in the adult psych unit, i was in the midst of a terrifying panic attack. one of the nurses said to me, “can you try to use your coping skills?
i gave her a blank stare and said, “what’s a coping skill?”
as brief as that exchange was, i often think about it because it’s a snapshot of my mental and emotional state at that time. i truly didn’t know what the nurse meant. as i plunged into the dark depths of depression and anxiety, i often felt that i was free-falling with nothing to grab onto. while i desperately wanted to get better, i hadn’t fully developed the cognitive or behavioral skills to help my recovery.
when i look back over my journey of serious illness and recovery i often find it difficult to see anything positive. it has been a painful and confusing time, filled with loss and unwanted change. but i recognize that i have grown tremendously in my mental health vocabulary and skill set. making lists helps us recognize progress, so in that spirit i have made a list of the mental health skills and concepts i have learned during the past year:
- coping skills (first on the list!)
- cognitive behavioral therapy (cbt)
- dialectical behavioral therapy (dbt)
- mindfulness and mindfulness based stress reduction (mbsr)
- shifting technique
- deep breathing
- counting and tapping
- treatment plan
- safety plan
- distraction plan
- emotional intelligence
- art and movement therapy
looking over the list i see that i have so many more tools and resources to use as i journey through recovery. i feel proud because i have worked hard to learn new ways to support my mental health, in addition to medication and therapy. before, i coped with depression by pushing it away or wishing i didn’t have it. today i understand the importance of coping skills and know which ones to use depending on how i am feeling. before, i had no idea what a panic attack was. now i am aware when my anxiety is rising and use breathing and distraction to prevent a full-blown attack. i have plans in place to keep myself safe and i have regular practices (yoga and mindfulness) that keep me grounded in the present moment.
i still live with depression and anxiety – every single day. some are harder than others. these tools and skills don’t magically make mental illness disappear. but they do help me feel more safe, more steady and more prepared as i move forward. they break the free-fall and give me something to grab on to. overall i have greater emotional intelligence. and while i had to go through deep pain and struggle, i know that i am becoming a healthier person because of what i have learned.