The idea that I am writing a post about coping is kinda bizarro. It’s like a zebra penning a memoir titled “My Life with Spots.” I can be good at many things but handling the curveballs life throws (on an annoyingly consistent basis) has never been what anyone would call a forte of mine. Need to be cheered up? I’m your lady. Need advice on how to handle change/difficulties/general chaos in your life? I’m not likely to show up on your speedial. But that is why I thought it would be a good idea to write this one. Considering there might be others out there like me (God help you), maybe this can act as a Coping for Dummies, if you will.
In the past 6 weeks, I have done a lot of things – cry, stomp my feet, be inconsolable and wander around miserably like a total stressball. The lesson I learned from that is while it was what I was capable in the moment, it did not make me feel any better. Once I got a grip (which meant I was not crying on a daily basis and honestly, that was about 3.5 weeks in), I started working on ways that I could make progress back to a sane person – or at least the sane version of me, which is admittedly not that sane for most people. It was time to stop incessantly worrying about when my leg would heal and get back to incessantly worrying about all my normal cares!
As I know that some of you are also battling injuries, I thought I would share some things that actually helped me get back to a good place. Will these all work for you? Maybe yes, maybe no. I know there is not one technique that is guaranteed to help everyone in the same way – the list is quite individual to me and I hope the take home message is that to feel better you have to tailor make a list that suits your needs. But perhaps this can be a starting point to get you off to the races (but not a real race of course, as we must be patient and rest, ugh!).
My biggest hurdle was that running was my only coping mechanism. Sure, I have a few other things that work for me, but running is my go-to stress buster. I have run so long with so few breaks that it just was not previously necessary to have others. But putting all my eggs in one running basket totally bit me in the arse. Hence, my new list:
1. Deep breathing and self-massage – Whoa, whoa, not that kind of self-massage! This particular list is G-rated, thank you very much! I have never been one for sitting still for very long and honestly I have a long way to go in that respect. But I have found that while showering, it really helps me to make it extra steamy, take deep breaths and massage the back of my head (not where some of you thought this was going, I’d wager, lol). I put my hands on the back of my skull and use my thumbs to massage the base of my neck while saying “it’s ok, it is going to be ok”. I really like to do this after swimming, when my mind is already filled with all sorts of happy chemicals released from the workout.
2. Baking - Taking a mishmash of ingredients, mixing them up just so and winding up with something delicious that can be shared with others is super appealing to me. In the last few weeks, I have made 12 dozen cookies (chocolate chip, ricotta, peanut butter), a vanilla bean bundt cake with a caramel sea salt glaze, cake pops, and brownies. This weekend I am making 2 pies and next week I have a secret project that is going to result in a mountain of baked goods. Every time I measure some baking soda or mix butter and sugar together or watch GD sneak cookie dough or catch those first sweet scents from the oven, I feel a little bit of stress melt away. Worked for Tita in Like Water for Chocolate, works for me! Oh, except the part where my emotions are also transferred into the food. Oh, and Lil Sis did not marry GD, die later and then he and I get together, only to be tragically burned in fire created by our own passions. But other than that, it’s the same!
3. Taking action – We joke that if people walked around with a tagline, mine would be “Plan your work, Work your plan!”. Very little gives me as much comfort as a plan that I can follow. I have taken an active approach to my recovery – ART therapy, chiro appointments, ortho apointments, x-rays, MRIs, rolling, icing, heating, stretching have all be a part of this strategy. Have they all helped? *shrugs* But taking action and doing something, anything, has made me feel better than crying on the couch (and believe you me, I can say this with authority given how much of each I have done).
4. Visualizations and Mantras – Hold on to your hemp hats, here is where we get hippy-dippy! I am a funny brand of human – I don’t believe in a higher power or that everything happens for a reason but I also happen to believe in the power of the human brain and I am agnostic (literally “without knowlegdge”, thanks GRE prep books, circa 2003!) enough to recognize that all the things I don’t believe in might be real anyway.When you read theories about the Central Governor or consider the mental gymnastics monks put themselves through, it is hard for me not to be in awe of our grey matter. So I have taken to picturing myself running, pain-free, all over the place. During aqua-jogging, I relive favorite runs. Before I go to sleep, I place my hand on my right leg and think about the muscles zipping back up together, all neat and pretty. I say to myself up-teen times a day, “the body achieves what the mind believes”.
5. Live vicariously through others - It feels really good to concentrate on what other runners are accomplishing and how they are progressing while I sit on the sidelines. It reminds me how much I love the social, sharing aspect of running. So please, keep your running stories coming! I’m feeling quite warm and happy basking in your running glow.
6. Keeping it all in perspective – This one sometimes helps me, sometimes not. I have to be in the right mindset for it to work, but if I am, it is a keeper. It does help to think how much worse it could be and to remind myself how fortunate I am for all that I do have. Other days, I feel “meh” about that attitude and just want to wallow. So mixed reviews on this one!
7. Finding an outlet for my energy elsewhere – Swimming has been a godsend on this one. Thank baby Jesus I can still get out of breath and feel my body MOVE under my own power and escape from that feeling that I am just a drone behind a desk. Bonus is that it has reminded me how much I actually like swimming and it is def staying in rotation this winter, even after I start running again.
8. Thinking about how small I am and that nothing really matters – This one is a little on the dark side for some, but when something that is as important to me as running is taken away, I like the long view. This definitely fits under the category of “this is an individual list and may not work for everyone!” but I get comfort from looking at pictures of the universe, thinking about my place in it, and realizing that none of it really matters on any appreciable scale. Thanks Nihilism! It calms me down and helps erase that “it’s the end of the world” sensation that can choke me some days. Instead, I can look at a picture of a black hole and think “nope, that is actually the end of the world. This is just 2 (or maybe more) months off from running.” Plus, the amazing pictures are seriously dazzling and a good distraction in their own right so do yourself a favor and click on the link, whether you are injured or not!
So that is what I have for you in my “baby steps” coping journey so far. Now, share with me yours!
What are your coping mechanisms? What does not work for you?