We have all had bad days. The sort of days where you cannot wait to get into bed and start again the next day, if only you could just get through it. Some even start off as good days, until something major happens that turns your day completely upside down. Most of us are able to persevere through the shock, fear, pain, anxiety, shame, anger or stress, get back to our safe zone, de-stress, get some sleep and get ready for another day. We all have our coping mechanisms for the small balls life throws at us. It may be a cup of coffee, tub of ice-cream, glass of wine, computer games, listening to music or going to the gym to help us unwind and feel better after we have had to deal with a stressful situation or low mood. You generally feel better after a few minutes or hours, and are able to get back to full functioning, hopefully learning from any mistakes that may have been made.
What happens when it is not so easy? When you have had a glass of wine, cup of coffee or hour at the gym and the problem is still staring you in the face. You can’t seem to get back to your normal self even after doing the usual things? You might talk it through with colleagues, friends or family, and feel a bit better. They remind you that you are not stupid, lazy or selfish. They tell you that it could have happened to anyone, and everything will be okay. They remind you of how much you have overcome to get this far, and how strong you really are. It is just what you needed to hear, and you start to feel more like yourself again. You start to see things more clearly, and come up with solutions or plans to move on. What you thought was the end of your world turns out to be an opportunity or a significant life lesson. What felt like the start of clinical depression begins to look like just a small glitch in the bigger picture of your beautiful life.
Wouldn’t it be nice if the problems of life always give us time to recover from one before the next one comes, so we never had to deal with too many things at a time? Someone who could get excellent results in Mathematics, English and Biology examinations written on different days, would struggle to do so well if they had to write all the exams at once, in the same time period. That is what it feels like when we deal with difficult situations simultaneously at home, at work and in other areas of life. The usual cup of tea and a chat does not seem to help as much, when there are so many things going on that you even start to question your identity and worry about your sanity.
We sometimes push bad news and emotional issues to the backs of our minds, because we feel we have to keep going and cannot afford to take a break right now. ‘Strong people’ may decide to keep busy after a break up, funeral or difficult conversation because it is easier to keep moving than to take time to face the difficult emotions that come with it. We hate to feel lonely, sad, disappointed, overwhelmed or used, so we carry on, hoping that ignoring the feeling will make it go away. Unfinished emotional business can sometimes pop up in the most unexpected places with tears, anger or even resentment. Having unresolved issues in the background can even make other 'small problems' seem worse than they really are. As important as it is to have good daily coping mechanisms (which are also healthy, rather than destructive in the long term), it is also important to realise that taking quality time out can be a useful coping strategy too.
When that quick cup of tea or phone call is not enough, it might just be that we need a good cry, a longer chat or a proper rest. As a doctor, I am learning that instead of waiting until I get the ‘fed up’ or ‘burnt out’ feeling, when chatting with my friends, colleagues or husband may not help, it is better to plan those quiet times in advance, so that I can reflect on issues and deal with them before they begin to harm my mental health. Reflecting may also help me to recognise which issues need to be discussed further, and with whom. It is good to talk, but talking is better when we know what we want to say. Some issues cannot be resolved externally - you have to speak to yourself first, which is why counsellors rarely suggest solutions to your emotional problems. As a Christian, I have found it helpful to be able to pray and remind myself of my identity in God too. There is a lot of support available, but understanding yourself, where/why it hurts and how best to move forward emotionally is often down to you.