Where The Heck Are My Damn Coping Skills???

Not ice cream and Chinese food...

By Katherine Ryan on January 23, 2018


So…  those of you that are or who have been my clients know that I encourage gaining mastery of our thoughts and changing  thoughts that are unhelpful and/or inaccurate to helpful & accurate thoughts along with fostering an “Attitude of Gratitude”.  I hope that you are not be surprised to learn that I also practice what I encourage in others.

Until…  something bad happened (unhelpful thought).  A few of my readers may know I was impersonating Humpty Dumpty in the beginning of September and did a bang-up job (pun intended).  I was able to be put together again although I lost my mastery over my leg and arm and all of my healthy coping skills.  My excuse is that the x-ray machine zapped it out of me.

I did not realize that I had lost my primary coping skill of gratitude until one morning in November when I asked myself the questions that had become my habit when rising, “What hurts?”  “On a scale of 1-10 what is my pain level?”  What the heck is that but an example of how to start the day basking in unhelpful thoughts….

And at night I found myself reflecting on the day and focusing on what I could not do instead of focusing on what I could do.  And when friends would remind me, “how lucky you are!” along with “think of how much worse it could have been!” I found myself giving them either a grimace, a “look” or an eye roll, sometimes all three.

And I worried, I worried a lot.  Worried about things I had no control over.  Hundreds of unhelpful/inaccurate thoughts would wash over me.  One morning, about 2 weeks post incident, my pain level was a 9 and the delivery of pain meds was unbearably slow, I found myself in a heap crying and yes, wailing, overcome by physical and emotional pain.   I tell people that tears are good and can provide an often needed release.  That is true; it was only after I released all of that emotion that I was able to recognize that I was worrying about all the things I could not control and that the misspent energy was depriving me of putting all my energy on what I could control.  I surrendered worry and focused on what I could control, which really was only my effort in physical and occupational therapy along with what to have for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

A little history may be helpful here… The last time I had impersonated Humpty Dumpty to this level was back in the 80’s.  Although that injury was more serious the recovery period was less intense and shorter (long story).  As a result of truly what has been described as a “miraculous recovery” I developed the habit of saying “Thank you!” every morning that I swung my legs out of bed.  And that was before I was a therapist and before I had an understanding of the impact of gratitude.

So, in a very short amount of time my primary coping skills of beginning the day with gratitude, examining thoughts for thinking errors along with my skills for reducing worry and stress evaporated in the face of a significant crisis.  I am writing this blog to say to you, “It happens.”  Healthy coping skills can disappear; in the blink of an eye, or in the zap of an x-ray.

And I also want you to know that they can be retrieved, dusted off and put into place once again.  My skill of identifying what and what I can’t control and focusing on what is in my control came back quickly and brought the gift of reduced stress and worry.  My 30+ year habit of beginning the day with gratitude has not returned to its per-incident automatic state, I need to remind myself to be grateful and participate in the routine of writing my daily gratitudes.   I have difficulty focusing on what I can do v what I can’t and I need to challenge my thinking around that, a lot!  I can’t exercise as I once did and have found substitutions such as swimming.  And yes, for a bit, ice cream and Chinese food were substitutions…   Additionally, I have re-incorporated a formal daily meditation practice; I find it helpful to meditate before bed.  Lastly, I have made some lifestyle modifications; my new motto is “Less news, more music.  Less TV, more reading and crossword puzzles.  Less energy suckers, more energy givers.”

I am confident in my ability to bounce back (ha ha!!) from these injuries to my body and spirit.  My body may remain somewhat limited but I will ride, run, kayak and resume my previous activity level.  My spirit will be richer for having had the experience of being surrounded by love during this period and by knowing it can crack and heal stronger than before.

~Katherine Ryan is a LMHC (Licensed Mental Health Counselor) practicing in Topsfield, Massachusetts where she enjoys helping adults, children and teens become unstuck through counseling, mediation or equine assisted learning and growth opportunities.

~Nina is a 3 year old Standard Poodle who enjoys playing catch, hiking, belly rubs and going to work with Katherine.


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