So for those of us attempting to support our children who come with a range of trauma and problematic starts in life, we spend a considerable amount of time observing, thinking about and trying to work with their coping mechanisms.
We all learn – either in our training, by reading or by experience – that our children have a set of coping mechanisms that endeavour to keep them safe. Their brains have become hard-wired in such a way that trying to make change is terrifying for them.
I heard an amazing metaphor about car tracks in the snow and how when we try to drive across them it can cause chaos – much like our little ones’ brains. So any attempt to remove these coping mechanisms is likely to end at least in dysregulation and melt down or at worse in increasing and adding to their trauma. I understood this objectively before Munchkin came and I understand it subjectively now that Munchkin is here. But I didn’t give much thought to MY own coping mechanisms: good and bad. Through my training I considered what support I may need and how I may function in moments of stress, but did not identify how to stop myself from feeling overwhelmed in general life.
What I didn’t give enough consideration to was how I would feel about giving up my coping mechanisms that, until I was 44, had kept me safe and stable. There are the little ones and the bigger ones: a glass of wine with friends after a tough day at work is replaced by running to after school club to not incur a penalty, or increase anxiety in a late pick up. In two years I have been out after work twice.
A morning 5K run or a gym session is replaced by running around the house, mainlining coffee and tracing lost reading or spelling books. The lack of exercise has also lead to an increase in weight (and a decrease in positive body image) and a sore back.
Now for the big one: in 20 years I had visited 72 countries. I spent most of my adult life on flights, taking photos and being the envy of my friends. I had seen this as an amazing set of experiences and an opportunity for dreams to come true. But now, now I am not so sure. When I reflect back I was running. The list I was running from was endless: feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, fear of commitment, having no baby. So now when I feel inadequate and lonely – what can I do? I can’t get on a plane, as there isn’t a country for me to run to. My coping mechanism of two decades has gone…
I feel a fool for not realising it before Munchkin was here and I feel an even bigger fool for not working it out for the last two years. But now I have: I need to develop a set of coping mechanisms. So how do you do that – don’t they evolve naturally? Eating chocolate isn’t working for me, watching rubbish TV doesn’t work; day dreaming of where I could take Munchkin next school holiday isn’t the best thing.
So last Monday was day one: the day I said that I need more support, that I need some better coping mechanisms to make me feel less lonely and less inadequate.
I started the day by meal planning – something healthy but tasty. I decided to spend money on myself and booked an Osteopath appointment. I decided not to go shopping, not to do the cleaning on a non-work day and to have lunch with a friend. I decided to cry when I feel sad and that I don’t care who knows. I decided to come clean with my friends and admit that I am lonely. I said a small thank you to the most amazing soul mate I have, gave my Munchkin a kiss and allowed myself a little smile and a feeling that, for today, I didn’t have to be perfect – just good enough is OK.