Coping Mechanisms: A Tale of Escape

Coping Mechanisms: A Tale of Escape

A honest discussion of bad coping mechanisms.

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Throughout my life, I have tried out a variety of coping mechanisms. I dabbled in some good ones, some bad ones and some I don't want to think back on ever again. Sometimes, I feel really ashamed. Sometimes, they're easier to discuss.

In the past month, I have spiraled through a number of coping methods. I want to note right now that I am going to discuss some difficult things. Here's your trigger warning for alcohol, eating disorders and nicotine usage.

In my mind, it is important to acknowledge my downfalls and mistakes. And a lot of those connect to my decisions regarding coping. It's how I am programmed. And I know it.

Do I feel shame? Sometimes.

Do I wish I was different? Often.

Is it worth beating myself up over? Never.

In discussing my mistakes, I take the power away from them. I begin to pull down the walls of stigma from around them — brick by brick.

To discuss usage of alcohol to forget and nicotine to calm is to remove the mystery. It is the first step to open discussion.

And with that, I have a question for you: How many times have you, or someone you know, considered or acted on the urge to consume alcohol when you feel, for lack of a better word, shitty?

I'm guessing a decent amount of times. Me too.

I almost never drink. Even when I turned 21 (legal, baby), I wasn't too interested in alcohol. I'm a lightweight. I hate feeling sick and hungover the next day. I didn't (maybe still don't, honestly) know how to drink responsibly.

But I do know how to forget.

As much as I tell myself that going to a bar on my own, buying one too many drinks and removing the thoughts from my head for a little while isn't a misuse of alcohol, I always know I am lying to myself. I always know, deep down, that I was trying to escape.

I was coping. Badly.

There is a culture of alcohol misuse in college. It is a way of rationalizing going out and getting drunk because you had a bad breakup, didn't do well on an exam or just want to have fun.

But everyone doing it doesn't make it healthy.

I'm sure you have heard this before, but if Joe jumped off a bridge, would you jump off too? No? Well, it's no different with alcohol. If someone goes out and gets drunk to forget about pain, that doesn't make it OK for you to do it. It doesn't mean that it serves as a replacement to feeling the feelings and sitting with the discomfort.

This is a lesson I learned the hard way.

How many of you smoke or know someone who smokes cigarettes? You might be a drunk smoker. You might smoke a pack a day. You know how bad they are for you. We all do. But it doesn't stop us from using them.

I might not smoke cigarettes. I might only have vape juice with less than one percent of nicotine. But the purpose is likely the same: escape.

You want the rush of the nicotine to calm you. Maybe it's not good for you. Maybe inhaling smoke or vapor isn't the best for your lungs. Who cares? That's a problem for future me.

Am I ashamed that I use this? Honestly? No. I enjoy it. Oh yes, I am that person. The one who vapes. Hate me if you want, but it makes me feel calm.

Is it healthy, strictly speaking? Not really.

Is it horrible? Probably not. At least, not right now.

What isn't healthy, though, is the escape. It is, again, another method of forgetting problems. It's a way of removing yourself, just for a little bit.

Like I said, I know how to forget — for better or worse. And I recognize it.

A lot of these emotions are still raw. And that's OK.

My experiences are in no way representative of everyone who has dabbled in any of the above. I do not wish to invalidate any opinions, actions or feelings. I acknowledge that there is a way of coping for everyone, and mine will never be the same as another individual's.

But consider this: Are you escaping? If so, from what?

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Yes, I Had A Stroke And I'm Only 20

Sometimes bad things happen to good people.
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Recently, I read an article on Cosmo that was written by a woman that had a stroke at the ripe old age of 23. For those of you who don't know, that really doesn't happen. Young people don't have strokes. Some do, but it's so incredibly uncommon that it rarely crosses most people's minds. Her piece was really moving, and I related a lot -- because I had a stroke at 20.

It started as a simple headache. I didn't think much of it because I get headaches pretty often. At the time, I worked for my parents, and I texted my mom to tell her that I'd be late to work because of the pain. I had never experienced a headache like that, but I figured it still wasn't something to worry about. I went about my normal routine, and it steadily got worse. It got to the point that I literally threw up from the pain. My mom told me to take some Tylenol, but I couldn't get to our kitchen. I figured that since I was already in the bathroom, I would just take a shower and hope that the hot steam would relax my muscles, and get rid of my headache. So I turned the water on in the shower, and I waited for it to get hot.

At this point, I was sweating. I've never been that warm in my life. My head was still killing me. I was sitting on the floor of the bathroom, trying to at least cope with the pain. Finally, I decided that I needed to go to the hospital. I picked up my phone to call 911, but I couldn't see the screen. I couldn't read anything. I laid down on the floor and tried to swipe from the lock screen to the emergency call screen, but I couldn't even manage that. My fine motor skills were completely gone. My fingers wouldn't cooperate, even though I knew what buttons needed to be pressed. Instead of swiping to the emergency call screen, I threw my phone across the room. "Okay," I thought, "Large muscle groups are working. Small ones are not".

I tried getting up. That also wasn't happening. I was so unstable that I couldn't stay standing. I tried turning off the running water of the shower, but couldn't move the faucet. Eventually, I gave up on trying to move anywhere. "At what point do I just give up and lie on the floor until someone finds me?" That was the point. I ended up lying on the floor for two hours until my dad came home and found me.

During that two hours, I couldn't hear. My ears were roaring, not even ringing. I tried to yell, but I couldn't form a sentence. I was simply stuck, and couldn't do anything about it. I still had no idea what was going on.

When the ambulance finally got there, they put me on a stretcher and loaded me into the back. "Are you afraid of needles or anything?" asked one EMT. "Terrified," I responded, and she started an IV without hesitation. To this day, I don't know if that word actually came out of my mouth, but I'm so glad she started the IV. She started pumping pain medicine, but it didn't seem to be doing anything.

We got to the hospital, and the doctors there were going to treat me for a migraine and send me on my merry way. This was obviously not a migraine. When I could finally speak again, they kept asking if I was prone to migraines. "I've never had a migraine in my whole life," I would say. "Do you do any drugs?" they would ask. "No," I repeated over and over. At this point, I was fading in and out of consciousness, probably from the pain or the pain medicine.

At one point, I heard the doctors say that they couldn't handle whatever was wrong with me at our local hospital and that I would need to be flown somewhere. They decided on University of Maryland in Baltimore. My parents asked if I wanted them to wait with me or start driving, so I had them leave.

The helicopter arrived soon after, and I was loaded into it. 45 minutes later, I was in Baltimore. That was the last thing I remember. The next thing I remember was being in the hospital two weeks later. I had a drain in my head, a central port, and an IV. I honestly didn't know what had happened to me.

As it turns out, I was born with a blood vessel malformation called an AVM. Blood vessels and arteries are supposed to pass blood to one another smoothly, and mine simply weren't. I basically had a knot of blood vessels in my brain that had swelled and almost burst. There was fluid in my brain that wouldn't drain, which was why my head still hurt so bad. The doctors couldn't see through the blood and fluid to operate, so they were simply monitoring me at that point.

When they could finally see, they went in to embolize my aneurysm and try to kill the AVM. After a successful procedure, my headache was finally starting to subside. It had gone from a 10 on the pain scale (which I don't remember), to a 6 (which was when I had started to be conscious), and then down to a 2.

I went to rehab after I was discharged from the hospital, I went to rehab. There, I learned simple things like how to walk and balance, and we tested my fine motor skills to make sure that I could still play the flute. Rehab was both physically and emotionally difficult. I was constantly exhausted.

I still have a few lingering issues from the whole ordeal. I have a tremor in one hand, and I'm mostly deaf in one ear. I still get headaches sometimes, but that's just my brain getting used to regular blood flow. I sleep a lot and slur my words as I get tired. While I still have a few deficits, I'm lucky to even be alive.

Cover Image Credit: Neve McClymont

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I'll Always Be An Organ Donor

I mean, outside of the cute little heart I get to have on my state ID.

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Check yes, nod at the clerk, give them a big thumbs up... It's really not hard to sign up as an organ donor. For me, it looks less than five seconds when buying a state ID to tell my clerk that yes, I did want to donate my organs to anyone in need after I died.

Organ donors like myself are always in high demand, especially because only 3 in 1,000 people die in ways that allow for an organ transplant. That wouldn't be too bad if the vast majority of people were organ donors, but only 54% of Americans are signed up to be donors.

Unsplash- Thoracic cavity

But why aren't people donors?

One word: religion.

While most all major religions are not in opposition of organ donation, studies have found that people will cite their religious beliefs are why they're opposed to donating their organs. Many people believe that they may not have access to the afterlife if their bodies aren't fully intact, but I have a problem with this logic.

"God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them." Hebrews 6:10.

"None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself." Saheeh Al-Bukarhi.

Most large religions have this reoccurring theme of altruism, and that's what organ donation is all about: sharing something you have with someone less fortunate. Giving them a body part that I'll no longer be using won't harm me, it will help them, and it will hopefully look good if there's a Big Guy Upstairs.

Unsplash- heart made from neon lights

So go watch an episode of "The Bachelor." In those 60 minutes, 6 people have been added to the organ transplant list.

Go spend a relaxing weekend at the beach. In those two days, 40 people died waiting for an organ transplant.

Go to the DMV. Check that box. Save a life. Save eight lives, even. Be that person's shot at a second life.

It's not like anything is stopping you.

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