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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Who deserves help? (Or: "You've just tried to braise a pork chop in the toaster")

The other day I came home from my session with my alcohol counsellor with a fair bit to think about. After a bit of mulling it over, I decided to ask a group of people what the term "coping" means to them. I got a large number of answers, but only one that I was really looking for - but it didn't match my definition of it, either. The question (and the answers) sparked a different conversation with a good friend, about who deserves help and when -- on, of course, a more personal note.

Some of the things that came up for me in this discussion were some issues/concerns and some beliefs I hold that I've been challenging without fully recognising:
I think coping is equal to feeling like there's a reason to keep living/fighting, not struggling all the time emotionally, and I think I believe that the only people who 'deserve' help are those who aren't coping.
I am scared that Mental Health are right and that if I just tried hard enough, I'd be able to pull myself together and build a life worth living in a much shorter time frame than I'm currently managing.
I get upset when my counsellor says I'm coping well because I don't fit my own definition of what coping is, and I use that definition as my "proof" that I can check on to see if I'm allowed to ask for help (such as by seeing a counsellor).

I decided the bigger part of the discussion stands pretty well on its own merit in the form it's already in, with a few edits for clarity, conciseness or just punctuation/grammar (not even sharing of IRC logs allows for completely rubbish grammar on my blog!). That said, I should probably warn you - don't read on an empty stomach! Someone was clearly hungry! ;)

F(riend): Let's say you and I are taking a cooking class. It's the final test, they've told us to cook this outrageously complicated meal and we have two hours. I'm buzzing along, I know exactly what I'm doing, I'm doing it all right, but I'm a bit slow. You suck. You can't tell your ass from your apples and you've just tried to braise a pork chop in the toaster. When the chef comes along, who should get more help?

M(e): Me. Or someone should take me out of the running!

F: Yes. I'm doing alright on my own and would benefit from some assistance and if I want it, I should get it, but you aren't doing well at all. You're so confused and overwhelmed that not only will you not get your braised pork chops with apples and onions out on time, you will probably deliver - late - grilled cheese. And have absolutely no idea how you did it.

(This is, truthfully, almost how I cook for real! Analogy and reality crossover!)

F: Clearly you didn't get the skills you needed in Chef school so you should probably go back and try again. Both of us, however, are better off than the third chef who has all her ingredients, all her pans and spoons and things prepared, plenty of help and plenty of time... and is sitting there filing her nails instead. She does not deserve help, in my opinion.

F: This analogy carries over. Anyone with any interest at all in improving, no matter where they're starting - from "almost an expert but needs a nudge" to "ass over breakfast", deserves to have assistance. Some of us need more than others, some of us GET more than others but it comes in the form of a troupe of angry 6 year olds who think they're gourmet Chefs - not very helpful and a bit baffling as to how they can manage to hurt your feelings so much they're just tetchy little midgets, but that's what happens when they send you to the primary school for cooking lessons.

F: It's not like you went in there incompetent and came out incompetent. You went in unable to even open the bag of bread for peanut butter and jelly, and now you're making French toast. But there's only so much you can learn from idiots.

F: It's unfortunate that you happened to be in a place where the help they offered you was provided by baboons in diapers, but
a) you did learn many, many things from them... you took what you were given and you made something useful, which says not much about them but hours and hours of things about you, and
b) they've treated you pretty poorly, which is unfortunate, and I wish I knew why, but it doesn't really matter. What they have to offer, you have gotten. Until they learn the right way to put the sausage in the pan, they can hardly teach you to make the rest of breakfast.

Ignoring the somewhat hostile (but quite amusing!) view she has of the mental health professionals that have been involved in the main part of my care, she made some very important points:
It doesn't matter what "level" you're at, if you need the help, you deserve it. I was able to learn things, and that's good, but not having learned everything there is to know about how to build a better life for myself doesn't mean I need to be beating myself up for it.

Challenges & Cheerleading:
Just because I fit my counsellor's definition of coping doesn't mean I don't deserve to ask for help.
It's okay to not be perfect.
I have equal worth to others.

What does coping mean to you? Does your definition change if you apply it universally (as opposed to self-application only)? What defines "need" in terms of asking for or receiving help? What are your thoughts on the analogy and the message behind it?

Take care of yourselves until next time, and may we all find our own small fences along the way.


  1. My definition is surviving. Period. And sometimes I feel like that's kind of bleak, but sometimes just being able to get TO tomorrow is enough for me to make it through tomorrow.

    I gave up a certain support group because I decided I was coping and that was my goal and hell if I needed to move past that. Don't know what I think now, but reading this makes me wonder if I want to change my definition.

  2. Oooo! I've got so much I want to say but I am just about to go away for a few days. I will write when I come back! But if I forget, I completely agree with you. Actually I think 'coping' can be more bloody difficult than falling apart. But if I don't shut up now I will carry on and I haven't packed the suitcase. I will try to remember to come back and say more. :-) x

  3. Hostile, indeed!

    I want french toast and sausage now.

  4. Coping, for me, is when you are able to juggle difficult events, in a way that doesn't significantly damage your emotional health.

    So, the issue might make you cry, but you can pull on resources (internal, and external) to allow you to effectively deal with the issue, either to resolve it, or to find a way to adapt and live with it.

    If the issue makes you cry for 3 weeks solid, and impacts your every waking thought, or you are self harming, or drinking, or whatever to deal, then that is surviving, rather than coping. For me, at least

  5. Coping to me means getting through the day and if there are some bumps and you don't do all you wished for, then there is always tomorrow and you can try again. You are still learning regardless. I think as long as you are trying, that's all you can ask of yourself.

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  7. (Sorry, I had to delete my original post due to too many typos, lol! This one says the same thing.)

    "Coping" has two meanings for me. One is to strive, to struggle, to exert yourself." In other words, to try, and try again, and try again. Which I think you do admirably, and in that sense you do cope amazingly well. To me, the word doesn't have a whole lot to do with the outcome of the striving (not to say that you don't have some phenomenal outcomes as well, they just don't mean "coping" to me).

    The other is more like what fallen said. To have, and to be able to call on, resources (internal or external) to meet the trials of living. I guess this is the definition that I use more in terms of health-issues, whether mental or physical or whatever.

    A "need" for help depends on the goal, for me. I don't need a whole lot of help with making tea. But I do need help with making curry. Tea, I have already been taught or figured out. I can boil water, stick a bag in a cup, and pour the hot water without trouble. On the other hand, I've never watched anyone make curry, I've never read anything about what is in curry, I've never spoken to anyone about making curry. Somewhere in the middle, I can kind of make an omelette, but I need help for it to be recognizably an omelette. I know there's eggs, and what sorts of things might go into them. I know to put it in a pan, but I'm not sure of the order or what the temperature should be, or (especially) how to flip the darn thing. So, I would need some help for the skills that I am missing out. IMO, any form of needing help is worthy of asking for it. Whether or not you receive it is another story that involves other people, so it's more complicated. But I think any sort of need for help is at least *worthy* of receiving help.

    I agree with most of the analogy of the conversation. The point where I diverge is the person with all the ingredients out, filing her nails. I think she needs help, too. Help to find motivation, or to care, or to take another class that she is actually interested in. She may not be willing to accept the help, which is again another story, but I still say she needs it. The only person in this cooking class who may not need help is the dude in the back whose dish is already in the oven at the perfect temperature, with the timer set for the ideal time. And heck, even he would probably enjoy a pat on the back.

  8. Interesting and thought-provoking for me too. And, I like your friend's view of MH. It's remarkably similar to mine!

  9. Wow! Thank you everyone for your thoughts.

    Topie: I think surviving is excellent, and I agree that sometimes it may be the only thing you can do... but whether it's a healthy long-term solution, I'm not so sure. I do think it's important to re-evaluate our thoughts and beliefs as well as our goals, though - whatever they are. (And I don't do it nearly as often as I should!)

    Pixie: Oh! Have a wonderful trip. :) I agree with you about how coping can be more difficult than falling apart, I hope you do remember to come back and add some more thoughts because I'm very interested!

    Brie: French toast and sausage together? Hmm.

    Fallen: You and I already talked about tihs stuff, but I've been thinking more since then. Also, I realised I didn't ask where the line is on crying -- you mentioned it's surviving not crying if you're crying every day for three weeks & all your thoughts are about the issues -- what if it's two, or one, or half a week? When does it go from "grieving" to "not coping"?

    Sairs: I think getting through is important and it's okay to have bumps and such, too. Trying's important and you can't give/do better than that, but I think there are times when that's not enough (like in the analogy) too.

    River: Hey, you changed your name on here! Yay!
    That's an interesting way to look at it, I don't think I'd have considered your first meaning on my own.

    I'm mostly separating the asking from the outcome of whether you get it here - although I think consistent failure to get it (particularly when the reason is given as "you don't need it") does influence my ability to determine whether I feel like it's okay to ask for it.

    The point about the third chef needing help too was a good one, I hadn't thought of that.

    Bethany: Yes, it certainly is! It might be lucky neither of you are in Brisbane... :p

  10. Hello Chrysalis,

    I am a bit under the weather so this may make no sense whatsoever. But I'll have a go. I think it depends on where you are in the world as to what coping means and consequently how you are treated. I know that certainly where I am, if I am not doing any self harm or ringing up my MHT and telling them I am going mad, it is considered that I am coping. They do not consider any other things which may be going on in my life, and they do not ask. So, for example, there are many many days I cannot leave the house. I just can't do it. If I mention this to my psychiatrist, he has nothing to say other than, "Well, you are better than you were." Yes, he is right. I am better than I was, but am I actually coping and living a normal life? No, of course not. I am often off the rails, in a state, screaming and shouting and crying. I don't think that is coping whatsoever. Would I cope better if there was any help for me? Yes, perhaps I would. Perhaps somebody could tell me what I could do when the days are still awful but not what is deemed as a 'crisis'.

    So, I suppose in the eyes of my MHT, I am coping. In my eyes, if I am coping then it is a lot harder than when I was going off the rails, because at least there was some support then. Now there is nothing. So am I coping? Well, if coping feels like I am clinging onto a cliff edge by one finger nail, then yes, I am coping.

    Personally, I think coping is misunderstood, and it would be nice if everybody got a lot more support while they were working so hard on trying to be better; while they were working on trying to cope.

    That probably made no sense, and if so, forgive me!

    Yes, you are right. You do deserve to ask for help if you feel you need it. We all do. And I don't know why some of us are made to feel guilty for only trying to get better - truly better, and not just 'coping'.

    Ramble, ramble, ramble, shut up Pixie...

    :-) xxx

  11. Pixie, nah. No shut ups here! I agree that "better than you were" definitely doesn't necessarily translate to "coping". I also think there should be a lot more support once you stop the destructive behaviours because you're right, it's harder, and (certainly at least for me) it feels worse. Kind of an, "at least before I knew I got to step in and turn the feelings off when I wanted to" thing.
    Anyway, thank you for coming back and adding more thoughts! I'm glad you did, and I hope you feel less ill soon!

  12. Good read! Coping for me is when I am able to lie in bed at night and am still breathing from the days events and struggles. I have difficulty with stinkin' thinkin' issues and some times irrational fears. Have to talk myself down many times. Blessings.

  13. I there have been a lot of times when people could look at me and see that I was coping - but in reality, on the inside, I needed help.

    If you feel that you are not in the place you want to be, or the level you want to be, then you DEFINITELY deserve help, and the right to ask for help. Stay strong.