Often when you’re struggling with a mental illness, you develop many bad coping methods. You come up with the best way you can think of to handle the pain within you. Without guidance, you don’t know of any other ways to handle your inner agony. You might not even realize that your coping technique is hurting you, not helping you. You find yourself using your bad coping method so often that it becomes an instinct. You automatically turn to it during rough times.

   My school years were like a living nightmare. Each day I was put down and tormented by my peers, while I was also dealing with an undiagnosed mental illness. I found going to school unbearable. I didn’t know how to deal with the powerful emotions and the fear of going to school each day. I started imagining bad things happening to me, like getting hit by a car and being unconscious for a month, or falling down and breaking my leg. If I got hurt then I wouldn’t have to go to school.

   I began daydreaming about it during school, in the morning, and before going to bed at night. It got to the point that I couldn’t stop thinking about it and I started wishing my daydreams would come true. My imaginary accidents provided an escape from reality. Getting hurt was the only way I could think of to avoid facing day after day of teasing and internal turmoil. If I got hurt, then everyone would pay special attention to me and maybe some of my classmates would be sorry for what they had done to me.

   I coped with rough times this way so often that this became a habit to me. I couldn’t stop it, even in my adult years. When college and work became stressful, I would automatically imagine getting hurt. When things got rough and I felt like disappearing, I would drift off into my dream world.

   When I told my therapist at that time about my daydreams of getting hurt, she laughed at me. I was confused. Why did she think my daydreams were a joke? Weren’t they serious? I couldn’t stop them. Wasn’t that a problem?

   I left that therapist and found one who took me seriously. She told me I had developed an unhealthy coping technique, and I had done it so long I didn’t know any other way. She told me my daydreams were like self-injury. I cut to relieve my pain and I imagined injuries to escape my inner pain. In a way I was self-injuring my soul. I wanted and dreamed of something bad happening to me, causing inner turmoil. It kept me awake at night, it made me anxious, it became hard to focus on reality, I started making mistakes, and I also started hating myself for wanting to be hurt.

   My therapist told me when the stressful and rough times faced me, to try to picture something happy, like walking on the beach or lying in a field staring up at the sky. She told me when I started to daydream about injury, to tell myself to stop and try to clear my mind. She taught me healthy ways to deal with stress like using relaxation techniques, listing the positive things in my life, and doing hobbies to keep my mind busy.

   Think about the bad coping techniques you have developed. Is there a better coping method? Are your unhealthy ways actually hurting you in the long run? How can you change something you have done for so long? Talk to a therapist who will help you find better ways to deal with your pain and darkness.

   I still struggle with my bad coping methods, but they don’t happen as often and I have learned how to fight them. I have also learned to cope with stressors and life struggles healthily. When I start imagining the worst I stop myself and start focusing on the positive. Because I am able to do this, I dance within the light.

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