As we hurtle towards the end of this year a new catchphrase has entered into our lives – Just About Managing. An expression invented by our politicians to describe people who are surviving on just the right side of financial crisis.
Just About Managing. What a useful expression. Its implication is to acknowledge that you are Just About doing ok, and although some help might be welcome you are actually managing, so we won’t worry too much about helping you.
Let’s change the meaning for a moment. Let’s talk about coping. There are thousands of people in this country who are just about coping with life. We all know someone – maybe it’s even you, reading these words – that is just about holding it together. Who can’t slow down and take stock of their lives, because they’re afraid that if they do they may never pull it back together again. Work, money, family, relationships, health, reality. Just About Managing. Like a juggler, just about keeping all their balls in the air, really afraid that if they drop one it will create a disaster. These are the people who are least likely to seek help and support for their problems. Because, just like the JAMs, the message they hear is that they are considered to be coping, so they have no choice but to get on with it. These are the people likely to experience anxiety, or suffer depression. The people who may benefit in the short term from emotional support, but they’re not considered “broken” enough to get that help from the NHS. People who day in day out somehow keep going despite the toll that it’s taking on their well being.
There is still a stigma in our society about coping. We must be seen to be able to cope with our problems, or people will look down on us. If we ask for help, we are weak, or somehow flawed. But many of us encounter problems as adults that we have no life experience of. If we’ve never done it before, how can we expect to have the tools to deal with it? Ever performed a piano concerto? Ever successfully flown a fighter jet? Conducted neuro-surgery? Do you have the tools or training or skills to do any of those things? Would you even consider trying without? Life is just the same. We all need a degree of emotional resilience and confidence to be able to cope. And if we don’t have, then eventually we don’t cope. It’s that simple. It’s so common for people to come in to see me and say, but I’ve always coped. I’m the strong one, friends and family come to me. So now that I feel overwhelmed, there must be something wrong with me, not good enough about me.
It really is ok to admit if you’re not coping. You are allowed to say, ok I don’t know what to do now. And you are absolutely allowed to say, I need some support or guidance for this next bit. Most of us don’t know what we’re doing –we just muddle through as best we can – but some of us are better at hiding it or looking like we’re in control.
Asking for help and using that help effectively is a good thing, not a bad one. When you let go of everything you’ve bottle up, and make room in your head for new thoughts and new understanding, that gives you the room to learn the coping skills you will need. Therapy isn’t a weakness, it’s about saying I need to learn how to do these things I need to do. Once you’ve learned them, they are with you forever.
Don’t be afraid to say, I am just about coping, but there’s no room for any more. Ask for help. Don’t be afraid to say No once in a while, too. I am a great believer in letting go of all the things you think you ought or should do, and just deal with the things you really do have to. And that second list is always much shorter than the first. Taking the immediate pressure off yourself might even be enough of a breathing space to help.
Ask yourself this question, where does it say that you don’t matter? Where does it say that your life, your wellbeing is any less important than anyone else’s? If people really do depend on you, then you need to look after yourself. Remember the analogy of the aeroplane oxygen masks – in case of emergency, the instruction is always to put your own mask on first so that you are strong enough to help others. Meeting your own needs is not selfish its self care.
And feel free to totally ignore all these “inspirational” memes or sayings that tell us to reach for the stars or be awesome or amazing. Yeah, right. Some days I don’t have matching socks and some mornings I wake up with no clue what day of the week it is. But I still take care of business. Nobody is perfect. As a therapist, I am comfortable with the idea of telling people not to reach for amazing. Just find a place where you feel ok. If you’ve been stressed or anxious or depressed, just being ok will feel like a massive deal anyway.
A much better deal would be to say, lets aim to get rid of the “Just About” and go instead with “ Managing”. I am managing my life. And that feels just fine.
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