Quick answer: whatever you have prepared, so prepare well.
This blog is not really the place for this particular post. However I don’t currently have another blog that would be more appropriate, so for the meantime it is going to go here. (What would be more suitable is if I had a sub-blog to deal specifically with issues of character, etc….)
Just a few hours ago today, I read yet another news article about a man who apparently went crazy and did some awful things. I don’t want to spell out what he did, but it was dreadful. (Non-sexual). Has anyone else noticed that these kinds of articles are increasing more and more in frequency? Yesterday I read another similar post. It seems unending.
For these people, it seemed they reached the end of their tether. For anyone unfamiliar with it, this phrase means that they were pushed beyond what they could bear, and they just were not able to cope, and that was expressed in these awful actions.
This is actually something I have thought of many times. There will be times for absolutely all of us when we are each pushed to the end of our tether, and we just cannot cope. We will not be able to deal with the circumstances that present themselves. We will have absolutely no resources left within ourselves to deal with whatever we are faced with. Sometimes you will hear people say: “Something within me just snapped”. It is for those times that I am writing this post.
What I would like to encourage anyone reading this is to sit down, and deliberately think through and plan for times when you also will reach the end of your tether, or when you will be pushed beyond what you can bear. I would like to encourage you to develop healthy coping mechanisms now so that they will be ready and in place for when it is absolutely necessary. So that you, and I, in our times of crisis, will not explode and do something crazy like these men, but rather we will be buoyed up by the necessary support we each need to get through the difficult time, and keep pushing through, until things get “back to normal” again.
These are the kinds of healthy coping mechanisms I can think of:
None faith specific:
A strong social circle of friends.
Not just those kind of shallow, superficial friendships that anyone can pick up so easily. But solid friendships. The kinds where you can really bare your heart without fear of being judged. The kind where you as a man can break down and cry, even sob, if you need to. The kind where you can pick up the phone and call at whatever time of the day or night, and you know that they will be there for you.
But here is the thing. These kinds of friendships need serious investment of time and sincerity. They need give and take. If you want someone to be there for you in your own time of crisis, then obviously you need to be there for them in their time of crisis. Otherwise, even if a friendship has the potential to be like this, if the initial investment of time and reciprocity is not there, when they see your call coming in at 3AM they’ll think “You cannot even be serious” – and they will switch off their phone without even finding out what the issue is. Or at least that is what I would do.
You also need friends who will tell you the truth. Sometimes the best thing about really good friends is that they help us to retain a sense of perspective, when it sees as if our world has crashed, and nothing makes sense anymore. Or say you are having an argument with your spouse. If you are wrong and need to swallow your ego, a good friend will be able to tell you candidly that you are just plain wrong. However, even if you are indisputably in the right, a good friend would still be able to tell you if you are completely overreacting, possibly remind you of your own mistakes that you have made in the past, or give you space to remove yourself from the situation for a few hours, or a few days, until you can calm down, and consider the matter more graciously.
You know, I moved back to a certain city just over two years ago, and this is the single thing that has been my overwhelming preoccupation in that time; to gather around myself a strong circle of excellent (female) friends, Christian ladies, so that they can give me the truth from a Biblical perspective, and pray for me. Wise ladies, who are deeply and sincerely steeped in God and everything about Him. Friendships where we can really build and nurture one another. It was hoping for this that I threw myself into church life as hard as I could. It was from the lack of having this (and a strong prayer life, see below) that I knew that I would not be strong enough to deal with my attraction to [someone], and spent so much time running away from it and him. Candidly, for me, and for everyone else, such friends as these are not a luxury, but an absolute necessity. These friendships fill the role that community used to fill. For many of us in our past, “community” happened spontaneously, without our having to make much effort, when life was not completely given over to the demands of work. Times have now changed, so now we do have to make deliberate effort, we will often need to make sacrifices to find the time to invest into these essential friendships.
Having your own space:
I’m really hoping that when I get married, my husband and I will each be able to have our own little studies, if not our own individual bedrooms, where we can escape from one another for hours at a time if necessary. And yes, this is the man from whom I hope to be inseparable! Why is this? I am the kind of person who just needs my own space that I can just retreat to and be in perfect peace, without someone else being there all the time. I need this for my own mental well being, so that I can process things in peace, perhaps have those discreet conversations with my wisest aunties where I can vent about Huggie-Wuggie, or just let my mind get distracted by other things, or get engrossed in a good book, until I naturally calm down from whatever the issue is.
How you could prepare: Perhaps if you do not have access to your own room, you could dig out a little corner for yourself somewhere. Keep it clean, orderly and well stocked with clean duvets, notebooks, novels and pens so that when you are tempted to lose it you could just go in there, and shut the world out.
Journalling: this is something that many people find useful, and actually, this blog, Finding Mr Huggie-Wuggie is among other things an example of (public) journalling, where I pour out my thoughts on different issues, for the sake of helping myself to understand where I am at, or what is going on in my mind.
How you could prepare: By getting into the habit of pouring out your heart into a diary. I think that the best thing, as always, is total candour. You know, alongside this blog, I still often pour out my heart into notebooks. And I know that there is a zero chance that anyone is ever going to pick up one of these notebooks, or make the effort to decipher my barely legible handwriting that many times even I myself cannot read! (My handwriting used to be fine, even lovely, until I started typing all the time, and since then from lack of practice my handwriting muscles have lost their form, but my typing muscles are at the top of their game!)
And yet I still write in code!
Sometimes something as simple as just getting enough sleep is enough to clear your mind and get you back to a place of equilibrium. Sometimes it might be rejuvenating to go beyond “getting enough sleep” to spend whole days in bed, sleeping, relaxing, doing nothing.
This is something that would combine well with having your own space. Because then this is something that you could do within that space: pour out your heart to God, just express things as they are, cry, complain, read the Bible, get encouragement from the Bible. If you are a Christian, then I would also add it to the criteria for strong friendships that these friends should have strong and consistent prayer lives, so that they can pray for you in these crisis times. Sometimes it will be when we most need to pray that we cannot pray, or we are feeling too stubborn or too proud to pray. So our friends can “stand in the gap” for us and pray for us the prayers that we should be praying. At other times we will be praying, as hard as we possibly can, and yet we will still need and deeply appreciate the prayer support from our friends.
Preparing for this: some people might argue that as a Christian you do not need to specifically prepare for this, all you need to do is just go ahead and pray! I would say though that it is helpful to develop fluency in prayer, by learning to pour out your heart before God, learning to listen to the spirit of God, just learning to comfortably be in God’s presence. So when you really need it, you are already familiar and fluent with what you are doing and you can bring yourself before God, and just pour it all out.
Unhelpful coping mechanisms
I’m sure that I don’t have to spell out some unhealthy coping mechanisms. Have you noticed that when someone is caught doing something extremely unwise, he will often blame it on being stressed?
Going back to the man who did something so unprintably bad, what makes this situation all the sadder is that he was already a survivor. He had already been through extreme difficulty, and come out as a winner. And yet, the fact that he had previously overcome severe challenges did not stop him from eventually crumbling under pressure.
As with him, so with us. Every single one of us. Every single one of us reading this will already have triumphed, several times in the face of seemingly overwhelming difficulties. Sometimes, it will have been seemingly through sheer luck, sometimes things happened to be arranged in the right way. However, just because we have successfully defeated our challenges in the past does not mean that a challenge might not be waiting, lurking, currently unseen, unsuspected, which might have the potential to actually defeat us. Or it might just be the culmination of several things, perhaps unresolved issues from previous challenges. So that ultimately the final straw to break the camel’s back might be just that: a straw, completely inconsequential, and yet enough to tip us over the edge.
One of my favourite issues that I love to talk about on this blog is the impact of working practices. I cannot help being aware how work contributes to stress, and there is often no healthy outlet. There is often no respite either, but for the sake of being able to pay the bills and to keep the roof over their heads many people are forced to keep throwing themselves back again and again into the pressure cookers created by their jobs. And sure enough this man was in a job that I would imagine was quite stressful. And I suspect that demanding work hours made it difficult for him to develop or maintain the friendships that would have helped him to stay strong, where such friendships probably kept him strong in his earlier crises. In a way this might be considered speculative. And yet, reading between the lines of this particular case, I’m fairly confident that this is what happened. So what does this mean for all of us?
Please do not let work chew you up. If a job is leaving you mentally, emotionally and/or physically shattered to the point where you can barely think straight, then you might need to leave, no matter how well paid the job might be. This is also true if it is leaving you without the time or the energy to invest in your important friendships. For many of us with pressing financial commitments it might not be easy to do this. However, for myself, despite my own financial considerations, this is a decision that I recently had to make for myself, when I realised that I was at breaking point due to a job. If it is not possible to walk away altogether, might you be able to renegotiate hours, perhaps request days off work to get a bit of a breather? If at all possible, I would encourage you to consider embracing a simpler, that is less expensive lifestyle, so that you can get by with working fewer hours at work, or possibly opt for a less stressful job. That said, lower-paid jobs are often just as stressful as higher-paid jobs, just in different ways.
Children: This blog post is obviously written by someone who has no children, isn’t it? But you cannot necessarily just shut the world out, or spend whole days in bed if you have children who need to be fed, bathed, or put to bed. It would be great to have some relatives or friends who would be able to take the children off your hands for whole days at a time if need be. Once again this is an area in which to cultivate reciprocity: where it is at all possible to babysit for your friends, then do that, so that they too will be more willing to help out when you need it from them. Or possibly consider moving close to family so that that resource will be more readily available. That said, these days even grandparents often have their own hectic and packed schedules, many of them are still working to provide for themselves financially. Hopefully though, if you are physically close to your family, then when you are on the brink of having a crisis they will be able to rally around you.