Coping (NHBPM 5)

Coping is really what people with chronic illnesses do best. We have to cope – we have no other choice. And by “cope”, we generally mean far less than being okay. For those on the outside, I will give you some insight into this code-word we use; “coping”.

“Coping” with cooking is often eating bread every meal because we can’t do anything more complex than opening a packet.
“Coping” with living by ourselves is often crying into a teddy bear because we don’t have anyone else to talk to.
“Coping” with benefit forms is often spending every day for a couple of weeks doing nothing but writing painful sentences, one at a time, so the form can be in on time.
“Coping” with self-care is often scrubbing our faces with a damp flannel before seeing someone, because that’s the most we can manage.

People hear the word “coping” and think it means “it’s a struggle – but we get there. We’re a bit tired, but we manage everything a normal person would. It takes a bit longer, but we can do everything ourselves”. Far from just being wrong, that assumption of meaning is used to cut people off from help they desperately need, and placate the consciences of those who might otherwise lend a hand.

Don’t be fooled – people hold onto their pride like nothing else. When someone says they are “coping”, very often the most it means is that they managed something without help – and that something might be a lot less than anyone could expect as a basic standards of living. Usually it indicates we just do without. It is a great mistake to assume that the easily given answer is the truth. Nobody wants to admit that they are incapable of doing something, or that they really, really aren’t coping. We just don’t. We’d rather lie about it and carry on in misery than admit that we just aren’t managing very well.

“Coping” is also used by us against ourselves. We think we shouldn’t ask anyone for help, because we managed something by ourselves; we think it would be unfair to put a burden on someone else when we “coped” so far. “Copers”, we are deluding ourselves. Look at it from the other side. Look at it as though you were the one asking someone else if they needed help. When they say “I can cope with making meals” but they mean “I eat uncooked things straight out of the packet”, would you accept that as coping? When they say they can cope with a benefit form, but they mean that they will literally be unable to do anything else for the two weeks it takes them to fill it out, and they will probably make a hash of it anyway – would you accept that as coping? Probably not, because your heart is bigger than that – and so is the heart of the person asking you if you need a hand.

I’m as guilty of this “coping” as anyone. I don’t like to admit that I can’t do things, and I need help. I don’t want to bother people with things that I can just go without entirely. I especially don’t want to complain when I know there are people worse off than me, who go with far less, so who am I to admit that I could do with more to survive? I actually go so far as to feel guilty when I have to ask for help with something – and I need help with most things. Yet, I know, if it was someone I knew needing help with these things, I would want to help them.

We need to realise that people lie to us, all the time, and we need to realise that we lie to ourselves all the time too. So, here are my hopefully-useful tips for today:

  1. Don’t listen to the lies. It’s okay to not be coping. It isn’t a mark of you as a person, it’s the illness or the situation. If anyone else was in your exact same situation, the illness or situation would cause them to not be able to manage too. It’s okay.
  2. I realise that a huge number of those in situations like this just don’t have any source of help available to them. But if you do, or even potentially do, then work out what help you need, or what you would be comfortable with someone doing – and then if opportunity arises, ask for it. Don’t be afraid to admit that you can’t do certain things any more. On the whole people will be pleased you are open with them, and happy to help you out. (Obviously there are exceptions, so if you know someone is toxic, avoid asking them).
  3. If you’re wanting to help someone who is sick, try to work out something you could do specifically. People are more likely to respond to a direct question like “can I take out the rubbish for you?” than “is there anything I can do?”.

I don’t think I have said anything that isn’t obvious; if you have any further tips please feel free to add them in the comments section.


5 responses to “Coping (NHBPM 5)

  1. Amen sister. I emailed a girl from church today to ask her to come over and put my laundry away. It’s all clean. It’s just in a huge pile on the floor. She felt bad that she couldn’t come over today. I told her, No worries. I’ve been living off the clean clothes pile for six weeks now. It hasn’t killed anyone (nor gone away on its own).

    When I was in high school, I learned that the reason lawyers hire assistants isn’t because they couldn’t do it faster and better themselves. It’s because their time is so valuable that it doesn’t make sense for them to do the tasks they ask their assistants to do. It makes SO much sense.

    I have applied this to my life. Just substitute energy or spoons for time. If lawyers (and doctors and presidents and generals and all the big fancy pants) do it, why can’t I?


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