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  • Helen and Mike

Coping Strategies

Spoiler alert – some readers might find this post depressing. Today we’re writing about everyday struggles – and ageing has its fair share of those. If your life is under control and you don’t have any struggles, feel free to stop reading here!


Once more this week, a visiting friend shared news of the sudden discovery of a spouse’s malignancy. Then a phone call brought news of a school friend’s spouse’s increasing incapacitation. In both cases, there is the need to be spouse turned carer which offers challenges to both partners. Yesterday, we sat down and easily wrote a page-long list of contemporaries and their spouses on our contact list who are struggling with a physical ailment or disability: cancer, dementia, diabetes, heart disease, long Covid, Parkinsons’ disease, prostate problems....the list goes on.  Others are mourning spouses or children cruelly taken from them in a variety of tragic circumstances. Many of their problems are physical and may be only more or less visible to the rest of us.


But as we so easily forget, ‘Not all disabilities are visible’. We were soon adding to our list a slightly less obvious group of friends (and sometimes spouses and carers) whose life-struggles take different forms – often less visible and more difficult to classify: infertility, loneliness without or within relationships, depression, anxiety, sadness, lack of fulfilment and variations on all of the above.


Everyday human courage is just remarkable and so many people who would never have seen themselves in a heroic light seem to find resilience somewhere. Even what we are personally aware of (not to mention what we see and imagine on our TV screens)  leaves us in awe of the human capacity to face difficult circumstances. So we talked about just how people manage. What are the most common individual human coping mechanisms? How do people help each other cope? And how do we cope?


One of the most common but least helpful is averting one’s gaze...pretending to oneself or others that life’s difficulties aren’t happening. Let’s talk about something else. If you don’t talk about ageing or other struggles either physical or mental, you can pretend they aren’t happening and any difficulties will disappear.


If you do acknowledge difficulties, there’s ironic minimising. It’s sometimes a necessary commonplace between people of our age: ‘This growing old business is not for the faint-hearted or wimps or....’ ‘You’re as young as you feel’ or any number of other everyday clichés.


In the global north, a readily available coping mechanism is conspicuous consumption: eating or drinking or online or offline shopping or watching a screen obsessively  - or travelling (if you are able!) to get away from the problems and remind yourself that there are other realities out there!


People offer each other more or less helpful counsel: ‘Don’t over-think your difficulties’, ‘Count your blessings’, ‘think about all the good things that have happened in your life’, ‘be positive’. OR ‘Think about other people’s needs – there are always people less fortunate than you and plenty of them’.


In some religious circles people recognise the limitation of our human coping mechanisms (and sometimes abdicate their own responsibility to listen and care!). ‘Pray about it,' they say – 'God (whoever God is for them) will give you strength...' Sometimes...but not always true - and not always except in hindsight!


We both have our own challenges these days – both visible and invisible. It’s important to acknowledge that. Which of these coping mechanisms do we use? Probably all of them both helpfully and unhelpfully at different times!


Otherwise, when we have the energy we might recommend ‘doing something even half-way creative’. When we can, we find growing something, garden pottering, and writing (even for personal expression not necessarily for publication!) can be helpful. Solitude, deep breathing, reading, sitting in the sun(when there is some!) walking as far as we can, watching something that makes us laugh!

Probably the greatest gift is two-sided conversations with family and friends who are ready to go beyond the commonplace and where we all share (not dump!) some of what’s really going on for each of us and what makes us laugh! As George Bernard Shaw said: “You don’t stop laughing when you grow old. You grow old when you stop laughing.” We believe it!

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colin weedon
colin weedon
May 26

Talking of laughter - - how clever of this system to truncate my comments without telling me !!! ooooo we larfed and larfed !!


colin weedon
colin weedon
May 26

How true. Thank you for raising this huge, widely applicable, topic. We do all have our struggles, but some are more obvious and 'real' than others. I count myself lucky that my trivial issues are not yet too serious, and than whenever the black dog comes prowling I can always fall back on that greatest of consolations - music. And, of course, the staunch love of a real companion - - my only real friend if truth were told.

And how interesting that your last two paragraphs reference that most amazing gift (for which I so often thank God), of laughter. I can tell all sorts of strories about the gift of laughter but I won't do so here ...…

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