Coping With Life’s Bullshit: Coping Skills and Neurodivergence

Okay, so they’re not all unhealthy…

Back in the spring, I attended an online presentation about neurodivergent students for my job (FYI, I am a writing tutor at the local community college). It wasn’t perfect–the presenter was an allistic disability specialist at another school–but, as these things go, it didn’t suck either. At least, not that I remember. I mean, shit, that was 4 fucking months ago and, while I took notes, I couldn’t tell you where the hell they are at this particular moment. What I do remember, though, is sharing what I learned with some of my co-workers afterward. One of them was shocked when I mentioned that I am autistic and also have ADHD. She said she never would’ve known if I hadn’t told her. I said, “That’s mostly because of all the coping skills I’ve learned over the course of 60 years.” Because, with neurodivergence, coping skills are fucking life.

What the Fuck Are Coping Skills?

I suppose that’s a question I should answer before going on. For some science on the subject, take a look at this study from the NCBI. If you’re not into the sciencey shit, keeping reading. Coping skills, coping strategies, coping mechanisms, there’s no shortage of names for this shit. Basically though, they’re the things you do that help you navigate/survive the neurotypical hellscape we call “the world”. They range from things like meditation (it doesn’t do shit for me, but it might for you), exercise, or mindfulness practices to working from scripts (literally scripting out what you might say in a given situation), listening to your brain/body, or having routines and rituals. And, of course, there’s stimming. But, in my opinion, the most important is knowing your limits. If I know what I can handle in a situation, I’m much less likely to overextend myself and have a meltdown.

A Head’s Up About Neurodivergence and Coping Skills

Before I start digging into coping mechanisms, I just want to say this post isn’t going to be a super deep dive on the subject. It’s just an introduction and I’ll follow up with additional posts that are more in depth later. You should also understand that coping skills are extremely personalized–what works for one person won’t do a fucking thing for another–so the strategies presented in these posts are things that work for me. Hopefully, they’ll act as a template to help you or a loved one develop their own. Lastly, and this my opinion, there’s a difference between coping mechanisms and coping skills, even though I may use these terms interchangeably. The mechanisms are the things I do to survive, like making plans or using organizational apps. The skill is the way I employ them.

Maybe He’s Born With It, Maybe It’s Some Unhealthy Shit He Picked Up Along the Way

Coping skills are an essential part of my life as someone who’s neurodivergent. They are often the only way I can function. Or even make it through a goddamn day. They are such a major player for me that there are times when I wonder if I have an actual personality or if I’m just a big pile of coping mechanisms held together by caffeine and anxiety. The biggest problem is that they aren’t always what you’d call “healthy”. Like, all too often, my response to meeting new people is to minimize the chances of that happening; aka, just not fucking doing it. Or, when I’m overwhelmed by a task, find any-fucking-thing else to do but that task. Remember back in February, when I wrote about straightening out the shelves in my laundry room and how just looking at them was more than I could take? Like I said, not really what you’d call “healthy”.

It’s Not All Bad

Some of my coping mechanisms, though, are actually kind of decent. Like the whole “make a plan” thing I wrote about in this piece. And, there’s my use of exercise to deal with shit when it starts to build up. I never thought I’d say this, but a good run or a nice long walk can fucking do wonders for my mental health when I’ve had a rough day. Then, there are the multiple smart phone apps that allow me to function. Calendar reminders? Check (yes, I know neurotypicals use them too. But, probably not for taking out the trash or making a phone call). Online banking? Damn straight. Online bill pay is the fucking only reason I still have a roof over my head. Routines and rituals? Fuck yes. Not only do they allow me to get shit done, they’re so incredibly soothing. And, of course, there’s therapy. Having a therapist I connect with and trust is huge. I mean, who else am I going to dump all my bullshit on and get decent advice in return?

What’s the Fucking Point Here?

So, I’m telling you all this for a couple of reasons. One is for my neurodivergent peeps: you know the weird shit you do to stay sane and functioning? If it’s keeping you sane and functioning, keep fucking doing it. And, tell anyone who gives you shit about it to piss up a fucking rope. The other is for neurotypicals. I’m hoping this will shine a bit of light on the weird shit your neurodivergent loved one engages in to stay sane and functioning. And, I want to encourage you to help them with that weird shit. And, last of all, if you see someone you don’t know doing some weird shit, like hand-flapping or fidgeting, leave them the fuck alone. It’s none of your goddamn business.