The Shame of Not Coping


Over the summer my husband and I decided to move to Whidbey Island near Seattle. At the end of August we decided to just go for it. “Right, we can do this! It can be easy, right? Let’s let it be easy.” Ian, the hubby, and I were determined to get it done as fast as we could. We went hell-for-leather for three weeks to get the house in a respectable state to sell, navigating our four year old who in the midst of head-high boxes was strumming his guitar and singing about moving to the east coast. Three weeks later the house was on the market. Finally, we stopped to take a breath.

Our Seattle house went on the market on a Friday. Within 24 hours the house was sold. 8am on the Saturday we had accepted an offer. We were stunned. “Did that really just happen? Shouldn’t it take longer?” It was shocking to have sold it so quickly, after-all, we had only decided for sure to move three weeks before. The next weekend we were on Whidbey Island looking at a rental house; the weekend after that we moved into a house on the island. Whidbey Island.

So this is all good news, yes? It was smooth, it was easy, but I found myself smack in the middle of the not-coping zone. I found myself saying to people, “Okay, I am officially not coping”. It was a lot of pressure to be either coping or not coping. If I was coping I felt good but wondered when I would ultimately stop. Then the shame of not coping had my ego all bent out of shape because I pride myself on being able to handle anything. My version of not coping was really just feeling the stress of change, but my mind thought that this was a pathetic excuse. I just wanted to get back into the coping zone!

When we polarize things in our mind so that we are either coping or not coping, and we equate this with success or failure, and also associate it with shame or pride – we cage ourselves in. I felt like I was drowning underwater, overwhelmed. I was so determined to have a successful move, which we ultimately did, but by putting so much pressure on myself to cope with the move I really caused myself a lot of unnecessary grief. I was so worried that someone might see that I wasn’t handling it well, that they would see that I didn’t have it all together. I was stuck in shame and fear.

I had been stuck in the repetitive pattern of checking on my coping status for a long time. The shame and fear was leftover from childhood. After my dad died when I was thirteen, my life became all about coping – coping at high school, coping with being a teenager, and also coping with my dad’s death. A lot of the time I wasn’t coping, but to appear to be “coping” was my survival. If I was coping, no one asked me how I felt. My worst fear was to be asked how I felt. I just gritted my teeth and did my best to stay in the coping zone. But now, at forty years old in the process of this move, I found myself still gritting my teeth worried that someone would see that I was not coping or dealing with the situation at hand.

The funny thing is if we let go of the concept of coping or not coping and let ourself just feel how we feel, it takes a lot of the charge away. The concept only exists because we believe what we think. And like I’ve heard Byron Katie say, it’s all just a work of fiction. I know this, that these thoughts and beliefs of mine are a work of fiction, but it is funny how when we are under stress, all of our deep beliefs rise up in some strange attempt to help.

Over the last couple of weeks, as we settle into life on Whidbey, it has taken all my self control not to blurt out status reports to people: “I’m coping!”; “Now I’m not coping.” I am working hard for it not to matter one way or the other, to just accept I am in transition and to let myself be accepted whether I am coping or not coping.



– Andrea Rae



With Great Respect and Love,
Kelly McNelis Senegor
Women For One

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1 comment to "The Shame of Not Coping"

  • Emma Hall

    I have known Andrea nearly our whole lives.
    I have the most immense respect for her and all the wonderful things she has done. I was incredibly jealous and excited when they made their move. Most of us are scared to make such a spontaneous move.
    But I am an advocate for telling the whole world when I am not coping. I dealt with the suicide of my 1st husband and now the fact that my son is on the autism spectrum and i am proud to say I sometimes don’t cope and I will tell all who will listen. Help is there often in the most unusual of places and it certainly restores your faith in humanity. And when you are coping, shout it from the rooftops and be proud of what you have achieved. I love you Annie whether you are coping or not, it is unconditional love, so be honest about your feelings and accept the help and love you so rightly deserve.