Tuesday, August 23, 2011

When Distraction Is Welcome

In the weeks before Christmas when it was time to send out the cards, I’d often see my mom take a bunch of them along with her address book and put them in her purse. She took them to work the next day, and wrote them during her lunch hour with the chatter of co-workers all around her. Then she mailed them on the way home.

These particular cards required more than just a greeting because they were for family members in my mother's native Germany. To this day, my mom has long bouts of homesickness, and in order not to succumb to it when writing to people back home, she used the distractions of the lunch hour at work to keep her thoughts from dwelling in the past. It was a very useful tool.

When my son was born at only 29 weeks, I lived for two long months in the Neonatal ICU, fixated on the instruments that measured his vital signs. When the alarms went off because he had stopped breathing (which he frequently did) and I saw him turn blue before my eyes, I went into a complete panic. I responded automatically in the same way to all the other alarms going of in the unit for babies in distress. Emotionally, I was a mess to put it plainly, but on those days when I had the company of my husband or my mom in the NICU, I felt a calming relief. They also provided some more lighthearted distractions with talk of work, family, neighbors and Hollywood gossip. (That last one would be more from my mom.) Their positive attitude (sometimes faked) helped me back to temporary sanity.

A former colleague used to rush off to her sister's house after work, to be there when she opened her mail. Her sister had just gone through a nasty divorce (when aren't they?) and whenever she got a letter from the attorneys or her ex, she was afraid to open it alone for fear of reliving the nastiness and hurt. She was determined to move beyond it all, but it was too recent for her to feel she could trust herself. With the distraction of her sister's presence she found she could keep it reasonably light, and deal with the letters as “just business.”

It is practically impossible not to succumb to sadness and anxiety if you are alone and have nowhere else to focus.  Calling on friends and family to simply “be around” during the tough times can provide a much needed barrier between you and the darker places your thoughts want to take you.

I am not suggesting here that we distract ourselves from all difficulties and problems, quite the opposite actually. You may have noticed that no one mentioned in these examples, walked away from their responsibilities. What I am saying is, that when a difficult situation arises in which we could become the cause for our own pain, because of the thoughts we usually associate with it, then it is a kindness to ourselves to seek distraction from them. It is helpful and wise.

It is not noble to suffer needlessly. Help yourself every time you can.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this advice and especially for the poignant vignettes you used to illustrate them.