trigger warnings:// self-harm, suicide
When I read O.Henry’s “The Last Leaf” in school, I never imagined a parallel version would play out in my own life. In the book, one of the central characters, in a moment of helplessness, links the falling of the leaves in a nearby tree with her own life and believes she would die once the last leaf falls. Without spoiling much, let’s say, a small miracle occurs and helps her find the motivation to live.
Around 4 years later, during a particularly tough time in my life, I found myself utterly uninterested in any of my previous hobbies, unsure about the future and in general very disillusioned. Coincidentally this was also the time I brought home a plant which stubbornly refused to show any signs of life for days together. A completely random thought hit me – If this plant survives and grows leaves, I would be okay too. I religiously made sure it got sunlight and fresh water everyday, sat beside it whenever I needed some quiet time and surely enough, the plant survived. And in some sense, So did I. It may not seem very drastic to some but this small plant eased something in me during those tough times.
Here’s the picture of this resilient li’l plant.
While I had stumbled onto this way of coping, I later learnt it wasn’t all that rare. I read several posts on Reddit about people delaying self-harm by waiting for the release of their favourite movies/books/video games. Let’s think about it for a minute. This kind of concrete expectation gives us something to look forward to while also seemingly providing a specific date, lending some amount of certainty in an overwhelmingly confusing world. These survivors didn’t stop with one date though. They settled on another one and delayed their suicidal plans for a few more months or years and so on. A kind of useful procrastination, if you think about it.
Does this really make a difference though? Our social media feeds are filled with alarming news one after another. About the planet, the economy, the country – all of it. Notifications pile up about all the cool stuff everyone else is doing and the comparison game seamlessly begins. At times caring, well-meaning friends or family are not quite sure what to say, assuming they are available to listen and understand. In such times, a specific date on which you get to reconnect with a beloved character or story seems awfully reliable.
If you are in fact considering self-harm, you can try some of the following distraction techniques as a form of emotional first-aid :
- Spending time in nature or with pets
- Temporarily stepping back from people or situations that act as triggers
- Finding a creative outlet
But a very important thing to note is that these kinds of distraction strategies can be maladaptive as well — this interesting study talks about how distraction methods can be adaptive or maladaptive for emotional regulation based on the intent of the distraction. It can be adaptive if it is done with acceptance but can turn maladaptive if done with avoidance. So it is very important to take into account what your emotional state is and to act accordingly.
This is in no way to suggest that we do away with professional help or that this method can effectively replace therapy. Seeking professional help and working on sorting out the underlying issue is of utmost importance and is what will help in the long run.. These distraction methods only provide us with some more time and drive to seek help. The idea isn’t to latch on to short-term fixes like these forever but to to utilize this time to seek help from a qualified professional who can understand the specifics of your situation and aid in recovery and help build resilience even in the face of future adversity. I realize that to several people, this might sound ridiculous or trivial. I mean given all the problems in one’s life, how would a new movie or show even matter? You might be tempted to say that life’s purpose isn’t such “silly entertainment” and needs to be aligned with a higher calling. A noble thought indeed. But for a person who is struggling to find the will to wake up each day and even get dressed, if a new comic book makes it easier, why not?
Recovery is a process and it can’t be solved or fast-forwarded through such hacks. Each individual needs to take their own time and have a sound support system in place. While methods like this can help make things slightly easier,it is not a long-term solution. We absolutely do need to invest time and effort to work though the underlying issues. But for the short term, even if it’s silly, even if no one understands it, if it makes the daily grind of life better at least for a while, it may be worth a shot.
(You can check out the story here http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/LasLea.shtml)