Distraction therapy is a time-honoured, doctor-endorsed way to cope with pain of all kinds, chronic illness, lifelong injuries, basically 24/7 health problems that drive you bonkers if you don’t find some way to separate your mind from them even if it’s only doable for a minute.
Judy Taylor, the woman who couldn’t eat and suffered the pain of stomach acid leaking onto her skin for years, excelled at distraction therapy, as I wrote about in Lifeliner, my biography on her and how she made artificial feeding possible for tens of thousands who need it. She took distraction therapy to the humorous and jaw-stopping nth degree by baking cookies she couldn’t eat, cooking pot luck dishes she couldn’t eat for community get-togethers, and taking great glee in feeding people.
Friends would greet her enthusiastically and warmly whenever she showed up at events. Everyone was happy to see Judy. What they wouldn’t do is ask her how she was — they could see it in the way she talked or held herself or what she talked about — for they knew that she was there for the same reason they were: to enjoy the company of other people and to have a good time. They knew she didn’t want to talk about herself endlessly. They knew that if she did need to talk, she would approach them.
Judy compartmentalized her life so that she could cope mentally with living on artificial feeding, never eating, and the acid burn pain on her skin. That meant she only spoke her most personal pain to her nurse, her husband, and her Pastor. Her friends respected that; if she ever shared with them, they listened but respected that most of the time she wouldn’t. And that was OK.
She lived in the time before smartphones and social media. These great inventions provide even more kinds of distraction therapy. My fave is Twitter.
The nice thing about the online world is that it’s as easy to participate in for a disabled person as for “normals.” The ease of tweeting comes not because you’re healthy but in the way you’re wired. I think people who like to talk and chat and write and who see the confines of 140 characters a fun challenge, are the ones who like Twitter best — no matter what their abilities.
Some of us are like Judy. Those of us who know about Twitter have discovered it’s a most excellent way to distract a person. When you hop into the Twitter community, you can get riled up by the latest outrage in any part of the world. And be distracted from your own intense pain. You can laugh over funny cat photos. And be distracted from the serious issues in your life. You can debate politics with fellow Canadians or international fellow Tweeps. And feel normal. And sometimes you can talk about your own personal pain and find fellow sufferers to commiserate with for a little while or sympathetic people who want to learn more or listen to you. But if someone asks you every single day or even weekly how you are, Twitter loses its ability to be distraction therapy. It becomes just another place like everywhere you go in real life reminding you that your life ain’t that easy.
There may be no visual cues on Twitter as to how a person is doing; but there are Twitter cues like kinds of tweets, tone of content, pattern of tweeting, etc. And regular followers can pick up on when a person is going south and ask then: how are you doing? And like Judy’s friends listen carefully, chat a little while for as long as one can and the person wants to, and then interact with them normally, knowing distraction therapy is the best thing one can do for the hurting person.