Distract Me!

Janet Coburn
3 min readMay 7, 2023

I recently saw a meme that said being happy was different than being distracted from sadness. I couldn’t deny that they are different. But it seemed to me that it was saying that being distracted from sadness was a bad thing. And I don’t believe that, necessarily.

Sure, happiness is better than sadness, and something to aspire to. But it’s not always possible, especially for those of us who struggle with bipolar, depression, and other mood disorders — despite what the positive thinking people say. (I don’t think that “smiling depression” is a good coping mechanism to recommend. It denies reality and doesn’t help someone realize that they should seek out the help they need.)

But when I’m down in the depths, distraction helps. Unless I’m in the total Pit of Despair, it short-circuits my overthinking, relieves (at least for a while) my brooding, and even gives me something I can smile at, if only momentarily.

Where do I find distraction? First, there are other people. There’s my husband. He has the ability to make me laugh at the silliest things. We sometimes toss a soft toy back and forth at each other, exclaiming, “Eeee!” It’s really a stupid game, and not one we play every day, but when you’re not expecting Eeee to fly through the air and bop you, it’s definitely distracting. We giggle like fools.

Another one of my go-to distraction providers is a friend named Tom. He’s a singer-songwriter and improv comedian who has dozens of different songs and jokes I’ve never heard. If I’m too much “in my head” and can’t get out, I can call Tom. Once when I called him, I just flat out said, “I need to be distracted.” “Look at the grouse! Look at the grouse!” he instantly replied. I had no idea it was from a Three Stooges routine, but it was absurd enough to ease me closer to where I needed to be.

That’s an important point, too — the ability to ask for distraction. It’s good to have people around who respond and help. Sometimes a calming voice is all it takes. My Uncle Phil has the most soothing voice, and he has many times centered me by distracting me with stories about anything — using computers for business, tarot cards, religious stories, or whatever. My friend Leslie grounds me by expounding on esoteric subjects — epigenetics, for example — if I ask her to. We’re perpetually told to reach out when we need it. This is just another way to do that. If you don’t want advice or commiseration, reach out for distraction.

Of course, there are other distractions like music, television, movies, and even pursuits like gardening. Doing something you have to concentrate on, like needlepoint, keeps your mind focused, and can be a great distraction if you are able to do it. And there are the cats. They’re so completely unconcerned with whatever’s troubling me that they can’t help but draw my attention away from it too.

I’m not saying that one should distract oneself to the exclusion of working on one’s problems. That way nothing which is necessary gets done. We all know that dealing with our difficulties is the path out of the pit.

And I’m not saying that distractions always work. Dan used to tell me terrible jokes to try to jolly me out of my depressive moods. When that didn’t work, he would tell the same joke again in hopes, I suppose, that I had merely misunderstood it and would think it was funny the second time. At that point in my life and my illness, not even Eeee would have gotten through. I’d have let it bounce off me. Or hidden it so he couldn’t try it again.

I’m hardly going to say that distraction can replace therapy and medication. But as an adjunct, I can’t see the harm in it. If you’re at a point where you’re able to, look at the grouse!

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Janet Coburn

Author of Bipolar Me and Bipolar Us, Janet Coburn is a writer, editor, and blogger at butidigress.blog and bipolarme.blog.