suicidal temporal relativity – why small acts matter

According to one site, the horse-fly top speed is 145 kph (90 mph) – yes, really – but if we were that size, traveling at that speed, it would feel like 6,525 kph (4,054 mph). It would feel faster than supersonic flight.

The experience of things depends on the context – size, place, and time. Time, for me, is especially interesting because of it’s relationship to suicidal thinking.

One experimental research study with college students reported that people overestimated the amount of time that passed when they were afraid (i.e., 10 minutes on the clock might ‘feel’ like 20 minutes). Other studies on the effects of drugs have found differences in estimated time as well (see for example, this study with stimulants). Most of us experience some differences in how time ‘feels’ – so we say things like “time flies when you’re having fun” or “time stood still.” The 30 minutes at the beginning of a work shift or school day feel different compared to the last 30 minutes.

To some extent I think that people in general ‘get’ this concept as it applies to life. The movie The Bucket List (about two guys having a changed approach to life once they have a terminal illness) grossed over $93 Million in the U.S. alone. Country music star Tim McGraw hit #1 on the Billboard 200 Charts with Live like you were dying (approaching life differently once you know you only have a short time left to live) – with an album certified with multi-platinum sales status.

When you’re facing significant decisions time periods feels much longer. It’s like the feelin of “slow motion” or “entire life flashing before me” that people describe after life-threatening events. Facing death repeatedly, as not only the potential victim but also the potential killer… how could that not change your perception of things? Waiting a month for something to happen when you only expect to live for 12 months is not the same as waiting a month when you expect to live for another 50 years.

So here’s my bottom line: when someone believes that he or she has just a small amount of time left to live (like if they can’t picture life beyond one year in the future), then every moment and every decision will feel more important.

There’s a bright side to this though. When time is moving slow, ‘making it’ for another day for a suicidal person can feel like living for another month or more for someone else. Reaching for the phone to call or text, when someone believes they have only a handful of actions that he or she can take before dying… that is momentous. These things that seem “small” from the outside, they can be really huge achievements inside. Celebrate them.

Reach Out. Check in. Save a life.That smile that you could give or withhold, when someone expects to have only a few more human interactions, can make a world of difference. That call you could make… that text you could send… that card you could mail (or e-card)… that hug you could offer… These “small” acts matter – even more so when someone is acutely suicidal. Please give them. They matter.

I know… not just by theory or research… I know because I’ve been there.

  • Heidi Bryan says:

    Great post and so true. I’ve always maintained that the simplest gesture, the smallest act has the potential of making a huge impact on someone on any given day and can be life-saving.