Yugioh, the protagonist of the kids’ show Yugioh!, has an alter ego in the form of a millenia-old Egyptian pharaoh. He draws strength from his alter ego, because his alter ego is cool, confident, and invincible at the game Duel Monsters.


Me? I have an older sister named Annie.

She’s thirty three. She’s Indian, though I realize it clashes with the etymology of her name. She owns a mottled green couch, the comfy kind you might find in a therapist’s office.

Oh, and she’s entirely imaginary.


Enter the first of two self-soothing strategies out of the Yugioh playbook:

Self-Soothing Strategy #1: Imaginary Friends

Yugi can always talk to the pharaoh, but he talks to the pharaoh especially when he’s stressed. In the anime, times of stress are duels.

Similarly, in my life, I talk to Annie when I’m stressed.

Now, my interactions with Annie tend to follow a pattern. 

I’ll be sad or angry or nervous. Let’s say I’m nervous, actually. Maybe I’m about to give a speech and I start hyperventilating. Annie will appear, and say the mental equivalent of “Hey Rishi, what’s going on?”

I’ll think out a response to Annie in my head. I might say:

Annie, I have this speech to do and I’m real nervous about it. I didn’t prepare well because I had so many other assignments. Now I have to wing it. I’m just dreading it now. I’m going to embarrass myself in front of everyone.

In emotional moments like this, we don’t think clearly. We usually continue the thought spiral.

But Annie might interject before I spiral. She might say:

Rishi, it’s going to be OK. You’ve done speeches before and they’ve gone fine. You can think on the fly if you need to, you’re good at that. And these people already respect you and think well of you! You just need to communicate some information to them.

My heartrate and breathing will slow, maybe I’ll think “You’re right Annie”. I can do this. And I’m going to be OK.

(Usually, Annie doesn’t need to give a full pep talk. Usually, a “It’s going to be OK, Rishi” suffices.)

Fans of Yugioh will point out the pharaoh is more of a full-on alter ego, while Annie is more of an on-call therapist. True. But the larger point stands: both Yugi and I find it therapeutic to talk to our counterparts. [1]

Talking to an Annie in your head, like journaling or meditating or talking to a therapist, improves your mental health. This is because during these activities, your mind (aka you) becomes the object of your attention.

Try this yourself! I’ve found it an effective and reliable way to calm yourself down or cheer yourself up.

It pairs well with the next strategy:

Self-Soothing Strategy #2: The Power of Friendship

In one episode of Yugioh!, Tea draws a smiley face on her and her friends’ joint hands.


When Tea draws this, she says that when Yugi’s dueling, he should remember he is not alone and that they—Tea, Joey, Tristan—will all be right there with him. 

it’s kinda sweet :’)

Repeatedly, Yugi draws strength from his friends. He’ll be in duels where the fate of the world is on the line. All hope is lost until… we’re flashed a montage his friends. Yugi smiles, remembering their bond. He summons his strength and draws the right card. [2]

Like Yugi, I also draw strength from my friends and the fact that I know they’re in my corner. 

One friend of mine explicitly wants me to be happy. The dude bought me a gratitude journal that I use now, and I think about that sometimes.

I have some older friends that mentored me in big ways. I want to succeed in life and do the mentorship justice.

I know my pledge brothers from my college fraternity, even if we lose touch, are in my corner and want the best for me. I also know they want me to give my all.

In tough times, I've been able to think on this to bring me strength and warmth.

Yeah when I’m not writing about sentence mechanics I’m kind of a simp 😂

One final example: Harry, in the seventh book, draws strength from his loved ones. He uses the Resurrection Stone to summon shades of his parents, Sirius, and Lupin. His loved ones gave him courage to keep going. They stay with him until he makes his way to face Voldemort.



There are tough moments in life, and in those moments, we don’t always have our crew with us. Sometimes we have to imagine existing loved ones into our minds with the smiley face strategy. Sometimes we have to make up people entirely with the imaginary friend strategy.

Some of you might discount these strategies as insubstantial because they happen inside your head. But as Albus Dumbledore once said, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean it is not real?”


——

Footnotes

[1]

God might be the ultimate imaginary friend. He is all knowing, all merciful, and most importantly, non judgmental. A friend of mine reports this as deeply comforting. For me, when I pray, there is someone for me there. (I prayed all through childhood.) And when I learned my grandmother passed away, the only thing I could do was clasp my hands together to pray.

In Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert describes her encounter with God, which I found compelling.

Her conversation goes something like:

I seemed to have reached a state of hopeless and life-threatening despair, and it occurred to me that sometimes people in this state will approach God for help.

What I said to God through my gasping sobs was something like this: "Hello, God. How are you? I'm Liz. It's nice to meet you."

She tells God more of her problems and a voice speaks back:

Then I heard a voice. Please don’t be alarmed—it was not an Old Testament Hollywood Charlton Heston voice, nor was it a voice telling me I must build a baseball field in my backyard. It was merely my own voice, speaking from within my own self. But this was my  voice as I had never heard it before. This was my voice but perfectly wise, calm and compassionate. This was what my voice  would sound like if I’d only ever experienced love and certainty in my life. How can I describe the warmth of affection in that voice, as it gave me the answer that would forever seal my faith in the divine?

The voice said: Go back to bed, Liz.

[2]


I like the emphasis on love and friendship in childrens’ books and shows, even if it’s a bit of a trope. Actually, we emphasize love and friendship in shows and movies for adults too. I wonder if people who stream shows often are influenced to prioritize relationships/community because of the content they consume (as contrasted with nonfiction or self-help material). There might be selection bias at play there though.

[3]

It’s healthy and appropriate to derive your worth from your friendships. In contrast to, career accomplishments. I will write about this. In the meanwhile, watch It’s a Wonderful Life.

Its message: Remember no man is a failure who has friends.

Also Charles Dickens: "No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another."