The overthinking is a PITA post

©careerusinterruptus.com

Of course, over-thinking does happen.

Like, what’s for breakfast?

We have some leftover sausages, but I’ve planned pork for dinner.

Okay, so no bacon, either.

Or baked beans, cheese, and bread, because dinner is meat-and-beans in tortillas, with cheese, and nobody needs four serves of pork, beans, or cheese, in one day. (Portion math for teens, y’all.)

Okay. Given that dinner veg includes pulses and capsicum, ideally breakfast should include other veggies to get our five-a-day. Maybe fried rice, with broccoli, carrot, and green beans? And egg, for protein?

Wait. What options does that leave me for lunch?

I can go on like this for half an hour or more, making useless, dithery movements around the kitchen, before I finally figure out peanut-butter-and-banana toast, ticking boxes for filling, protein, and potassium, while squashing down the anxiety about giving them gluten at breakfast and dinner and lunch.

This is overthinking.

I can tell it’s overthinking, rather than analysis paralysis, because it doesn’t matter.

(Hush, you and your ‘does anything really matter?’ Trying to function, here!)

Getting the right fridge, mattered. Choosing badly would have annoyed us all (mostly me, it must be said), countless times a day, for many years, and could well have cost us hundreds in higher power bills and/or premature replacement.

Getting the right breakfast, doesn’t. Yes, I’m obliged to balance our diet, but that doesn’t mean getting every meal right, or even every day. My kids eat pretty widely, thankfully, and even more thankfully, we can buy a wide range of healthy foods. Over the course of the week, it evens out.

That’s why today’s breakfast doesn’t matter. Like it doesn’t matter whether I stop at the shop near me (nightmare carpark, busy store, preferred bread) or the one near Mum (better carpark, smaller store, ‘wrong’ bread), whether that idiot on news.com thought he’d won the argument when I went to cook dinner (AARGH), whether hubby buys the expensive carrots, or whether a teabag went into the bin rather than the compost.

Fretting about the insignificant stuff is really just anxiety that I’m not performing at a sufficiently high level, a hangover from an achievement-oriented upbringing. I know mindfulness and meditation can hush that mental noise. I’ve always sucked at them, though, and these days I’ve abandoned that fight. It’s just a losing battle against an old, unhelpful habit, that is far, far louder, when I’m already carrying a load.

That is, overthinking breakfast happens when I’ve lain awake in the night and have nine thousand things to do while feeling like something scraped off the chook-house floor. Or when I forget to take some meds. Maybe I have a big, real problem to solve, and some of the necessary neural revs are spilling over into the unnecessary stuff. Maybe I’ve eaten too much gluten lately. (I seem to be the only one who feels it.) Let any one of those go on for more than a day or so, and I’m heading for an anxiety spike that will have me overthinking everyfuckingthing.

So I don’t see the overthinking as the problem. It’s just a big red flag telling me I’ve goofed. I let it be there, try not to let it stop me functioning, and put my energy into fixing the goof, stat, because it’s almost always a small, physical fix: sleep, regular meds, diet, exercise. Fix that and I can go back to enjoying the racket in my head. After all, that’s the source of my power.

Biology before psychology. Always.

Birth of a writer

Description: poor-condition black-and-white photograph of a beaming, dark-haired man (my dad) in a checked shirt, holding a fat baby with a lot of hair (me) ©careerusinterruptus

I got the writing gene from my dad. Growing up, his writing was part of our household apparatus. We always had typewriters: first a little cast-iron manual, then an electric, then a bigger electric, then computers and a dot-matrix printer. Our paper supply was the backside of cut-down maps he used as an Air Force navigator, mixed with draft pages of his MBA.

After the MBA, Dad wrote a little bit freelance alongside his job – reports on his Fun Run Club for the base paper, that sort of thing – and his post-military career as a sugar industry lobbyist involved regular press releases and editing together a fortnightly news digest, which he loved.

But what I recall most was the novel. Dad pecked at it throughout my teens and 20s, around his full-time job, a fair share of the housework, the yardwork, and driving us kids all around town. I know the premise – a father, involved in some kind of accident, having to choose which of his children to rescue – although I don’t recall ever reading a single sentence.

From about 1982 on, we had Writers’ Digests and Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbooks on the shelves, too, so I guess Dad wanted to publish his novel. I don’t know whether he ever got that far; I suspect he never even finished it. He died suddenly, aged 56.

Dad didn’t exactly encourage me. In fairness, not many parents would encourage a kid writing her first ‘novel’ during her last year of school. And I understand that his own impoverished childhood underpinned Dad’s over-riding concern for me to get a stable job first, and write later. But that need to be banging away at something? That’s 100% him, in me. It’s why the only thing of his that I wanted to inherit, was his desk.

That desk is now buried under far too much crap for me to actually work there. But, I still write. I do some housework, but I’ve also learned to tolerate mess (mega mess, el grande supremo mess), because otherwise I’d never get to write. This way I do a little nearly every day. Fortunately the current task is editing back a completed MS, which I can tackle even when my brain’s fried after a day driving my own kids all around town. Prioritising writing over the housework is a way of sticking two fingers up to the little voice whispering how pointless it is, how insignificant the things I have to say. (Well hello again, Imposter Syndrome, y’old cow!)

Photograph of an open laptop, showing a document screen, on a table surrounded by craft materials, papers, the other photograph, and a sewing machine.

Next month I turn 51. I’ve set myself the goal of finishing the edit by then, and I have an agent in mind to approach. I’m still walking towards my mountain. I’m not thinking about whether the MS is ‘good’ or ‘important’, or anything else; I’m certainly not trying to be clever or literary. It’s just a story. It still makes me smile and sad where it should, and all I’m asking myself is to give it a chance.

Wish me luck.

Leaving Muggledom

It took several readings about masking before I began noticing how often someone says something that shows they Don’t Get It so profoundly, I don’t know where to start. I’ve started thinking of these folks as muggles.

Some muggles are friends. While not Getting It, they like and respect us enough to keep their ears open. (These are the best people on earth, by the way.) And some friends who think they’re muggles, actually Get It. They’ve just never noticed, because they’re living it, and our tribe is our ‘normal’.

For instance, long before I heard of ‘emotional over-excitability’, I gathered people who, like me, are infuriated by injustice. We rant, rave, and are regularly moved to tears by others’ suffering, whether those ‘others’ are humans or not, whether they’re known to us or not. So many of us are so overwhelmed by anger and grief at what’s happening in the world right now – the protests; the virus; the climate – that we can barely breathe, and we forget that others don’t feel the same.

Similarly, ‘intellectual over-excitability’ explains the friends whose wide-ranging curiosity matches mine. Recently I was thrilled when approached by a new friend, a theoretical physicist (cooooool!) who also wrote a fictional, Arthurian ‘original source’. How cool is THAT?! On top of THEORETICAL PHYSICS?! I was so excited, I was running around in little circles squealing – though only in my head, obviously. Ahem. He’s gonna fit right in with the martial-artist-sword-collector-writer-of-speculative-fiction, the dude who re-enacted a Viking voyage in a genuine knarr and later wrote a history of plumbing, the mathematician-silversmith, the social justice warriors. Oh, and my husband, who after 27 years still regularly surprises me with the breadth of his knowledge.

And because these are my people, I never queried my kids’ Need To Know. It never occurred to me that it was unusual, for instance, when I shared a titbit about Richard I with my husband – who doesn’t do medieval but does military – for our then-9yo to demand a detailed explanation of the battle of Jaffa, just as he’s always demanded the background to every political or current-events comment we’ve ever made.

It never occurred to me not to answer these questions because I know all too well the mental tantrum I’d throw – the agony I’d be in – if I asked and someone didn’t answer fully. Yes, we have anxiety, and yes, knowing what’s going on out there can be awful. And of course I don’t believe my kids can handle anything and everything. But when they ask, answering isn’t just about my commitment to honesty. It’s also about respecting them as fully-fledged, albeit young, members of my tribe.

Someone called me on it, this week. She doesn’t think kids should know about current affairs, believes that parents who share such information are prioritising their values rather than their child’s (mental) health, and declared that parents aren’t experts, especially about children with ‘special considerations’ like anxiety. After closing my mouth, I bowed out of the conversation because – yeah. Muggles.

Parenting these kids – balancing their hard-wired Need To Know against their equally hard-wired anxiety, knowing that a slip either way leads invariably to late-night grief – is quite tricky enough, TYVM, without trying to explain precisely how much I’ve had to learn and how hard I work at it. I’m a long, long freaking way from being an expert on giftedness (or indeed, parenting), but I know who can help – and it ain’t gonna be muggles. It will be those who Get It, either because they’re living it, or because they trust that I am, actually, the expert on my family.

Getting It isn’t about intelligence, necessarily. It’s about listening. Others’ experience is one of the hardest things for anyone to grasp. People are complicated, contradictory, and WEIRD, and often the greatest thing we can do for someone, is simply believe that they know more about their life than we do. Get that right, and you’re on the road away from muggledom.