Over-thinking is a PITA, no two ways about that.
Analysis paralysis ain’t much fun, either.
As for anxiety – well that’s just Seventh Circle stuff.
And yes, I know that these are all artefactst of a busy, busy brain, and that theoretically I could – with a great deal of patience, practise, and persistence – learn to hush it all down. Breathe. Be still. Achieve calm.
BUT DAMMIT, I LIKE THE RUCKUS!
My brain runs an eight-track mixer. There’s always an earworm (tonight, Zombie.). Alongside writing this I’m chatting online with my cousin and jotting a to-do list for tomorrow. I’m listening to the Skeptic banging around the kitchen, knowing he’ll soon call me in. I’m telling myself to go get my glasses or I’ll have a headache. But, I’m writing fast. Words effervesce; I want to catch and pin them before I have to go; I’m watching the clock and noting that I really need to clean this computer screen.
I call them ‘tracks’ because while they slither up and down in the mix, they’re always, always on. If I wake in the night, there they are: the earworm, softly; the Things-To-Do light blinking; snippets, like whispered conversations, from whatever I’m writing; RL conversations I’ve already had; things I should say. Sometimes other input (temperature, back pain, a wakeful kid) raises the volume to attention-demanding levels, but usually I just drift off again. The buzz is comforting.
Sure, when I’m really tired or stressed, the balance craps out. One track overrides everything else without taking a breath, and that can lead to anxiety.
And, yes, it can be distracting. I’ve learned that when I’m writing I need to occupy a couple slots with music. (Right now they’re cheering to a U2 concert. Zombie’s still there, just quieter.) Without that mental fidget toy, the tracks turn troublesome: like bored kids, getting louder and more quarrelsome til I can’t hear the words I’m trying to capture, sometimes kicking me right off-task.*
Then again, when the words… order … not quite there, yet, briefly attending to another track – channel-hopping, if you like – allows thoughts to emerge and coalesce.
*Sometimes the distraction itself is productive: I’ve just had to open a new document and eject 250 words of a completely different piece. Who knows what that’ll be? Grabbing its beginning creates space for more. And more is fun!
This is my happy place. When I’m well in myself, the chatter in my head isn’t a problem. When I’m really well and have time to indulge it, I can brain like nobody’s business: update the to-do list, sing along, keep an eye on my environment, and work on multiple creative projects, all more or less simultaneously, in an interconnecting, elating flow that I’ve previously described as ‘zinging webs’. Words, questions, and ideas loop around like a gibbon party. It’s entertaining. Exhilarating.
But where Csikszentmihalyi describes flow arising through skilful, practised activity, for me, it comes from letting my brain go, exactly like a horse running just for the sheer joy of it. More funktionslust than flow, perhaps. Freeing my brain to do its thing is energising. All that voluptuous speed and strength: damn what a rush! An hour of that and I’m powered up, ready to face the daily grind.
Most of the time, I have to brain slow. Solve (other people’s) problems, stick to the topic, logic, finish, remember, follow through, and above all, avoid scaring or annoying others with the distant conclusion I’ve already reached. Be present. Dial it down. Prioritise. That’s thinking, man, and it’s exhausting.
It sounds arrogant, I know. It isn’t, though. It’s just biology. While I was privileged to learn a lot from my parents and academia, in truth I’m still a pretty crap thinker. It takes skill and effort to think less fuzzily, more logically, more productively, than I do, and besides not being very good at it, I’ve always been a bit <roll-eye> at the idea. Why think in one direction when eight comes naturally? Bore-ing!
By contrast the track thing has been effortless, forever. It used to bewilder my dad, that I would read in front of the TV, following both stories, while also listening to every word he said to Mum in the next room – but I didn’t do it deliberately. Well, I sort of did; it was relaxing. Mum always tried to make me study in silence, a thing I couldn’t bear. In class I took notes and filled pages with sketches and tapped my foot to the earworm du jour.
At 51 I am just getting to understand and accept that this is how I’m built and not a thing I need to fight. I’m understanding how training for and attaining academic achievement did me no favours, and why cognitivist therapies made the stress worse, akin to asking my kid to only grow freckles on her nose, not everywhere. Because having a racing, flying, trapeze-artist brain is not, in fact, necessarily a bad thing. It is just gifted.