I’ve been a overthinker for as long as I can remember. One of my earliest memories of overthinking takes place on the floor of my bedroom. I’m refolding my clothing and talking over my shoulder to someone who isn’t there.
My adolescence was riddled with the desperation to be someone else. If I could, I could be better, be more okay, be more understood. I spent days playing make believe, pretending someone, anyone, I wasn’t. I wanted to be older, to be prettier, to be smarter. I wanted to be 5 years in the future, instead of here, at 8 or 9 years old, sitting on my bedroom floor, surrounded by toys that seemed futile in comparison to everything that lay outside my parents’ door. My Dad had gotten angry at me for one reason or another. I’d been sent to my room, so I concocted a story. I played the role of someone familiar, someone who wasn’t a child, limited by her parents and their rules; I pretended I was my nanny. I spoke to an invisible child. My Dad, passing by my bedroom door, bends down to say: “Don’t worry so much.” Or at least, I think he says this.
I’m always scared to recount moments that I’ve held onto for so long, fearful that they’ve been tainted by time, by the rehashing and inevitably reshaping of what once was, into what is. Did my Dad really say those words? Was I only 8? As a nonfiction writer it is a constant internal battle: what details do I keep in, what do I take out? An essay peppered with, “I think’s” and “If my memory serves me…” isn’t an essay that would capture my attention. Therefore, I allow myself to record my past to the best extent that I can, hoping that the reader can understand the factors which can, sometimes significantly so, alter a memory.
But, I digress. Regardless of my Dad’s exact words, the sentiment was there, I was consumed by my thoughts, too nervous to spend time by myself, terrified if I did I wouldn’t like who I was. Pretending was easier. I didn’t have to think, if I wasn’t me. Another instance, my Grandmother tells me not to furrow my brow so much, I’ll get lines. Afterwards, I spend hours in front of a mirror tracing my finger over, the already (too late) pronounced line—worry, in the flesh. I’m a child, and yet, I’m not, my mind already moving at a warped speed, trailing me, it’s lone passenger, along for the ride.
Overthinking has always been a problem for me when it comes to my intimate relationships. The other day on Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond’s podcast, Dear Sugars, I listened as the author’s spoke about the unique dynamic of a friendship: how it is almost always entirely voluntary and how that in itself provides a lesser motivation to do any harm, rock any boats.
I’ve never dealt with obsession in any friendship where I didn’t have a want. For me, that want, in hindsight, was a sexual desire, a hunger that forced me to do everything I could to make that woman (and it has always been women even before I defined my sexuality), my friend. I obsessed over text messages, replied instantaneously, and then repeatedly until I got the response I needed. I can count on my hand how many friendships I’ve ruined because of my beastly desire. A beast, because, at the time, I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t be normal, couldn’t just send a text, couldn’t just let the relationship take there natural course. My desire would rear its feisty head and I’d be obsessing. I wrote about an incident that occurred in high school here, but there are many, many, many more like it. Until I could name what was happening to me, I really felt like I couldn’t stop. Only recently have I accepted that my overthinking breeds an obsession that isn’t necessarily normal (although, that begs the question, what is).
As a homework assignment for therapy, I tried to track my thought process during an obsessive cycle. Where am I? Who am I with? What has been said? How am I feeling (the toughest question for me to answer)? Here is what I came up with:
Something is said to me (via text is the real killer) or I say something which makes me feel like I’ve lost control (i.e. asked a big question).
A period of time goes by before the other person responds or when they do respond my brain immediately picks the response apart for something wrong. My beast is flaring and my insecurities have heightened.
I might follow-up with a question, a joke to make light of the situation, or a passive aggressive comment to get the closure I think I need in that moment to be OKAY.
My feelings of doubt, fear, sometimes anger, and definitely, always sadness intensify.
I usually wake-up (if this happens in the evening, which for me, tends to be my weakest, most vulnerable spot) with a heavy heart, searching for the source and/or comfort.
Within a day, I’m completely fine. If there is unresolved conflict I’m upset, but no obsessive thoughts remain.
Perhaps this is a more scientific or deliberate way in which to track a seemingly innocuous event. Most people do deal with similar fears that manifest in anxiety or depression. You casually hear, “don’t overthink it,” within school or work hallways, from professionals, etc. all the time. But, telling me not to overthink something is similar to me telling my insomniac girlfriend to, “just sleep.”
I do subscribe to the belief that sometimes picking habits apart can lead to deeper insecurities, can have a domino affect on my mental health, waking my obsessiveness, and nudging it into overdrive. But, I feel like the only way for me to overcome my obsessiveness, something that has plagued me for almost my entire life, is to understand it.
When I lay in bed at night, occasionally what I cannot see, manifests into more. The closed window in my kitchen, suddenly opens, the noise in the alley, came from somewhere under my bed. I am twenty-four years old and still, the darkness remains one of my top three fears. Likewise, unable to see, and for so long to name, my obsessiveness as a derivative of my overthinking mind, I have lived in fear that something is wrong with me. Here are some of the thoughts I’ve had in the last two years before I could call my overthinking what it was: My wires are crossed. I am an alcoholic. I’m confused. I’m bad. I am too much. I am too much. IAMTOOMUCH. She doesn’t like me. I am not successful/not pretty/not (insert here). I am too emotional. I am too sensitive. I am not enough. While some of these things remain true, even after coming to terms with my overthinking, most of them have proven to be false. I am emotional, yes, but, like Glennon Doyle says, “I am a feeling person in a messy world.” I am sensitive, but my therapist kindly reminded me in our last session, that it is essential to my being, it is in fact a very good thing. I am, and this one hurts a little admit, too much for some people. I am and have been and will be, but the right people will stay. I am beautiful. I am successful. I am confident. These are qualities that manifest uniquely in every individual. Like fingerprints, one person’s beauty and success does not cancel out my own.
I made a goal for this week to not start a fire where there isn’t one. Igniting doesn’t need to be my primary reaction. Glennon Doyle also says to be careful of the easy button. Life is aplenty with them and I believe my overthinking to be a persistent easy button in my life. Although, there is nothing easy once I start wandering down the obsessive path, there is a great sense of comfort in returning to and leaning back on what is perhaps my longest relationship. Personifying things has always been a way for me to empathize with them. If I can see you as just another human doing their very best to live and breathe and pay taxes and all the other things that are required of us, than I can understand you, and ultimately decide if you hurt or help me. Elizabeth Gilbert has a wonderful image wherein she personifies her fear:
“You’re allowed to have a seat, and you’re allowed to have a voice. But you are not allowed to have a vote. You’re not allowed to touch the road maps, or suggest detours. You’re not allowed to fiddle with the temperature. Dude, you’re not even allowed to touch the radio. But above all else, you are absolutely forbidden to drive.”
And here goes my attempt at beginning to rid myself of my overthinking and obsessive mind for good:
Look, I think we need to talk. You’ve been kind of taking over for the last few years. I want to say your intentions are good and honest, but sometimes I feel like I don’t even know you. Do you want to self-destruct? Do you like pain over peace? Do you ever shut the heck up? These are questions I am not going to give you the opportunity to answer because I have given you far too much time to speak. Overthinking, I know I will never completely get rid of you, you’re like a needy child, pulling at my coat tails, insisting that you need this and that or YOU JUST WON’T BE OKAY. But, Overthinking, I know I will be. I’ll be okay without you. And you’ll be okay without me. We’ve had a really great run, but now it’s time for you to take a backseat and let me call the shots. Thank you for your service, but this is your eviction notice Overthinking. We’re done.
Overthinking is tricky business. From my experience, it tends to pop-up on me as soon as I’ve said, “I’ve got this.” After listening to an episode of Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast, where she interviews Glennon Doyle, (I LOVE this woman, sorry babe), and hearing Glennon say the following words I knew I just had to dive right on in: “show up before you’re ready.” Hear that? Let me say it again: SHOW. UP. BEFORE. YOU’RE. READY. Which means there is no better time than right this second to write a letter to the bad habit/the trait that won’t go away/the voice that says, “you can’t.” Write the damn letter today. If you wait to be ready, you’re never going to be ready!
After almost an entire lifetime of making excuses and falling into the same damn footfall day after day after day, year after year after year, I’m ready to stop talking about how things would just be better if I could curb my overthinking, and take tangible steps towards freeing myself from overthinking. TANGIBLE. For me, that means I stay in the present. I write long to-do lists and practice checking boxes off, building my self-esteem through a simple, small action. I’ve always thought that in order to make a really big change, you have to do so in a really big, profound way, but I’m starting to see that the only thing that matters is that I know what the heck I’m doing. I’m really big on words (if you can’t tell after the last 1500+), so writing this down and hitting publish seems profound enough. There aren’t slammed doors, or long drawn out promises, or even tears, there’s just my words, me, and maybe, if you’re one of my people, you, bearing witness to all of my beauty and all of my mess.