As many of you know, I spend each week looking for recurring themes or ideas somehow related to this beat-up brain of mine to weave into a post. When this system works the way I like it to, I have a concept in mind by Wednesday, a few mental points to develop by Thursday, some additional experiences or insights on Friday, an idea for a witty intro on Saturday, and a fully formed blog post by Sunday – Monday at the latest. When it doesn’t work, which seems to be more often than not, it looks more like this past week where I had a blurry zygote of an idea mid-week, thought I had zeroed in and found the concept I was looking for by Thursday, then had the whole thing shot to hell over the weekend. I got lost over the long weekend, lost in my mind.
Before we go any further, here’s something for your listening and viewing enjoyment. It’s a very fitting song and great video from one of my favourite groups right now. The group is called “The Head and The Heart”, the song, “Lost in my Mind”:
To be sure, I’ve gotten lost in my mind several times and each time is like a kind of psychological torture, a persistent water drop tapping and wearing away at my front parietal lobe, or whichever lobe is responsible for self-esteem and confidence. My mind implodes into a twisted rabbit hole and I’m Alice falling deeper and deeper, to where things are curiouser and curiouser and I feel stupider and stupider for not understanding any of it. I have a tendency to doubt my perception of reality. I tend to operate under the assumption that my dial-up brain has missed something important, forgotten something vital, or misread a situation. Generally, I feel like I’m not altogether there, or here, or wherever I was supposed to be. So with my doubtful perception already on shaky ground, it takes a mere push for me to lose my bearings and question everything all over again. And that push can be anything: not enough sleep, a bad day at work, an awkward social outing, a tense conversation with Anya, a forgotten appointment, a moment of crippling indecision. This weekend was the proverbial perfect storm of all these elements, the pushes coming high and hard and not just tipping me over the edge, but hurling me far and clear of the cliff face altogether.
The heavyweight in this mental cage match is, not surprisingly, myself. More precisely, it is the way I talk to myself, my self-talk. I’ve become hyper aware of my self-talk, and the influence these one-sided conversations have on my well-being. They say we are our own worst critics, and that’s true, but lately my self-talk has crossed the line from critic to drunken, repugnant heckler. Mistakes and missteps are greeted with the despicable voice from the back of my mind, “How’d you miss that one, Rain Man?!? What are you, retarded?!?” Don’t worry, this reactive diatribe is easily recognized as incongruent and I can usually ignore it, albeit with some uttered expletives for venting purposes, but it’s the steady, even-toned, almost congenial voice that chimes in afterwards that’s hard to dismiss. “You really should have seen that coming though. If you were paying a little more attention,” it says in a Mr. Rogers voice, “you wouldn’t have missed that. You wouldn’t have made that mistake before the car accident, that’s for sure. You were sharp as a tack back then, remember?” From there, this calm, unsuspecting voice will have me double-guessing my every motive and dissecting every thought before finally condemning me and all the supposed progress I though I had made so far. This progression of thought is especially potent, poisoning my logic, tainting my self-esteem, and blurring my vision until I lose sight of the bigger picture, my bigger picture.
It’s a strange and unfortunate phenomenon that we will speak most harshly to ourselves, and what makes it especially dangerous is that we will readily believe everything we tell us. Why is it that I dismiss every accolade given to me by adding mental disclaimers to what others tell me? Why do I qualify every achievement as something anybody could do? Of the same token, why do I exaggerate every mistake and condemn myself to hell over the slightest error? Why do I insist that I should have, would have, could have done better?
I don’t know.
What I do know is that this dangerous lose-lose kind of self-talk is endlessly misleading, and following this thread for any amount of time will get me lost faster than anything.