Here are the things I have started to do in the last 36 hours:
Count the steps I take from point A to point B nearly every time I walk, make extra sure not to step on any shadows, cracks or holes in the pavement, and probably most annoyingly – I have started replaying any information I hear over and over in my head. It’s kind of like a little 3-ring circus inside my head. One ring counts, the next avoids potential flaws in the walkways, and the next keeps the music going for as long as I like.
The information that constantly goes through my head, the stuff that makes up the most exciting show at the circus, includes anything from phone numbers to overheard conversations to songs and rhythms. Certain things get stuck and even though I hear new things, the stuck thing replays over and over in my head repeatedly, getting particularly hung up on a short phrase or section – it doesn’t even include the whole piece of whatever it is. It’s hard to think about anything at all with all that noise in my head all the time. It has been so long since I have done this, that I wonder how I ever got any thinking done in my childhood. This was a common thing for me when I was young. I was an only child, so this was not only entertainment when I was bored with all the adults, but a coping mechanism – a distraction from life and all it’s upsets.
It may have kept me from a lot of things, but it certainly did not keep me from being a prime observer. I spent most of my young life just watching the world go by. I watched the small ways in which people changed their inflections when they spoke, the ways they moved their bodies in response to conversation, the minute details of the way people dressed. I noticed everything about everything in everyone else and in every situation. I never really assumed I knew what all the things people did meant, but I did look for patterns. I saw a lot of patterns that returned again and again in the same people and then the same patterns in different people.
While I was watching the world go by, a constant radio played in my head. Repeating the TV’s news clip, the conversation I had with my teacher or my babysitter from earlier that morning or the way the kids sounded on the bus on the ride to school.
Sometimes I hummed those things out loud in the middle of class. I hummed mostly a mixture of songs all mixed together. A little line of that one and a longer line of another one, then back to the first one and a little more of a third one. I’m not really sure how they fell into place, but I’m sure my version of the songs sounded funny out loud because they didn’t relate to each other or follow any order. They were probably just a combination of things I had heard over the last few days.
There were the times I hummed the same darn line over and over and over and over and over for hours. Then sometimes I just hummed the way people sounded, which was hard to do because the way people sound is hard to duplicate. Everyone sounds different. They have a voice, which is hard to copy, but they also have a rhythm and a way of saying things that is unique to only them. Even as an adult, I catch myself copying the way people say things without even knowing it. I latch on to a certain phrase or word and it starts to come out when I tell my own stories or make my own statements.
A funny thing about it all is that even though sometimes the thing that gets stuck is a conversation or something someone says (or even something I say), the music plays over all of it most of the time which means I don’t really remember the conversations or even the events at all – I just get stuck in the emotion of it. I had read a quote on a bathroom stall once that stuck with me for a long time since it made more sense to me than anything else I had ever read. It said, “We may not remember exactly what people said or did, but we always remember the way they made us feel.” I really did see it on a bathroom stall first and then later found out someone important had actually said it and someone else had just copied it down to the bathroom wall with a razor. In any case, it made a lot of sense to me because I rarely remembered things the way they really happened anyway.
And so I find myself on Christmas vacation in Sun City West, Arizona with my grandparents and mother, 2 small dogs, and my computer. And I have probably spent 20 of the last 36 hours in this crazy mind circus. On top of the noise in the house – a grandfather who can’t hear creates a house full of yelling people – and the stuff in my head, I am having a hard time figuring out what to eat for lunch as I can’t have a conversation with myself. I’m finding I’ve got to get out of this mess, but there’s nothing I can do but change something inside myself.
I learned a nice little trick this year: to pay attention to what my body is doing and how it feels. From this information I can figure out what I am really feeling and deal with it rather than getting caught up in the three rings where nothing gets done. It is the most reliable form of understanding myself I have yet to come across and yet it is the easiest.
Maybe the years of observation have been waiting for this. I had to learn how to objectively observe others before I could have figured this out for myself. The patterns I find in myself never lead me astray. For example, I get an upset stomach when I am scared. It is a pattern in me. Fear is my body’s favorite emotion, in fact. It’s the place I go before I go anywhere else. And it’s a place my stomach knows very well. I have had upset stomachs all my life and have acquired a taste for seltzer water and aloe juice as a result.
I used to get an upset stomach that hurt so bad, it put me in the emergency room more than once and one year I spent well over four thousand dollars in medical fees looking for the reason behind the sharp pain in the middle of my stomach accompanied by the violent dry heaving. Come to find out now that I was just scared of life. I was scared of everything it seems, since I got sick on long car rides or during basketball tryouts. I especially get sick when I am stressed (a.k.a., scared to fail at something or screw something up…) like the time I wondered if I would pass the Biology final the semester I had a full scholarship that payed only if I maintained a 3.2 GPA or higher. Or the first year I spent living and working out of a tent outside Yellowstone National Park – in a position I loved but feared I wouldn’t be good at.
All sorts of things scared me all the time. There were hugely simple things and then there were the really big things. I was afraid of whether or not people would approve of me sometimes and terrified I wouldn’t be able to pay my bills others. In all cases, I had no idea for most of my life that fear was the driving factor in my stomach pain – a big pattern that took me a long time to figure out.
I had no idea about any of this fear because I was singing to myself in my head and humming made up songs through everything I did. I must not have ever been paying attention to what I was actually thinking. With all my time spent in observation and replaying the observation, there was not enough room for me to process and act. Only time to replay and react. I ignored sadness, anger, even happiness as I hummed my way through my own little head circus.
I originally sat down to write a long tirade about all the things that drive me to circus status and through writing it down today, I remembered that I am the only one in charge of the circus admission. No one else is able to put me there. You see, the quote about remembering how people make us feel is not entirely correct. Other people cannot MAKE me feel anything. I will always remember how I feel rather than remembering what was said or what was done, but I know that I am the one that controls the feeling, not someone else.
Things are always happening. People say and do hurtful things - sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally – or they don’t do anything at all which can also be hurtful. “There’s always something,” says my grandmother, “If it’s not one thing, it’s something else.” And she’s right. There IS always something. And I am lucky enough to have the sense about me to see what that something is and decide for myself if I want to be upset about it.
When I start counting my steps or avoiding cracks in the sidewalk and especially when I start replaying “all things noise” in my head – which is usually when I’m with my family for extended periods of time, like now - I know to stop what I am doing and feel what is happening in my body. Then I can properly assess what I am feeling and how to respond. How to “act,” rather than react. I can choose to be conscious and pay attention to my own thoughts rather than getting stuck in the Lindsay circus cycle.
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