My Thoughts on Overthinking…
Today I saw two different messages on Facebook warning people of the dangers of overthinking, which got me thinking… is overthinking such a bad thing? As a chronic overthinker, I was a little offended at first. I mean, don’t we make better decisions when we have thoroughly examined all the pros and cons? Isn’t “UNDERthinking” a far greater problem in this world? People who go through life at a breakneck pace, never stopping to think of consequences or laze around and never focus on what they want out of life are surely at a greater risk of harm or unhappiness than those of us who think things to death? Of course the solution is finding that happy medium of just the appropriate amount of thinking! But how do we get there and what leads us to overthink in the first place?
Several months ago I had “Monkey Brain”...at least that’s what my good friend, Camille, told me I was suffering from. At first I pictured this rabid monkey on my head clutching so hard that he reached by brain and wouldn’t let go (it's kind of what it felt like). She laughed and explained that it's more like you have a little monkey in your head constantly swinging from vine to vine, or from one thought to another to another to another to another, and that little sucker never stops for a nap and never lets you get any rest! It is a living torment, and if you’ve experienced it, you know what I mean. Another way of looking at it is “black and white thinking” and it usually stems from trauma that you have experienced. Your mind is caught in this never ending struggle of putting multi-colored experiences, traumas, or thoughts into one of two boxes, the black box or the white box. These boxes could also be labeled “it’s my fault or it’s their fault” or “what I did or what I should have done” or “my life the way I want it to be or the way my life is going to be now.” It’s a vicious cycle because the things don’t fit in the boxes but we try and try! Sometimes I find myself searching for a simple, clear sentence that can sum up, explain and prevent another super complicated event, or series of events, or traumas. Oh man, If I could somehow harness all of the energy I have spent in trying to write one of these magical sentences, I could have put a man on Mars for sure! Yet I do it because I need closure so I can let it rest. The frustrating thing is, even if I could sum in all up perfectly, that would never protect me from future harm or sorrow anyways, the world just doesn’t work that way. The point is, life isn’t simple, things aren’t black and white and they never will be. What you have to be willing and able to do is to smear all the colors together into a big colorful, imperfect mess, and hand it over to God, to the universe or to someone smarter than you and let them carry it for a little while, while you find some much needed peace! For some people it is not that easy. Not for me, but I am getting much better!
For me the secrets to kicking that monkey out of my skull have been pretty straight-forward and so crucial to finding peace. Number one is getting outside help for what is tormenting your brain. Sometimes we find ourselves isolated in our own worlds thinking that we are the only one suffering through trauma or just the difficulties of life, especially when we see other people’s highlight reels online and we can only see our struggles. It makes me so sad to think how long clutched onto my secrets that only began to heal when I let others help me shed light on them. Really good friends, family and qualified, inspired counselors are absolute life-savers. I am not at all ashamed to say that several counselors have opened my eyes and brought me peace over the years. Sometimes I will bring a list of questions to my counselor and dare her to answer them! Sometimes my question is simple, am I crazy?! As a teenager and again as a young mom, I dealt with bulimia, which was basically obsessing and overthinking about every inch of my body and food and how my carefully constructed world would likely fall apart if I wasn't seen as skinny and “perfect” anymore. I was so concerned about gaining weight, yet I was unable to starve myself like an anorexic and so I fell into the addiction of purging my food. Finally, in 2003 I could tell it was wrecking my life, my body and my relationships so I started really opening up about it. Talking to other people and letting them see that monkey swinging around in my head was one of the greatest steps towards recovery. They show me things I never had considered because my mind wasn’t working in healthy ways at the time! They were just the geniuses I needed. Thank God for them!
During that time, and again now, I also am utilizing another tool. It is anti-anxiety medication. I know it’s sometimes embarrassing for people to admit, but I am telling you, the first time I took it to help me overcome bulimia, it was heaven sent. My brain just settled down just enough to let the counseling, the love, the prayers and the Spirit, work in my heart and mind long enough for me to create new habits and break old ones. FINALLY! It felt like the first bit of peace I had felt in years even though I had been to counseling, I had been to bishop and was working with my husband to get better. Recently a series of traumatic events caught me up in that same tortured cycle of trying to figure out massively complicated quatum physics formulas, with a scratch paper, pencil and a bachelor's degree in "general studies." It wasn’t going to work, and it’s not my job to understand it all in the first place. My injured brain needed a little cushion so I could find the answers and the peace that was available. My brain needed something it wasn’t getting in order to bridge that gap and quiet down the anxiety. That’s what it really boils down to… anxiety.
Overthinking is also a product of anxiety. A pathological worry that we haven’t figured things out and until we do, we are screwing up our lives or other people’s lives. So if we can just think of that perfect answer, put things in their perfect boxes, our problems will be solved. But they won’t be solved so easily and they won’t fit in the boxes and still, somehow everything will still be okay. When I start getting frustrated that I haven’t figured things out, or when that feeling of darkness and dread creep into my mind and stomach, that the future is so uncertain or even dreadful, my counselor reminds me to stay in today. “Stay in today, Sarah.” I don’t get to see the last chapters of my life yet, to see if things work out, or how they work out, but I do get to go home to sweet kids, dogs and husband who love me, even though all of us are far from perfect. I do get to spend time making pretty art. I do get to love and serve those around me in anyway I choose! I am healthy and I have overcome many things and still can. I do have strong faith. Will things work out the way I want them to? Most likely not. Does God hold me in his hand and help me when I reach out to him? Absolutely. He has taught me all the things I have written about today and he will continue to teach me… and hopefully I can share that with you too! Everything is going to be okay. Overthink about THAT!