While sketching out ideas for a website/domain name for this site, I played around with some phrases like “mind over matter” and came up with “mind over mind,” among other things. It was initially a frontrunner, but then I discovered it was also a popular psychology book: Mind Over Mind: The Surprising Power of Expectations.
Although the idea has been swept out from under me (and published, no less), I think it’s important to touch on the message anyway.
I am in a constant struggle with my own mind. My brain provides this nonstop stream-of-consciousness that interrupts me throughout the day.
Trying to work out a fluid dynamics problem? Running commentary from Brain about that dog you saw on your bus ride in that morning.
Trying to have a conversation with your significant other? Brain can’t help but comment on his/her facial expressions and the cadence of the words. Sorry dear, what did you say?
I think of my brain on OCD as this person sitting in a rocking chair in the corner of the room, providing commentary on everything going on around and inside of me. You try to be polite and ask him to shut up so you can think, but he can’t take a hint. You try to ignore him, but he talks louder. Eventually you become so frustrated that you scream or throw something…and he gets quiet. Just for a minute, but he’s quiet, as anyone would be if someone suddenly lashed out in anger.
Part of my initial therapy involved acknowledging those thoughts. It is still your brain creating the thoughts, even if it is not You in control of them.
No one likes to be ignored, and that includes Rocking Chair Brain. When RCB starts in on a topic that is irrelevant to what you’re doing at the time, take a second to acknowledge it. The initial parts of my internal conversations, if transposed, would go something like this:
Brain: Your family is going to die.
Me: Why do you say that?
Brain: It’s something I’m concerned about, aren’t you?
Me: I’m working on some paper edits, what does this have to do with anything?
Brain: It has to do with everything.
This goes on for anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes. It sucks, it takes time out of my day, and sometimes I don’t think I’m ever going to get a straight answer out of Brain.
But it’s better than the alternative: getting beaten down by ignoring Brain to the point of emotional exhaustion.
This process is still emotionally exhausting. It is. But I’ll often realize one of two things:
- This is nothing more than an intrusive thought. I will acknowledge the fear as an intrusive thought, mentally label it as such, and continue on with my day.
- This is a deeper issue. My Brain has started thinking about (in this example) my family while I work on an otherwise mundane task, forcing me to wonder if what I’m doing has any purpose, or if my efforts are better focused elsewhere.
Sometimes I cry when I get an answer out of Brain. It’s still emotionally exhausting. But then it’s done, I take a nap, and I get on with my life.
Talk to yourself.