“You think too much.”
I’ve been on the receiving end of this observation since I was about 13 years old.
Back then, I didn’t understand why people were saying this to me with varying degrees of pity, confusion and exasperation; surely thinking a lot was a good thing? My diaries from the time are a never ending saga of introspection and dwelling, with occasional bouts of self-loathing thrown in just to break the monotony. I second guessed my friends and enemies, analysing every tortured twist and traumatic turn in our dysfunctional circle until I drove myself insane. I assumed that everyone did the same.
A particularly prolonged period of inner wrestling almost saw me drop out of university. I simply couldn’t see what the point was in writing essays about what other people had already written. Discovering that my romanticised ideal of three years of stimulating and earnest academic discussion where fresh insights on old issues elicited approving and admiring nods from bearded professors before we merry students retired to the bar to get drunk and have experimental and fabulous sex was but a pipe dream, I became slightly disillusioned. The reality of mostly dull lectures delivered by academics who neither knew nor cared what I thought and judged my understanding based on a 2000 word essay summarising what everyone before me thought, followed by retiring to the bar to get drunk and have disappointing and vanilla fumbles was unfulfilling to say the least. While my peers just got on with enjoying themselves, I was unable to stop questioning everything about the process.
Profundity is often sought but rarely achieved by those seeking to dish it out, but Professor Brooke was (probably still is) one of those people who never wasted a word. In 1998 he said something to me which has since often provided a key with which I can unlock myself from destructive cycles of overthinking. “Sometimes, Karen,” he said, “You just have to play the game.”
This new way of looking at the world was a revelation! It gave me permission to occasionally stop trying to ‘understand’ everything and everyone and to just go along with the world around me as it appeared on the surface. Clearly I was not cured of my excessively analytical nature but I felt like I’d been given something to control the condition.
Fast forward to today and six months of immersion in the world of dating has led to a massive relapse. ‘Playing the game’ doesn’t work when you’re trying to work out why he hasn’t texted or what the exact significance is of how many times he’s written ‘x’ at the end of a message or what it is about you that’s putting everyone off. What even is ‘the game’ when it comes to dating more than one person or deciding when it’s time to put a label on the situation and if so, which one? I never appreciated how far a stable relationship had pushed this side of my personality into dormancy or how all-consuming the analysis monster would be when she grew full size.
My old ‘play the game’ medicine doesn’t work on this new strain of overthinking; I suspect because the condition has changed and is now augmented by a deficiency in self-worth and a lack of understanding of the new symptoms. The only solution is to try new cures. Distraction works but is tiring; the same goes for getting in shape. Surrounding oneself with friends is always a winner, but after a while a resistance builds up as they, understandably, become fed up with such constant navel-gazing. Wine absolutely has its place, but it is contraindicated with the aforementioned treatments, rendering it best reserved for serious attacks.
Ultimately, acceptance is the only way forward. Acceptance of oneself, the situation and the ever-changing nature of the world. Acceptance that nothing stays the same, good or bad, and that there really is some truth in the idea that what doesn’t destroy us makes us stronger. Acceptance that whilst being overly analytical and pondering can lead to dark and twisted places, it can also lead to self-understanding and wisdom and that, either way, if that is who you are, then that is who you are. Someone will love it.