Sometimes my mind runs a little out of control. It’s almost the opposite of the numb silent emptiness of deep depression, but it’s not an entirely pleasant experience either.
It’s like random thoughts and feelings start dancing wildly around in an aimless, unpredictable, confused, associative way. A kind of noisy emotional tangle, where unrelated shreds of thought, memories and feelings keep bumping into each other. For a while, it is hard to focus thoughts and actions again.
Is This a Problem?
This kind of unbridled mental activity may raise the fear of becoming psychotic or something like that.
Obviously I cannot judge for you or for others if that fear has some ground. If in your case it has, for example because you have a history of seriously psychotic episodes, then you might do well to consider your confused mental activity a warning signal. In that case, you might need to call for help.
In my own case, I take a pragmatic approach. In the rare situations where the mess and the noise in my head persist to such an extent that it keeps me from function properly, from sleeping or eating or working, then obviously I do have a problem – a problem requiring action to get it under control. A couple of times I have indeed talked about this with my psychiatrist or used some antipsychotic medication for a brief while.
But most of the times I don’t feel an urgent need to immediately refocus my wildly wandering mind again. For I know from experience that in my case such confusing mind activity is not really harmful. Usually it will not last very long. It doesn’t prevent me from functioning normally over the rest of the day.
The Real Problem
Perhaps we get this fear mainly because our depression conditioned us to view ourselves negatively. Meaning that we have too little confidence in ourself: too little confidence in our mind’s ability to restore itself to a little more order again.
For myself I feel that what also plays a role here, is the continuous pressure of today’s social environment. We live in a culture where everything is supposed to optimized, efficient and under control. We are supposed to keep not just our workplace and our home, but also our free time and even our mind organized efficiently.
And so the web today is churning out an endless stream of controlling tips. How to brew the best breakfast coffee efficiently in no time? How to best organize your kitchen drawer or your shopping list or your resume or your calendar or your fitness schedule? How to keep your mind clear and productive and in focus? Websites such as Lifehacker offer it all, nonstop, day after day.
The implicit, almost subconscious suggestion from such trendy websites is that indeed nearly everything in Life can be Hacked: that everything, from your kitchen drawer to your own mind, can (and should) be optimized and controlled for best results. But isn’t this a dangerous fallacy?
On those inevitable occasional moments when your mind is a mess, when you can’t get it under control right away, won’t such an exaggerated cultural norm of controlled efficiency only make you feel worse?
Accept A Little Confusion
I guess I am a romanticist who doesn’t belong in this Google Glass Century, but I am convinced that total control of your environment and yourself (including your mind) is an undesirable and impossible goal. It would make life dull and predictable; it would reduce ourselves to a kind of self-adjusting efficient feel-good robots.
Aiming at full self-control overlooks the simple fact that no human mind can ever be 100% orderly, 100% positive, 100% under control. And certainly not all the time.
I think that these moments when my mind feels like a mess do not necessarily mean there is a problem. Such moments become a problem only when they really keep hampering me, keep messing up all my day.
By themselves, if such moments come and go, maybe they are just a precious sign of life: something I should simply sit out and accept.
And perhaps on a less conscious level, such moments of complete confusion can even be valuable, in the same way that our mind actually needs having nonsensical dreams at night.
And by the way, aren’t many new, creative ideas born from aimless confused mind wanderings? From uncontrolled thoughts bumping into each other within a wildly associating mind? From a mind that, for a while, seems almost running amok?
If once in a while our thoughts and feelings run out of control, maybe we should not immediately panic, not immediately interpret this as a sign of mental illness or as a sign of the worst.
If it’s just some temporary waves of confusion, then maybe we should simply accept it as something natural.
I’ve found the perfect music to illustrate my point. A sound that evokes the clash of voices I sometimes do hear in my mind.
Two voices wandering aimlessly, at times in disharmony and discord and weirdly bumping into each other – it’s like the makers brilliantly knew how to reflect a confused mindset in a song.
At first, if you don’t know them, their voices may seem Katzenjammer* to you. Ten years ago, these two sisters formed the duo CocoRosie: Coco (Bianca Casady) and Rosie (Sierra Casady).
They’ve recorded five wonderfully weird albums. Give them some time and soon you’ll either love them or hate them – which always is a sign of something special. Yes, I myself happen to love them.
Here is the link to their official CocoRosie website. As an example of their unique and freaky sound I’d like you to listen to Good Friday from their 2004 Parisian debut album La maison de mon rêve. Just start the player below the pic:
• tip for my friends in the NL: this summer, CocoRosie is touring Europe. Saturday evening 16 September 2013 they can be heard and seen live in Paradiso, Amsterdam. You can reserve concert tickets here.
• footnote: the word Katzenjammer originally (literally) meant cats’ wailing. Over the course of time, it came to mean any discordant string of sounds. From there, it also came to mean bewilderment and confusion in a general sense.
And to some people today, Katzenjammer can also describe a state of depression: one bad enough to make you wail. Or bad enough to make you want to wail, if you could.