It starts with an innocuous enough thought, “play the string, play the string, play the string, play the string: ad infinitum (seemingly).” I can usually monitor and temper the repetitions when I incorporate a tactile element: touching my fingers in descending order to my thumb in a fluid movement, tapping my horribly misaligned (due to a broken jaw sustained on mischief night 1998) upper and lower canine teeth and grinding down their points, compulsively realigning my jaw bite – switching back and forth from where my bite is and where I think it would be if I did not break my jaw and kept wearing my retainer, singing the first two lines of Chumbawamba’s 1997 international hit, Tubthumper, over and over and over and over; I could carry on, but I think you get the idea: plus, at what point does it not become a description but an actualization of the symptom – fairly harmless behavior. I can, at times, if the thought to do so strikes me, put the loops to work: I will study lists of vocabulary words (index cards or loose leaf sheets) that I assigned my mind to take snap photos for use at a later date. I will also pray. I am terrified to fly (sometimes): I said the Serenity Prayer in my mind the entire five hour and 40 minute plane ride to LAX from Hawaii. Harmless – a great help actually on many occasions. Sometimes when I’ve had enough, and I don’t feel like dealing with the rapid fire hamster wheel (usually when thoughts are too intrusive, like: visualizing the horrific and imagined deaths of loved ones – over and over and over…) I go to my room and lay down: I will also often cry myself to sleep. It works: it’s not worth fighting.
Things get a bit trickier when other people are involved. Here is a harmless example: I once apologized and made amends to a landlord three times in an hour for not pulling a door completely closed. It was an inside door and not closing it was beyond inconsequential. Over the years my mother has been the greatest recipient of these sincere apologies over imagined slights (the list would fill a book).
The next stage is hyper violent images: these actually don’t bother me much. They are so far beyond the realm of my worst possible actions – fraught with blood and dripping gore – like 70’s and 80’s b-movie horror films, that it blows past absurdity to comical. Once again, I’ve learned to use aspects of these compulsive thoughts as a creative outlet: I paint blank canvases in my mind with imagined blood and viscera – it explains most of my paintings. The paintings usually begin as faintly life-like images of natural scenes, but at some point the canvas becomes a chaos of color. Most of these paintings were red before 2016-2017 – when I read Bluets by Maggie Nelson, the chaos turned blue.
By far the worst stage of this repetitive compulsive cacophony is replaying conversations and teasing out self-injected subtext, tracing the how’s and why’s of each word choice to its origin from previous conversations, movies, and all styles of media, and trying to figure out what each person is really trying to say. I am often reminded by my mother that I am typically in a highly stressed state when this occurs, and more importantly, most (nearly all) people do not think or formulate conversations in the realm of da vinci code text and subtext, which is a relief.
My best armchair psychology guess is, my thought patterns are the result of a three pronged attack: genetic predisposition, emotional trauma, and brain damage. I don’t think anyone in my family can deny the (maybe I only think it was cute because she was in her later years) funny little maternal neurosis of Olga McCarthy. Also, I don’t think anyone can argue the emotional and psychological abuse of my childhood (this covers the overly loquaciousness of disposition to explain information I am attempting to convey). Lastly, the newest member of the triumvirate: brain damage. It’s like something doesn’t fire right. The Buzzcocks cover this beautifully in their song, “Why can’t I touch it?”
Well, it seems so real I can see it
And it seems so real I can feel it
And it seems so real I can taste it
And it seems so real I can hear it
So why can’t I touch it?
I can see it, feel it, taste it, and hear it, but I cannot guide its abhorrence back to good: it reels.
I am quite sure you can see how this can be exhausting (sometimes is). I really do have a Rolodex of most conversations I’ve ever had, and the ones I can’t recall often appear with some coaxing. Historically I’ve rifled through them in hopes of learning something I may have missed. Now that I am older-ish and closer to a fully formed human, I can probably take it easy. In fact, I want to forget everything everyone says to me – that sounds marvelous – I’ve got enough to work with.