The Insignificant Significants

“It’s like my brain is firing so fast that it can’t keep up with itself. Words. Colors. Sounds. Sometimes everything fades into the background and all I’m left with is sound. I can hear everything, but not just hear it – I can feel it too. But then it can come on all at once – the sounds turn into light, and the light goes too bright, and it’s like it’s slicing me in two, and then comes the headache. But it’s not just a headache I feel, I can see it, like it’s made up of a million colors, all of them blinding.”

Sometimes I read things, and capture so eloquently (or adequately) something for years I’ve been trying describe, and it stops me dead.

My mind is never silent. My brain never stops talking, and it’s been like that for as long as I can remember. It’s exhausting. It hurts. Sometimes it’s impossible to describe. I forget that everyone around me isn’t hearing the inner dialogue (and it’s always a dialogue), and then sometimes (like clockwork), I burst, and all of the voices come out at once, and it feels like I’ve been sliced in two and the all of the words come spilling out of nowhere, when in fact it’s been a long, drawn out conversation.

I say (write) that, and most people look at me like I’m crazy. Hearing voices is one of those things that they drill into you is not normal. And it probably isn’t – I like to imagine that there are (many) people in the world who go through life with brains that stay focused and see things how they are, with quiet respect for the past and silent anticipation for the future. I wonder what that’s like sometimes – to exist without awareness, with blissful ignorance beyond what’s in front of you. Is it nice? Is it boring? Do you know any better?

I learned at a young age the only way I could silence my mind was to throw myself into something that required complete concentration, which in school years, was work. I could pick up my math homework and focus on solving problems, and the voices would stop challenging each other and would talk about numbers in pleasant agreement instead. I could dissect Latin sentences, and search through those file folders in my head to find the right vocabulary and grammatical use, and piece it together in silence. I could lose myself in a book and enter some other world, where I could empathize with a character and disappear from whatever was surrounding me. In adult years, it was biology, and then coding, and then running.

Usually those escapes work… until, like everything, they don’t. Some things gets too routine, I figure it out, or the challenge stops, and when there’s that lull, the voices come back, and I go through the motions while having this internal dialogue about something completely irrelevant that is all-consuming, and I am completely powerless to shut it off. I know it’s happening. I am acutely aware that my brain is firing in 80 different directions, none of which are productive or helpful or adding anything to the current situation. When it starts I have no choice but to sit there and go through my internal checklist of ‘ways to make it stop’ and hope that one of the less-destructive ones (hopefully the one I pick first) does the trick. Luckily over the years I’ve learned to scratch some of the more harmful distractions off that list; I no longer replace unsettled internal conversations with obsessing over food or exercise, and I only start deep-cleaning things until my hands are raw in extreme distress.

I’ve actually been doing incredibly well with dampening it, particularly over the past year, likely because I made a conscious, survival decision to plunge full-on into complete distraction-by-doing. Forcing myself to document things kept me accountable when I knew that moments of idleness would open the floodgates… but then I did stop – sometime in between dropping myself in the mountains and now – breathe, and acknowledge, and the dam overflowed. It’s been a rush of everything, except with a heightened awareness: suddenly, the ‘insignificant significants’, as I’m calling them, are everywhere, and ordinary things are triggering flashbacks that literally start with a burst of light before everything comes vividly into view, and my heart pounds and my mind races and I prepare for fight or flight. For so many years I existed – survived – in the ready-for-defense state, but my awareness of it right now is making it worse than it ever was. The normalcy of the life where I walked on eggshells and felt constant shame and fear has given way to new feelings of shame that I let it happen for so long and fear that it’ll happen again.

It’s exhausting. It hurts. And as much as I want to move and distract and put that bandaid back over it (because everything is really going well in all other ways), I’m so utterly depleted. I want to do the complete opposite and disappear into a bubble of oblivion, where I move and then also sit and try desperately to reprogram my brain to believe that I am safe, there are no eggshells to break, fight or flight reactions can be reserved for bear encounters on the Tahoe trails and not the insignificant significants of everyday life, and that I am – and will continue to be – okay.


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