Psychiatry tells us that we typically over-react to situations. We over-think things, we panic, we get overwhelmed. Our brains respond by flipping out or shutting down. We behave badly, and then we're left dealing with the consequences.
"Normal" people don't think and act this way is the message. "They" respond rationally.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is based around this proposition. Someone says, "I'll call you later." But we often interpret that to mean, "I'm not interested in you." Then our runaway brains take over, churning out all kinds of crazy destructive thoughts.
"What did I do wrong?" "The bastard!" "Why does this always happen to me?" - Take your pick. Not surprisingly, we end up anxious and depressed and miserable. The person calls, just like he said he would. We respond by snapping his head off.
Congratulations. We've just fulfilled our own prophecy. Now that person really truly isn't interested in us.
CBT is based on mindfully observing these self-defeating thoughts and taking corrective action. We train our brains to interpret, "I'll call back later" as a sign of interest. And how does it feel when a person is interested in us? A lot better than the load of crap our out-of-control brains used to be spinning out, thank you very much.
Naturally, I'm a big fan of CBT and mindfulness. But a new twist came up yesterday. Let me explain:
Something happened in a social interaction with a good friend on Sunday. Her friend was being a jerk, and the only way I could respond without making a scene was by making a scene - I left.
Naturally, the friend thought I had overreacted - made a big deal out of nothing - and from her point of view she was absolutely right. So, yesterday, I tried to explain what was happening from my point of view.
Such and such happened, I began, which meant such and such was going to happen. Clear as day, right?
She didn't see how my first such and such connected to my second such and such.
A light bulb went off. How could she? I reasoned. She was thinking linearly. I don't, even though I have a law degree. I'm non-linear. A lot of us with mental illness are. I've been blogging a lot on this recently. Basically, it works like this: People inclined to high creativity, perception, and intuition tend to have brains that are less than efficient in filtering out the world around us.
Everything lands on our intrays, in effect. Very little goes in the wastebasket. Thoughts, feelings, perceptions in abundance. The positive side of this is that when we manage to connect some of these seemingly unrelated inputs into novel points of view we look like geniuses, or, at worst, a bit weird and eccentric.
The negative side is that is we easily get overwhelmed. Our brains respond by flipping out or shutting down.
Fortunately, I already had shared some of this with my friend. She knows me - kind of. She's seen my brain in action. She knows I have a gift. But I had also been quick to tell her that I have paid a very high price for this gift. A very high price. She's very sympathetic, but nevertheless, here I was, in her presence, being judged, forced to make my case:
It's like this, I replied. You and So-and-So are thinking, "one-two-three-four." I'm already on "twenty-six, twenty-seven, twenty-eight." I already know what is going to happen before you do.
They see four. I see twenty-eight. They think I'm responding inappropriately to four. Really, I'm responding as they would to twenty-eight. Probably with a lot more restraint. At least I was able to mindfully observe my brain undergoing a meltdown. At least I was able to vacate the scene before I said things that I would regret.
Unfortunately - for me - I could not stop the chain reaction in my brain. I drove off with the full knowledge that my day was ruined, that for the next several hours the agony of ten thousand hells would play out inside my skull. My only measure of control was to try to endure those hours with some degree of equanimity.
As I said, I pay a very high price for my gift.
I wasn't asking my friend to understand me. Only that she not judge me. In effect, we occupy two different worlds. Or, rather, we see the same world very differently. But the hard cold reality is that the world we share is run by the linear people. The more adept I am at conforming to their expectations the happier I will be. I've learned to be pretty good at this.
In fact, this was what I really valued about our friendship. In her presence I felt that I actually belonged in her world. In the course of the precious time we spent together, I could forget that I was a person that her world was ready to write off as mentally ill.
Then came the brutal hard cold reminder.
Fortunately, I think I salvaged the friendship, but I know she will never look at me the same way again. People like me react to things others don't see. These people, naturally, think we're crazy. At least I know my friend is at least trying to see things from my point of view. A cognitive behavioral therapist sure as hell wouldn't.