Sunday, July 4, 2010

You See Four; I See Twenty-Eight - A Follow-up

Last week, in a piece entitled, You See Four; I See Twenty-Eight, I explained how a fair number of us perceive the world differently than the majority. Partly because our brains are less than efficient at filtering out information, we connect the dots in ways that variously come across as visionary or uncanny or totally weird, depending on point of view.

We also tend to get overloaded fairly quickly, which puts our brains in danger of flipping out or shutting down.

One way of looking at this is that while most people think linearly, we non-linear people tend to instantly arrive at conclusions - say 28 - while our linear counterparts are still logically and laboriously working their way to four. Often, we are too far ahead of the rest of the world for our own good. In my piece, I described what I considered a normal - though emotional - response to 28. But the company I was in saw my actions as an irrational over-reaction to the four she was perceiving.

Small wonder we non-linears tend to get marginalized.

From my point of view, the rest of the world is occupied by plodding two-year-olds unable to see the obvious. But when I rationally react to what I see, well guess who gets written off as the two-year-old? It doesn't help that I have bipolar, either, which is obviously linked to non-linear thinking. Mental illness is hardly a prerequisite for thinking non-linear, but - take my word for it - if you're constantly reacting to 28 when the rest of the world is bumbling along at 4, then you most assuredly will be taken for crazy. Prepare for a challenging life ahead.

One of my commenters, CT, could very much relate, and wondered whether I had looked into the issue of "sensitives." Not really, so I started looking. On a site called, I came across this:

Highly sensitive persons (HSP's) have heightened sensitivity to their environments. If you're a highly sensitive person, your nervous system literally picks up more information than the average person about what's going on around you. As HSP's receive heightened sensory input, you can easily get overloaded by too much stimulation. HSP's can also be more sensitive on other levels. ...

As an HSP, it is important to become aware of your situation so you can learn to manage it. In this fast-paced world of over-stimulation, you need to learn to make choices that are healthy for you, even if others might not understand or relate.

As I responded to CT: While I could relate to this, I make no claim to psychic powers or paranormal abilities. I am "sensitive" only in regard to: 1) I pick up more information than others on what's going around me (or rather my brain doesn't filter it out). 2) Because of this, I can intuitively come up with answers long before others logically reach the same conclusion. 3) I can also find creative solutions that others would never even consider.

If this were all there was to it, of course, I would be a mental superman and very well off on account of it. Unfortunately, number 4) comes into the picture, namely I get overwhelmed by events around me very easily, which has made navigating through life a considerable challenge.

I assume a lot of you can identify with this. As to the overlap between intuitive and psychic, from a blog post last Sept:

"How intuitive are you?" I asked you in a poll I conducted during the month of August. There were seven possible answers - ranging from "psychic" to "sorry," and you were allowed to fill in as many as you like. One hundred fifty of you came up with 316 answers, or two each, presumably not ones that represented polar opposites.

The extremes provide some indication of where you stand. Nearly one in four of you (35, 23%) answered that you were "borderline or full-on psychic, or at least it seems that way." In contrast, less than one in ten (13, 8%) responded with, "Sorry, I'm totally rational and logical."

I highly doubt that we would find so many with psychic tendencies in the general population. I also suspect that a lot less of you would share this kind of information with your psychiatrist. We've all had experiences that we can only describe as uncanny and inexplicable. Some of us have them with greater regularity.

Moving on to straight-up intuition: Four in ten of you (64, 42%) indicated that "my thoughts and ideas seem to come out of nowhere" while more than half (83, 55%) reported that "I often read people and situations like a book." This represents our bipolar advantage - creativity and seemingly otherworldly mental abilities - as well as our curse - racing thoughts and distractibility.

So, as I explained to CT: It looks like we're talking about a spectrum where intuition and perception overlap into psychic or what seems like psychic.

I've had a lot of uncanny weird stuff happen to me - such as having a vivid dream about an earthquake the day before I experienced my very first earthquake. But these are random chance occurrences. If this were a power I could control, I'd be rich.

All I can say is thank god I don't have a higher sensitivity. Imagine my brain going off every time the earth twitched. I'd be a nervous wreck, especially now that I live in California. My guess is that long ago my brain learned to tune out this stuff, assuming I had this sensitivity in the first place.

CT also had another point:

The majority of time I think nearly exactly the way you describe, with the possible exception I might also get "stuck" on 28 or keep looping back to it.

Tell me about it. All week following my 28 personal encounter, I was fixated on 28, unable to see my way to 72. This has to do with the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the various feedback loops that run through it. We see this in people with OCD. The ACC won't let them let go of a thought.

Sometimes, getting stuck on 28 is good, especially if you're Steve Jobs holding up the iPhone GS28 - uh 4. But being John McManamy trapped in his own shit - well, that's bad.

This whole non-linear thing is a work-in-progress for me, but as I explained in response to a comment by Nanci:

After all these years, I think I finally may have cracked my case wide open. Yes, the bipolar explains a lot of my thinking and feeling and behavior, but underlying everything is the non-linear stuff. The overload manifests as anxiety and bipolar (which explains the bipolar-creativity connection). And when I over-react for no apparent reason, I need to be thinking: Is this my racing mind distorting reality or is this a non-linear insight that everyone else is too stupid to see?

Questions, questions. Have a happy 28th of July - uh Fourth.


Kate Si said...

So how do we learn to be linear?

John McManamy said...

Hey, Kate. Really good question. I'm not sure if it's possible to go from non-linear to linear, nor do I think it's desirable. What we can do is develop a heightened awareness of our environment and modify our responses accordingly.

So instead of articulating "28" when everyone else is on "4." You articulate "5." That way you look brilliant, perceptive, whatever, being one step ahead of everyone instead of disconnected and weird.

Also, you need to translate non-linear into linear. Einstein clearly thought non-linearly, but his equations and his articulation are very linear.

Our non-linear skills allow us to perceive situations around us, often in a flash. So we take advantage of them. We size up the situation we are in quickly, and learn to calibrate our behavior accordingly.

If you see questioning faces while you're talking, you have an exit strategy to the conversation figured out. I often joke in a self-deprecating way, "I have absolutely no idea what that means." People laugh, with me, not at me. I am accepted. The conversation moves to something else.

I always give myself extra time for linear assignments, say assembling something out of the box or figuring out how new software works. Everything has to be done in sequence and we non-linear people aren't good at that. Also, we will see two or three interpretations to a particular instruction when everyone else only sees one. Also, we get overwhelmed by too much linear stuff coming at us.

So - something that's supposed to take an hour, I'll allot three hours, with plenty of time-outs. I will still scream in frustration, but I will get the job done, with time to recover.

Also, I'm not afraid to ask someone to run something past me one more time. People are usually flattered to find out you are listening and interested, and are happy to explain. If I sense impatience, I can bail myself out by saying something like: "You're making an important point and I want to make sure I get it right."

All this took me a lot of practice, and I'm still learning. It's a great challenge being non-linear, but it's also a gift.

I'd appreciate any feedback you have.

Jen said...

The translating from non-linear to linear is hard for me. I can do it, but I'm exhausted when I'm done.

I am aware that I need to do it almost every time I try to have a conversation with my non-bipolar husband. I'll say something which to me has a logical next step, but it's not at all where he goes from what I said.

And seeing three interpretations to an instruction...I've done that as long as I can remember. Maybe back to middle school...

Anyway, thanks for sharing this. I totally connected with it today.

Do you find that while in a group of bipolars you can say 28 and be understood? (I don't have a support group so I'm curious.)


John McManamy said...

Hey, Jen. It's good to hear I'm not alone. Yes, it's way easier being around a group of bipolars. When you say "28" they don't look at you funny. Either they're in sync with your 28, or they know better not to judge you.

That's what's really good about hanging out with bipolars - you will always feel accepted. The catch is you are limiting yourself and it can be too safe and comfortable.

Our recovery is based on our reintegration back into the linear world, so we need to learn to adjust. Making connections with "the linear people" can be very rewarding. They always appreciate the company of a non-linear person - as I assume your husband does - but only after we have learned to make the right adjustments.

Kate Si said...

Well I Einstein was pretty lucky working with math and physics. That's linear but you can skip so many steps as to seem nonlinear. I'm totally off the wall sometimes and it takes me a while to explain myself unless I'm around someone with an imagination. I like math for the specific reason that it's so malleable in your head. You can always work backwards from a problem to show the work. Come to think of it, that's probably my approach to most things. Figure out the end, work backwards. So to most people I've already jumped to a solution or conclusion that seemed so far away but really isn't.

I know I shouldn't, but I get frustrated when people can't keep up with me as I'm aware they get frustrated with me going off on random tangents that are completely related in my head by not so much without all the middle steps.

I see my thinking as linear in my brain, just not so much in reality apparently. I keep trying to teach myself to just zip it and I can't.

Does that make sense? :)

John McManamy said...

Hey, Kate. Perfect sense. Nancy Andreasen who has done a lot of research into this stuff - in a lecture I heard her present - gives the example of teachers requesting an outline before handing in a report or essay. Dr Andreasen laughs at this. This isn't the way creative people work. When she was a kid, she said, she always did her assignment first but not submit it, hand in the outline (based on working backwards) and later hand in the homework.

I think if you have an awareness of what's going on in your brain then all this is easier to handle. It's not you, it's not a character flaw - this is simply the way your brain works. If we were in the majority, we'd be saying, "What's wrong with those linear people?"

We would never have civilization without a mix of linears and non-linears. They need us, we need them. But we're the ones who have to adjust, not them.

I know your frustration. We are responding very rationally to how we see the world. But they don't see it that way. So - as long as you know you are perfectly sane - it's easier to relax around other people. You know you're right - you don't need a linear person to validate it. You'll be frustrated if you try.

You don't have to muzzle yourself, but you may want to upgrade your friends. Hope this makes sense.

Mary said...

Thank you John....You consistently find ways to help me feel less alone with this illness.