“Relax, Tim, don’t think about it so much”

In my previous blog post, I gave a detailed illustration of how my mind generally works to try to explain why I sometimes talk to myself. To put it briefly, I stated that my brain produces so many thoughts at such a rapid pace that I find it tough to keep what’s on my mind entirely to myself. In my view, the chief problem is that it’s near impossible for me to calm or slow down the constant activity that’s happening in my mind. As a result, I very often feel compelled to observe and contemplate things in an excessively analytical, critical matter. In other words, I tend to overthink things. A lot.

Now, before you go and say “Wait a minute Tim, all of us overthink things from time to time, what makes you think you’re special”, I fully realize that no one is immune to excessive analysis. Heck, overthinking is something that we sometimes depend upon to get important work done or to solve complex problems. I’m not saying that I’m special because I overthink. What I am saying, however, is that I believe that I do it a bit more often than most people, as in practically all the time.

So, referring to previous post again, I like to see the minds of most human beings as something that works at a relatively steady, manageable pace. For the vast majority of people, the brain produces one or two thoughts at a time, and they are usually able to react to them in a prompt and efficient manner, without having to worry about whether they should keep it to themselves or not. The way my mind works, however, is slightly different. My mind evidently likes to produce a lot of thoughts at once, far too many for me to handle effectively. Instead of having one or two thoughts at a time and allowing them to sink in before responding, I am thinking so rapidly that I’m given barely any time to appropriately react to them. I’m essentially forced to keep up with my thoughts and observations as they come, constantly trying to make sense of everything and prevent myself from being confused or overwhelmed.

The best way I can describe this habit is that whenever I observe something or try to work on something, I will often dwell on waaay too much and form of these massive webs of thought. Apparently, pondering something for only a little bit isn’t an option for me. For whatever, reason, my mind feels as if it’s required to thoroughly analyze and elaborate on what’s going on, to look at it from all possible angles. One thought will immediately lead to another and then another and then another, and in a way that doesn’t always seem normal or consistent. Indeed, a lot of times my mind won’t stick to one topic at a time, but rather change topics every few minutes or even seconds. There are tons of times when I’m thinking of a topic and it somehow leads to another topic which has nothing to do with the first one – and yet I’m still obsessing myself over it!

Moreover, my mind is never content with having one thought or piece of information and sticking with it. It has to expand upon it. In many cases, this causes me to try to figure out everything all at once, or force myself to have a “complete” understanding. It is not enough to start to understand something piece by piece, and it’s never acceptable for me to “not get” a few things or to feel a little behind. My mind will not be satisfied unless it feels like it is perfectly in-tune with everything to the very last detail. If there’s even the slightest confusion, then my mind feels insecure and paranoid. In some cases, “knowing everything” isn’t even enough. I must elaborate beyond what’s presented to me, and apply it to my own situation

A great example would be when I’m reading a textbook for one of my college courses. As I begin reading a chapter, new concepts, ideas, and facts will be thrown at me. Instead of casually taking in each fact and detail one at a time, trying my best to remember as I go along, I mentally obsess over nearly each line of text and paragraph, especially when it teaches me something new. I try to ensure that I have an absolute grasp of everything that I read. It’s never acceptable to just move on if I’m even a tiny bit confused or may have missed something. Not only that, but I also want to have perfect, crystal-clear idea of what I’m reading. I want to make sure that the images in my head exactly match up to what’s being presented to me. Even when I already have a pretty good idea of what I’m being taught, I will still spend several minutes contemplating – just it to make absolutely sure that I fully comprehend it. All of this partially explains why it takes so long for me to read in general, and hence why I don’t like to read all that much (see this post for a further discussion on me and reading).

The same thing applies to when I do something that shouldn’t require that much thinking, such as watching a movie. Whenever I watch a film, much like with reading, it often takes me longer than it should to mentally absorb and comprehend things such as plot points and dialogue. My mind will waste a lot of time thinking about what’s being presented to me, as opposed to relaxing and enjoying the film. To make things worse, my mind is extremely adamant about understanding 100% what’s going on in the film – making sure that I’m not missing a single detail. Consequently, I might rewind a couple of times while watching to ensure that I’m completely “in sync” with everything. I just cannot be satisfied with having a basic understanding of what’s going on, and so it’s pretty easy for me to get frustrated when watching a more complex or dialogue-heavy film.

Needless to say, my tendency to overthink is another common source of anxiety and stress for me. All of the constant mental noise and activity can be a lot to deal with, and it makes calming myself down and letting things go more complicated. It’s a little like having tiny voices in your head that like to go on long, annoying rants and rarely ever shut up. Even when I’m doing something that is meant to reduce the constant mental chatter, like meditating, I will still instinctively think about what I’m doing and why it’s important. There are times when I wish to myself that I had a “normal” mind; that I could think at a much more steady, manageable pace – a mind that didn’t force me to think so much or waste so much time obsessing over things that really don’t matter in the long run.

The most frustrating part is that overthinking has been exceptionally challenging for me to reduce. I have tried a couple of strategies, such as meditation and positive affirmations, to help me with this issue, but I haven’t made much progress so far. I believe that part of the problem is that overthinking has become such a deep-rooted habit that it’s kind of hard to imagine a life without it. It would definitely be nice if I could experience what it’s like having a mind that’s much simpler and more quiet. Of course, I can’t be entirely sure that other people’s brains work that much differently, as I am unfortunately unable to read others thoughts. Also, I am unable to confirm if overthinking is relatively common among people on the Autism spectrum. Once again, it could simply be something that I have to deal with as Tim Kirtland.

I will say this though: if you don’t consider yourself to be much of an overthinker and believe that your thoughts are mostly simple and straight-forward, then you have no idea how much I envy you!


I wish my mind had an off-switch

Throughout the majority of most days, my mind will constantly drift away and reflect on a number of topics that I can’t seem to get out of my head. What I’m thinking about usually involves subjects that were brought up to me earlier, and are somewhat controversial, debatable, difficult to resolve, or simply extremely thought-provoking. A couple of examples to mention here might include third-wave feminism, racial tensions in big cities, the existence of free will, the rising Islamic State, and if Sonic Adventure 2 is actually a good game. It most often happens when my mind is relatively free from stimulation and I’m doing something very simple like walking, driving, eating, showering, or waiting for an appointment.

Unlike many people who seem able to put their mind at rest when they’ve decided their opinion on a topic, I often find myself incapable of settling upon any specific, concrete viewpoint. Instead, I have to keep considering both sides of the debate and how each would respond to a given counter-argument, while also dwelling upon the potential consequences of any claim or suggestion proposed. I feel compelled to make absolutely sure that I’m looking at the topic from a fair, objective perspective and am not jumping to conclusions nor being biased against one stance or another.

I think everyone can agree that there are many problems around the world today that are far too complicated for a one-sided solution, and instead require thoughtful discussion. If these issues really were that simple and could be resolved right away, then they wouldn’t be so controversial to begin with. However, I perceive that for the majority of people, a clear-cut answer is available, and when they believe they have discovered it, it isn’t very easy to change their minds. For me, it’s an entirely different story. While I do hold certain philosophical and political values close to my heart that I doubt will ever radically change (at least not without effective convincing), my specific viewpoints on a variety of topics is either uncertain or always changing. I am not suggesting that I cannot decide at all what my social and political ideology is, as I always have something to say about social and political topics. What I’m trying to get at here, rather, is that there are so many different factors to take into consideration with issues such as immigration, free will, poverty, and the quality of video games that I find it incredibly hard to reconcile with them successfully.

This means that I can’t help but see why any sort of stance on these issues could be problematic for one reason or another, or could legitimately be called “downright wrong” by the opposite side. As a result, my mind is regularly fixed upon these concerns and I have to debate with myself over what is right, what is wrong, and how we should approach these topics. Saying to myself, “Look, let’s just say that X is the right answer to Y and leave it at that,” is rarely ever an option for me (except maybe for same-sex marriage). In my view, there is almost ALWAYS more to the story that we need to consider, meaning that whatever argument you side with is always going to be confronted with legit complaints and counter-arguments. Both the pro immigrant rights and anti-immigration stance, for example, are riddled with logical inconsistencies, negative implications, and so many ways in which they can be wrong (even though I side a bit more with pro-immigrants’ rights). So I will keep on pondering over these complications, until I find something else to obsess over or at least something to distract me.

Pretty much whenever I have the opportunity, I will engage in a sort of mental discussion regarding a number of these topics – continuously attempting to make better sense of them and possibly form a more informed, more objective opinion of them. While I’m driving home from work, for instance, I will most likely spend much of the ride debating with myself regarding whether or not abortion could be considered wrong, if hard rock has any place in future mainstream music, and the true validity of full gender or racial equality. The debates will go on and on until I get tired of them, only to shift to another topic, and then to yet another topic, and so on. In almost all cases, the debate will never reach a satisfying conclusion, and I am simply left as uncertain about these issues as I was before. It’s as if I am literally having constant debates with a clone of myself: I can’t resist constantly talking to this other me, we can hardly agree on any political, social, or philosophical topic, and we change the topic every 5 minutes or so.

So in other words, my mind will just never shut up! I cannot avoid the ongoing barrage of thoughts and considerations of various topics of interest, even when I’m trying my absolute best to stay relaxed or focused on something. Yes, there are plenty of moments when I am not engaged in this mental debate, but that’s usually when I’m doing something that requires my full attention like playing video games or talking to someone else. Even then, however, it is still challenging to not subconsciously reflect upon matters that stimulate my curiosity. The whole thing can give me a serious headache at times, and make me desperately wish that I could just form an opinion and stick with it. If it were at all possible for me to merely stop obsessing over these things and have a calm, yet attentive mind, you can bet that I would. As usual, the world just doesn’t work like that, and so I am left to deal with this issue as best as I can.

Much like with my anxiety and difficulty focusing, I am currently trying to reduce my obsessive mindfulness through activities like exercise, meditation, and reading. The progress, so far, is tremendously slow, and I don’t expect to be rid of this issue any time soon. Maybe some of you can relate to this sort of problem, in which case I would love to discuss it with you. Indeed, if there is anyone out there who also suffers from a mind that won’t sit still, then please know that I understand completely what you’re going through, and that you have my utmost support!

Ways I’m trying to cope with my issues (Part Two)

Having shared tools that I use to improve my social life and socializing skills, I will now go over ways in which I’m currently trying to reduce the effects of several other problems brought up in previous blog posts.

First I will discuss how I’m coping with my anxiety (first read “Not allowing myself peace – Anxiety and Me” for background info). I am essentially using a lot of the same tools that plenty of other people (including those without Aspergers) commonly use to help deal with stress in their lives. There are three main activities that I engage in as much as possible to relieve stress: exercise, meditation, and yoga.

One fact that should be clarified, before I continue, is that the way in which I’ve been incorporating these activities into my schedule has gone through endless changes over the past several years. There have been times when I did a great deal of exercise and meditation each week, but no yoga; there were times when I didn’t exercise, but instead practiced yoga and meditation; and there were times when I did none of those three things. Nonetheless, I can safely say that when I do engage in at least two of them on a regular basis, it has a greatly positive effect on my overall level of stress. Of course, anxiety remains a serious problem for me, and it probably will for many more years to come, but it isn’t nearly as bad as when I do nothing at all to try relieving it.

As of now, here is how exercise, yoga, and meditation fit into my schedule: every day, I try to do around 7-15 minutes of meditation, followed by a couple of workouts on my Wii Fit U program. Allow me to elaborate a little on these two activities:

For those who don’t know what Wii Fit U is, it is basically a game for the Nintendo Wii U console that functions as a personal fitness program. Along with keeping track of your weight and posture, it includes a wide range of games, exercises, dances, and even yoga poses. I am using the program for two main purposes: to become much more healthy and fit in general, and to greatly reduce stress during the day. So far I have found it to be fairly effective in serving both purposes. Plus, since I can do yoga poses in addition to aerobic and strength exercises on this thing, I’m sort of killing two birds with one stone.

Now regarding meditation: whenever I do it, I typically either listen to some relaxing sounds that I’ve downloaded to my iPhone, or I try focusing on my breathing – one breath at a time. Both of these techniques are quite effective, although they aren’t at all simple. While meditating, I will repeatedly go back into thinking mode instead of staying focused on the relaxing sounds or my breath, which I have to snap myself out of. Still, the brief moments when my mind is empty and passive are always worth it, and I know they will become longer the more I keep at it. The same can be said with pretty much everything I’m doing to deal with my issues as an Aspie.

Aside from reducing anxiety, meditation has also been really helpful in teaching me how not to be so fixated on my thoughts, and how to stay conscious of the present moment. This relates to my issues with obsessive mindfulness and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), which were the primary focus of my last three posts. Indeed, by meditating as regularly as possible, not only do I generally experience less stress, but it also becomes slightly easier to not be constantly distracted by senseless thinking. Just like with anxiety, however, I have quite a long way to go before I’m at a point where my mind is mostly in the now and doesn’t get sidetracked by different topics every couple of seconds.

Fortunately, I am also currently reading a book to help me out with this compulsive thinking issue. The book is titled The Power of Now, written by Eckhart Tolle, and I consider it to be one of the most inspiring works I’ve read in a while; a must-read for anyone who experiences frequent stress, low self-esteem, a lack of self-discipline, or is simply unable to keep their mind relatively clear. The overall thesis Eckhart Tolle articulates is that the great majority of our thinking throughout the day is entirely unnecessary and compulsive, a product of “false identification with the mind.” He believes that the only real way for us to live peacefully and problem-free is to keep our consciousness in the now as much as possible; to stay completely present to the situation that we are in, rather than allow ourselves to be continuously troubled by the past or future.

So The Power of Now proposes a unique, possibly even radical theory that may take time for most people to fully comprehend. I find the book to be tremendously helpful in encouraging me to be more aware of my thought patterns and take things one step at a time, as opposed to being endlessly obsessed with what happened earlier, with what’s going to happen, or with issues that have nothing to do with the present situation. I’m nowhere near finished with the book, though, so I’ll have to keep reading it in order to gain the full advantage of Tolle’s message. Once again, I must insist it is a fascinating read that could be seriously helpful to anyone who experiences similar problems.

I would like to share one last tool that I am using to deal with my Aspergers-related challenges. This one concerns my difficulties with reading; how it takes so much longer than it should for me to read through different texts. What I do is use an audio version of the book that I am reading, whenever one is available, so that I can listen to the text while I visually skim through it. The reason that this is helpful for me is because it keeps me a bit more focused on the text and reduces the amount of times I have to go back and read the same sentences multiple times. I will usually obtain the audiobook through one of two ways: I will either buy the audiobook off of Audible.com, or I will download a copy off of LearningAlly.com. Learning Ally is generally used for texts that are required for my college classes.

Since I graduated from Marist College last month, I doubt that I will be using Learning Ally much more in the future. I will, however, give a brief explanation of how it works, mostly to recommend it to people who have or who know someone who has Asperger Syndrome. Learning Ally is an online, non-for-profit service that provides audiobooks to students with various types of disorders in order to help them with their reading. Students get a yearly subscription that can be paid for by the school or by their family. The organization has audio versions of many different kinds of texts, which not only includes novels, but also science, math, and history textbooks. So their website (https://www.learningally.org/) might be worth a look for families of a child who has similar troubles with reading.