I’ve been talking to myself for years. Out loud, in my head, for as long as I can remember. Truth is, I can’t really tell silence apart from my thoughts when I’m alone.
I remember when social media discovered that not everyone has an internal monologue and how shocking it was (I was surprised, were you surprised? I was very surprised). I have no idea what it is like to live and not have a constant radio in my brain, peppered with dad jokes, movie quotes, and song lyrics, like hurdles for the racing of my thoughts. Even now, I can hear the words as they want to be written down. It’s so hard to keep up, even though I know I have good typing speed. The red lines indicating misspellings are new obstacles that must be corrected and cleared before I can go on. Unless I am taking minutes and need to keep up with others, there is no way for me to not edit as I write. It takes far more energy to fight that urge than it does to simply roll with it, hit delete with my pinky a few times, and correct the spelling. Does it screw up the flow of the radio? Not really, because I’m watching the screen and if I spell something like “F-I-H-G-T,” and don’t correct it, that’s when my brain stumbles trying to figure out how the hell to say that – out loud, inside my brain, where no one else can hear it.
This is something I have wondered about with telepathy, or the burgeoning technology that allows those who cannot speak to be able to communicate brainwaves. Do they have an internal monologue? What gets transmitted? Is it all the static, the rushing thoughts, a high-speed monorail constantly switching tracks? Or does it have to be delivered, a thought like writing, like “this is what I want to say?” Either way, unless I lose the ability to speak and write (one of my greatest fears), count me out. I don’t want to have to share this with anyone; not for their sake, but mine. Usually.
I started reading Oliver Sacks close to ten years ago. Between us, Hawthorne and I collected and read a dozen of his titles. As a person with migraines, and with close proximity to other ways the brain can betray the body, it was fascinating. I recognized some of the stories – patients I had taken in the ambulance and the things that they had said. Some of the diagnoses with more rare characteristics I know I’ve seen on hospital drama shows. The self-care movements of late, with emphasis on how we speak to ourselves, make me want to reread those titles. (Should I add them to my GoodReads list? TBR pile? Change their spot on the bookshelf? Does it count to my year goal if I re-read something? The train rushes on without answers.)
In listening to folks like Brene Brown and KC Davis, as well as in therapy sessions and with certain friends, I accept the challenge of looking inward. I think of all the different “me’s” there are: my inner child striving for perfection, my alter-ego struggling to come to the surface. I think who I try to focus on most are more time-based than psychological, though – past, future, and present me.
How do I take care of me today?
Past me, I can give her therapy. I pay the fee and let her lead for the 50 minutes. It is her time, to bring up whatever she needs. Parents, relationships, pain, grief. She usually tries to save the good memories for me, or just share them with friends who aren’t paid for their service. She is gracious and if she doesn’t want to use it, she gives it back to present me.
Future me, I can give her action. I can get that thing done instead of waiting til tomorrow; I can unload the clean dishwasher, prep the coffeemaker, charge the devices. Future me is often harried and forgetful, trying to get out the door with a dog barking in the crate and a toddler insisting her shoes be on the wrong feet. It’s not that she’s not grateful, she just doesn’t usually remember to say it.
Present me. What can I do for present me? I’m still learning. I’m learning to slow down, to let present me breathe. To enjoy the moments as they’re revealed, miniscule packages wrapped in grace. I relax my shoulders, unclench my jaw.
Present me has it tough. She has to deal with the negative self-talk I still fall into (though my most common nickname for myself, dumbass, comes out less and less these days). She gets caught up in the shit; being touched-out, exhausted, and unable to do anything of substance past toddler bedtime. A mere mortal, my wife used to call me, when I wouldn’t accomplish ridiculous amounts of things on an arbitrary list. Fuck that noise.
All of these gifts – the therapy, the action, the grace – come at costs that I’m willing to pay, if not always able. Sometimes I screw up. I rushed through watering my plants this week, a chore I always enjoy. I usually stop to stroke the leaves, and yes, talk to each plant. They get compliments and wonder, apologies if needed (add to the list: repotting some of these plants. Who can help with the old hoya? What size pot do I need for the new succulents? Why is aloe such damn challenge for me to keep alive? How much food do the violets need? The tracks are singing.) This week I was distracted with a sick kiddo and wanted to get it done. When she is sick, she’s much more snuggly, and it’s easy to let myself rest with her like that.
If future me gets action, she also gets accountability. That’s a gift, wrapped and waiting patiently, for present me to get there, the satisfaction of checking it off a list or the time and energy saved from it already being done.
If past me gets therapy, she also gets space. She is not shoved into corners to let everything inside build and build and build; she gets the space to release that. Another gift to present me, the cleanse of release.
And if present me gets presence in this bonkers and beautiful life, what more could she want?
There’s a quote that has been lodged in my head, paraphrased and uncited. The part that sticks with me is where it says something to the effect of, if we were to be fully present when we did something as simple as grocery shopping, we would be utterly overwhelmed by the beauty of the colors of the produce, the smells from the bakery, the choices before us. Not that I want to spend more time in the grocery store, but I get it. The moments when I put my phone down and pay attention to the moment – good and bad, the snuggles and the puking, the books and the bills – fill my cup. Those moments, the ones saturated in color or scent or light, the ones where I feel my connection to whatever earth I’m standing on, it’s those that I can give myself over and over again.
And if my mind whispers along the tracks of calling myself spoiled, well, it’ll find something else soon enough. There is nothing wrong with enjoying the view; after all, we’re all just passing through.