My brain never stops thinking. When I’m reading, watching TV, doing dishes, there’s always something in the back of my mind. Most of the time it’s trivial, unimportant stuff: I gotta remember to take the trash out…Note to self: when you grab your purse, grab your lunchbox…Did I brush my teeth already??? And so it goes… Sometimes, though, I get caught up in thoughts that make me miserable: What am I gonna do if I don’t get into grad school??? What if I miss my connecting flight and they lose my bags like they did last year??? This cycle of ruminating and commiserating could go on for hours, but I’ve learned not to dwell on the unpredictable. Or at least I try not to.
Sometimes when I think about things I saw, read or heard of I empathize so much I end up with feelings that are someone else’s. I’ll explain with this example: a couple of months ago I read The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule, which is her first hand account of her relationship with her friend and later serial killer Ted Bundy. The book is very dark and Rule spares no gory details of how Bundy kidnapped, tortured and murdered several young women. Bundy’s last victim, and the one he ended up on death row for, was a 12 year-old Florida girl named Kimberly Leach. Rule’s description of her murder scene is disturbing to say the least. I couldn’t stop thinking about how horrible Kimberly’s last hours were, and this got me in such a foul mood that all I wanted to do was curl up in bed and sleep. Thinking too much about experiences that are (thankfully) not mine affects my mood in ways I wish it didn’t. Perhaps I should stop reading so many true crime novels and get into Nicholas Sparks or something like that.
But please don’t think I’m crazy; I have good thoughts too! It always amazes me how my brain works on solving problems when I’m not even aware of them. Let’s say I have something that needs my attention, like a good idea for an argumentative essay. If I try to force myself to come up with something, I simply can’t. But if I leave the problem for a while and go do something else, most of the time I’ll suddenly have an insight pop in my head and there it is! just the idea I needed. It turns out that’s actually a thing and it’s called “unconscious cognition.” The unconscious part of our brain stays working even when our awareness is reduced, and that’s how those “aha!” moments come to be. So for future reference, when you get stuck on your homework, by all means, go browse Facebook. Your brain will still be working even if you can’t feel anything.