It often takes many years to fully understand the situation, its impact on you, and the impact on those around you.
One of my personal challenges has been coping with RBS: Restless Brain Syndrome. I can't easily shut my brain down. I'd really like to be able to stop incessantly deconstructing and resynthesizing the world around me, but I can't.
Quite seriously, it has affected my quality of life, and my relationships with others.
Maybe you -- or someone you know -- suffers from the same malady?
I'm Serious (Sort Of)
You know that joke where someone asks someone else "what time is it?" and the other person responds with the history of timekeeping, current timekeeping technologies available, and finishes off with current cosmological theories of time?
For whatever reason, put an idea in front of me to think about, and I go all multi-dimensional. I inspect the concept from every possible angle, break it into pieces, reassemble it in many different ways, and then find relevant associations with other ideas and concepts.
A vast universe opens up with infinite recombinant possibilities. I save myself by zooming back to the immediate context, and choosing a handful of models that might be relevant here and now.
Noam Chomsky revolutionized linguistics with a simple idea: we are all born with the ability to learn any potential language: spoken or unspoken. As children, the process of learning a language is essentially unlearning all non-productive ones.
Maybe that's what I'm doing.
My RBS has made for many awkward social situations.
I remember a few neighborhood parties where I caught myself launching into a free-flow of related ideas and concepts, triggered by something someone said. Yes, there was alcohol involved. I wasn't paying attention, and I had to stop myself. Strange looks all around.
It can get uncomfortable for others if you're not careful. Or worse, you see an organizational train wreck happening in slow motion, you feel you're the only one to see it, and you find there's not much you can do about it.
Education before university was rough, to put it mildly. It wasn't that I was just nerdy or geeky, many of the other kids found me simply weird in a disturbing way. And I wasn't quite sure why, so I thought about it. A lot.
I've always had a difficult time turning social acquaintances into real friends. My thoughts are always racing along at warp speed, making it tough to build real bonds with people. But I'm learning to get better at it.
The bright spot in all of this is my wife and kids. I've learned to adapt and bond with them, and them to me. They enjoy teasing me when I accidentally slip into an alternate dimension.
Keeping Your Brain Fed
I don't watch many TV shows, movies, concerts, etc. The pace can be too slow, the content too shallow, and I get -- well -- restless.
Binge-reading on the internet is more my style. It's not just computer tech, it's almost anything well-written with structured thinking that I can get my hands on: economics, history, politics, biology, physics, cosmology -- you name it, it's food for the beast.
When I was younger (BI -- before internet), I would read books and publications at a feverish pace. To be clear, it wasn't about learning with a purpose, it was more like gorging myself at the buffet line.
I can't listen to music casually as other people can. I find myself deconstructing every note, every chord, every instrument, every intonation. As a result, I can't carry on a normal conversation when there's music playing. Background music in a restaurant can be hugely distracting.
Trying to fall asleep can be downright frustrating at times.
All that unconscious processing I should be doing during REM sleep I end up doing in a wakeful state. I'm not into medications for this purpose (although that has been suggested several times), although a nice glass of wine or two doesn't hurt.
This Isn't About Intelligence
I have met plenty of super-smart people -- many of them clearly vastly more intelligent than I will ever be -- and they don't have the same issues. Maybe they're more skilled in being in the here and now than I am. Or something different?
Conversely, I have met a few people who don't initially present as smart, but they seem to have the same challenge I have. I find them fascinating. I have no idea what's going on here. Maybe I'm somewhere on the spectrum and just don't know it.
Before long, I slipped into another dimension: history of psychoanalysis, limitations of the approach, how underlying neurology was essential to understanding the human brain, how so much wasn't known about fundamental brain mechanics, what caused me to reach out to this person, what their motivations might be, how human language was so limiting, and so on.
The conversation didn't last long as a result. Sigh.
Coping With RBS
Yes, I made the term up. I'm only half-serious. And my situation is nothing compared to the severe challenges other people face. But the underlying condition can be quite unpleasant and disruptive.
I would like to think our brains are tools that we can control. I believe that -- with effort -- they can be programmed and subtly rewired. It's not easy and it's not 100% effective, but it can help to cope with unproductive behaviors.
Over the last few years, I've become acutely aware when I'm slipping into this mode, and immediately shut myself down using a variety of techniques. For those that have found me a bit intense, it's something I'm working on.
I think I'm starting to make progress. For example, I can now focus on linear tasks far better than I used to be able to. I can carry on an average conversation for longer than before.
Life is all about moving forward, isn't it?
And I'm finding life a bit more enjoyable when I can shut my damn brain down.
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