Over-thinkers don’t have it easy. We worry loved ones by worrying too much, intimidate potential friends and lovers with our tendency to ask too many questions, and basically drive ourselves batshit crazy with internal dialogue that, if made known to concerned parties, may very well lead them to contact a shrink on our behalf.
What these people do not seem to understand is that over-thinking is more than just an incurable disease that affects the overly imaginative. It is not a mental illness that can be subdued with medication. Oh, no. It is an art.
Yes, you read right. It requires a certain level of skill to be able to reach a state of analysis paralysis. Ask any over-thinker who is no longer in denial about his condition; indeed, many of us are often initially under the delusion that we are not over-thinking, but merely “being cautious”. You know, kind of like how Ricky Martin was, once upon a time, not gay.
To be sure, decisiveness has obvious merits, and a decisive person is usually considered more attractive than an indecisive one; I myself am more drawn towards the former. But one has to marvel at the sheer effort and energy it takes not only to assess every single possibility in any given situation, but to analyze each one so thoroughly that the resultant information makes it damned near impossible to make a decision that won’t end in some sort of cosmic catastrophe.
Mind you, over-thinkers aren’t necessarily lousy decision-makers. The tricky part is how quickly and confidently we are able to reach a decision. Allow me to present a hypothetical scenario: someone you fancy asks you out. He suggests either dinner at a classy Italian restaurant followed by drinks at a nearby bar (Option A), or happy hour at a pub with a live band, then shisha at a cozy little joint you frequent (Option B). You have one week to decide, so you start weighing the pros and cons of each option.
Option A is a good excuse to dress up. You have the perfect outfit for the occasion, and are perfectly capable of doing your own hair and makeup. However, there is one small problem: your nails are looking a little bare and unworthy of your man-eater outfit, and you can’t book a manicure and pedicure in time for the date.
Option B, on the other hand, is also something you’d enjoy. At the same time, you can afford to dress down a little and therefore, need not worry about not getting a manicure and pedicure. However, you are a little self-conscious about lowering your inhibitions with drink and flavoured smoke in front of this new guy.
You deliberate. You assess each and every pro and con. Two days before your date, you finally make up your mind. Does it matter which option you chose? No. The point is, you’ve already over-thought both choices.
Now imagine you have a whole month to make your decision. That’s four times the amount of over-thinking you will do. Four times the over-analyzing, nitpicking and hair-splitting. At a certain point, you will become so overwhelmed, you will swap obsessing over your impending date for obsessing over some other issue, only to realize, at the 11th hour, that you still haven’t made a decision.
That’s when you’ll begin scrambling to decide, and the process of over-thinking will start all over again. This time, however, it will be infinitely more stressful, because you have a much shorter time to make a choice and take the necessary steps that follow whichever choice you make.
Despite your paranoia, you will somehow survive and make it to your date. The evening will proceed as planned and in fact, turn out to be quite pleasant. You will then go home and call your best friend to give him / her a blow-by-blow account of the date. But in recalling every single minute detail of the night, you begin once again to over-think: when you told him about your job and he didn’t have much to say in return, was it because he found you boring? When you inched closer to him and he didn’t seem to reciprocate, was it because he found you unattractive? Or worse — did you forget your perfume and somehow develop previously non-existent BO?
You will end up repeating the same story, with the same fears, to a few other close friends. Slowly but surely, you will feel them tire of your paranoia. They will get bored; their response will go from enthusiasm to accommodation to courtesy to mere tolerance to teeth-gritting, thinly veiled annoyance.
But you can’t help it. If you don’t over-think, it must mean you are failing in some way to take charge of the situation, of your life. Sure, you may not be able to do much to change certain aspects of your life, but over-thinking them will reassure you that at the very least, you are leaving no stone unturned. You are hence comforted by the knowledge that as far as possible, you have sought to take and stay in control of your life, even if there are pesky uncertainties that seek to disturb that elusive peace you have barely managed to grasp.
An old friend recently asked me, “Why is your life so exciting?” She was referring to what she perceived as regular partying, dating and boozing (I am not an alcoholic. Promise. Yes, I am a writer, but still…), as well as the assorted soap opera-worthy occurrences that have a nasty habit of worming their way into my life. I didn’t have an answer at the time, but after giving it some thought, I came to a conclusion: the alternative is silence, and for me, silence has a way of becoming overwhelming.
As an introvert, I have no problem being alone. But when the Ogre of Over-thought barges in during solitary moments, the mind tends to entertain him, often for far longer than it should. At a certain point, when there are too many conflicting inner voices fighting to be heard, I have to stop and say, “Fuck this shit. I’m going dancing.” I have found this to be a good approach — I lower my stress levels, burn extra calories and generally have a lot of fun. As such, I highly recommend this course of action to anyone who is prone to over-thinking.
But as a writer who drinks (is there any other kind?), the combination of my innate introversion and lowered inhibitions will sooner or later lead me to isolate myself and, once again, repeat the process of over-thinking. Fellow over-thinkers should know that this is, more often than not, frustrating, exhausting and —
Fuck this shit. I need a drink.