Monday, June 2, 2008

Overwhelm...

Have you ever seen an over-tired toddler? They are so exhausted but refuse to sleep. They will spin around in circles, run around the house, talk to themselves endlessly; anything to keep themselves awake. And then, they reach a point of overwhelm where their environment overtakes their weary senses. The tears set in. They are inconsolable. Soon enough, they collapse and drift off into oblivion.

Having worked with children in one capacity or another through most of my life, I have watched this scene play out more than once. I am always amazed at how they fight with all they have to evade sleep. It's as though they are afraid that they will miss something if they don't stay awake.

I can relate. I love squeezing every last bit of life out of my day. And yet, I reach a saturation point in a relatively short time, perhaps because, like my toddler friends, my sensory system is not fully mature and able to screen out the environment in a healthy way. I don't know for sure; all I do know is once I reach that saturation point, it's game over.

This often happens at the bookstore. Sometimes the combination of the overhead music, the fluorescent lighting, the people and the myriad of books I'm surrounded by become too much for me to integrate into my sensory system. Some days it's as though I hear the books (no, I don't actually hear the books so don't send me emails suggesting an MRI), in the sense that the information they contain seems to assault my senses by a kind of osmosis. I am overwhelmed by the idea that there is so much I don't know, so much to be learned, so much written that I will never be able to interact with it all.

And then, you add in the ongoing commentary and emotional processing that is happening in my own mind, and you end up with a spinning toddler about to collapse somewhere between Self-Help and Cooking. At that point, I usually call it a day.

The irony in all of this? I suffer from extreme fatigue. I've often joked that I have an ADD mind in a Chronic Fatigue body. Perhaps it is the overactive mind that tires out the body. Not sure which came first, the chicken or the egg.

Here's a funny experiment I did over the winter. One of my specialists decided to give me a prescription for Ritalin, to kickstart me on the dark Winter mornings when the fatigue was unrelenting. And something really interesting happened. My body got revved up. I could buzz around like a hummingbird, although the energy felt incredibly unstable. Imagine being hopped up on a gallon of espresso. But the interesting thing is what happened to my mind. It slowed down. Considerably. It was as though all the noise that normally clogs my brain quieted down so I could just focus on one thing, one thought, one sensation. The best way for me to describe it is to compare it to how I feel when I smoke pot. It's quiet but not quiet. It's the ability to isolate a sense or thought and just turn that one up without all the other ones being turned up at the same time.

The problem? Well, imagine trying to work with an espresso-filled body and a pot-filled mind. Not the best combination. And in the end, it just left me feeling anxious, caught between two contradictory extremes that I couldn't get out of until the drug had worked its way through my system. So, I'm back to managing this mind/body the best way I can. Sometimes I just let the toddler spin. Eventually, she'll make her way to dreamland and start again tomorrow. There's always another day waiting just around the corner.

tall penguin

3 comments:

matt said...

My favorite Cypher line: "He's gonna pop". :)

I don't think I will ever have an answer to this, as it happens to me too, and I'm sure to most people -- but what has always helped me is to spend an entire day doing nothing, by nothing, I think I mean nothing important.

When I was younger I used to spend a day at the beach as my nothing. Now it's just a walk around town with my dog. I can always deal with those natural sounds.

Natural predictable sound. Ahhhh. :)

Ged said...

I have three kids and I'm very familiar with the effects of tiredness. Hunger has much the same effect. I call it an attack of the unnecessaries.

But, better an over active mind than an under active one. Most creative people I know are a bit crazy in their way. I mean wouldn't we expect a bit of idiosyncrasy in a successful modern writer? Maybe you should see it a little more positively.

Ged said...

Not that I'm suggesting you're a bit crazy.