You know when you spend some time being focused on anything, that “anything” seems to start appearing everywhere?
For me, I accidentally glance at my watch or my phone at 11:11 all the time. When I was younger, I regularly assigned value and importance to coincidences, contrary to my otherwise logical nature. This idiosyncrasy was magnified in moments of emotional crisis. I had a lot of those moments as a younger man.Songs were communicating with me. Patterns of billboards meant something. Traffic told me secrets, as did lack of traffic. And 11:11 clearly meant that someone or something was trying to connect with me.
As an older, more stable, and slightly more cynical person, I recognize that those things were happening independently of my situations. I also now recognize that “constantly seeking meaning in coincidence” is a good indication of mental illness. Those of you who’ve read my writing probably know that I have struggled with depression for most of my life. About a year ago, after several years on antidepressant medications, my new psychiatrist asked me, “do you always talk so fast and animated?”
Um, yeah, of course I do. Especially when I am excited, mad, happy, scared, nervous, or I’m generally experiencing any emotion at all. I dated a girl once who loved this about me, even egging it on when she could. One of the reasons we didn’t date long was that I recognized that being amped up about everything was not how I wanted to be, it was just how I was.
The psychiatrist’s question led her to believe that I was dealing with more than just depression. She thought there might be a chance that I was also struggling with anxiety.
I’d never considered myself anxious, namely because “anxiety” always struck me as something akin to being scared and worried. I was rarely, if ever, “scared” of anything. And sure, I worried a LOT when I was younger, but as an adult I just didn’t find that much to truly worry about.
Instead, I played situations over and over and over in my head. I fought imaginary battles with people who wronged me. I plotted out exactly what I would say – in excruciating detail – when I thought I might need to confront someone. I spoke fast. I got annoyed when people spoke slowly to me and “wasted my time.” I stayed ready to spring into action at all times.
I wasn’t scared or worried, that’s true. But I was anxious. No doubt.
Now, some of that had been taken down a few notches by age, antidepressants, booze, and stability (maybe a byproduct of age).
But the basics were still there. I was keyed up all the time.
This doctor saw the shadow of a lifetime of anxiety, and extrapolated a strong guess toward what was ailing me. She prescribed a second medication to me to try and help my mental state up from being “mostly okay” to being “good.”
Fast-forward a year.
She was right. I was anxious as hell. The solution proved the existence of the problem.
And like any good medication, the one she gave me took me from being deficient to being normal. I’m not spaced out, dreamy, half-drunk or anything else I envisioned as a side effect of being “medicated” for anxiety. I’m just not running in 5th gear all the time. I still process lightning-fast. I’m still thinking a few steps ahead of most people, most of the time. My heart’s just beating a few beats per minute slower while I do it.
So, back to the original point. When you focus on something, you start to see a whole lot more of it. For me, there’s a “1-a” to that rule: when you have the space and time to think, you start to see what’s been keeping you from having that space and time.
Lately, I’ve noticed that I rarely, if ever, experience silence. I almost never get a reprieve from intrusive, constant sound. It’s always been a noisy world, I’m just noticing it now.
I work in a restaurant in Washington, D.C. I live in an apartment that faces a busy thoroughfare. I drive a less-than-soundproof car through traffic in D.C. and northern Virginia – and I generally listen to music or news at a rather loud volume.
The fact that I’ve now noticed that I never get any silence has made me acutely, persistently aware of that fact.
Sure, I tune out plenty, and I pride myself on being able to sleep through anything. But do I ever find myself in the absence of sound? No.
The last time I recall being in a truly quiet place was when I was in Iceland, far from any city, staring up at the Northern Lights. Blissful. And even then, an awesome dog kept barking at us when we failed to pay attention to him. He barked in Icelandic, so we didn’t know what he was saying. But like most dogs, he had two volumes: silent, or OH MY GOD I’M A DOG LOOK AT ME!
At the risk of trying to assign value to random occurrences, I ask myself why am I noticing the lack of silence lately?
Is it because I know that excessive noise impacts physical and mental health negatively? Is it because I need a break from everything to reset?
Or is it simply a case of finally being mentally healthy for long enough to dispassionately observe the state of affairs of my own life? When you have the space and time to think, you start to see what’s been keeping you from having that space and time.
To phrase it with more acceptance of responsibility: I see now that I’m not prioritizing or valuing silence as much as I seem to want it.
So, I’m going to seek out opportunities to experience silence. I figure that if I was craving bananas, I’d assume I was low on potassium…so if I’m craving silence, perhaps I’m low on whatever soul nutrient silence can provide.
I’ll keep you posted.