By Freddie Cocker
The mind can be a strange and confusing place for people with mental health issues. Sometimes it can feel like a battlefield. Sometimes it can feel like a utopia where you can escape the banality of life or the hardships you endure.
For highly extroverted individuals like myself, my mind is a cacophony of noise and fractious conflict. It is a daily struggle to contain the maelstrom of negativity and prevent it from penetrating my inner self and the actions that define who I am.
This internal monologue is why extroverts constantly seek distractions from being isolated and alone with their thoughts. It’s why they seek comfort in being present around other people and it’s why they derive their own happiness from providing happiness to others. Where you find altruistic behaviour, more often that not (but not always the case) you will find an extrovert carrying it out. It’s also why we feel social isolation more keenly than others. When alone with my thoughts, my mind can drift to feelings of abandonment and I can spiral into a cloud of negative self-esteem and nihilistic tendencies.
As someone with a cocktail of different mental health issues – depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), there are occasions where all of my issues can be in complete harmony with one another (these are rare). Alternatively, on some weeks one specific condition might have more of an effect on me than the others.
The condition that affects me the most in my daily life and one which has caused me immense pain and strife has been my anxiety. More specifically, my chronic over-thinking and rumination.
Millions of people in this world have anxiety. It’s arguably one of the most common mental health issues and many people will over-think and ruminate without realising it’s actually a legitimate mental health issue. A lot of people will chalk it down to ‘stress’ or being part and parcel of the whirlwind of daily life.
It can also vary hugely as to how intense someone might ruminate or over-think. In one of my ‘Just Checking In’ conversations, a friend and I discussed one situation where we over-think. The way I experienced it was hyperbolically stronger to the way he experienced it. The fact that we shared the same experience but with such contrasting intensity and impact was eye-opening.
The reason I wanted to write this article is because, in my experience, over-thinking and rumination have had the biggest and most corrosive affect on me on a daily basis.
I developed rumination as a consequence of being bullied and the techniques bullies would use to humiliate me in front of a social group. We all make mistakes. I’ve made more than I can count and 99% of the time, I make them completely unintentionally. It comes with being highly extroverted. I’ve eventually gotten used to it. I usually feel intense remorse after I make a mistake and I immediately want to make amends to get a sense of closure on it.
What bullies used to do to try and destroy my self-esteem and degrade my character would be to bring up a mistake I had made a few months ago or even years ago in front of a larger social group, laugh at me about it and in turn the whole group would laugh at me too and disparage me further. Some of the group might not have known I had made that particular mistake. I probably wanted to keep it a secret but by that person revealing it to a large group in front of me, I had nowhere to hide. Once something is said, it cannot be unsaid. It’s not like a piece of physical evidence you can destroy to disprove something happened.
When this type of experience happened to me again and again over the course of 9 years, rumination was the manifestation of it and was the scarring left behind. It was permanently etched onto my being without anyone ever noticing it, an invisible spectre that followed me into every conversation, every attempt to chat up a girl or every job interview I went to. It’s held me back in almost every facet of my life. The subconscious check on my actions, the reluctance to pursue a particular path or the timidity when faced with taking a leap of faith.
What comes with rumination is an extra dimension of guilt attached to every action you do. Every argument you’ve had, every person you’ve upset, every mistake at work, every wrong word you utter is compiled into a chronological list of mistakes from my earliest memory up until the present day. These revolve around my head over and over again until I fully believe I am a horrible person, incapable of love, friendship or happiness.
What is even more potent and dangerous for my mental health is when you combine this with over-thinking. This can be triggered in multiple ways and can lead your mind to create infinite pathways a particular action could go in without it even taking place in reality. If I sent a text to someone that was confrontational, my mind creates RPG-style dialogue trees that will map out how the situation will play out before that person has even had time to reply to the original text I sent. If I wanted to flirt with a girl in a club, bar or through text, my mind creates thousands of consequences and pathways to what might happen and replays the actions I have taken to the point of insanity; “what if I said X? Would I have gotten a better response?” “If I had answered a question like Y, would I have got that job?” “Am I a bad person because I fell out with him/her?”
These open-ended incidents began to haunt me, sometimes for years on end. The only way I was able to cope with these sorts of ruminations was to get closure on a situation that was capable of being resolved. I only discovered this recently and through my own determination to mature as a human being.
For example, if I had fallen out with a friend, I would reach out to them, apologise if it was my fault, ensure things between us were smoothed out and resolve the situation myself. As a result, in the future, every time my mind might ruminate back to that incident, I could mentally respond and tell myself that it was no longer a situation to worry about anymore. There could be no more potential repercussions from it.
What these conditions also do to someone who, like me is highly organised is alter the way you perceive life into a prism of tasks that need to be completed; have I got that highly paid job yet? Have I got that mortgage on my flat to be able to move out? Have I got that long-term partner who I can plan a future with? Is my current career a fulfilling one? Deviating from this wholesome, well-laid out path will only have a negative impact on me.
These are all questions that you could ask yourself when rumination and over-thinking gets the better of you. Sometimes, they can consume you.
Its very hard to explain to someone who doesn’t ruminate what it actually is and the damaging effect it can have on your self-esteem and mental health. If you are like me and you naturally have low self-esteem anyway, it can be horrifically painful to endure on a daily basis.
I hope by elucidating on how over-thinking and rumination have affected me that I could potentially help someone else out there who’s also affected by it. Unfortunately, I don’t have any form of long-term solution to the problem. I’m still trying to figure that one out myself…
Freddie Cocker is Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Vent.