My brain got a little wacky over the weekend. I’ve had far too much time alone lately, much of it sitting at a computer. And when that happens, I get crazy. I feel despair. I decide I have no friends. I am certain my life is not worth living. I’m positive that there is nothing I’m involved in that will come to fruition or prove valuable. I globalize (“Because I’m discouraged today, I’ll always feel this way.”) In short, I lose it.
All it takes to return me to some degree of normalcy is human contact — the kind that involves real, live, breathing people, in person. And then I remember that there are other people and other stories out there, that I (and my story) overlap with those people and stories, that I am not alone in the world. And perhaps most importantly of all, I remember that I am not the center of the universe.
And I can breathe again.
I heard an elderly person who is often alone say that she always keeps the radio on and with her because it keeps her from thinking that the noise in her head is the only thing that’s real.
We come to know ourselves when others reflect back to us who we are and what impact we have. This happened for me yesterday when a friend who’s known me for a long time was able to hear me rant about some concerns in my life and provide perspective based on her long-time knowledge of me and my ways. She reminded me of who I am and of what’s real.
Author Anne Lamott says something like this: that the best words anyone can hear are “Me too.” I think it’s true. Have you ever felt yourself relax when you were agitated, expressed yourself to someone and heard, “Me too?” Did you think, as I often do, “Whaaaatttt, I’m not a freak after all? Oh what a relief?”
Anne Lamott also says, “My mind is a neighborhood I try not to go into alone.” Yep, dangerous territory, those dark alleys of the mind.
Interpersonal neurobiology is a field that supports her statement. Maybe the whole field exists to do that; what do I know? I love reading the studies about how connected our brains are. Author Curt Thompson, who comes at this from a Christian perspective fascinatingly linking the renewal of one’s mind (a biblical injunction) to rewiring neural pathways, wrote this:
Our brains tend to look for connection. And the way we do is like a crossover: my right brain looks for your right brain, and my left looks for your left—all an attempt to make a connection. The different functions of each mode of operation—visuospatial orientation, non-verbal cues, emotion, holistic awareness, social awareness in the right; language, literal, logical, and linear processing in the left—tend to influence those of the same mode in any person we encounter, especially with one with whom we have a close relationship. So, for your friend, parent, spouse, and especially your child, think of this. The next time you are together, consider how your mind is connecting that of the other person. Before you know it, the more you pay attention to this, the more connected you will be, not only as you attend to the mind of the other but mostly as you attend to your own.
I love this. Because it bears witness to my own experience. And to what happens to me when I’m well-connected to others. And it explains why I’m a wacko when I get isolated.
Like this past weekend. I’m back; I’m reconnected; I’m slightly less of a mess.
P.S.: Today I’m spending time with a team of people in talking about their leadership styles. I’m using a tool, the Johari Window, that has been helpful to me in thinking about the impact I have on others and in reminding me that my own “reality” is often pretty unreal and that I need others to help “name” me. You might enjoy the tool too.