Since I’ve turned 33, it’s been pain without end. First some minor emotional pain (snogged-a-mate-gate), then some excruciating dental pain (root canal) and now, some bearable but fairly horrible neck pain, which the Doc assures me is very similar to a wrestling injury- and he deals with the Olympic wrestling team, so he is offish an Expert on the subject. Though why a man with his knowledge would be holed up at the Trowbridge Surgery in Hackney Wick, I can’t say.
As I woke up with it on Sunday, I can only assume I’ve overlooked a crucial part of Saturday night, though I’m pretty sure it wasn’t that sort of party; maybe my body is starting its inevitable decline and can’t take the dancing anymore.
Anyway, 33 being the age that Jesus departed this earthly realm, I wondered if he was onto something. He probably started getting aches, pains and a few grey hairs (plus a massive hangover after the Last Supper?) and thought, Sod this, I’m going to be crucified for this stupid lot’s sins at some point anyway, might as well duck out now while I still look good enough to be shifting t-shirts and statuettes 2000 years from now.
Meanwhile my cat’s nocturnal activities are proving to be another pain in the neck, designed to deprive me of my beauty sleep. While she usually achieves this by launching herself at the bookcase and knocking the contents off or pawing my nose like it’s a dead mouse while I’m fast asleep, last night she surpassed herself by knocking over a heavy jug at around 3 am, which had me leaping out of bed (v dangerous as it’s on a mezzanine) fearing that an anorexic thief had somehow managed to squeeze through the tiny kitchen window and could be picking out a knife or some other sharp object to assault me with. Though I breathed a sigh of relief on remembering the sorry state of our (mostly blunt, donated by my Gran) knives.
But awaking at 3 am with lingering toothache and a stiff neck meant no sleep, and hours spent listening to strange noises in the woodwork instead. And of course, over-thinking things.
Over-thinking as an activity gets unduly bad press, particularly when it happens in bed in place of sleep, where it becomes ‘insomnia’, an affliction to be kept at bay with nasty pills (some of which, a friend reports, kept him awake for hours with hellish leg spasms and body twitching) or nice pills, which don’t really work (hello Nytol).
Anyway, insomnia, and the over-thinking it involves is generally seen as Not A Good Thing, and of course it is a ball-ache if you actually have to get up at 7, but as I don’t, I’ve learnt to embrace these hours of sleeplessness. Bonkers ideas, random images, funny sequences and sometimes entire passages of text stream through my mind, mostly to disappear into nothingness, but usually leaving some workable traces that remain on awakening.
A bit like getting stoned and coming up with ‘amazing ideas’ for artworks (or solving world peace, or finally ‘getting’ the financial markets- yeah right- or thinking that Naked Gun 3 1/3 was a deeply subversive political drama, which was my experience the first time I partook) only to realize said ideas were paranoid, derivative or faintly embarrassing on sobering up. Except experience has shown that not all the insomnia ideas ARE that crap; in fact I do most of my ‘work’ at these times, so I hope they aren’t.
Of course, sometimes over-thinking and insomnia are no fun at all and involve pointless worrying about things like tax returns and relationship dilemmas, or if it takes a inward focus, various forms of self-flagellation: I have failed as a human being because I once stole a pencil, or bla fancies bla more than me ergo I’m doomed to a loveless existence with only the cat for company, or clothes don’t really count as allowable expenses, that’s it, HM Rev and Customs crack squad are DEFO planning to swoop down on my accounts.
In this case meditation masters advise that rather than believing one’s own anti-hype, peace comes from simply observing these stories and identifying them as just thoughts, not cast iron facts. Seeing these recurring ‘top tunes’ from a distance allows you to dislodge them from your consciousness, change the record, and, hopefully, get some sleep.
Over-thinking also seems to be something women are routinely diagnosed with, especially when it comes to the all-important subject of ensnaring a man. Reams of corrective self-help literature address the pervasive habit women apparently have of obsessively thinking/ over-thinking about Some Guy: books like ‘Women Who Think too Much’ and, closely related, Women Who Love Too Much– which is actually a terrific book despite the mopey title (Women Who Love Stupid Fuckwits Who They Actually Hate would have been more accurate).
Lacan’s definition, while in no danger of being co-opted by Hallmark or Valentine’s Day ‘celebrations’ (don’t even get me started) is surprisingly on the money: “Love is when you give away something you don’t have to someone who doesn’t exist.”
I take this to mean, love- especially in its obsessive form- is a peculiar kind of insanity that causes you to spunk away nuclear amounts of precious mental energy, not to mention time, on someone who is basically a figment of your imagination, a screen for projecting your ‘stuff’ onto while ‘completing’ you like a defective puzzle and making you ‘happy’, like a drug in fantasy human form. But with no comedown, obv, that’s no fun at all.
(Just to be clear in case any nice men are reading, I’m actually not at all cynical about love- though I am cynical about that sort of love, and unfo, lots of ‘love’ IS that sort…)
Anyway as far as over-thinking goes, an artist friend once pointed out that while it’s an incredibly annoying waste of time in the context of not-there romances, on the plus side, it could be a vital part of the creative process. Thinking about things from a million, mostly fanciful, angles, running away with ridiculous scenarios, re-scripting long-finished conversations and visualising things that really haven’t happened yet, are all quite handy skills when you need to pump out a crappy project proposal in half an hour. So, it’s not all bad.
In fact, it could be the subject of a new ‘how to’ book by someone like Malcolm Gladwell: Over-think Your Way to Happiness, maybe or Over-think: The Power of Thinking and Thinking, and Thinking, and Thinking and thinking and…