Sometimes I wish I had an off switch. Something on the back of my neck that I could flick to stop me thinking too much. I wish there was a way of powering down my brain, in the dead of night when I’m trying to sleep, or tying myself in knots fretting about the future. My mind has a habit of going into overdrive, often at the most inconvenient times. I’ve had friends tell me I think too much, or too deeply, that I wind myself up until I’m like a compressed spring. My best friend once said to me, “I think you think other people think as much as you do, and the fact of the matter is, most of them don’t.” While I do try not to underestimate how much other people think, it can be hard sometimes when you look at their actions. So many times I have asked the question, did so-and-so not stop to think about x and y? A lot of the time, the answer would appear to be no.
Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t swap my brain for anything in the world. It has carried me through school and university, is capable of analysing literature and absorbing foreign languages, and is the source of my creativity. But it also knows how to torture me. It knows how to keep me awake for hours on end while it unspools thoughts, memories and suppositions. We have entire conversations, my brain and me. They range from the profound to the nonsensical, but they are all interesting, at least to me. I just wish they would be more considerate when it comes to timing.
At night is when my brain really goes to work. I’ll be lying in bed, and rather than going to sleep, it will decide that now is the best time to examine my entire life from birth to present day.
Not now, Brain, for goodness sake.
I just thought you might like to take this opportunity to mull over everything that’s ever happened to you.
I’m trying to sleep, Brain.
I could help you figure some stuff out.
You know that fight you almost had in secondary school but didn’t?
I thought I’d choreograph it for you, you know, like a Kung Fu film.
Thanks, Brain, you’re so helpful.
You’re welcome. Speaking of choreography…
I’ve come up with a cracking Argentine Tango for when you eventually do Strictly. It would be to Roxanne from Moulin Rouge, and you’d wear a one shoulder dress made of black lace.
That’s nice, Brain, but it will never happen.
I know, but we can dream.
Sometimes the information is useful but comes far too late.
What is it, Brain?
You know that ex of yours?
I do, oddly enough.
Well, I think what he really wanted was a girl he could feel superior to.
I think you’re right, Brain, but why are you telling me this now when it’s no longer relevant?
I just thought you’d like to know. Speaking of which, you know that awful breakup you went through?
Couldn’t forget it if I tried, Brain.
When you were 100% convinced that you were in the right and he was in the wrong?
Well, here’s a comprehensive list of all the ways in which you weren’t helping the situation.
Gee, thanks, Brain. Now tell me, why in God’s name could you not have given me this information at the time?
Because you were in emotional distress and therefore incapable of analysing the situation objectively.
OK, fair point.
Oh, my brain is excellent at working out why things happened the way they did years after the fact, and more importantly, why I reacted in a certain way. Some people think I have a tendency to dwell on the past, and they’re not wrong, but it’s just part and parcel of how my mind works. I hate not understanding why certain things happened, so I mull and ponder and pick things over until I do understand. Only then can I make my peace with the past.
With all this pondering comes an ever-growing list of things I should have said and done. People I should have taken to task and arguments I shouldn’t have shied away from.
Remember that time in Petersburg when you fell out with your roommate, and instead of sticking up for yourself, you let her scold you like a naughty child before walking out? Well, here’s what you should have said.
Thanks, Brain, you’re only eight years too late.
Remember that boy at school, the horrible one who said it was a shame you didn’t turn out like your stepsister? You should have told him to go fuck himself, and also explained how genetics work.
Yes, well, he wasn’t worth the time or the effort anyway.
Remember that time the whole year thought you and Jodie were lesbians because you were “always smiling at each other,” and then the girls started accusing you of looking at them in the PE changing rooms? You should have pointed out that even if you were attracted to girls, they most certainly would not have been your cup of tea, what with you being “incredibly picky,” as Jodie herself puts it.
Yes, then I’d definitely have ended up having that fight.
Good, I wish you had.
That’s a strange regret to have, Brain.
I know, but it’s the truth.
Sometimes, when it’s not setting the past to rights, my brain likes to pose unanswerable questions:
· What if my little sister had been a boy?
· Would my PGCE have panned out differently had I not been the only girl in the house?
· What if I’d finished with my jealous, controlling ex in sixth form, as I very nearly did?
· What if I hadn’t moved schools in Year 9?
· What if they’d found Mom’s cancer earlier?
Ifs and buts and whys and wherefores. I drive myself crazy with them sometimes. I know there’s no point, but I can’t help myself. That’s why I need an off switch. Something to cure me of my chronic overthinking, or at least give me control over it. Truth be told, I think we could all do with one sometimes.