A couple of weeks ago, the Huffington Post shared an image and brief story about how a man had asked his wife to draw, or write down, everything that was going on in her mind. I find it a little hard to believe a husband would ever ask this, but it made for a good topic. The resulting image was not at all surprising to any of us Real Women – for any of us who saw it, our response was basically “yup, that’s about right.” Yet it was somewhat amusing and interesting to “see” a sample of a woman’s thoughts at one moment in time, all spilled out onto a sheet of paper.
Just for fun, I decided to do this exercise myself. I gave myself just 10 minutes last night to jot down, or draw, whatever was swirling around in my head at that given moment. This is what it looked like:
It’s an interesting drill. I recommend you try it and see what ends up landing on your piece of paper. What I discovered is that I started by kind of grouping things in different areas: work, home, my son, friends, vacation, chores, etc….but very soon everything started merging and overlapping – just like it does in our minds. None of us focuses for very long on one thing. We constantly have a barrage of worries, ideas, and reminders running through our thoughts. They never really stop. Sometimes they are in the forefront…. I find that I ruminate on the mass of items when I’m driving home from work, or when I’m in the shower, or maybe when I’m preparing dinner. Other times, when we really do need to focus on something else, like a work project, the various concerns get pushed back a bit and run along steadily in the background like a consistent hum or motor.
About an hour after I created my little treasure, my son happened to notice my messy illustration on my desk, picked it up, and came to me. He said “Mom, what is this? Is this, like, your To-Do list?” I explained it was kind of an experiment to see if I could jot down all the stuff I was thinking about. He looked at me with a mix of concern and confusion, turned around, and set it back down on my desk gingerly as if it carried the flu virus.
Without realizing it, he became part of my experiment. Men don’t think like we do. They excel at focusing on one thing at a time, and get stressed and overwhelmed if pushed to consider several things at once. Plus, they are wired to find solutions and fix things. Short of giving us R.W.’s all lobotomies, there is no way for them to “fix” our brains from being on over-drive all the time.
That leads us to our over-arching concern, as the Super Hero Martyrs that we are: if we don’t worry about all of this stuff, who will? Who’s going to remember to cut a check for my son’s school lunches? Who will take out the chicken to defrost for dinner? How will we ever take a summer vacation if I don’t plan it? Who is going to get the dog out for a walk, and who’s going to notice we are low on Advil and toothpaste and stop at the pharmacy to restock? How will anyone know what we need at the grocery store, or make sure we donate items to the Food Pantry?
Like some kind of mental juggling circus act, we take it upon ourselves to keep everything flying, and not let a ball drop. Not that I’m brave enough to try this, but I’m guessing that if we DID let go of a few things, life would still go on. Sure, we might have to exist for a few days without peanut butter or toilet paper, and the dog would get no exercise, but we’d survive.
After all, this never ending flow of thoughts is exhausting. We rarely, if ever, shut it down. That motor is always whirring away in the background. The reason, I assume, has much to do with the life stages we are in. When we were kids, our brain flow was much simpler – it was all about friends and activities… like inviting my BFF to sleep over, and could I ride my bike into town? Then, as we progress through High School and College, more gets added in. And when we reach adulthood, especially our “mid-life” years, we are on full load. Marriages, careers, family, children, health concerns, activities, home maintenance – it is all there, and we refuse to let any of it go for fear of something catastrophic happening.
I am willing to bet that if we all could take extended vacations and escapes from reality on a regular basis, our illustrated pages would have more white space, and more images of fruity drinks and flip flops. Similarly, I am hopeful that as we progress through life into our later years, reach retirement age and beyond, that our thoughts will begin to once again simplify and ease up. We are Real Women, and we’ll never stop worrying and over-thinking… but perhaps we can cut ourselves some slack at some point.
In the meantime, I think we need to fully embrace every chance we can get to cut the noise a bit. We can’t all live on a soft warm sand beach staring at the ocean every day with our feet up. So we need to find more realistic escapes. Close ourselves in the bathroom for an uninterrupted bubble bath…. Read a fluff novel…. Meet a friend for some shopping or a movie….or settle in for a favorite TV show. (I’m sure the cast of Downton Abbey have no clue how much they’ve transported me to a calmer environment every Sunday. Gosh, I’ll miss them!). We all have to do whatever works to dull that constant drone from time to time.
And, when all else fails, and the men in our lives want to know why we are distracted, tired, or just a wee bit cranky, all we need to do is hold up our illustrations. That piece of artwork is terrifying enough to scare them away…. or perhaps spur them into action to do the dishes. And thus the hum lessens.