Talking to myself – it’s how some of us think, okay?

“If you see me talking to myself, do not disturb. I'm having a staff meeting.”

(Click to embiggen)

I don’t know how young I was, precisely, when my parents decided to talk to me about my imaginary friend. It was sometime before I started kindergarten, but I don’t know how long. I also don’t know if either of them thought I was already too old for that sort of thing, because the conversation very quickly went south, as I explained, quite emphatically, that I didn’t have an imaginary friend. I was talking, I said, to the voices in my head.

That was not a phrase my dad was at ALL happy to hear come out of his son’s mouth.

What I understood, even then, was that the voices were different parts of me. I was processing things by having a discussion with myself. I knew that the voices weren’t really voices. I knew that the voices were just different ways of looking at the situation I was thinking about or considering. I didn’t think that I was getting messages from god or something. I knew that all I was doing was thinking.

But I didn’t quite have the conceptual framework to explain that. So what my dad perceived was that I was confessing to suffering from severe delusions or some other mental illness… and you may recall from some earlier blog posts about my evil grandmother, Dad was raised by a woman who believed two contradictory myths about mental illness: 1) that it isn’t a real illness, and 2) mental illness was a form of immorality that was evidence of bad blood in a family. And my evil grandmother had opposed my parents’ relationship (and tried to engineer a divorce after they married many times), because she believed my mom’s family was nothing but bad blood (with the odd exception of one maternal great-grandmother that I have never quite unpacked).

In short, Dad went ballistic. I was never, under any circumstances, to tell another person about these voices! And if he caught me talking to myself in circumstances where anyone outside the immediate family heard, I would be punished. And yes, than means that several times over my elementary school career, I got a beating because a teacher mentioned at parent-teacher conference or report guard about me talking to myself at school or on the playground.

It wasn’t something I was doing on purpose. Being inside my head is like sitting in a crowded conference room. There are constant conversations going on inside there about everything from what I am seeing or listening to at the time, any number of work and personal projects, anything I have read recently, and so on.

No amount of shaming and beating would stop my brain from working that way.

I did become increasingly careful about trying to keep the conversations inside my head. To this day, under many circumstances, if someone overhears me talking to myself, I feel extremely embarrassed.

But inside my head, the committee just keeps going on.

And the voices have their own personalities, usually represented by taking on the voice of various actors/characters from various movies/TV shows/et cetera. Some have changed. For most of my childhood and well into my twenties, the practical and sensible voice sounded like Walter Cronkite. Somewhere around season three or four of Star Trek: the Next Generation that voice morphed into Patrick Stewart’s voice.

The most dramatic change was the voice that thinks most of the socially inappropriate and sexual innuendo-laden thoughts. From puberty until one particular fateful night in my late teens, the voice always sounding like comedic actor, Paul Lynde. Then, when two older friends took me to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show for the first time, suddenly that voice became Tim Curry as Dr Frank N Furter and it has never changed.

I started writing at a fairly early age, too (5 year old me tried to write a collection of stories based on my stuffed animals, entitled “Uncle Bunnys” {note misspelling} which thankfully is lost to the mists of time). And as I began creating my own stories, various characters I created became new voices in my head. And some of them love commenting on my real life, so I don’t just hear them when I’m thinking about stories or trying to write them.

They also, I should note, love to comment on the actions of fictional characters in any movie, show, or story that I take in.

The worst is when I am working on one of my one stories, and then a character of my own that doesn’t even exist in that world feels the need to chime in and tell the character I’m writing at the moment that they are doing it wrong. Whatever it is.

For many years I have had to warn new co-workers that when I’m deep in a problem, I mutter to myself a lot. And if the computer or software I’m working with (or something I’m reading) vexes me, my muttering swears like a sailor. One coworker I shared a cube wall with for a few years laughed when I warned him, “Join the club!” And yes, after that we got in the habit of commenting on each other’s muttered swearing when we heard it.

Some years ago when I was explaining this, someone asked how it was possible to think if there are voices always going on. I tried re-explaining that the voices were me thinking, but they didn’t quite get it. So I wound up asking a question that I’m sure he thought was me being flippant: “How on earth to you manage it without any voices?”

More seriously, I think the part I was failing to convey is that when I get in a groove on a task, most of the voices go quiet. I’ve made a decision and now I’m executing it.

I also realized that this might be why I’ve have always done a better job at writing or drawing or painting if I’m listening to music. It’s like any of the excess processing power my brain might otherwise use to second guess what I’m doing has been taken up with processing the song I’m listening to.

But that’s just a guess. In the end, it’s all just me.

And seriously, I have a hard time understanding sometimes how anyone whose brains don’t work this way manage to figure anything out.

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About fontfolly

I've loved reading for as long as I can remember. I write fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and nonfiction. For more than 20 years I edited and published an anthropomorphic sci-fi/space opera literary fanzine. I attend and work on the staff for several anthropormorphics, anime, and science fiction conventions. I live near Seattle with my wonderful husband, still completely amazed that he puts up with me at all.

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