Last Sunday, I went to church even though I didn’t really want to. It wasn’t that I had a rough week or had overdone the peopling thing like I have in the past. In fact, it was actually a short week since the college was closed due to Fall Break. Even shorter, really, because I had an extra day off Friday when both the professors I work with canceled class for the day. It had been a pretty easy couple of days, so why the reluctance to go Sunday morning? It was because I “had” to since the Sunday school class I help lead was going to be down the other two leaders. After an email from one and a phone call from the other informing me of this, my brain kicked into overdrive and the next couple of days were spent obsessing over the situation. I picked it apart, immersed in what could go wrong and just how bad it was going to be. But, I went, hoping it would be one of those, “Oh, that went better than I expected” moments. It was and it wasn’t. Not that anything could’ve turned out well the way I let this get out of hand. But that’s what happens when you let your overthinking, neurodivergent-ass brain run wild.
What Is It?
Let me make this clear: overthinking doesn’t make you neurodivergent. Overthinking is, according to Merriam-Webster, when you “too much time into thinking about or analyzing (something) in a way that is more harmful than helpful.” We all do it from time to time, it’s normal. For NDs, though, it’s pretty much a constant thing. Partly because of how our brain is wired and partly because we have to. It’s a survival skill, really. It’s how we get through a day without fucking up on a monumental level, be it shitting on someone we care about or dropping the ball on an important activity/task/event. But, as essential as it is to our daily functioning, it’s also a problem. Because when you spend all that time dwelling on a specific subject, you’re going to fuck it up somehow. This is the paradox of neurodivergence: the things you do to keep from fucking up cause you to fuck up. Along with bringing fun things like anxiety, depression, and a shit ton of negative self-talk.
How Does Overthinking Affect Things When You’re Neurodivergent?
I knew I wanted to start this piece with a story of overthinking because it’s different when you’re neurodivergent. But it wasn’t easy to come up with one since overthinking is a part of me. It’s basically my default setting, sort of a neurodivergent bastardization of Descartes’ First Principal: I overthink, therefore I am (Super cogito, ergo sum). Are there times when I wish I didn’t do it? Sure. I mean, who enjoys getting into one of the shame spirals overthinking can bring on? Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Overthinking is like a set of expensive luggage, you just have that shit. Like, forever. So, you might as well find a way to make it work as much as you can. It’s not easy, though.
Shut Up. Please, Just Shut Up
A lot of neurotypical folks don’t experience overthinking the way we do and they tend to offer… let’s say “unhelpful” advice. We know you guys mean well, but if we could do any of that, we probably wouldn’t be overthinking in the first fucking place. So saying shit like, “Have you tried meditating?” or “Try distracting yourself” don’t really do much for us. Of course, there are the ones that are fucking gaslighting, like, “Just let it go. It’s all in your head anyway.” Now, I can’t speak for everyone else, but that last one really chaps my ass. Speech pathologist Dr. Karen Dudek-Brannan sums it up best in an article about interventions for neurodivergent students where she channels Dumbledore from The Deathly Hallows : “Just because it’s “in our heads” doesn’t mean it’s not real. In fact, because it is LITERALLY in our heads neurologically, that is EXACTLY what makes it so real.”
The Help That’s Available For Overthinking Is Not Fucking Helpful
So, if you google “overthinking coping skills”, you get a bunch of stuff that’s… well, fucking useless. Things like, “practice self-acceptance”, “work on interpersonal skills”, or “challenge negative thoughts”. I don’t know, maybe this shit works for NTs, but for us neurodivergent folks, there’s a vast array of stuff, like RSD, imposter syndrome and executive dysfunction, that make it unworkable. As bad as those are, my personal favorite is so outstandingly stupid, I can’t see it working for anyone. Why? Because it’s to “set up a ‘worry period'” with the added instruction to keep it around 30 minutes or so. What the fuck? Look, if I start worrying about shit, I can’t just turn it off at some fucking arbitrary time limit my stupid-ass brain has decided to impose. And, I don’t think I’m alone in that. If there are some weird alien-type motherfuckers who can turn it off like that, I don’t think I want to know them.
It’s Not All Bad, Though
While the stuff that comes up when you add “for neurodivergent” isn’t that much better, there are a few things that might be helpful. The most important one doesn’t show up in any search, however. But, the first thing you have to do is accept that overthinking, as fucked up as it can be is just one more part of being neurodivergent. You’re not getting rid of it, so forget that shit. You can learn to manage it a little better, though. One trick is to be as proactive as possible. Heading shit off, or at least having a plan to deal with the shit you can’t head off, is key. Knowing how you’re going handle shit when it comes up, or better yet keeping it from happening in the first fucking place, can prevent the dreaded spiral. I think we can all agree that not getting there in the first place is always better than trying to get out after the fact. Another tip is to distract yourself, although this one can possibly make things worse if you’re not careful. Distracting yourself can take you down a rabbit hole. Then, not only is the problem still there, you’ve got even less time to deal with it. Lastly, talk it over with someone whose opinion you respect. A lot of times, a fresh pair of eyes can make all the difference.
I Wish It Was Different… But It’s Not
Okay, I’m aware that what I’ve said here probably isn’t what you wanted to hear. I get that overthinking sucks and that being told it’s not something that you can get rid of sucks even harder. But, really, isn’t that the main feature of being neurodivergent? I mean, you’ve got this shit that, for all its good parts, can get in the way of living your life. And, it’s not going away (no matter what certain assholes might claim), so you just have to learn to deal with it. Overthinking is just one of the suckier parts of being neurodivergent. You’ve got it and it’s not going away. The quicker you accept that fact, the quicker you can learn to live with it. And, for the record, I wish I could tell you different but I’d be lying. And, I won’t do that.