Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome

There's this messed-up thing my brain does sometimes, usually when I'm lying in bed at night hoping to switch off (though sometimes in the middle of my daily life, which is scarier). Typically I'll have been engaging in one of my favorite meditative practices, wherein I enumerate the people who mean a lot to me. I take a moment to think about each of them in turn, expressing my gratefulness for their presence in my life and asking for God's blessing on them.

And that's when my brain suddenly sabotages itself, unleashing a scenario where I learn that a parent, sibling, or best friend of mine has died (almost always in an auto accident). Now I'm careening down the path of emotional responses to the terrible news: my chest tightens, pain wells in my abdomen, and I'm picturing a future where I never get to see this individual again. Just like that, they're gone. I try to rein in the morbid fantasy as quickly as I can, but sometimes I get as far as composing a full-blown eulogy, and quite often tears are making themselves known before I manage to get the vision under control.

I can think of a couple of psychological explanations for these little episodes. I think they have an apotropaic function: like, if I can make myself experience the emotional distress of losing a dear friend, this will somehow convince the universe to leave all my friends alive (because The Universe, as a conscious being bent on dispensing suffering to all humans without discrimination, will see my distress, assume it's already killed someone I love, and therefore move on to murdering the loved ones of someone who hasn't experienced this distress? Hey, these are rationalizations, not rational thoughts). I also suspect, though I'm a little ashamed to admit this, that they're kind of practice – just checking, for the inevitable day when I will lose someone I love, that my emotion circuits are correctly wired and I am in fact capable of having the “right” emotional response.

What I want to know is: is this normal? Do other people experience little horror-fantasies like these, bubbling up unbidden in the silence of the night or in a moment of unguarded thought, or is there something wrong with me?


  1. I haven't the foggiest idea if it's "normal," but I can tell you I do it, too, more or less just like you've described. So, if there's something wrong with you, there's something wrong with me, too, and we can at least have solidarity in our wrongness. ;)

  2. I do sometimes.

    Here's a scary thought: If I die suddenly, you'll probably never know. I'll just dissapear from the Internet. You just won't know. I suspect if something happens to me, I'll just *vanish* from a lot of people's lives.

    I've had online friends I've lost contact with whom I fear this may have happened to.

    Yeah, I'm just a Nightmare Fuel Station Attendant.

  3. Really, I know there's no such thing as "normal", but it is a comfort to know that other people do the same thing.

    And, yeah, the thought of online friends suddenly disappearing is a disturbing one. In my more paranoid moments I sometimes consider writing down all my web aliases and passwords and sealing it in an envelope marked "When I Die", with instructions to let my online communities know what happened.

  4. I now instantly feel bad about every fourm or blog I've ever abandoned.