I had one of those nights last night. At like 3:37 in the morning, my brain began coming up with an itemized queue of everything I have ever done wrong, socially, in my entire life. When it ran out of those, it started thumbing through things that I might have done wrong, but I have no idea, because they're so far in the past I can't even check, but hell I might've screwed up anyway, so throw 'em in.

Generally, I enjoy having an eidetic memory, but these nights, not so much.

The worst part is that I couldn't have avoided a lot of them. When you're a kid, you get most of your social cues from your parents, and my parents were batshit. My mother has what I later realized was a profoundly paranoid outlook on life. She'd never cop to it if you asked, but she thinks pretty much the entire world is duplicitous, and most of it is out to get her. It was routine for her to enter into some sort of carpool/ride-sharing arrangement with some other parent, where the other mother drove me and my sister to school with her kids. My mother was nice as pie when she picked everyone up in the afternoon, and then dropped the other kids off at their place and spent the entire car ride home complaining about parents who couldn't even manage to transport their own children. I have no idea how much of this was unfocused neuroticism and how much was specifically feeling inadequate herself, but her ranting about other people made it pretty clear that she thought everyone was like this, and that the only way to protect yourself was to assume everyone was covering up for their dislike of you or something you did, and to ferret this information out before they did the same thing to you.

No, I have no idea how she thought this was actually a good alternative to just assuming people are telling the truth until it becomes obvious that they aren't. It drove me insane until I hit the point where following this advice had gotten me into so much trouble that I figured I couldn't have any less of a social life if I started ignoring everything my mother ever said. It's a special kind of hell when you try to do this to normal people, who aren't generally aren't concealing anything, and who are completely bewildered by your attempts to uncover the things they aren't hiding. Like any good conspiracy theory, of course, this one holds that absence of evidence isn't actually lack of evidence, just evidence of a better cover-up than you were expecting.

The end effect is called hypervigilance, and it's a fairly common outcome of dealing with trauma, particularly trauma involving people who are unpredictable and in charge of your life for long periods of time. I can't actually say that I hate having it. What I've managed to do -- and don't ask me how, because I have no idea -- is pull off some sort of swords-into-plowshares thing where I have convinced myself that my brain doesn't flag these bits of information because they're dangerous, just because they're interesting. The interestingness flag is what alerts me to the things I need to pull off the Sherlock party trick, which I honestly have to say is my favorite superpower ever.

The problem is that, like the pareidolia, the noticing-things has a stuck switch. It's on all the time. I've gotten it down to the point where I'm perfectly fine when I'm actually talking to someone, because I can look at them and read, in real-time and with a more than reasonable degree of accuracy, what their reactions are. Some people make this especially easy. One of my favorite desk people at the studio is a native-Boston-born dominicana from a Catholic family. To not know what Isra thinks of my conversational tack, I would need to be blind, deaf, and probably dead. I'm not magic and may someday do something that really pisses her off, but at least I know she'd never let me embarrass myself by continuing to do the dumbass thing for a month and a half before bringing it up quietly, in a Serious Discussion, after having hauled me into a corner somewhere.

No, it's the 3:37am thing that drives me bonkers. I know people say to just meditate and "let it go", but believe me, this is not something anyone wants me to let run around unsupervised. That constant internal chatter meditation is supposed to quell is the thing that prevents me from inflicting this on others. It points out that if any of these people secretly wanted me to go away, then texting me back at midnight/inviting me to meet the circus performers/linking me repeatedly to that one photo of Chris Pine in leather pants is a mind-bogglingly stupid thing for them to have done, and it is totally not my fault if I misinterpret the message. Dogged application of logic is my savior, even if this does really disconcert the mental-health personnel whenever I try to explain it.

Comments