My name is Lindsay and I am an overthinker. For instance right now, and probably for days after this is posted, I’ll wonder, despite my Internet research whether it is overthink, over-think or over think, or if it changes depending upon the context. I’ll also be thinking about how all of you will read it and if you’ll agree with my choice or not. That’s just the tip of the iceberg of questions. There are plenty more ponderings where that came from but I’ll spare you. But this is something I know, my family knows, and my friends know about me. I encounter a situation and I analyze to my heart’s content. And usually that’s what I am with my overthinking – content.
Of course this contentment doesn’t encompass my reactions to the results of my overanalyzations. And that’s the part that others get to hear about so they think of my overthinking as a negative. I have a hard time accepting that viewpoint. I think it is a good trait to have, looking at a situation from all angles. And I’ll concede that sometimes there is mild paralysis when I just keep going back and forth about something trying to figure out which way I’m going to ultimately go. I think of them as minor blips, nothing to worry about.
After reading the AP interview with actor/author Andrew McCarthy in which McCarthy states:
“You go, you leave everything you know that you’ve safely constructed to keep yourself from having any anxiety and you go to a beach and you lay there and all you have is your mind. How can you not think that’s gonna be a stressful experience? I always think travel is not about escape at all, it’s about confronting yourself,”
I began thinking, and while I thought about the good that can come of this confrontation of thyself, I also thought about the not so good. The reason I say not so good instead of bad is because I like to follow the old G.I. Joe saying that knowing is half the battle. When I learn something new about myself, regardless of whether or not I like it, just knowing it is the first step in either changing or embracing it.
The first not so good thought that popped into my head was my trip to Austin, Texas a year ago August. On this trip I realized how my overthinking can be magnified or misplaced due to the lack of daily life distractions and how my overanalyzing can act as an outlet for deeper issues. Unfortunately, my time in Austin was affected by this internal battle royale.
The trip happened thanks to the traveling trifecta: I had the time, I had the money, and I had a free place to stay. I had always heard that Austin is the Madison (Wisconsin) of the South. I had just moved home from Madison and thought I’d check out its southern counterpart to judge for myself. The free room and board was courtesy of a friend’s brother. I love to plan trips so before heading south I made a list of what I wanted to see, where I wanted to go, and what events I wanted to check out. Plus, Austin is the Capitol so there would be a Capitol building (!) to check out.
The first couple of days went along as anticipated. We checked a lot off my list, I sweated like I never had before, and I experienced pure joy at the Capitol building. Then came the days for me to go it alone while my friend’s brother had to work. The wandering around and checking things out by myself didn’t bother me. I could take as long or as short a time as I wanted anywhere I wanted. What got my brain moving in high gear was the prospect of using the bus system.
While in the Netherlands I preferred to avoid the bus mostly due to the language barrier and other stressors that accompany getting to know a new public transport system. Then in London I loved the using the bus. I liked it more than the Tube. Of course the ease of use with the Oyster card was much greater than with the strippenkaart. Also, in London words don’t have to be spoken and if they were, only an accent stood in your way.
Despite gathering all the information I needed about the using the bus in Austin (how much it cost, where to pick up the bus, and what number buses service my stops), I still had a stomach full of nerves that first day I needed to catch a ride. I kept trying to shut my overthinking brain off by remembering how I loved the bus in London, trying to replace my bad feelings (based on nothing) with good feelings.
I got on the bus, paid my money, and did something wrong. I only wanted a one-way ticket but through my confusion and the bus drivers I bought a day pass. As I made my way to my seat I said to myself, “See. There. Your fear happened. And it wasn’t that bad. What were you so worried about?” Sure, using the bus is a common concern amongst some travelers. But my overthinking wouldn’t let the situation pass without a thorough dissection. One of my worst case scenarios happened, which I chastised myself for worrying about, and which wasn’t bad at all (i.e. there was no Dennis Hopper waiting to blow up the bus if we dropped below 50 mph). But then I began thinking some more and began a downward spiral that affected the rest of my trip.
I first began thinking about how I was disappointed that I had issues with the bus like I had in the Netherlands, which conjured up my issues from my time there (culture-shock, 9/11). I then started examining whether or not I had progressed in handling mishaps or things that don’t go according to plan (regardless of whether or not that plan is realistic). All of this led me to my real issue – perfectionism. I now couldn’t deny this being the root of all things bus.
My perfectionism was something I thought I had (successfully) dealt with through the use of many prescribed methods easily available via the Internet, self-help books, life coaches, and friends. I had adopted/attempted re-framing techniques, told myself not to live by ‘shoulds,’ and to remember that it’s okay to ask for help because I couldn’t possibly know everything about everything. Apparently, all those efforts were made in vain as all it took was one bus ride to show me the woman behind the curtain. And from that point on, all I wanted to do was go home.
But like G.I. Joe said – knowing was half the battle. I tried to figure out what to do or think differently that might help me deal my perfectionism. I lapsed into a contented state of detached overthinking. A year later and I’m still thinking about it. Routine and daily life hide the rawest bits. But thanks to the self confrontation while traveling in Austin, my perfectionism won’t stop me from riding the bus again.