Mind-worms ~ The Spotters’ Guide
We all know what ear-worms are: that annoying phenomenon when a song or jingle lodges in your consciousness and keeps on playing over and over and over again until you want to scream. You can’t turn it off and if you liked the song to start with after half an hour of it morphing into an ear-worm, you hate it.
Let me introduce you to the ear-worm’s frightening big brother: the Mind-worm.
A Mind-worm is an intrusive, unwelcome thought, image or idea that pops up into your head one day and stays there, raising its ugly head every time there’s an opportunity to do so. They’re a feature of some forms of mental distress and they can be devastating. Most of us get the odd one now and then but not to the extent someone in the throes of a mental breakdown can get.
I’ll give you an example of a recent one that burrowed into my brain a few months ago. I’d been doing a tour of Norwich with a group of French students and we’d got to the castle. For a lot of my tours, the only thing the kids find of interest is the gruesome stuff so I did my spiel about the hangings off the bridge in the days when the castle was the prison, and seeing the group engaged I continued. “Of course, our method of execution was much slower than your Guillotine, at least until we mastered the drop technique where the victim’s neck was broken instantaneously. During the trial and error time where they tried to get the ratio between rope length and body weight right, there was one occasion here where the hanged man lost his head…..But the Guillotine was quick and they had a basket for the head to fall into….whoosh, thwop, thunk!” They all winced and laughed. I finished the talk and we went on….but as I stepped out, I had a sudden and all encompassing vision of putting my own head on a curved recess, then hearing the swoosh of a descending blade…. then total and utter darkness and silence. I staggered a little as I walked, returning to the sunlit city shaking and instantly about to burst into tears. For the next couple of hours, it kept coming back, not even when my mind was idling along, but when I was talking with people or trying to give a talk. I don’t know how I got through, to be honest. For the next few days, it came again and again, and even writing about it makes it closer.
Other Mind-worms I’ve had have been less vivid to express: a creeping sense of total looming personal disaster, surety that people I thought love me, actually hate me. I’m not going to detail them all. They all contain the element of it being beyond my control, beyond my power to eliminate them.
I did a kind of poll on Twitter and asked how others deal with them. Kev @Atomic_Honey said he used a mantra, about being Swiss cheese and it passing through him. Marc said he uses white noise to block them out. Universally, this is a feared and loathed experience of all who’ve ever suffered with them. Often they are what people find the hardest to deal with of all the symptoms of mental and emotional distress.
I’ve been thinking about how I deal with them. Initially I recoil, in horror and repulsion. This can go on for a long while. The Mind-worm usually retaliates by becoming more intense and more scary. This can be especially awful at night. If it pops up at a time when the world is sleeping, it’s much harder to deal with. Then I found that if I let it just do its thing, and not try to suppress it, I found something interesting. The intensity burns out quite quickly. In the case of my guillotine vision, the effects on me lessened, until I could see what was at the core of the vision and its message.
I’ve always said I didn’t fear death itself but more the process of getting there. Turns out I was wrong. I’m scared witless of both. My own existential doubts mean that instead of being able to imagine anything after that moment of personal extinction, all I could imagine is blackness and eternal silence.
Most of my Mind-worms are about fear. Deep down, hidden fears. Fear of being unloved, misunderstood, reviled. Fear of final, personal extinction, fear of all my beliefs being so much moonshine and lullabies for children to sing against the Dark. Fear.
Now fear is an odd thing. It has much to tell us about ourselves and sometimes about the world, but we’re all so bloody busy trying to be brave and fearless that we become incapable of listening to our fear and addressing some of the deep down issues.
Time to make time for my Mind-worms.