Obtrusive thoughts and what to do with the weird

Published 8:28 pm Thursday, February 13, 2020

I’m very happy to report that I have had some sleep this week.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always feel like it. It’s really hard for me to fall asleep when I want or need to do just that. I’ve had this problem for as long as I can recall.

Last night I said something at dinner about being very tired and needing to go to bed as soon as I had my work done. My daughter asked, “Can you turn off your brain so you can fall asleep?”

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“No,” I said. “But I’m going to try to not interact and just watch and listen to the videos, music and conversations that will continue in my head until I pass out.”

The constant flow of such mental media comes unfiltered from only God knows where — surely an amalgamation of things I picked up on throughout the day without realizing it, things I’ve read, videos I’ve watched, conversations I’ve overheard or participated in, random memories and whatever extraterrestrial implant I may have between the folds in my gray matter — and continues absolutely non-stop.

When I’m awake, I try to ignore a lot of it, much like my wife tries to ignore her tinnitis, but it remains like a radio playing somewhere in the background. It’s the Muzak of my soul, the literal soundtrack of my life.

When I’m asleep, it heavily influences my dreams — at least the ones I can remember upon waking.

And in the first brief moments just as I awake, it provides some interesting commentary that often leaves me wondering where on God’s green Earth (or off it) that idea came from.

Here a few of the random thoughts that have expressed themselves in those waking moments:

• If Mama Bear isn’t there to bring Papa Bear his porridge, who’s going to make sure he eats?

• Does Tom Cruise really weigh as much as a gummy bear?

• Why do icy hands not come with icy gloves?

• But I don’t know how to fly on my own with just my corduroys.

• What if I’m just too handsome and famous for all my fans and they leave me?

Yes, most of the thoughts are questions — responses to whatever situation I was in before waking,  I guess. Or maybe they’re just a random assemblage of words.

I just spent a few minutes on Google searching for random nonsense sentence generators. Every single one I tried made sense. How can NON-sense sentences make so much SENSE?

Nothing was anywhere near as weird as the stuff that floats from my head.

I wake up singing silently sometimes, too. The songs are anything from a praise song we sang at church the previous Sunday, a TV show theme song, Black Sabbath, a country song from the ’70s or a song from my childhood I didn’t even know I knew. Memory is a weird thing.

I honestly cannot control what goes through my head. But I can control what I dwell on.

One of my children has mild obsessive compulsive disorder. But it didn’t used to be so mild. At its worst, as one example, my son was checking the front door to make sure it was locked at night, 10 times every night. He would go to bed, then get up and go downstairs, unlock the deadbolt and relock it, check the doorknob, then go back to bed. Then he would repeat it nine times. This was after watching me lock the front door before he went to bed.

This was not because we lived in a bad neighborhood, but probably had its root in the fact that the door didn’t latch one day and swung open on its own, causing our family to think the house had been broken into while we were out. But all was well, and we discovered the latch was loose. We fixed the hardware issue, but it remained an issue for my son.

We took him to a counselor who talked with him about the thoughts that entered his mind about the lock. My son could not identify exactly why he couldn’t accept that the door was locked after I locked it, or after each time he checked it himself. But he knew the thought wouldn’t leave him alone until after the 10th time he’d  performed his lock ritual.

The counselor asked him if he’d ever had a song pop into his head, uninvited, that he didn’t like. Sure, my son said. That is an obtrusive thought, the counselor told him — one you didn’t ask for, but it came to you, nonetheless. If you don’t like the song, he continued, what do you do? My son answered he’d listen to or sing something else.

Exactly, the counselor told him. You don’t have to dwell on thoughts you don’t want. Replace them with something else that’s good.

I saw the “AHA” moment light up in my son’s eyes, and the obsession with the door knob, and most other OCD issues he dealt with, began the process of melting away.

I  cannot control every thought that enters my mind, but I can control how I react and if I dwell on them. And what I choose to replace them with. But something still bugs me, to be honest.

Who’s going to make sure Papa Bear eats?

Brett Campbell can be reached at brett.campbell@dailyleader.com.