Head empty, no thoughts

Or my alternative: head filled to the brim with trash, no space for bad thoughts.

Small boy, baby, tiny tiny boy. Does not know anything, does not even know abc’s. Just knows be little, and nap. So pure.

Does that sound dreamy?

How about this pic of a smooth brain?

Do you wish that was you?

Do you long for head empty, no thoughts? An existence without the constant hum of cogs turning, the mental monologue whirring?

Same. But unfortunately, for me and other people with mental illness (or spicy brains, if you prefer) the pursuit of head empty - in the good, proper, mindful sense, where your mind is an oasis of calm - often results in lots of thoughts.

Head empty can mean plenty of space for bad, scary thoughts to slot in like tetris pieces, taking up all the spots that could have been occupied by busyness or to-do lists.

While I like to pretend that I pursue a thought-free zen, it’s not the truth. Instead I pursue the busiest mind possible, making sure I have a constant stream of multiple sources of mental stimulation so the door for thoughts isn’t left even slightly ajar, so the cupboard is full, so there’s not an inch of space for even the beginning of a half-formed consideration to slip its way inside.

That’s why I will sit, watching TV, while playing ‘Project Makeover’ until I run out of lives, then scroll TikTok in the ad breaks. It’s how, for a long time, I managed to do a load of work while extremely depressed - because I could just power through the day while there were things to do and words to write, then collapse at the end of the day and eat pick n mix instead of cooking dinner and cry, check doors are locked and switches were off, and pick apart all the ways I’m shit at everything I do.

I worry about what happens when someone is literally scared to think. It’s a strange, dystopian-sounding idea, and surely results in a lack of actual deep philosophising or nuance. But that’s exactly the mindset I’m in.

The rare times when I’m not distracting myself with practicalities or media consumption, I’ve noticed that the thoughts that pop up are the kind that take the wind out of your sails and the air out of your tummy. That’s to be expected - a lot of these thoughts are along the lines of ‘yep, we’re in a pandemic, we are living through something entirely new and scary’ - but it always takes me by surprise, and when thoughts are unpleasant, it’s natural to have a mental flinch response and quickly try to drown them out with episodes of This Is My House (an excellent show, by the way) or deep-dives into the Instagrams of old Love Island Australia contestants.

OCD and the intrusive thoughts it involves adds a fun extra layer to things, as in amongst trying to avoid thoughts that I know have the potential to spiral into a full depression weekend, I’ll also have completely unreasonable thoughts that land and cling, refusing to budge until… well, who knows when. Maybe if I check the locks enough they’ll go, or they’ll keep playing on a loop but quiet enough to ignore.

So just to recap, some thoughts that will shout to be heard. There’s the general life stuff - the pandemic, big questions about what I’m doing, am I achieving enough, etc. Then there’s depression/self-hatred brain, which is stuff like ‘I have no worth and let’s be honest, things would be better if I disappeared’, ‘I have no talent or skill and will never achieve anything good’, and ‘I am physically repulsive, no one will ever love me’. Then there’s the OCD stuff, which can veer from ‘you didn’t actually shut the door, so someone is going to come in while you’re sleeping and kill you and everyone else in the building’ to ‘stab yourself, just stab yourself’ to what it is at the moment, which is just a random name over and over again like a particularly sticky earworm.

Medication helps to at least quiten the OCD bit and lift the depression haze, but it doesn’t always work. If something goes wrong and gives my brain anything to feed on (the ‘ah, I was right, I actually am a piece of shit and this typo proves it’ moment), they’ll all come rushing in and it’ll feel like a swarm of wasps inside my head, all with their stingers out but not even having the decency to die once they’ve jabbed.

So yes, I dream of head empty, no thoughts, and would willingly take that over in-depth pondering, even if that means I end up uninformed and dull.

But knowing head empty, no thoughts isn’t possible, I’ll fill the space to the brim with TikTok trends, whatever drama Twitter is dissecting today, and level 174 of a game that claims to be about makeovers but predominantly hinges on lining up coloured gems so they explode and open up boxes of shoes. Yes, the bad thoughts still sneak in, despite the ‘we’re full, sorry’ sign on the door, but I’ll hit level 175 soon.

Reading recs: