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Living With A Non-Linear Mind, Part 1; The Agony and the Ecstasy

I am what you might call a ‘non-linear thinker’, or, if there is a linear to non-linear thinking continuum, I would be relatively far onto the non-linear side. That means that I tend not to think ‘in a straight line’, and have difficulty with processes that are step-by-step sequential in nature. Although this is seen as a creative advantage, in a certain amount of my life experience it has been something of a handicap.

The difficulty I have is that I find it very challenging to think about one thing at a time, or to organize my thoughts in a particular sequential way. When I was a student and teachers would ask me to create an outline for an essay, I felt completely lost. I had no idea how I would organize what I was going to say before I was actually saying it.

Instead, it seems that all sorts of thoughts about many different subjects all rattle around inside my head at the same time. What ends up happening in the meantime is that the important tasks that I need to focus on, and important steps that I have to take, often get forgotten.

It’s not a conscious thing for me. I’m not trying to think about everything at the same time, it just happens. And it’s not even something I can articulate while it is happening. I go through periods of time when I feel kind of lost. If I have something in my hand, I might keep carrying it around wherever I am going while I’m thinking about something else. Or, alternatively, I may put it down wherever I see a space in that moment. For example, I once put the sugar bowl ‘away’ in the microwave. Fortunately nobody turned on the microwave without looking inside.

But this has been a fact of life for me for so long, that I have learned to problem-solve rather quickly at times. When I have forgotten something, or when I forgot to do my homework when I was younger, I have at times been able to find novel solutions to the problem that I inadvertently created. And, sometimes, I find connections between various disparate ideas and events which I likely would not have made if I had gone out deliberately looking for them.

Sometimes all those notions that have been jumbling about in my head like laundry in a washer come together and crystallize into something new and innovative, all at once. When that happens, it’s kind of a buzz- which makes me want for it to happen more, to expect it. And that expectation leads for me to a real sense of dissatisfaction and frustration when I just get back to the lost and confused feeling that I have at other times.

It’s not that the connections I find are necessarily manufactured or contrived (and I do try to check and test them). It is just that life is actually an interconnected whole – not a set of compartmentalized experiences, but an integrated experience which is often perceived as sectioned or disconnected.

Meanwhile, though, it is necessary for me to function. People count on me, as they do on each other, to be reasonably predictable, to show up to events at times when I have made a commitment to be there, and to play my role when I am included in a group plan.

Although I have at times failed to meet my commitments, or even to remember them, for the most part I have learned little ‘life-hacks’ to help me function reasonably well within the context of my family, community, and society. Over the next few weeks, I want to take the opportunity through this blog to tell about how I have learned to deal with my personal weaknesses and build on my strengths. There are other people in the world who experience similar struggles to my own, and my hope is that in my blog over the next few Fridays I can prove to be of assistance in helping them push past their obstacles as well.

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