This past week, in a session of self-introspection, I realized that my mind regularly searches out the branching pathways of situations, then their connected conclusions. In other words, I’m unconsciously and constantly asking—“what if?”
Ever since childhood, I’ve had a vivid imagination. I could care less about the restrictions of reality. All I wanted to do was chase the tantalizing thread of a fascinating idea or follow the path of a strange vision. I’d stare at a sunset and wonder what would happen if I could capture the sunset and live in its warm glow for eternity. Surely those simultaneously rich and bright colors were the most beautiful colors in the world. What if I could capture them? Maybe if I stared at it long enough, the moment would be absorbed into my eyes. Would the vision swim in those orbs, occasionally floating to the surface so I could see them again, or would they instead travel straight to my memory box and somehow become thoughts I could summon at will? In the case, maybe it’d be better if I sent the vision straight to my memory box instead. Since the memory box is in my brain, I reasoned, then I should try to memorize all of the details. But that was so hard since the sunset kept changing faster and faster than I could record it. What if I had a faster way to record it? …And I’d remain in this transfixed state (maybe some people called it obliviousness) until someone shook me out of my trance.
These days, I’m a lot more down-to-earth. For better or for worse, I daydream a lot less. But that desire to chase the unknowns hasn’t gone away. When presented with a problem, I’m eager to challenge myself and find solutions. What have people already tried, and what were the results? What else could have happened, and why didn’t those things happen? Before I know it, I’m pressing someone for more details about the problem and probing—perhaps uncomfortably—into things that I have no business being so interested in.
It’s a bit problematic when I find myself doing this in the most casual of conversations; I think too much about every word I hear and it becomes difficult to keep a conversation going with a stranger. I’ve noticed this makes it hard for me to do anything improvisational. At the end of the day, though, it doesn’t bother me too much. Small talk and hanging out in crowds were never my thing.
But a week ago, I found myself absorbed in a problem. And for some reason, no matter how hard I tried to escape from the problem by setting my mind free, I couldn’t get away. Every attempt at imagination seemed to connect back to the problem by an invisible thread. Any situation I could conjure mirrored the issue in some way. Bewildered, I turned to monotonous tasks (but not mindless ones) to distract me. The only way to keep the stress and unease at bay was to desperately keep my mind busy.
After that storm passed, I was shocked to realize that I had spent days without a single thought about the future. Just a week ago I had been regularly dreaming about making the perfect home, conjuring delicious meals, and walking down to the beach throughout the different seasons. That had been normal. Now I hadn’t even considered what I wanted to eat or how I wanted to spend the evening until I found myself helplessly within those situations. There had been no space to even consider—what if?