Boredom Is My Arch-Nemesis


“The over-bored go overboard.”

I came across that line in a post by Katherine Leon about the ever over-achieving James Franco and had a strange moment of self-realization. That line acted as a filter that wiped away my Type-A tendencies and my academic nerdiness and reinterpreted it in a not entirely flattering light. It made clear that I spend most of my time in a constant battle for distraction.

My brain, and I don’t pretend it is abnormally (nor proverbially) large, cannot abide idleness. There is no off-switch. Meditation is a joke. Empty my mind? Legitimately, can people do that? I’ve tried desperately, praying that if perhaps I can master a clear head I might sleep at night; that my thoughts won’t race from one to the next, writing novels in my mind, listening to full albums in my head, playing out a myriad of futures to live and conversations to have. I’ve never been able to clear my head of all thought. At best I can limit it to one or two thought processes and a background song stuck in my head.

I can’t say I’ve learned to adjust, because I can’t recall ever not being this way. I can live in my head for hours without realizing it—as long as I have something to think about. And that’s where I run into trouble. If there is nothing actively engaging me, keeping my brain whirring, or giving it something to do I get in trouble. I have an obsessive, though not addictive, personality—I latch onto some thought, story, topic and become obsessed with knowing everything there is to know about it. I have to, otherwise I get Bored. And Boredom must be avoided at all costs because that’s when I start to slip and stumble, black moods descend upon me and I begin to feel weightless and ungrounded. Without my brain working I feel the whole world starting to slip away.

Years ago I remember lying on my friend’s floor. I’d graduated but wasn’t employed. I had no prospects that interested me, no future to plan, no challenge to conquer. I laid there as we lamented our quarter-life crisis (at 23), Kate Nash was singing, “My fingertips are holding onto the cracks in our foundation,” and I felt the walls closing in, my brain figuratively turning to mush, and becoming absolutely listless about life. I had nothing to think about nor problem to solve and not even my brain was going to fix the 2008 recession to get me a job. And with each successive, repetitive job application I sent I slipped away a little further. Flash forward to last year, this time I was well-employed but stressed beyond recognition. Work had turned me into the worst variation of myself and nothing could distract me from it, and I had nothing to divert my brain or keep it from spiraling. It wasn’t a problem I could solve, but rather shit I had to shovel and I was instead sinking into it.

Looking back I can see that both times I overcame boredom by going overboard. I enrolled in grad school at the same time I started a full time job, and just kept adding more and more classes, desperately seeking something, anything to keep my brain from atrophying. The second time I started Literally, Darling so I could have something that on top of a very demanding full time corporate job, I could put my after-work and weekend brain to organizing, planning, and writing for. Now I’ve got more than enough to keep me occupied, but still I find myself searching for more distractions—a trip to plan,  side research projects on World War I and World War II, new photoshoots, obsessively critiquing the latest episodes of “Sherlock,”—anything to keep my brain busy.

It’s not a very flattering realization to be honest. It oozes a certain level of arrogance and privilege to have the opportunity to say “I have to go overboard so I can avoid being overbored.” It explains why I constantly switched schools so often, why my grades slipped when my classes weren’t challenging, and the shoot-the-walls level of boredom I fell into after I came back from studying at Oxford. It’s how I can zone out entirely during tedious tasks or manual labor so long as I give myself something to mull over first, but can still repeat verbatim what you said to me while you thought I wasn’t paying attention. And why I overthink, overanalyze, and overcompensate on absolutely everything. I spend so much of my focus keeping my mind occupied that I often forget the world around me, fail to exist in the moment, and am prone to living my life in my head.

I am endlessly chasing the next obsession to mull over, new knowledge to keep me occupied and I would happily spend the rest of my life taking classes, flitting from one subject to the next, learning everything. It is who I am. I am often Bored. And I will always go overboard to compensate.

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