With everything that has happened in the last year of my life, I’ve been thinking lately about processing. Most of the time, when I say that I need to process something, I mean that I need some time and space to work through my feelings and thoughts about it until I reach some kind of definitive answer or opinion. There is nothing more that I hate as an introvert than spewing off half-formulated ideas and opinions that may or may not even be what I actually think.
But lately–and when I say lately, I mean since January–I don’t think I’ve been processing properly. It’s as if there is literally too much to process. I desperately crash through all the thoughts and feelings without ever reaching any kind of solid ground, and before too long, my brain completely shuts down in an “Elvis has left the building” style, exhausted from all the fruitless effort.
Evidence of my lack of processing is what weighs on me at the end of the day when I think about all the weird things I said or did that I don’t feel like I wanted to do or say. It’s the feeling of, “That’s not me. Why did I do that?” Gradually, when this continues to happen, the question becomes, “Is that me? Do I do that? What if I don’t like that I do that? Why am I still doing that?”
Having narrowed down the primary cause of this mini-identity crisis, I am realizing that somehow, I need to find a better way to sift through my feelings and emotions to process more effectively. But… how?
I decided that since I’m a word person, and since I really like etymology, it might be useful (or at the very least, interesting) to look up what it really means to ‘process’ something.
Some of the definitions of ‘process’ as a verb:
a: to perform a series of mechanical or chemical operations on (something) in order to change or preserve it.
b: to subject to or handle through an established usually routine set of procedures
c: to integrate sensory information received so that an action or response is generated
d: to subject to examination or analysis
But even more interesting is that when process was first used as a verb around 1530, it was primarily referring to the legal process (think prosecutor). Talk about having rules and order.
Somehow, when I think of processing emotional experiences, I don’t think about doing it in a mechanical or procedural way. But, maybe that’s noteworthy. Maybe processing huge emotional or intellectual ideas could be streamlined into a more task-oriented format. After all, when you write in a journal or talk through something, you have to sort at least some of your thoughts before you do so. Conversations don’t function well if you bounce all over the place and keep changing your mind. We already employ some systematic efforts in any form of communication, so it seems reasonable that if you have more to talk about, more organization may be helpful.
Another fascinating thing about these definitions is that they refer to a change occurring in the ‘process’ of ‘processing.’ While we all know that big life events can change us, I still think it’s a pretty scary concept to explore. I do, obviously, want to process everything that has happened so that I can feel lighter, more sure of myself, more aware, more open again. But, there’s definitely some fear associated with coming out on the other side and not being able to recognize yourself.
The third definition is most interesting to me because it says when we process things we generate an action or response. It makes me wonder: What action or response can I expect once I have ‘processed’ the last six months? I think this is also the challenge of processing because we have to admit to having an end goal, even when we know we may never reach it. It’s sort of like wanting to be happy or healthy or some other equally ambiguous and individually defined adjective–if you don’t define it for yourself, you’ll never reach it, but if you do define it, you feel limited. What if I reach my definition of happy, but I’m still not as happy as I could be? Similarly, what if I lay out goals for processing, but when I reach them, I still have more processing to do? Do we feel discouraged by that? Inspired? Disheartened? Motivated?
I still feel the gargantuan weight of all the things that I need to do, and it’s been easy to shove aside this whole processing business. But I know I can’t do that forever. So, I guess I will have to gradually steel myself up for the emotional, unpredictable, and turbulent process. But this time, maybe I will be armed with charts and lists and schedules.
I’ll keep you posted.