What I've Learned from Being "Way Too Intense"
For most of my life, there was one trait of mine that I struggled to accept.
It felt like a part of myself that I should hide from others.
It made me feel “weird” and unlovable.
And to give you some background, I was already weird enough.
For example, I remember, starting when I was seven or eight, giving speeches to myself in my room.
It would be about anything.
It might be to prepare for an upcoming conversation I was going to have.
Or, perhaps, it was a rehashing of the day’s events — announcing to the air the witty comments I should have made to my friends and foes.
To clarify, I never did this in public. I only said this in my room. I knew it was weird after all, and I didn’t want to let people in on this little secret.
But that’s not the trait I’m talking about here.
The character trait I’m talking about is my “intensity.”
I was an intense kid, I grew up to be an intense teenager, and now I’m an intense adult.
When I was a kid, I shunned it, and I did the same as I got older.
I didn’t want to be seen. as the guy who took things too far, who didn’t know how to take a joke, and who pursued his interests a little too eagerly.
It started off innocuously enough — or so I assume that’s how it appeared to the outside world, to people like my parents and my sister, my teachers and my friends.
For instance, I started off small and worked on jigsaw puzzles like a madman. I sometimes had multiple going at the same time.
Or, when my family took summer vacations, I brought along five or six different books, usually The Boxcar Children or Goosebumps.
And then I proceeded to read them all at the same time.
I would read chapter one in the first book, then place it face-down on the seat next to me save my spot before moving on to chapter one of the second book. I would repeat this process until I completed the cycle — and then would pick up where I left off with the first book.
I think my parents found it kind of amusing that I had 6 books smashed, face-down, on the seat next to me. But now I realize how intense it all was.
The real question is:
Why did I do this?
I’m still not totally sure.
As far as I can tell, there is a part of me that needs to be methodical in his actions. I love learning, and I don’t want to miss a thing — so I optimize it. I try to do it all.
As a kid, this seemed possible.
As an adult, it basically caused me to have multiple nervous breakdowns.
Now that my brain has evolved (devolved?) and knows the terms to describe how I experience the world, I realize I live with a more-than-healthy amount of anxiety and obsessive-compulsive tendencies. I’m not one for labels, but these two terms aptly describe me in the majority of situations.
You wouldn’t notice it, though.
People with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive tendencies are excellent at hiding their symptoms.
Still, everyone has a breaking point, and I learned that the read — all — the — books — at — once-method for living was not good for my mental health.
When I got older, I developed this weird habit of trying to get through a book just so I could start another one. It got to a point where I wasn’t even enjoying what I was reading anymore.
Maybe that behavior was a remnant of how I acted as a kid, when I was carefree and acting like that wouldn’t overload my brain.
Whatever the reason, I know now that it’s too intense.
And not just objectively, “this is pretty weird” intense. It subjectively felt too intense for me as well.
But intensity is not all bad. Being this way has gotten me pretty far in life. It’s all about tempering it, about how I use the intensity.
Developing a meditation habit has helped a lot in this regard.
It has taken me out of my head and placed my into the squishy, knobby thing that is my body.
With deep breathing, and with monitoring and letting go of my thoughts, I have learned to check in with myself when I feel a rush of intensity coming on.
Here’s a story to illustrate my point.
Recently, I decided I had had enough with the QWERTY keyboard.
If you’re reading this right now on a piece of technology — which you assuredly are — I assume you’re familiar with the standard keyboard layout. If you’re near a keyboard, look at the keys in the upper-left corner. They’re under the numbers. Yeah, you got it! Look at you accomplishing tasks!
Well, I recently read an article about Matt Mullenweg, one of the creators of WordPress — you know, the software that powers a ridiculous number of the world’s websites — and he was talking about knowing that he would probably be typing for the majority of his life, so he might as well learn a more efficient keyboard layout. He decided to learn DVORAK, a keyboard layout in which the most common letters used are all laid out in close proximity to the “home row,” thus making typing more efficient and easier on the fingers.
I read that article a few weeks ago, and immediately thought, sold. I’m doing that.
Now, this wasn’t the first time that I had heard about the DVORAK keyboard layout or even the first time I considered learning it, but to hear Mullenweg explain his rationale so matter-of-factly convinced me right then and there.
It just “clicked” in my intense brain.
There wasn’t any long deliberation, which used to happen a lot with my overanxious mind. I just decided to do it.
To plan for this, I didn’t map anything out. I just searched the Internet until I found some free typing-training programs that could teach me how to type using the DVORAK layout. (By the way, if you have any interest in doing what I’m doing, Typing Club is free and amazing.)
After five hours of practice — Typing Club tracks everything for me — I have now memorized the entire alphabet and am up to over 25 words per minute.
Considering the fact that I am working against a lifetime of muscle memory, that’s not too shabby.
This is what I’m talking about, though. I get an idea in my mind, my intensity kicks in, and I become obsessed with the idea.
Now, the old me would probably spend all of my waking time learning this interesting, allegedly more efficient typing method.
The current me — the me that is kind of like the old me, but wiser and with a receding hairline — that me is much more sensible.
Using the enhanced awareness that I have thanks to my meditation magic, I check in with myself now.
I ask questions like:
Is this a good use of my time?
Am I enjoying this?
But really, will this REALLY help me down the road? How?
Is my back starting to throb?
I check in with myself repeatedly while I am doing the bizarre, intense, self-inflicted rewiring of my brain that is DVORAK typing.
And I realize that I’m actually really enjoying it.
Sure, it’s incredibly tough fighting off decades of muscle memory, but it’s a really fun challenge — and I get immediate feedback in the form of improved typing speed and accuracy.
At the very least I’m keeping my brain active, working it in a way that it wouldn’t normally be worked.
And telling you this story now reminds me that what I’m doing now, teaching myself typing, is precisely the way that I learned how to type in the first place.
When I was a kid in fifth grade, my family from one town in upstate New York to another town about 45 minutes away.
Other than being ripped from my one familiar environment and the only friends and sports teammates that I ever knew, this wouldn’t be too big of a deal. (I know my parents will probably read this, so I made it extra dramatic just to increase their blood pressure a little bit.)
Except, it WAS A BIG DEAL.
It just so happened that my original school had not yet taught typing when I left it. Then, when I got to my new school, the kids had already learned how to type correctly! That means they learned how to type using all of their fingers — not just two or three.
This was not good.
Not only was I the new kid, I was also one of the only kids pecking at his keyboard like a frightened pigeon. (Again, mom and dad, this all your fault.)
But then my intense, overactive brain kicked in, and I used my own money to buy Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing.
Why, on Earth, did I do this?
What kid in his right mind would use his own allowance to buy Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing?
This guy right here.
And I guess you could say the fear of being different, an unlovable social outcast, was a powerful motivator. I already felt different enough when I was growing up, so I definitely did not want to be identified only by the sound of my slow, lonely pecks at the keyboard. How would I ever get to play the Oregon Trail like the other kids if I was always the last one to finish typing?
Mavis Beacon saved my life.
Then, when I got some friends — probably because I wooed them with my typing prowess — I honed my typing skills at the place to be — AOL Instant Messenger.
The rest was history.
To sum it up, this is what I’ve learned about my intensity.
1. Yes, it can be way too much at times. I talked too much in class when I got excited about a topic. I developed bizarre interests that most people didn’t want to hear about.
2. Even the jagged stone of intensity has a silver lining.
3. Intense, quirky people tend to attract other intense, quirky people. I’ve met some of my best friends by being intense. I’ve gotten myself out lots of jams by buckling down and pursuing goals with pure intensity.
4. My intensity is who I am. And I’m old enough now to know that I might as well embrace it.
5. After all, it doesn’t matter if people think I’m weird.
If my intensity is not causing me to neglect sleeping or eating, if it doesn’t keep me from maintaining relationships, and, most importantly, if it doesn’t bother me — then there is absolutely nothing wrong with it.