Silencing the commentator in my head

There is a commentator who sits in my head and witters.

He commentates on everything I do and everything that’s happening to me and around me. He’s particularly keen on wittering about things that haven’t happened yet – things in the future that he thinks I could and should be worrying about; things that could cause me stress.

There is a thin line between good planning and excessive fretting. My commentator shows no regard for this. Does something need planning? Well, why not worry about it at times when you can’t actually do anything about it? How about in the middle of the night?

He has his advantages. Sometimes he’ll pipe up with great ideas or witty remarks. But a lot of the time, I wish he would just shut up, because his accelerating rambling feeds my anxiety and prevents me living in the moment and taking one day at a time – something I know I need to do but often find impossible.

Sometimes he prattles on at such speed and volume it’s just a noise – a wall of sound. I can’t bear any other noise and can’t take in what people are saying. The din can prevent me enjoying what I’m doing. His chuntering fills my head, which means anything new trying to get into my headspace feels like an intruder. Sometimes my brain is so full, it overflows and I get forgetful.

If he gets bored of commentating on the present and future, he likes to play action replays. His collection of clips seems to concentrate on moments of stress or injustice, or things I’ve done wrong. Depending on how recent the incidents are, they can lead to futile yet destructive imaginary arguments. If he’s feeling particularly destructive, he conjures up imaginary scenarios to have imaginary arguments about.

These unwelcome tricks are things I’ve been learning to deal with over the past five years, when I first started trying to get to grips with depression. We all worry about stuff sometimes and get nervous about things we have to do. It’s normal. But when it’s the kind of ever-present worrying that leads to anxiety and heightens my risk of a return to depression, as it threatened to do last summer, I know I have to do something about it. I’m getting better at recognising the danger signs, taking action and looking after myself.

I am always keen to try new ways of silencing the gibbering fool in my brain. I’ve been trying to retrain him so he says positive things and replays positive clips. One way I’ve been doing this is to keep a diary of positive things each day, and reading back through what I’ve written to remind myself of things I could easily have forgotten forever. It’s a bit like sending a calming co-commentator into the commentary box, like the classic Formula One commentary team of Murray Walker – breathless, excited, verging on hysterical – and James Hunt, complementing Walker with a more thoughtful, observant style.

I try to find more time to do things I enjoy, like bird watching and watching films.

And, as I said before, I’m trying to live more in the present, so I’ve started going to something called Mind Calm, which is teaching me some basics about meditation. The principles make great sense – it’s about not being ruled by your thoughts, and being aware of what is happening in the moment – but my biggest challenge is to find time to practise regularly enough to make a difference. I’ve tried a couple of apps and books on mindfulness, but haven’t made those work for me so far.

My commentator has worked hard over the years. I think he would welcome the chance to put his feet up and take it easy. This stage of my recovery is about helping him to do just that.


13 Comments on “Silencing the commentator in my head”

  1. Jonathan says:

    Excellent post! Lots of parallels for me here, equally in recovery and while currently well, aware of the need for maintenance/ management/ awareness to keep on track. ‘Replaying negative clips’ is for me too a warning sign. Good to feel others are in the same boat. Thanks!

  2. nicola says:

    Great post Paul as always – so eloquent and wise. I’m sharing on my FB and Twitter pages. Thank you.

  3. Ian Young says:

    Fascinating post Paul. I know exactly what you mean about the commentator in your head. I have exactly the same sort of commentator. It helps me that you have described him so clearly

  4. Ian Young says:

    Very interesting post Paul. I have exactly the same commentator in my head. It helps me that you have described him so clearly. Thank you.

  5. Peter says:

    Your blogs describe in lots of ways how I feel and how I have felt for a good number of months. I have been making mistakes at work (not like me) and no self confidence, cannot make decisions but I ploughed on regardless without help thinking it would sort itself out. It didn’t. I’m scared about what people will think of me that know (another anxiety for my internal commentator to beat me up about) .

    I will read the rest of your blogs and journey. Took my first citalopram today so here starts my journey. I know my wife and her family will support me through this. Here’s to the other side.

    Thanks for writing this.


    • paulbrook76 says:

      Hi Peter. I’m sorry to hear you’re having a tough time but you’re right – the next step of the journey starts here. You’ve taken action, which is a big step in itself.
      Citalopram might take a while to ‘bed in’ and take effect, so don’t be disheartened if you don’t notice any immediate difference.
      I hope things start to pick up for you very soon. Look after yourself and don’t trust the commentator!
      Best wishes

  6. […] Silencing the commentator in my head → […]

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  8. […] did some Mind Calm classes this summer and – when I remember to practise – find it helpful in stopping my mind racing and flitting about. Mindfulness is widely talked about as a way of coping with depression, and this […]

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