The Process of Processing


In my car on the way to meet a friend for coffee, I wondered how I was going to get myself out of my own head, at least enough to have an intelligible conversation. My brain was functioning well enough, but it felt like the wheels were spinning too fast for anyone else to catch up. I am definitely a verbal processor, so this usually isn’t a problem. This particular morning, however, I had spent my time studying by myself in my little apartment. Just like my body was confined in space, my thoughts felt confined to my head.

I wonder how the process of self-reflection happens in different people. For me, I take in the world and all my experiences in it, and then think and process extensively. To be stuck at home in my own head for more than a few hours is difficult, because I need others to help me refine my thoughts. My wife is much more of an “in-the-moment” kind of gal, reflecting on things as they come and letting them go fairly shortly after the moment has past. For her, she enjoys the world she is experiencing right now and subconsciously adds it to her memory banks, while I hop on to a hamster wheel of processing, sometimes getting stuck running at a pace that I cannot sustain.

That morning on my drive to the coffee shop, I realized something: It is of utmost importance to have people to process your life with, no matter how you do it. For me, that might seem like a more obvious activity, because I process verbally and think critically about everything. If I didn’t process with my friends and loved ones, I’d get hopelessly stuck in thought, threatening my ability to socialize and hold conversations. But having friends to process life with is just as important for my wife, though it looks drastically different. She needs others around her to experience the events that make up her days, for in having those people near her, she knows that she is understood and related to. There is certainly more to her (and I) than these simple caricatures of our processing, but by and large I need others to know my thoughts in order to understand the events I experience, and she needs others to know the events that make up her days in order to understand her thoughts and collective experience of life.

I wonder how others process and, ultimately, feel known. Is it just one of these two? Either by thinking out loud together in concepts and themes based on the realities we encounter, or by experiencing the same life together and having mutual existence be the glue of understanding? I know there must be many nuances to these categories, but are there more than these? Either way, I know spending life with others is necessary in order to understand our individual worlds and ourselves as we exist within them.

When I arrived at the coffee shop, it took me a few minutes of conversation to feel like I had cleared the mental stoppage that was hindering my ability to socialize and process. I even told my friend that I was stuck in my brain and needed a few minutes to get out. I didn’t need my friend to yank me off the hamster wheel. I didn’t need them to help sort out all of my thoughts. I needed my friend to simply exist in that space with me, a reality that reassured me that my thoughts could be shared and my world could be known. And it is so sweet to know that, just as the people closest to me enjoy hearing about my world and helping me make sense of it, I am a necessary and enjoyed friend in their process of processing.


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