It’s All Too Much: The Paradoxical Overgeekout

Tiny cartoon person looks up a mountain of words that says "Mount Squee." On the far side is a heart that says "My Fave!"
Illustration by Amy M. Weir because this experience is so unique to me (as far as I can tell), of course there’s not going to be a stock image of it. I have to make my own.

Once, in the GeekMom Talk Facebook group, I tried to explain a weird quirk of mine. It’s an internal embarrassment, a fear of Geeking Out Too Far, that can keep me from actually acting on my passions when I first discover them or I’m in the very midst of obsessing. I think about the thing to the exclusion of most else, but I can’t bring myself to, for example, do a web search, write it down, speak it out loud to anyone unless they bring it up first. Everyone who responded to my post assumed I was talking about feeling embarrassed about what other people would think of my extreme passion. But no, that’s not it. It’s not about other people at all. I can be completely alone, and I’d still be afraid to put that DVD on. But I can’t explain what is going on, either.

Maybe it’s something about making your feelings real by putting them into words, written or spoken. When they’re safely in your head, they’re free and loose and can be abandoned again if they become too much. If you put them out there, they’re not just ideas anymore. They’re tied to this moment in time.

Maybe it’s simply a fear of getting too caught up in the thing. Should you really seek it out if you know you’re going to just get too excited? I like this thing so very much, it must mean I have more important things to do elsewhere, so what if I get so caught up that I don’t do what I’m really supposed to do?

I suspect this is somehow related to my ADHD—because, to be honest, everything about me seems to be related to my ADHD now that I know I have it. But specifically, it does seem to be related to the same executive dysfunction that occasionally makes me somehow unable to just do the simplest of tasks. There’s an emotional wall blocking the way, as described in this video from How to ADHD, which I sent to my son who takes forever to take his meds in the morning, and I always end up saying, “You climbing that wall?” and he always says, “What?” because he still hasn’t actually watched the video yet, probably because he’s got another wall up in fear of the video scolding him about taking his meds. Ahem, so basically, simple things can suddenly feel impossible because there are dozens of little past failures and angry people and past similar experiences or future worries built up in front of you, and you suddenly can’t get past.

But what the heck does that have to do with geeking out? Why am I afraid to acknowledge my feelings about something I love so much?

Ah. Maybe that’s it.

When I discover something new to adore, it feels just like falling in love. When I fall in love, I fall hard, but I also find it awkward to deal with. I’m so afraid of being rejected, of discovering I was wrong in some fundamental way about who my beloved is, or of getting into something I’m not equipped to deal with, that I can’t possibly act on any of it. And I certainly have a basis for these fears: I’d spent my childhood unpopular and had a hard time fitting in, so I had plenty of past rejection to build on (and being that I’ve got the classic ADHD Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, too, that’s big); I always did tend to see the best in people to the point that their flaws are always hard to face; I was, though I didn’t know the term at the time, a gray-ace who absolutely wasn’t interested in sex, but so many of my peers seemed to be, so what was “dating” about anyway and how could I possibly communicate what I wanted and didn’t want and what was expected of me and WHATNOT? Yeah, looking back at it, I had some pretty big bricks in that emotional wall that kept me from expressing my feelings—to anyone, let alone my beloved. It would take me weeks, even months, to even write it in my private journal, “I think I may have some sort of feelings for so-and-so.” My private journal, audience: me. Me, whose brain was already completely obsessed with so-and-so to the point where nothing else could fit in that brain. “I may have some sort of feelings.” But taking the action to write it down was like climbing a mountain. It was dangerous. If I wrote my feelings down… I couldn’t deny them later if they turned out to be wrong.

Maybe when I fall in love with a new story or character or actor or whatever it is I have to geek out over, that story can’t actually reject me or have awkward expectations I don’t know how to deal with. But because the emotion behind it is the same as falling in love with a person, all the emotional blocks get dragged along into it automatically. Seeing the object of my affections unexpectedly out in the world brings a sudden wave of embarrassment, whether a real person crush or a fictional character. I loved the original DuckTales TV show as a child, but I distinctly remember walking into my elementary school gym, seeing that the teacher had put up a display with big pictures of DuckTales characters, and feeling slightly panicky. What are they doing here? They’re supposed to be on my TV and in my head, not on a wall at school! I didn’t know then and I still don’t know what I was afraid of, but the reaction happened, whether rational or not.

Maybe I have to be surer in my relationship with my beloved new geekdom before I stop trying to run away from it or hide from it or whatever it is I’m doing. While a geekdom can’t reject me or make awkward demands of me, it can theoretically turn out to have a dark side, or at least be not-as-good-as-I’d-initially-believed. So maybe I can’t say, “Oh, I LOVE such-and-such!” because I fear getting the response, “HOW can you love SUCH-and-such! It’s SO PROBLEMATIC!” Maybe that’s what keeps me from typing that new fave into the search box, the fear the search might turn up something I don’t like.

It’s funny: the nerves keep me from doing a search, but if a link happens to land in my lap (or social media feed), I’ll click without hesitation! I won’t speak of my passion out loud, but if someone else brings up the subject, I’ll dive in joyfully! So my obsessive mind hopes and longs for the subject to come to me—I just can’t seem to take the initiative myself.

And the truth is, I’m still obsessing, whether or not I’m acting on it, so I can’t seem to do anything else either because all my mind wants to think about is this new passion. If I could just act on it, I’d be accomplishing something! But when the emotions keep building like this, they get harder and harder to climb.

After awhile, the passion cools enough for me to act again, and suddenly, if you let me, NOW I won’t shut up about said subject. You know how I like to ramble about the Beatles, right? But you didn’t know me when I was fifteen. Then you would have met a girl who might have said “Oh, I really love that song,” when it came on, and you might have become suspicious when she’d suddenly correct you on some piece of Beatles trivia, but otherwise, you wouldn’t have known. If you met me at sixteen, it would have been clear you were meeting a Beatlemaniac. THEN I proclaimed it in my clothing and decorating choices, THEN I rambled without prelude, filled my notebooks with doodles of song lyrics, and gleefully forced my music on anyone who would listen. THEN you would believe I was the most passionate I had ever been about this ancient rock band. But I’d fallen in love at FIFTEEN. The most passionate I had ever been was that first year, when I was so overwhelmed with this new feeling that I couldn’t do anything about it.

Partly it’s because I have learned enough about said topic through my passive stumbling upon it, that I’m not afraid of uncovering something that would ruin my love anymore. The Beatles have plenty of problematic bits, but I’m so familiar with them, and all the good bits, too, that what I have to love securely overpowers what I have to dislike, and I’m confident in my opinions.

But partly it’s simply just that the passion is cooler. It’s less raw of a feeling. I mean, I don’t have trouble doing a web search of something I’m only mildly interested in. If my kid says, “Why are pineapples called that when they’re neither pine nor apple?” I grab ol’ Google right away with my super-librarian “let’s find out!” powers*, because it’s an interesting question, but I’m not obsessed with pineapples. I don’t have to climb over the heavy emotional bricks to get to it.

On the other hand, I’ve also always had this weird hangup about naming the book I’m reading while I’m reading it. (Silently to myself. I’m perfectly capable of naming the book I’m reading aloud, because that’s part and parcel of it.) I’ll tell you the name when it’s on a table in the other room, but if you see me reading and ask me what I’m reading, I will either give you a brief synopsis or silently hold up the cover so you can see it, depending how annoyed I am at your interruption. This feels related somehow, too. But I’m not sure how.


*It’s because pine cones used to be called “pineapples,” and when English speakers first saw said fruit, they said, “Oh, it looks like a pine cone!” except they said “pineapple” because that’s what they said instead of “pine cone,” so the name stuck for the fruit but not for the cones. This is a true story; my kid actually asked that this week and I actually did grab my old friend Google.

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