When I was eight or nine years old my parents took me to see The Ice Capades. I remember watching the skaters and having the realization that each of the skaters had their own thought processes and each experienced this event in their own brain, in their own way. It was, perhaps, the first time I was aware we are each whole unto ourselves and everyone else is separate and having their own unique experiences. This idea, known as Theory of Mind, can stimulate a daunting discussion about our social species, cognitive understanding, philosophy, etc., but that’s not my purpose today. Put simply, I think it’s just cool to understand that others are having their own experiences, perceived in their own way.
This came to mind this week as I was driving through Portland having a conversation about what I had planned for the day. There wasn’t anyone else in the car with me and I wasn’t speaking out loud, but I was most surely having a conversation. I was having a conversation with myself. Well, at least the conversation was in my head, but I like to think that I’m not just talking to myself; that might be cause for those folks in white coats to come calling. No, I prefer to think I’m having these conversations, which run through my mind constantly, with my friend Gina. Gina Parkinson is my oldest friend. I can’t remember when she came into my life, but I remember her being with me from my youngest memories. Gina Parkinson was, and still is, my imaginary friend. Raised as an only child, I longed for siblings. My mom provided childcare in our home, so there were kids around during the day and some even stayed for extended periods, but then they left and I was back to feeling like an only child (I have one brother, but he is 15 years older than me). At some point, possibly even as a toddler, Gina came into my life. So now, as a grown-up woman, when I have conversations in my head, I like to think it’s Gina I’m talking with. Usually I’m telling her about what is happening, what has happened, or rehearsing what I want to happen. I hear my words, but I don’t hear her responses, though I know what they are and I respond to them.
As you’re reading this, you’re either nodding your head in recognition of the voices that occupy your own brain or you’re unsettled to think some of the normal-appearing people walking around you are actually having conversations with themselves. Either way, it’s okay as long we remember we are each having our own experiences, in our own way. For me, I may be alone at times, but I’m never lonely because I always have Gina to talk to.