Mental Health Monday: The monkey in my mind has thumbs.

From an evolutionary perspective, monkeys are very nearly people. Our genomes know it. And so do our brains.

For as long as I’ve been crazy (always), I’ve thought of what the Buddhists and Evolutionary Psychologists call the “monkey mind” as my second track.

My second track is that source of unceasing, never ending criticism; second guesses; should, would, and could haves. It doesn’t matter how concentrated I am on something else, something completely unrelated. The second track is always running.

Maybe I’m working on a manuscript about a community-based underage drinking prevention program. Yet my second track is likely stuck on some other common refrain – “you’re fat, so fat, gross and ugly and disgusting, get it under control, fat fat fat.” It’s unstoppable. Distracting. Painful. Damaging.


I first came across the monkey concept when I read Thank God for Evolution by the Revered Michael Dowd, a once-upon-a-time strict evangelical and biblical literalist who fought vehemently against evolutionary principles, but later came to embrace and even promote evolution as part of what he calls the Great Story. Although Dowd’s discussion of the  evolution of the human brain is somewhat simplistic and over-emphatic, he puts it into a really interesting perspective by diagramming it out using the different animals that have brains as evolved as the different sections of our own… including that monkey.


Several years later, Dr. C explained it to me in the more zen sense — the Buddhist monkey mind being responsible for the incessant chatter many, most, probably all, of us experience. For over 5 years, Dr. C and I have worked and worked and worked on strategies to calm the monkey… quiet down the second track.

We’ve tried modifying or replacing the message. We’ve tried mindfulness practices, dissociating/separating from the chatter. We’ve tried finding and addressing the root issues (the perfectionism, weight concerns, anxiety, and so on). We’ve tried and tried and tried.

But seriously. The monkey in my mind seems to be a bit more advanced. I honestly think it might have thumbs. And it’s using those thumbs to hang on for dear life — refuses to be ejected, refuses to be quieted, refuses to leave me be.

It exhausts me and after so many years of incessant trying and failing to put the second track, the thumb-y monkey, to rest, I’ve reached a point where maybe I’ll have to accept that this is just how I am.

I said so to my psychiatric nurse practitioner a week or two ago – she tends to disagree. I suspect Dr. C will as well. And I guess that’s the best I can do for now; trust in my team of professionals. That’s got to be better than giving into the monkey, no matter how highly evolved he is.

4 thoughts on “Mental Health Monday: The monkey in my mind has thumbs.

  1. My monkey goes everywhere with me and must be a your monkey’s aunt, or at least a cousin. When I work in my studio I listen to books primarily to quiet that soundtrack (my brain can’t talk and listen at the same time). I have called it getting out of my way, quieting the inner critic and letting my intuitive self create. Now I’m going to call it story time for the monkey.

    When I do smart, language based work, that strategy doesn’t work at all. But I’ve been hanging out with that monkey for so long in the coding realm, I already know what it’s going to say and after decades I am amazed by how unimaginative and repetitive it is. I hope your monkey at least has imagination…I’m ashamed to think that I can still get caught up in a predictable ugly stream of words even now. Maybe this is why human beings have no trouble setting truth and facts aside? A lot of us get practice with it every day.

  2. Once a day, every day, in the quiet of the bathroom look into your eyes in the mirror and slowly say out loud “I love me”, “I am beautiful”, “I respect me”.

    I like Susan’s comment, we all have our monkeys and it’s okay when we catch the monkey chattering to say “there’s that monkey again”.

    I love you!

  3. Lately, I have been the organ grinder. Sometimes I join the monkey and play her song and sometimes I get the strength to dance to my own tune. Do you want to dance with me?

  4. I love how open you are with discussing these topics. And I love your family. Seriously. All of that support and understanding! It’s also nice to know that I am not alone. I saw a few professionals who actually told me that I am too beautiful and too smart to have problems. (Needless to saw, I walked out of those appointments in search of other professionals.) My monkey can be so loud, at times, that it’s hard to discern the monkey from, well, me.

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