I’m listening… but I didn’t hear you…

Here’s a common problem I’ve got – and yes, it’s a problem, not an “issue” or a “challenge”.

I’ll be doing something, like writing a blog post or reading something, and someone will ask or say something to me that I’m supposed to respond to.

I’ll say “Yes,” or “Okay,” or something else that indicates that I’ve heard and understood, but I’ll realize a split-second later that I have no clue what they just said to me. And I don’t have the faintest idea what I’ve just agreed to.

This is a problem. It happens all the time when I’m asked to do a chore, take out the trash, feed the pets, or carry something to another part of the house. I will respond as though I heard and understood and agreed and will do this thing. But I won’t have a clue what just happened.

And then I get in trouble, because either:

  • I’ll ask a few minutes later what I was supposed to be doing, which makes it look like I wasn’t paying proper attention to the person talking to me, or
  • I’ll forget what I was supposed to be doing, and it won’t get done, which gets me in hot water

If I can explain to the person talking to me that I’m having trouble processing what they’re saying to me, then that can help. But I don’t always have the time to do that. And sometimes by the time I figure out that I’m lost, I’m in hot water.

I spend a lot of time being in hot water. Especially at home.

At work, this happens periodically, but I can usually cover it up, because I understand my job so well that I can usually figure out ahead of time what I’m supposed to be doing, and then I’ll do it on my own time. Or I can “push back” on the people who are all over me to do something, saying that I need to do it properly, and quit pressuring me, already.

From what I’ve observed, this is what happens when I “lag” with my processing

  1. Someone says something to me
  2. I sorta kinda register that someone is talking to me
  3. After a few seconds, my brain kicks in and starts paying attention
  4. I realize that I’m not paying close enough attention, and I start really tuning in
  5. I realize that the person who is talking to me has said a bunch of things that didn’t register, so I start “rewinding” what just happened to see what I missed
  6. I get a lot of visuals about what I’m being told — different pictures flash through my head, some of them fit what I’m being told, others don’t fit at all — and I try to figure out the context of what’s being said to me… this all happens in split seconds, and it’s usually accompanied by a fair amount of anxiety, because I’ve gotten in so much trouble for getting things turned around, ever since I was a little kid, and I don’t want to get in trouble again!
  7. While I’m rewinding and replaying what happened before, this person is still talking to me, telling me more things I should be paying attention to, but my attention is divided between present and past
  8. Best case scenario: the directive is short and simple and familiar to me… Worst case scenario: what I’m being told is something new to me that I’m not following very well, I don’t have a context for it, and I’m getting all turned around
  9. If I’m lucky, the person talking to me finishes up and believes I understand what’s expected of me. If I’m not at all lucky, I am completely turned around and need to ask for help understanding, I don’t say things the right way, and the person talking to me gets really pissed off at me… starts to yell at me for not paying attention, and tells me I’m pathetic or an idiot or something like that

It’s not that I wasn’t listening. I just didn’t hear them.

Between the ringing in my ears and the many, many ways my senses are working overtime… and the way my brain is working overtime trying to make sense of it all, it takes me a little while to switch gears and get a clue that someone is trying to communicate with me. It’s not that i don’t want to listen — it just takes me a little longer to do it.

I wish the communication process were simpler with me. I think I may start asking people close to me to give me a heads-up that they’re going to say something to me… like I’ve done with deaf folks I’ve known, who have wanted me to stomp my feet on the floor or do something else to let them know that I’m about to engage with them.

Well, there are lots of areas for improvement, and I’m figuring out more every day. It’s a process, really. Something that just develops over time. And if I just don’t give up and keep going and keep trying and keep working at it, someway, somehow, I do manage to get it all sorted.

I am listening… and eventually I will hear you.

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Author: brokenbrilliant

I am a long-term multiple (mild) Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI or TBI) survivor who experienced assaults, falls, car accidents, sports-related injuries in the 1960s, '70s, '80s, and '90s. My last mild TBI was in 2004, but it was definitely the worst of the lot. I never received medical treatment for my injuries, some of which were sports injuries (and you have to get back in the game!), but I have been living very successfully with cognitive/behavioral (social, emotional, functional) symptoms and complications since I was a young kid. I’ve done it so well, in fact, that virtually nobody knows that I sustained those injuries… and the folks who do know, haven’t fully realized just how it’s impacted my life. It has impacted my life, however. In serious and debilitating ways. I’m coming out from behind the shields I’ve put up, in hopes of successfully addressing my own (invisible) challenges and helping others to see that sustaining a TBI is not the end of the world, and they can, in fact, live happy, fulfilled, productive lives in spite of it all.

4 thoughts on “I’m listening… but I didn’t hear you…”

  1. Interesting… I think a lot of people have this. I call what happens to me “stovepiping” — I get very involved in a specific thing I’m thinking about… I go into it very deeply, and the rest of the world around me just disappears. The more difficulties I’m having with parsing out all the stimuli around me, the deeper I go into the “stovepipe” of my subject, and the farther away from the rest of the world I get. So, when someone tries to get my attention (from what seems like a very far distance), it can take a while for the communication to get to me. I’m going to draw a picture of the process, because it’s getting hard for me to put it into words, exactly. But I think a lot of us have this… tbi or not. The more involved we are in the things we’re thinking about and/or involved in, the more distant we can become towards the rest of the world. I think the difference between neurotypical folks and tbi or other “neurodiverse’ folks is one of degrees.

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  2. Thanks for putting this so clearly. It is precisely what happens to me. Thankfully, the people that know me well get it and make allowances but, damn, I wish they didn’t need to. I was hit by a car while riding my bike a year ago and was unconscious for 72 hours. I was in the hands of a brilliant Neurosurgery team and I realize how lucky I was to have been taken straight to a Brain Trauma Center immediately. Now, I’ve got a question that maybe some of you can help me with.
    I didn’t want anything to eat in the hospital for 10 days and lost about 10 pounds while there. I thought that I just didn’t care for the hospital food. It hasn’t changed much on the outside and now I’m 30 pounds lighter than I want to be. Sound familiar to anyone?

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  3. Hi Stephen –

    That does sound familiar. It has happened to me in the past. I had to force myself to eat for about six months after I lost someone very close to me under extreme circumstances. I had no appetite, and food made me nauseous, but I forced myself to eat, because I had to keep functioning, no exceptions. I think my loss of appetite was about the trauma of the experience. It could be that you’ve had some physical changes in your system because of the accident, but it could also be the trauma — your system might be stuck in overdrive, with your fight-flight systems stuck in high gear. The rest-digest (parasympathetic) nervous system is what gets your digestion going, and if you’re in fight-flight, your body can shut off the signals that tell you you’re hungry and need to eat.

    This is probably going to sound strange, but you might try doing some controlled deep breathing and deep relaxation exercises. That can help jump-start your parasympathetic nervous system, especially after a traumatic event. Massage can also help. Maybe some network chiropractic, which is much more gentle than regular chiro, but is just as powerful.

    Good luck with the eating. If you don’t feel like eating much, you could try drinking those nutritional drinks like Ensure, and making sure you get as much nutrition and calories as you can in what you do eat.

    Be well
    BB

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