Extending my attentional endurance

Who has a longer attention span - him or me?

So, I was up at a decent hour this morning, and I took time to sit and breathe for about 20 minutes. Generally, I try to focus on my breath and counting how many times I breathe in and breathe out. It’s good for me. It gives my brain a rest. And it helps me start the day with good concentration.

Here’s the thing, though – when I am tired (which I am, today), my mind really wanders, and it takes a mammoth effort to bring me back to where I need to be — focused on counting my breaths. Suddenly, a ton of different things seem so critical that I can’t help but think about them. And I am convinced that I have to solve these problems right here and now.

So, there are a number of issues that I can address in this exercise:

  1. Distractability – being prone to have things catch my attention and pull it off where I need it to be.
  2. Impulse Control – just “going with” the stuff that comes up, instead of consciously deciding that I’m not going to pay attention to those things until after I’m done sitting.
  3. Weak Attention – if all these different thoughts are coming up, if my attention is strongly enough focused on what I’m doing, the two things above don’t need to bother me.

But they do. And that’s the thing. It’s a thing I need to address. And guess what – I can address it. Each morning, as well as at different times throughout the day.

Now, I know that meditation is supposedly good for your soul — it’s supposed to lead to enlightenment, and that’s why a lot of people pursue it. But enlightenment is not my main goal. I want something a whole lot less grand — I just want to be able to sustain my attention on a single fixed point for longer than a hummingbird focuses on drinking nectar from a flower.

Seriously. It’s just ridiculous, sometimes, what comes up in my mind for no apparent reason. Things like the current political debates, the task items I have to do for work by end of day Monday, my upcoming schedule this week, what I want to discuss with my neuropsych, repairs I need to make to the house, and of course the pain and discomfort I’ve been feeling in my left upper back, due to my body acclimating to the different movements I’ve been making when I work out in the morning.

It’s just this never-ending march of whatever-ness that just won’t quit. And there I sit, boldly attempting to hold my attention to the number of the breath I’m presently on.

Hm.

I’ve read up on this a little bit, and apparently there are a number of different ways to spend your time while sitting in meditation. You can look at the end of your nose or your hand or a selected point out in front of you. You can count your breaths. You can recite mantras. You can can think about unsolvable puzzles in hopes of receiving a sudden flash of insight when your brain finally gives up trying to do what it isn’t designed to do.

I’m sure there are tons of people who have made good use of these practices, and for all those who sit in meditation in service to humanity waking up, I’d like to say “Thank you.”

For my purposes, however, the point of sitting is much more basic and far less grand. It’s just to get a handle on my head and extend my “attentional endurance” — to train myself to be able to focus on one single thing for longer than 15 seconds. Not being able to keep focused on one single thing for extended periods of time has serious repercussions for my work and my life. Just the other day, I misplaced some gift cards I’d received over the holidays, and now I can’t find them. Because I wasn’t paying attention when I put them away. I have no idea where they are. I’ve looked high and low. I’m sure at the time I thought was being clever, putting them somewhere “safe” — so safe, I can’t find them now.

This is just one example. At work, not being able to focus on things for longer than a few minutes at a time (partly because of constant interruption, but also because of poor practice), cuts into my productivity and keeps me from achieving what I set out to achieve. It makes everything that much harder to do, that much longer to finish, that much more of a chore.

In my personal life, too, not being able to attend to the people around me, not being able to focus exclusively on them while they are talking to me, not only makes them feel unimportant, but it also makes it really hard to have a conversation. I already have issues with working memory, so when I don’t pay attention and I don’t actively follow along in the conversation, I can lose pieces of what we are talking about, and then I sound like I’m talking gibberish.

And that’s no good.

So, that’s why I sit and count my breaths each morning. If enlightenment comes, that’s fine. 🙂 But I’ll (hopefully) be so focused on keeping my attention fixed on a certain point, that I won’t exactly notice. And that’s how I think I’d like it to be. The day when I can keep my attention fixed so intently on something as “insignificant” as a shoe lying on the floor in front of me, that I’m not distracted by something as profound as an evolutionary bump to the next level, is the day my attention is good to go.

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News that has absolutely nothing to do with me

Newspaper Boat
Watch me sail away with the news...

News of the coming election is heating up, and with it comes a seemingly unending flurry of news and reportage about all the candidates, their track records, what they will or will not do, what they did or did not accomplish, what they said, what they ate, what they wore. That’s really bad news.

Danger – danger! Warning Will Robinson!

It’s bad news, because this is exactly the kind of stuff that’s murder on me – the seemingly important news that changes and shifts and provides me with absolutely no redeeming value in my life, other than to get my mind off what I’m doing at the time. It’s intriguing, alluring, and totally consuming. It’s murder on whatever hold I have on my distraction at any given point in time.

Especially when I’m stressed and am having a hard time concentrating, or when I’m tired and I’m losing steam, a little distraction can turn into a lot of problems. Sure, it can help me relieve pressure. The only problem is, I tend to get wrapped up in the distraction, so that it becomes the main focus of my precious time and my limited energy.

And that’s not good.

I guess I need to get a lot more aggressive about ruling things out — cutting things out of my attention field that don’t add to my ultimate goal — that get in my way. That are entertaining for a short while, then stop adding anything to my life. Things like political discussions, which are so much gum-flapping at this stage of the game. It’s all narcissism and self-aggrandizement at this point, and precious little that’s substantive is actually being said. It’s mud-slinging from the get-go, to get opponents disqualified — or at the very least, to plant seeds of doubt in the minds of voters, which seeds can (and will) be watered and tended and nourished for months to come, as we lead up to the next Big Decision about who gets to run the world.

What does all this have to do with me, really? The “information” we are getting is so skewed and slanted, if it were a building, it wouldn’t pass code, even in Haiti. And that’s pretty bad. It’s so much fluff and dust and redirection, it makes my head spin. And I have no idea who is actually telling the truth.

It’s not going to be easy to keep out of the political discussion scene, this season. I have a lot of friends on Facebook who are vehement about their own political views — and I have friends on the extreme left and extreme right, which makes things interesting, when I feel like speaking MY mind 😉  So, there’s bound to be a lot of dust kicked up in the coming months. Flying in my eyes, my mouth, my nose, getting stuck under my fingernails and in places the sun don’t shine.

To the best of my ability, I’m going to do myself a favor and keep a fairly low profile with regard to the political scene. It’s really a distraction I can’t afford. I have work to do, I have a job to do, and I need to make way for the new things. I can’t move forward, until I have the existing projects squared away, so that’s really Job One for me, these days. Regardless of what’s going on in the rest of the world.

Now, part of me feels like I need to do this, to encourage more meaning in my life… More mindfulness. Less craziness. But there’s a more basic reason for this — I cannot move ahead in my life and get things in order, unless I get my act together, clear out some of the old stuff that’s familiar but bogging me down, and move on to the next thing.

I had a good training at the end of last week, which adds more information to my overall skill offerings. It rounds out my professional profile nicely. And I’m really stoked. Now I need to move these things out of the way that are keeping me from getting on with it. Pronto. Just do it.

So long as I keep allowing myself to be distracted by things that have Absolutely Nothing To Do With Me, I’m going to stay entertained. But I’m going to be stuck in the same place.

And that’s no good.

Exercising the muscle of attention

Exercise is good

Use it or lose it. We’ve all heard it said, and it’s often true. I’d like to add another thought to that, specifically with regard to mTBI and attention difficulties — which often go together.

I’d like to also say — Even if you lose it, use it… and you may get it back.

I’ve been reading this article: Mild traumatic brain injury in persons with multiple trauma: the problem of delayed diagnosis and the author cites some scientific findings, namely

“Memory, attention deficits, and speed of processing information have been identified as some of the longer lasting and more pervasive neuropsychological symptoms seen in head injured adults (Kay et al., 1994; Telzrow, 1990),” and ” Deficits in higher cognitive functions can occur in the face of relatively normal performance on other more basic tasks (Cullum et al., 1990), explaining the improvement in intelligence tests scores without a comparable improvement in function. Wood (1987) showed that attention, which is often impaired by MTBI, is more important than intelligence (measured by IQ) during the learning of a simple discrimination task, and suggests that attention permeates all aspects of behavior. This helps to clarify why functional deficits continue in the face of intellectual recovery. Deficits in attention are particularly serious because there is little evidence for success of attention training procedures (Bigler, 1990).”

That last sentence caught my eye: Deficits in attention are particularly serious because there is little evidence for success of attention training procedures. Really… That’s a downer.  Especially because my attentional issues became abundantly clear during my neuropsych testing… and thinking back over my life, attention (or lack thereof) has been a major contributing factor to the difficulties I’ve had.

If there is little evidence for success of attention training procedures, what does that mean?

Well, personally, I have to wonder about

A) the type of evidence they’re talking about and when/where did they look for it?

B) what their measure of success is?

C) what attention training procedures they were using?

It seems to me that the lack of evidence is more about the lack of attention they’re paying to… attention. The attention deficits seem to be on the clinical side, as well as the TBI side. And the possibility that people aren’t measuring this on a regular basis under special scientific conditions that give the results scientific credibility, means that this sentence is instantly suspect.

What’s more, who can say what attention training procedures were being used? Seems to me, there’s more than one way to train your attention, and the best ways may be 100% incompatible with a clinical setting or an environment set up to gather data.

So, I really can’t worry too much about this statement, which dates back to 1990, as well. A lot can change in 21 years. So, this may just be old information.

But anyway, back to the idea of exercising your attention and making it stronger — practicing attention exercises after mTBI, with the intention of improving your ability to sustain focus and attend to what’s in front of you. I truly believe — and we have found more and more evidence in the past years — that the brain can and does rewire itself, and neurons that fire together wire together. What it takes is intention and determination and consistency. Truly, consistency may be the biggest element in all of this. For no matter how good your intentions and no matter how determined you are, if you’re not consistent in what you do, you’re going to have a harder time making progress, than if you stay on track and on target throughout the weeks and months, even years.

It’s worth it, however. Well worth it. I have to say that in the past three years, my ability to attend to things has dramatically improved. That improvement started with first learning that I had deficits and I needed to take action. It really commenced in earnest when I decided that no matter where I was at the moment or how I felt, I was going to change this for the better. I wasn’t going to settle for “what is” and “what isn’t” — I was going to dwell in the land of “what isn’t — yet”…and  “what will be”. I can’t say that I achieved every one of my goals I had in mind. I’m still not quite where I’d like to be with my short-term memory, and I may not ever get exactly back where I used to be. But then again, I might be able to find ways to be even better at the short-term remembering thing, using other tools than I had before, when I was wholly dependent on my memory alone.

I’ve known a number of people over the years who have informed me that they had attentional problems, and that’s just how they were. They resigned themselves to being less than they could have been — and I am quite certain they could have improved their performance, had they simply applied themselves. But they decided, years ago, that they were how they were, and that was that. No room for growth. No room for expansion. No room for change. Sad. 😦

The thing is, they basically disabled themselves. They spent a whole lot of time feeling bad about themselves and telling themselves that they sucked at what they did, etc. etc. And they just didn’t try harder. They didn’t change how they did things. They didn’t extend themselves. They didn’t suspend judgment about themselves. They just decided that they were how they were, and that was the hand they’d been dealt in life.

And they lived these half lives filled with anger and frustration and defeat.

What a waste.

I tried encouraging them to try different things, to do things in different ways, but they just wouldn’t. They’d made up their minds. Perhaps because the people they turned to for guidance had not seen enough clinical data that demonstrated that attentional issues can be resolved through practice and deliberate action.

See, this is one of the things that gets me about all this scientific information — it’s subject to change.  And it’s open to interpretation. And so many times, there is no follow up over the years that shows that their original assumptions did not pan out over time. And people like me, who have a thirst for knowledge and a trust in experts, see them saying things like, “There’s no recovery for people with mTBI — they may improve, but they can never recover,” and they give up. Because some expert somewhere decided something, based on their own limited information and experience.

Let me say this — TBI cannot and should not define you. You may have been hurt, you may have gotten injured. You may have a rough time for a while, and it may be rocky going, finding your footing again. You may end up with “souvenirs” of your injury that follow you the rest of  your life. But that doesn’t mean the story is over for you. It doesn’t mean that’s all there is, and the proverbial fat lady has sang.

Oh, no. See, experiencing a brain injury is like moving to a different locale. There are some things you have to leave behind, because they no longer serve you. If you move from Sweden to Miami, chances are, you’re not going to need your heavy winter clothing, and you won’t have to concern yourself with limited sunlight during the winter. But that doesn’t make Miami any less good than Sweden. It also doesn’t make it any better. It just makes it different. For me, my series of injuries have chipped away at my working memory, until I sometimes can’t remember stuff that gets said to me, 15 minutes after someone says it. I can’t remember unfamiliar number sequences longer than 4 digits. But I can sure as hell write stuff down, and I have ways of making a note of the information I know I’ll need to use later. I may not have as much of certain abilities as I did before, but I have plenty of others to fill in those gaps – and in some cases, the new ways of doing things may be even better than the old ones were.

This is not to make light of TBI. It’s disruptive. It destroys lives. It seriously messes with your sense of who you are. But what if recovery from TBI were about recovering a quality of life – the sense of it, the experience of it – rather than the specifics? And what if we actually were able to restore what we’d once lost, through hard work, effort, determination, and consistency? What if that were the case?

Well, I’ve gotta run. I’m at the public library, and I’m parked four blocks away from my car, which has another 20 minutes on the parking meter, by my calculations. I’d like to have a leisurely walk back, then get on with my day.

Life awaits.

What if we all just… WERE?

Source: http://www.myspace.com/psychiatrypsucks

I had an interesting conversation with some acquaintances a few days back. For some reason, I ended up sitting at a table with a couple of folks who were lugging around diagnoses of ADD, like so much luggage they had to schlepp around an airport, in perpetual search of a flight that kept changing gates.

One of them embraced their ADD diagnosis with forced gusto, essentially turning the baggage into heavy Luis Vuitton satchels with special locks on all the latches. They proudly proclaimed that they were a “ready-shoot-aim” kind of person, who took things as they came… and proceeded to also comment that for all the balls they have in the air at any given time, they didn’t actually get much done.

Another of them sat silently as we discussed distractability and attention issues and what it’s like to live in today’s world. Not to be dragged down by any ADD/ADHD diagnostic belaborment, I proposed the idea that in today’s world, with all the things that are constantly thrown at us… if we have any interest at all in life, and if we are really invested in what happens to us and the world around us, we darned well sure are going to get “distracted” on a pretty regular basis.

I mean, if you give a damn about what’s going on around you, and if you have a deep and abiding interest in your surroundings, and your surroundings change and evolve, how can you not pay attention to shifting things?

“If you’re really, really alive,” I proposed, “you’re going to be prone to be distracted.”

The one with the “expensive luggage” just looked at me.

The quiet one got up and gave me the biggest hug I’ve gotten in a long time.

I think the quiet one would agree with me, when I loudly agree with Peter Breggin, who says “psychiatric diagnosing is a kind of spiritual profiling that can destroy lives and frequently does.

Check out his piece — it’s a wonderful read.

How severe was my injury when I was 8?

My parents are coming to visit me next weekend,and I’ve been thinking a lot about my earlier injuries and how they affected my childhood. How they affected my development, how they affected my interactions with people, how they affected my future. When I was seven, I fell down a flight of stairs and was very dazed and confused and wasn’t able to talk. And when I was eight, I was hit in the head with a rock and knocked out for a while. (I tell that story here.)

In the ensuing years of my childhood and youth, I had more injuries — concussions and falls. It was not uncommon for me, while playing, to fall hard and/or hit my head and get up a little dazed and confused… but keep playing. Just keep playing.

Now, concussions alone could account for a lot of the problems I had when I was a kid — problems understanding what people were saying to me, problems with distractability, problems with temper outbursts, problems with getting really turned around and confused… lots and lots of mood and behavioral problems that my parents handled with faith and prayer and lots of structure, rather than pharmaceuticals.

In retrospect, I think it really helped, when I was young.  The structure gave me a framework to live within, the faith gave me something bigger to hang onto, and prayer offered me a way to ask for help from a Higher Power when I couldn’t find the words or the means to ask for it from human beings. It was a pretty exacting way to live, though. My family was very religious, and my parents were very strict (at that time) about what was permitted and what was not… what was sinful and “worldly” and what they considered pleasing to the Lord.

But while that faith and prayer gave me a much-needed support system when I was young, when I entered my teen years, it backfired. As I grew older, I still had a hard time, cognitively and behaviorally speaking. The problem was, I wasn’t just having troubles at home, I was having troubles out in the world. Teen years are marked by increasing social activities outside the home, and I just didn’t do a very good job of handling myself. I was alternately shy… and openly rebellious. I was alternately a high achiever and a slacking ne’er do well. I did a lot of good and helpful things in my youth, including saving an elderly lady who was trapped when the open door of her car (it was not in park) rolled and pinned her leg to a very large object (I can’t remember what it was, but she was pinned, and the metal of the door cut into her leg — I can still recall the sight of the inside of her fleshy thigh cut open — I guess my brain selectively records images). But I also sold drugs and bought liquor underage and distributed it to friends. I wasn’t a big-time criminal, but my later youth was marked by a lot of the warning-sign activities of criminals in the making.

Jekyll and Hyde… or head injury? Given the number of injuries I’ve had over the years, and the fact that a lot of my rebellious and “alternative” behavior was directly connected with an internal storm of confusion and agitation and rage that never disappeared, only subsided a little, I think the latter applies.

Okay, so all that being said, I have been wondering a lot, lately, just how severely I was injured when I was 8. I was knocked out with a rock thrown by some kids who didn’t like my looks and had been taunting and teasing me and my sibling from a distance. We didn’t respond, and they started to throw rocks. My sibling wanted to leave, but I said “NO, we’re staying right here.” I still feel awful about it; they could have been injured, instead of me. But I was hard-headed and stubborn, and I didn’t want anyone to chase me away from doing what I was doing.

Anyway, after a number of rocks landed closer and closer to us, one clocked me on the head. I recall feeling a dull-sharp impact and thinking, “What was that…?” and then I went down.

The next thing I remember, I was looking up and my sibling was hovering over me, crying, with tears streaming down their face. I was woozy and wobbly and at first I wanted to stay and keep playing, but they were so upset, I realized I couldn’t keep us there. I was also not feeling so great, and they led me home to my parents, who had me lie down on the couch while they called a friend who was a nurse, to find out what to do. I didn’t want to do what they told me to — I didn’t want to lie down, I didn’t want to hold still, I wanted to either get up and move around or go to sleep. I remember trying to sleep, but they kept me awake. I seem to recall being really tired, but also kind of punchy and agitated and restless. Eventually, as I recall, after checking my eyes with a flashlight a number of times, they let me get up and move around. And my life went on.

When I think back on that time, it seems to me that it was a pretty serious deal – but I’m not sure how aware of it my parents were.  Or anyone was, for that matter. And when I think back, I honestly can’t say how long I was knocked out for. I might have been out for a few seconds, a few minutes, even an hour or more. It’s impossible to say. My sibling can’t recall the event clearly, so I can only guess at how long it was.

And up till recently, I’ve been thinking I was out cold for a relatively short time. But it could have been longer. I can’t recall the kids who attacked us being in the field when I came to — I can’t recall how the light of the day was, and I’m not sure if my parents were concerned about my sibling and me being out longer than we should have been.

But to be accurate, there is a chance that I was knocked out for longer than a few minutes. It could have been much longer. And from what I understand, the length of unconciousness is an indicator of the severity of an injury, which can also be an indicator of long-term problems. Given the level of difficulty I had when I was a kid — particularly during and after 3rd grade… from that point on, life was one big obstacle course for me — I have to wonder if maybe I wasn’t injured worse than I thought I have been thinking I was.

I need to do some more research on this… It could be a good thing to learn. And I think it might help me talk to my parents about my childhood. Because despite learning a lot and putting a lot of things together over the past year and a half, I haven’t yet discussed my TBIs with them. I haven’t discussed them with anyone in my family. But next weekend, I think that’s going to change.

Figuring out how to talk to my parents about my childhood TBIs is actually one of the big action items on my plate, these days (in addition to working like a mad person to keep my job and keep up with my work… organizing my study in a way that helps me, not hinders me… clearing out old files and projects that were artifacts of TBI-induced agitation, rather than being something that would ever bear fruit… and tending to my marriage and home life). My folks have been saying for years that they can’t figure out what they did wrong to make me so unhappy when I was little. They can’t  figure out why I took so many wrong turns.  They can’t understand why I was so angry and rammy and difficult — what did they do wrong?

I have to tell them, it wasn’t them that caused the bulk of my many issues. It was TBIs. Getting hit on the head. Hard. And at an early enough age that it sheared and skewed the connections in my developing brain so it couldn’t develop “normally,” no matter what they tried. I have to tell them it wasn’t all their fault, and that all things considered, they actually helped more than they hurt.

For all their flaws, for all the things they might have done differently, my parents did create a home where I was able to develop habits of self-inspection and introspective reflection. They created a very structured and well-organized environment in which I could safely do things like paint and draw and write stories and express myself and learn things and be my own unique (and sometimes very weird) self. Certainly, it might have been helpful, if they had taken my shortcomings into consideration more and not overwhelmed me constantly with so much friggin’ input (my mother has always been a manic force of nature, God love her). But the fact that I’m still here, still standing, still able to keep motoring on, despite pain and agitation and confusion and generally feeling like I live my life in the dark and have to just bumble/stumble through a lot of things the first time, before I figure out how the heck to do stuff… Well, I have my parents to thank for that.

Even if my TBI at age 8 was more than mild — even if it was moderate — they raised me in a way that made it possible to keep going, keep moving, keep making my life the best that it could be.

And for that I am eternally grateful.

Now, I have to figure out a way to tell them, when they come to visit. I don’t think I could live with myself if I didn’t.

I was afraid this would happen…

I am tired. I am so tired, in fact, that I cannot rest. It’s not good. I haven’t had 8 uninterrupted hours of sleep in I don’t know how long. I haven’t had seven hours at a time in a while, either. Right now, I’m averaging about 6 to 6-1/2 hours of sleep a night, which is not good.

I’ve been going on adrenaline for a week, now, but it’s taking a toll. I spent the long weekend — all three beautiful days of it — laid up in the house, fighting off an infection that really dragged me down. What a waste. Then again, I did need to rest, so it was probably my body’s way of getting me off my feet.

Things have been going pretty well at work. It’s a mixed bag. On the one hand, I’m pretty freaked out at how much I have to learn. A lot of this is new to me — the aspects of this advanced technology I have to master are specific to the company I’m at, so I have to learn it even more specifically. And there’s a lot going on, so I have to learn a wide range of of specifics. Part of me is petrified. I really want to do my best at this job, and I will. But what if my best is not enough? What if I’m not nearly as proficient as I think I am?

It’s happened before. Lots of times. My brain has told the rest of me that it “got it” just fine, when it was way out in left field. It’s been a recurring problem.

Another issue is that I’m not following what people are saying to me. I’ll be sitting with someone, going over issues with them, and all of a sudden, I’ll notice that I am not understanding a word they’re saying to me. Somewhere, back a few minutes before (and I can’t remember when), I stopped listening. My brain quit on me. It just dropped out and ceased to function. Bye-bye. This is not good. I need to be able to pay attention when I’m talking to people. I need to be able to listen to them the whole way through. And I need to remember what they said to me later on.

This has me very concerned. Very worried. Very uptight. I’m getting that sick, sinking feeling in my stomach around my inadequacies and shortcomings. And I’m starting to get really worried that this is going to impact my ability to do my job — and my reputation. It feels like people I’m working with are noticing that I’m spacing out… that I’m getting lost. And my interactions with them are faltering, especially later in the day.

The people who brought me on board took a bit of a gamble with me, when they hired me. They brought me on based on what they knew of me in the late 1990’s. It’s now almost 10 years later, and I’m trading on a ten-year-old reputation. I can’t let these people down. I can’t let these people down. I can’t embarrass myself. I just can’t.

What to do…

Ah-ha! I’ve got it! I’m brilliant! I have a solution! It’s so common-sense, it’s almost frightening — use “assistive technoloy” I have (literally) at my fingertips, every day: My laptop.

My laptop is my lifeline at work. It plugs me into the network, it connects me with people near and far, so I can do my job. It’s my soother — the rhythmic action of typing really chills me out. And it also paces me, makes me do things systematically. And it’s a great prop for me to hold onto, whenever I’m getting tweaked and nervous and agitated.

I’m going to take my laptop with me, whenever I go out and consult with people who need my assistance, and I’ll use it to record what’s going on in our conversation. I’ll take my laptop with me to meetings, and I’ll have it logged into the network to check on various pieces of information that come up. I’ll always have it with me, and I’ll make a point of “capturing information” at the time I’m meeting with people, whether it’s one-on-one, or in a meeting. This is brilliant on a number of levels.

First, it makes me look like I mean business. I do mean business, but having my laptop with me bumps up my appearance by several orders. It makes me look like I take the situation seriously, by getting a computer involved. It’s true — I do take the situation(s) very seriously, and this communiates that to others.

Second, it slows down the action. Typing takes time to do. The computer has to run its programs, which tend to slow things down. Reviewing my notes in the moment also takes time. It basically keeps the action from getting way out of hand, and when it does, it gives me a great reason to circle back and recap. I’ve noticed that when I’m talking to people, I’ve been losing information, which is not good — and they’re smart, so they see it. Now, if I can type while I’m talking, I can find some middle way to keep up and get others to slow down. So many people I work with are very verbal, very interactive, and when we start writing things up, they have to slow down.

In a way, we’re inversely speedy — They’re as fast when they’re talking, as I am fast when I’m typing. They’re as slow when I’m typing, as I am when they’re talking. So, if I can type things up, I force them to slow down, which has to start happening.

Third, it speeds up my interaction. For some reason, when I’m typing things up and “thinking on paper or on-screen” I’m better able to collect my thoughts and communicate. I see issues and come up with ideas that are buried in the information. Writing things up and typing them out helps my brain organize the ideas that just get jumbled around when I’m talking and listening to people talk. I can really fly. And I type very fast, which makes me look good. I look even faster than I am, because I’m typing as I talk — highlighting my skills and abilities, rather than getting bogged down in my limitations.

Fourth, it creates a record for me to refer to. I can not only keep up while I’m meeting with someone, but it captures what we discuss, so I can come back to it later. This is huge with me. I lose so much, when I’m talking to people, and what I do retain, tends to get “filed” in different places in my brain.

The inside of my head feels a bit like my home office looks — papers and books all over the place, artwork and supplies and various items left here and there, in no particular order. Some of the mess is hygienic — just plain laziness keeping me from putting things in order. But some of it is necessary — one of my vexations is “out of sight, out of mind” where I literally lose things I cannot see. I forget that they exist, and then they get lost for long times, when I really need to keep them in mind. Like one of my W2’s that went missing in the past month. I distinctly remember getting it in the mail and putting it with my tax forms. But now it’s gone. And I have to file for an extension and request another copy. I searched high and low for it, but it’s nowhere to be seen, and I may have accidentally thrown it away. There’s a very good chance I did just that.

To avoid completely screwing up my new job and pissing everyone off and wrecking my future chances at employment, I’m going to just write everything up for myself — and others, so I have it to refer to. Just because my working memory is for sh*t, doesn’t mean my career needs to be trashed

Fifth, it chills me out with the typing. Something about the rhythmic tap-tap-tap soothes me and quiets my nerves. It’s an outlet for my nervous energy, I suppose. And I’m notorious “tapper”, anyway. For some reason, I tend to tap away at things, when I’m nervous. So, typing gives me a way to get that out of my system in a productive and positive way.

Sixth, it helps me think better. I do so much better in writing, than in speaking, so why not make that work for me? Writing things down lets me process information more quickly. And my typing is way faster than my handwriting — and it’s easier to read — so what I come up with is shareable. I can seriously come up with some great solutions when I’m working on-screen. I don’t know what I did before I had computers to help me out. Actually, I do know what I did — I floundered and foundered and made a mess of things. I made plenty of notes that were no use to anyone, including myself. Something about the keyboard helps me think more clearly. That’s a good thing.

So, I don’t need to get all tweaked and freaked out over the difficulties I’ve been having with listening to people. I work in technology, with computers. I use a laptop at work. I can use that laptop over and above its customary use by others. And I can make it work for me in lots of new ways.

This is good. This is so very good. Not only is it a workable, pragmatic solution, but it takes the pressure off my worried brain that has been sweating big-time over these difficulties. One less thing to worry about. Lots less things to worry about.

Now, I just need to take care of my wrists.

And make sure I start getting to bed sooner each night. That part is critical.

Disaster at Sea – My ill-fated encounter with “Life of Pi”

Some years back, my parents gave me the book Life of Pi for a present. It’s the story about a guy from India whose ship goes down at sea, and he ends up in a lifeboat at sea with a bunch of wild animals (that had been on the ship) with him in the boat, and how he manages to survive the voyage with a tiger on board. I guess my folks thought I would enjoy it, since I work in technology and I have a lot of dealings with folks from India on a regular basis. Plus, it was full of interesting facts about animals and zoos and …  I’m not sure what else, because I couldn’t finish the book. Bottom line is, it was just the kind of book I loved as a kid, and they seemed to think I’d really get a kick out of it.

In retrospect, some Benadryl would have done me more good in improving the quality of my life. I know my folks were only trying to help me entertain myself, but my attempt at reading the book — about a year after my fall in 2004 — was so ill-fated, it stands as an excellent example of what TBI has done to my thought process and memory… and how that affects my ability to read, remember, and make progress with written material. It also highlights how TBI has utterly stripped me of one of the great joys of my past life — engrossing, fact-filled fiction that educates as well as entertains.

If you’ve read Life of Pi, you know that it is rich in detail and the action is pretty cerebral — it’s perfect for my parents, who are very heady types and love to noodle around with ideas that intrigue them. It used to be perfect for me, too, but from my very first attempt at reading the book, it became pretty clear that something was different with me. I started reading and got pulled into the backstory… the early years of the protagonist in India, his upbringing, his experiences, and how he ended up on a ship with a bunch of animals on it.

I did prett well for the first 20 pages or so, but I found that the farther into the book I got, the more turned around I got. I thought I was following, but things were starting to not make much sense. There’s a lot of information in there about animals and India and zoos, and the action switches between a lifeboat at sea and a house in — I think — Toronto, Canada. And the more information that was packed into the storyline… the more references there were to past info that I “should have” remembered… the more confused and frustrated I got.

Once upon a time, I would have really thrived on this sort of writing. It read like a wave of accumulating detail, each page building on past pages of information, insight, cross-reference, and so on. Talk about a recipe for TBI disaster! Before long, I was totally lost. I couldn’t keep track of who was doing/saying what… which animals were in the boat… what the main character was talking about… if it was in the present or the past, or wherever. It was the supreme WTF?! reading experience for me, and I had to keep back-tracking to refresh my memory about who was who and what they were doing and why they were doing it. Here’s a picture of how my reading experience went:

Attempt at reading Life of PiIt was really very frustrating. There I was, with this book in hand that my parents were sure I would just love — and just a few years before, I probably would have. But I kept getting so confused and so turned around by the details and losing my place and running out of steam and not being able to concentrate and not being sure what was happening and why I should care… it took me months and months just to move a few pages ahead, and even when I was making good progress, I would have to retrace my steps, check details earlier in the story, and then slog on through, trying to pick up where I’d left off.

Eventually I just gave up and left the book on my bedside stand.

My intention was to pick it up again and finish reading it, but time passed, I lost track of even more details about the story, and ultimately I had to hide the book — out of sight, out of mind — that danged reminder/hint that something was wrong with my brain.

The wild thing was, it didn’t even occur to me that I might be having genuine cognitive problems reading and comprehending and remembering. I thought that the book was the problem. “It just didn’t hold my attention,” I told myself. “It was obscure. Obtuse. Disconnected.” Or somesuch. I didn’t stop to think that it was my brain that was having the problem — it was the book… all about the book. Oh, no – the problem couldn’t possibly be with me!

I spent the next year or so dodging questions from my folks about how I liked the book. I gave them some vague answer — like I have done my entire life, when they’ve asked me about things or tried to talk to me about things that I was foggy or confused about. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I couldn’t finish it. I couldn’t tell them that I’d become hopelessly lost, a quarter of the way into it, and I just didn’t have the stamina or the patience to slog through the ordeal of  — from the way they described it — a pleasant and entertaining read. I didn’t want them to feel badly — for me, or for themselves. They had been so sure I would love the book, and in a former incarnation, I’m sure I would have. But that kid they once knew was gone, and in their place was this overtired, cranky, easily confused, easily provoked wild person with a hair-trigger temper.

Crazy. Just crazy.

Eventually, I gave the book away — I almost made the mistake of giving it back to them for a holiday present. Thank heavens I at least remembered where the book came from, so I didn’t have to dig myself out of that embarrassing situation. It’s bad enough losing something that meant so much to me once upon a time — my love of fiction — but having to explain it to people who don’t perceive or understand that loss is a recipe for despair. And I’m not going there, if I don’t have to.

I love my therapist, but…

If they keep hinting around at me being “ADD” one more time, I’m not sure what I’m going to do. Granted, I have documented attentional difficulties. Granted, I do tend to exhibit plenty of symptoms consistent with attentional challenges. But as useful as ADD may be to them, to understand where I am and how I am, there’s something about that diagnosis that feels very incomplete. Not to mention over-simplified.

I’ve been thinking a lot about diagnosis, over the past months. The past year, in fact, as I’ve been in therapy each week and I’ve been on my quest for adequate diagnosis and neuropsychological testing. I frankly cannot wait to hear what people think is really going on with me… expert people, professional people, people with objective metrics to drop me into some category or another.

It’s not that I want to be categorized, in order to understand and value myself. No way. Diagnoses tend to be too broad and over-simplistic, to do me much good, past a certain point. A diagnosis from others is not going to define me as who and what I am, on the inside. But an official diagnosis will enable me to express to others that there is something verifiably “other” about me. I’ll have a word — or words — to give people a short-hand clue about who I am and what challenges I have to deal with on a daily basis. And I might be able to explain my differences to others a little better, if we have a common diagnostic vernacular, as it were.

I just need a commonly agreed-upon vocabulary, in order to talk to others about my situation in a way that they can grasp. If I explain it to them, I’ll fall flat. I know that from experience. The depth and breadth of my difficulties don’t translate well into everyday language, and given my successful coping strategies, who the hell would believe me, anyway? I make it my business to conceal my difficulties. So, I’m in a bind, when I need to admit to them.

But back to my therapist and their love of the ADD diagnosis. They’ve been hinting at it since I started seeing them close to two years ago. They live with someone who is extremely ADD, and they know from personal experience what it’s like to deal with it on a daily basis. The thing is, I’ve met their significant other, and it seemed to me that they had a whole lot more neurological issues going on, than “just” ADD. But how do you tell this to a person who’s invested the past 10+ years of their life relating to someone on the basis of ADD, and doesn’t seem open to other explanations?

Easy… I don’t.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to getting the full report from my neuropsych about what the heck is going on with me, how it impacts me, and what I can possibly do about it. Could be that I need to be on a drug of some kind. Could be that there are other physiological issues I need to address. Or there could be other neurological issues I have to deal with — more testing is coming up later this month, which ironically, I’m really looking forward to.

In order to deal effectively with my therapist, I need to have some sort of “ammunition” in hand about my objectively measured state. Then — and only then — will I feel like I am on solid footing in dealing with their suppositions about my attentional difficulties.