Paying Attention

I really want to write something about attention because I’m finding it’s a big issue. I have so much to say on this topic, and I’m struggling with getting just one coherent idea down here so I’ll try to be succinct with one important point, then I’ll do my best to explain it:

Paying attention to just one thing is harder than paying attention to everything.

Paying attention to everything is one of the gifts of having a healing brain. It’s kind of like a rest. You can observe everything, and you don’t have to expend any energy doing anything about it. I have to see it as a gift, because it’s something that affects all aspects of my life right now. There can be a periodic sense of euphoria that comes with concussion. It’s exciting to notice everything in your environment, but it can also be exhausting. An injured brain seems (to me) like that of a young child. Everything you see, hear etc is new and interesting. The sensory experience of walking outside, for example, can be absolutely breathtaking. There are so many stimuli to take in; you just have to stop walking if you don’t want to miss anything. My theory is that the new brain tissue is actually responding to stimulus for the first time, but you still have your undamaged brain tissue working, so right now, your brain is operating as a hybrid version of the old you. Your old brain is able to observe the way your new brain tissue is working. I personally call this experience Beth 2.0. Not exactly the old me, but maybe an updated version, with some new software!
It makes sense that the concussed brain will respond to the environment in a similar way to that of a child, and I think it’s good to enjoy it, but if you are an adult, there are expectations that you will get some work done. If you can’t filter out all of the wonderful new stimulus, it can be a problem. Focus is hard work. If you too have a trail of destruction following you (the half-drunk cup of coffee that is now cold, the kitchen cupboards left open, laundry on the way there, but not quite yet in the washing machine…) then you know what I mean. Before I go any further, let me try to reassure you: if you notice all of these things that have slipped your attention, it’s not dementia, it’s your brain injury, and it will heal.
Activities that are more complex require communication throughout the brain. Attention requires connections between stimulus and response in your brain. It takes time to build these connections, but know that you can regain your ability to pay attention, and, sorry, but it is going to be hard work.
Here are three things I’m trying. I’m nowhere near where I want to be yet, but if I can bring in my teacher background, I recommend that you try the following:
1. Make and follow routines. Multi-step activities are easier if you do them the same way over and over again. (That, by the way, is why you practiced algebra in school, there really was a reason for it!) It’s work to hold information in your memory, then use it to solve problems, so, as much as is practical, make your everyday necessities a routine. Keep tools in the same place, put them back before going on to the next step. You can even make checklists if it helps, then gradually try to go through those checklists in your head, without referring to a list. It hurts, but this is how you integrate new information into learned information. The more you can make routine, the easier it will be to regain your normal daily functions.
2. Write everything down. Memory is hard work. Use your phone, paper, the back of your hand or whatever works for you, but don’t force your new brain tissue to keep track of everything, it will give you a headache. You don’t have to rely on this forever, but whatever it takes for you to make life manageable now is ok because you are the one taking on the responsibility for your work. Again, that is how you learn.
3. Get outside every day. Your brain can’t heal without periods of rest. Unfocused passive enjoyable activities are important, such as watching a soccer match, sitting beside a creek, or even just sitting on a balcony and listening. This is how you integrate all of the new learning your brain is doing while it heals. You need to get your blood moving, eat well, get lots of sleep, but you also need to find enjoyable ways to just watch the world go by. I don’t know how long this hyperactive attentive state will last, but for now, you might as well enjoy it!

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