i’ve spent my life for as long as i can remember not being fully engaged in any conversation or activity i’ve participated in. my estimate on average is about 70% attention, 30% distraction. if it’s something i’m truly interested in, i think the attention percentage is closer to ninety, but it’s certainly never a hundred.
it’s taken me a really long time to realize this. it’s also taken me a really long time to stop doing the kinds of strategies i developed so that no one else realized this was the case.
apparently, i am quite good at convincing others i am paying attention. i think i do this with a combination of reinforcement responses (“yeah, i understand”) and excellent fill-in-the-blank skills. you know the email floating around that proves how miraculously people can read a word if the first letter and the last letter are correct and the middle letters are all out of order? the premise is that your mind fills in and makes assumptions about what is missing. well i do that with every conversation, dialogue, activity, and task that i attempt.
now that i’ve learned this, it is a VERY hard habit to break. just last night, d and i were talking about all of this, and we had literally just finished discussing this tendency of mine. the conversation was going well (i had taken my nighttime ritalin dosage about and hour and a half before) and i was definetly more engaged that i usually am. he started talking and for some reason, i tuned out the last couple sentences. he paused, and i told him i understood. he continued, and i interrupted him and said no, i DIDN’T understand, and that i had just done the very thing we’d been talking about before. he was pretty floored, because he said he had had no idea i wasn’t totally right there with him. the thing is, up until recently, i wouldn’t have either – it was like i wasn’t paying attention to how much i wasn’t paying attention.
so now, i’m trying constantly to just admit to him that i wasn’t listening, that i didn’t get it, that i need him to repeat himself. he’s very very patient about it now that he’s starting to understand the extent of the problem. it’s alot of work, though, tearing down all these coping strategies i spent twenty-some years developing. i don’t like feeling flustered, or embarrassed that i didn’t get it, or frustrated with myself for being distracted when he and i are trying to talk about something “real”. we’ve learned to shut off the tv and the computer, to close the blinds, and to maybe even put the conversation on hold until the biggest distraction in my life takes a nap or goes to bed for the night. at this point, i am incapable of splitting my focus between avi and a particularly mentally challenging subject of discussion. hell, even helping d think of what to add to the shopping list can take multiple attempts, requests for repetition, and the utmost patience on his part if we try to do that at the same time as i’m dealing with avi. i simply cannot do both of those things at once. (and guess which wins?)