Focus is something I have struggled with a great deal through my life. I have heard many people reference focus as a laser beam, and that is a really neat metaphor. But, inside my head it feels like there are mirrors all around, a whole maze of mirrors set up that reflect the laser beam and scatter it wide and far. I think for most people, there aren’t any mirrors, just a beam of focus. That seems rather boring to me.
For example, if you tell me the word elephant, here is what goes on inside my head:
“Elephants are found in Africa and smaller ones in the Indian subcontinent. In India they worship elephants. Elephants have a great memory, and have been found to mourn the loss of their family for years. Elephants have cute little tusks and trunks that are kind of like hands. Elephants have very sensitive hearing and pretty bad eyesight. Alexander the Great rode on elephants in a battle and scared the other side into surrender. Indiana Jones rode an elephant and didn’t like it, he also doesn’t like snakes. Very few people seem to like snakes, maybe because of that bible verse where they talk about snakes being a curse.”
All of that goes through my head in about half a second. I lost a lot of the thoughts because I can’t type nearly that fast. The laser bounces off of the mirrors at the speed of light. I think for most people, they would think of a picture of an elephant and that’s about it. I think there is a nice simplicity about that though. It must be nice to not be constantly overwhelmed by thoughts. Because for me, that kind of thing happens every second of every day that I am awake.
This weird maze of mirrors focus ability is one of the reasons why I struggle to go shopping, especially to new stores. I can look at one item, and then start a whole chain reaction of thoughts that are loosely connected to it. So if there are 12,000 new items, then I have 12,000 chain reactions running at the same time. That kind of thing overloads the RAM and makes the whole thing run really slowly. Which means that I wind up standing and staring at things for a few minutes to let the chain reactions finish and allow my brain to synthesize the new connections and categorize the items, I have to do that before I can move on. I can’t leave things uncategorized, because if something is uncategorized then it has no meaning. I have discovered that uncertainty and lack of definition cause me to be upset. I often get asked if I need help while I am at the store, which is so frustrating. Because, yes, I probably do need some help ordering my thoughts and fitting everything I can see into a category. But no, I do not need the sort of help that a grocery store employee can offer. And no, I am not upset at the moment, but if you keep asking me whether or not I am OK, then I will be. I tend to not like shopping for these reasons and many more.
It often creates a twisted web of thoughts inside my head. Sometimes the laser beam of focus leaves a web behind it, which slows down the next laser beams, and so on. Sometimes, it can bring the whole thing to halt and cause a system-wide shut down.
I think of this scattered focus as a mixed blessing and curse. It is extremely exhausting to be around new things, not physically but mentally. Mental exhaustion feels as if my whole body is dying or rotting from the inside. I guess I feel like ‘me’ is made up of my brain far more than it is my body. Running out of mental energy is far more severe than running out of physical energy.
Most days, the second my eyes open, this process starts running again. I glance around to things near me and start making jumps around the brain-space. So that means I get up pretty fast in the morning. It’s also very hard to fall asleep because I have not learned a way to turn this off. If anything new happened that day, or something that felt important or big, then I am likely to not sleep much that night. My brain has to spend a lot of time indexing and processing and synthesizing the new information with all of the old information before it can shut down. Which makes sense from the computer metaphor, all of the new info is saved on the RAM and if you shut it down too fast then it will lose that info unless you save it to the HDD. I just wish that my brain could do that in the background while I sleep.
The positive side to this is that I am very creative at problem solving. Because I can make random jumps all over the brain-space, I can quickly connect something I see to every other time I have seen that item, and I can recall the details of those encounters. It really helps to keep me from making the same mistake twice. It also really helps me with trivia games, I am rarely defeated. This abstraction also makes me a ridiculously quick learner at everything I try, and gives off the impression that I know what I am doing (I don’t think I have ever really felt 100% confident in anything I have done, but most people assume I know perfectly well at this point and I am starting to believe that as well at times).