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The distraction of the busy mind: accessing information

Sometimes we all need to access information in our brains, vital snippets at the right time, or long periods of concentration for work or life events. Aspies can have real, sustained difficulty accessing information in  a way that helps them release it into the world, so other people can look at it.

Some brains are accessed via books or the computer, the physical aid to being able to 'leave', while your body stays behind. For me, I need the extra distraction of a story, or computer game, to help my mind step sideways. I would be no good as a meditator, using silence and calm to connect with myself. I tried it and was surprisingly good at being able to bring my body to a meditative state: the mind was another matter.

I think that this need for a distraction, to almost trick your mind into doing something better, points to the aspergers trick of being at least two people at once. Everything is about layers: the outside world, the buffer we create between us and it, other people, people close to us, the persona we show them all, the persona we show ourselves, the real 'us' who ventures out when no one is looking, the 'us' we don't like, who takes over and ruins things, the 'us' we used to be, peeking round the corner of memory.

So many personalities and images, too many ways to interact with the world. Alongside this, we have the internal commentary of how to do things, when to do them, what to say, when to stop talking, when are they supposed to stop talking, is it okay to leave now?

Should I smile? Should I put my head down? Was I supposed to be listening? What do they mean?

These words, phrases, endless wondering, existing amongst our rack of personalities, waiting to be donned at the right occasion. Is it any wonder we often look confused?

So, it's no surprise that we need to be able to zone out or physically leave to be able to recollect ourselves, to access the brain in a different way, one which frees up what we know so we can use it to our advantage. And no surprise either, that we need a little nudge sometimes, to help us get there.

I've spoken before about the need to leave quickly and feel safe, to hide under the blanket, real or imaginary. That's the panic reaction to stress. What I mean now is a place we can retreat to at any time, to dip in and out and have that ounce of refreshment needed to help us get along and connect with ourselves, as a precursor to connecting with others.

Don't confuse the inability to access information with the amount of stress we're under, either. For instance, at home when I'm working or writing (you notice I don't count the writing as work), I often need to blend a few activities together to make it feel comfortable.

If I need to do work, admin or similar, I'll often combine it with other things on the computer, like checking the bank, Facebook, emails, playing games and so on. I know a lot of people multi-task on their computers, what I mean is, I find it very difficult to concentrate on the work without having all the other things going on at the same time.

When I'm writing, I do need to concentrate fully then, whether it's for this blog or my fiction. Once I start writing, that's it: it's the one activity I can do which is an end in itself and doesn't require a few other things running along with it to make it work. But I don't just sit down and start writing. I need to prepare for it, build up to it and often do all the same things beforehand that I mentioned above. It's as if I need my mind to rattle at full speed, doing all kinds of different jobs, before it can sit down and do only the one.

Out and about, when concentration is needed, I can be in trouble. After all, what is the on-the-hoof equivalent of playing games, checking emails, doing your bank and so on? If you actually need to be somewhere, speaking to someone and asking intelligent questions, what am I supposed to do to help myself concentrate then?

Well, I talk to myself, inside my head and keep an eye on me. It sounds mad, possibly, though I'm sure we all do it to some extent. It's an extension of those multiple personas I was talking about, but they try to work together at times when I need to be wholly present and accounted for.

An example would be, in a one to one conversation with someone official. How do I stop myself drifting off to look at the stain on the wall behind them, or fixate on the mole on their lip or suddenly remember I haven't turned my phone off and get lost rooting through my bag?

If I need to be there, I need the pep talk that goes with it. I'll have an internal monologue from the bossy, urgent voice, reminding me to concentrate, concentrate, concentrate. That's annoying but it does get my attention and make me re-listen - as by then I've stopped listening and that was why I was having to tell myself to concentrate.

Then there's the secretarial voice, listing what I need to remember to talk about. A physical list may also be in evidence, but the secretarial voice will be reminding me of how to broach things, what tone to use, how to get the best out of the situation.

Then the warmer one will always come in and remind me to try to make friends with the person, find common ground, treat them nicely, be attentive and not just concentrate, because people always prefer you to actually listen and not just fix them with your off-putting stare while you soak up their words.

Amongst all this I also have to behave like a semi-normal person and achieve whatever objective I set out to in the first place. I can come away from something like this filled with such a relief that I need to immediately go and buy chocolate, to celebrate.

You see, almost everything which requires proper thought has an unfortunate tendency to use your brains. And your brains are packed full of STUFF. What enormous amounts of information we need to keep on hand! It can be very hard to find what you are looking for when faced with boxes full of 'appropriate behaviours', 'correct phrases', 'acceptable expressions' and so on. Imagine having to squeeze past all that just to find the little box marked 'task for the day'.

The trick is, that by distracting those very brains with other things, like you can when you're at home, you instantly move the other boxes further apart and are able to dash across the brain room and right to what you needed.

Out and about, in our official conversation, the voices telling you what to do also help because, by having the running commentary, you are emphasising the information usually stored in the boxes. In other words, you have already taken account of the boxes, again leaving you free to dodge past them and reach what you want.

Without the inner words, reminding you of what you need to do and how to do it, you would have to clump through the darkened room, bouncing off the big box of 'too much staring', stubbing your toe on 'ill-timed giggles', trying to edge past 'sneeze on demand' without disturbing it.

You may be wondering by now, why not just clear my mind and do what needs to be done? Surely, it would be simpler to clean it all out and be free of it? No boxes, no inner monologuing, only what you need to be thinking about. Does that sound good?

Perhaps, though it sounds like it would echo. I can't function with a clear mind, it has to be full and busy. Other people may be the complete opposite, but I think it's true that a lot of aspies have the busy mind, even if they don't particularly want it. I do sometimes have a completely empty mind, but that usually means I've switched off.

In terms of distractibility, it's a blessing and a curse. Without it, I really wouldn't be the person I am and certainly wouldn't be able to function. Then there are times when life would be so much easier if I hadn't become distracted! I think, perhaps, one must almost count as good distraction, though the separation is probably imaginary.

It's finding what works for you. For me, it's tricking the mind into not realising it's about to impart information. I know I'm dithering about and doing things other than work, and often tell myself off. It's only with hindsight I realised I wouldn't have managed what I did without the 'free-time' before I started working.

Others need to find what works for them and use it when it's really needed. I have to say, all of the above is fine, in my life as it is right now. You can imagine how badly it would all fare in a full-time working life where, miraculously, other people concentrate all day. All day!!

I guess the lesson is, life itself has to fit you, just as your smaller, personal methods need to match what you need and want. Information stored and accessed is only valuable if you can bring it out and use it for your own good. If you can't get past the boxes, then you need to do some shifting around and clear a path through.

Often, we worry that the total de-clutter is needed, when it isn't. What we actually need is the right space and lighting to make it work for us. Then you don't need to worry about tripping and giving in to 'grimaces without reason'.


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