I can’t concentrate. On anything.
Even my ability to throw myself wholeheartedly into ‘anything that isn’t the thing I’m supposed to be doing’ has disappeared. I’m even procrastinating procrastination, which was one of my most developed skills. I can’t give my attention to anything any more.
As the pandemic stretches on, and on, and on, my ability to focus has faded away into nothingness. When I’d like nothing more than to escape reality and lost myself in a task, any task, for a good few hours, I’m just flitting from one thing to the next, never settling, never giving anything my full attention. I’m finding it impossible.
Generally, I’d describe myself as a chaotic thinker. I like lots of things going on at once. I like mess, not structure. I like that colourful world of different themes swimming about in my mind. It’s how I work best – lots of ideas, quick thinking, grabbing at a snap of a thought and seeing where it goes. It’s when rota, structure and organisation come into play that I find myself stifled. But this is different.
It’s as though all of the sparks of ideas have left the building, too. My soupy jumble of thoughts will usually form themselves into coherent, tangible ideas eventually, solidifying into actions and plans. No longer. There are no ideas. There are no plans.
I’ve got 3 books on the go as I can’t settle and finish one. I’ve got half-formed ideas but no motivation to follow them through. I’ve got work to do for uni but can’t read more than one sentence without my mind wandering off into somewhere that, on examination, seems to be full of cotton wool. And not even colourful cotton wool.
Even writing this post has taken about 4 times longer than it usually would, via phone diversions, sorting some Spotify playlists, grouting some tiles around the fireplace (yep really), going off to play one piece on the piano, looking at paint for aforementioned fireplace, messing with some hairstyles, browsing rightmove (guilty pleasure), then coming back and attempting to carry on. Usually I’ll sit down and write an entire post in one go.
Like probably thousands of people, I’ve been on The Google trying to find out about this, and whether it’s just me. Turns out, it’s not, and science can explain it. During periods of stress (and I think we can all agree this pandemic has brought that in bucketloads), the prefrontal cortex in the brain, responsible for focus, is weakened. No wonder we’re struggling to stay on track.
I think if it was everyday, normal life, I’d have more compassion for myself. However, the ever-present knowledge that I really need to be getting on with some work for university is always there, lingering in the back of my head. I took last week off as I just couldn’t get my head down, but this week is the same. Honestly, the last few months have been the same. I’m just floating.
I need to remember we’re all in the same boat, navigating these unknown waters and blindly wobbling through. People react differently and I need to have compassion for the way my brain has chosen to react, too. We’re in an area of the UK where lockdown has been tightened again this week, with no end date, and this just feels like yet another thing piled on top of whatever I was already worrying about. It all blurs into one, really. It’s a different kind of worry though – not, well, worry worry – but more like an increasing pressure, somewhere in or around my head. Something lurking that’s getting heavier, and darker. And that keeps sucking bits of attention away from me with increasing regularity.
So I’ll keep my pomodoro timer going for the foreseeable future. I’ll keep flitting from one thing to the next. I’ll keep breaking off, doing things in tiny, tiny chunks. And I’ll have compassion for that. Because it’s a great unknown, for all of us, and for myself.