October 25, 2007

Easily Distracted

Yesterday evening, I went to visit a member of the church who is recovering from knee surgery. He is in an assisted-living care facility until his knee is strong enough for him to go home. His shared-room was much like a hospital room, with two beds, a curtain dividing them, and two TVs mounted high on the wall.

When I arrived, his wife was there; they were watching some show on TV. The show was just ending, and they invited me to sit down, but the TV was left on. This did not seem to bother them, but for some reason it always bothers me. I'm easily distracted, and find it hard to concentrate on what someone is saying to me if the television is on. I did my best for the hour that I was there. When I left, I was exhausted.

TVs in restaurants are just as troublesome. When I'm home, I don't like it when someone tries to talk to me while I'm watching TV; when I'm at a restaurant, I don't like it when a TV is pulling my attention away from the people I'm with. If I do find myself in a restaurant with a TV, I make sure to find a seat with my back to it.

This week, I've been substitute teaching for a teacher who is in Indianapolis attending the national FFA conference. Her classroom is crowded and cluttered with stuff she's accumulated over the years: posters and plaques and ribbons and photographs and old souvenirs and pins and buttons and .... I wonder how some of the students, who must be at least as easily distracted as I am, ever get any work done. Actually, many of them don't. It's all I can do to keep from clearing away the clutter that covers the teacher's desk and the walls and the cupboards and cabinets.

What is it about me? Clearly, such things are not as bothersome to others. I just finished reading an autobiography by a man who has asperger's syndrome, a type of autism, who has some of the same issues with distractions and clutter that I do, but to a far greater degree. And I wonder: is it a really mild form of aspergers that I have?

Two years ago I met a fellow clergyman who couldn't pray until he realized that he had attention deficit disorder, started taking medication, and learned other ways to cope. He also found other ways to pray that do not involve sitting still with eyes closed, things like journaling and walking a labyrinth. Hmmm... I like to pray as I run. Is it attention deficit disorder?

One thing I know is that every person is different. The truth is that I doubt that I have anything that could definitively be diagnosed. But I do understand that how people react to different situations is always different because of the different ways our brains work. That's just the way God created us. No two people think alike. This is how I am: I love to talk with a person as we walk along a quiet path, outdoors. A quiet day at Donner Lake...

Donner Lake last weekend

calms my soul, whereas the Nicolaus Labor Day Parade...

... though enjoyable, is also mentally exhausting. Trying to have a conversation inside a crowded room (like my church's fellowship hall after worship) is much more difficult. As much as I enjoy being a pastor, I often have to take a nap on Sunday afternoons to recuperate.

And, by the way, even though I put it there and it's for a good cause, that little box to the right promoting World Diabetes Day is distracting me. So I'm going to stop writing now.

Note: I don't mean to make light of those who have aspergers or ADD/ADHD, or those who care for them; it's just that sometimes I see points of connection that help me understand myself. I probably could edit and revise this post to better express what I'm trying to say, except that I'm blogging today from the classroom I mentioned previously, during prep period.


Brian said...

Danny, I can certainly relate. In fact, when I used to be a classroom teacher, I tried to keep the stimuli in the room to a conservative minimum precisely because it tended to distract the children. For me personally, I think stuff like TV's playing the background and junk everywhere is a distraction because I'm a visual learner and tend to pull in lots of information through my eyes, so it's hard to ignore or tune out visual stimuli when it's around me. In seminary, I used to have to completely clean up and organize my computer area before I could type a paper because having stuff sitting around me was such a distration.

Guido said...

Danny, be gentle with yourself. Do you think that you were the only one who had problems keeping your attention during that pastoral call?
Does everybody have it easy in a crowded room having a conversation?
Find some of Merton's journals, he is easily distracted as well.
A friend told me, not to should on myself.
It has taken me years and I am still in the process of accepting myself as I am, not as I should be. As I accept myself, I am learning to accept others more fully.

Danny said...

Thanks for the comments Brian & Guido. Mostly, I find this all fascinating, how different people interact with the world in different ways. I like the advice to not "should" on myself, though it took me a moment to figure out what that meant!