We’re distracted, don’t you see?

A lot of times, I’d rather be sleeping.  Schizophrenia is exhausting.  People don’t realize how tiring it can be to listen to constant talking and noise throughout the day and how difficult it can be to limit your response to said stimuli.  I liken the experience to going to a concert, but for the entire day, or perhaps spending the day at an amusement park.  Someone’s always chattering in the background (or multiple someones), there are loud noises that pop up intermittently,  and usually some sort of music playing to round it all out.  I work constantly on ignoring the whole cacophony of sounds, but sometimes it just makes me want to retreat under the sheets and hide.  Music can be helpful, particularly the relaxing type played at an appreciable volume.  Reading does work on some occasions, should the book hold my attention well enough.  Video games provide a respite from the hallucinations to some degree, depending on the content and speed of play.  Things to be avoided include mindless activities where your attention can wander elsewhere and disturbing television that perpetuates negative thinking.  Sleeping, therefore, seems like a contradiction in terms.  Truthfully, it is probably the worst thing for you to do when you’re struggling to concentrate on something other than the voices.  But when I snuggle down with a blanket and pillow, turn on some low tunes, and really relax, I feel better.  The reason for my relaxation?  Meditation.  I personally like progressive muscle relaxation for this purpose.  It’s a mindful activity, as I’ve described in an earlier post.  This type of meditation involves total awareness and focus on each part of your body for a short period of time, sequentially moving from your toes to your face.  Tensing and contracting the muscles in different regions of your body briefly while focusing on the changes you feel physically there grounds you to reality.  There is no room for listening to someone chattering in the room or for watching yet another person dance around in your field of view.  Eyes closed and completely focused on you.  In this moment, which you have set aside specifically for you and no one else.  Everything is calm.

Should you be interested in giving this a try, I recommend a handy website:

http://www.calm.com/

A short guided meditation accompanied by soothing background sounds and pleasant visuals is available to you whenever you so desire.  And afterwards, like me, you’ll probably fall fast asleep.  If you don’t, at least you will have enjoyed the time you took to wind down and relax.

As far as functioning while distracted goes, I have mastered this practice.  Focus in the heat of conversation involves incredible self-awareness and control.  Anyone can benefit from these techniques:

Make eye contact with whomever you’re talking to and don’t look away.  This isn’t to say you should have a stare-down with the other person, just present the appearance that you are dialed in to what they’re saying. 

Maintain an active listening stance with good body language.  I find a little head tilt keeps me on task, as does standing with my hands clasped or behind my back.  Arms folded aren’t a good idea, as they present the speaker with the idea that you’re resisting their ideas, even if it is a comfortable position to be in. 

Focus on the person’s speech, don’t try to analyze or rehearse what you’d like to respond.  A lot of schizophrenics, because they are anxious or uncomfortable in social situations, have imaginary conversations where they try to hash out how they will conduct a dialogue with someone, however trivial the subject.  Resisting the urge to do this out loud is key, but also try to keep your mind free of predictive clutter.  You must accept that you have no control over the other person’s statements and that you can rarely predict them.

Last but certainly not least, answer any questions and express verbally your understanding of their message.  Make sure to ask questions as well, should you not understand everything said.  There is nothing worse than walking away from a conversation having no idea what was discussed or how you should proceed from there.

As far as completing tasks goes, mindfulness is key.  Do not pay attention to the thoughts and sounds creeping up around you.  I know, easier said than done.  But you can do it.  I like directing myself in my head, as if I’m providing someone instructions for doing the task.  It fills negative space and leaves less room for extraneous noise to distract you. 

Take breaks.  I like to stop every 20 or so minutes and refresh my thinking.  Get a drink of water, move around a bit, or just do something else.  It’s impossible to focus on anything for over an hour, for me.  I need a mental hiatus from the effort of remaining focused and letting every stimulus in for a few minutes can make things easier.  You can’t resist distraction forever, you know.  So let go every now and then to give yourself a rest.  It’s tiring to block everything out and you don’t want mental fatigue to keep you from completing your task.

If you really can’t get hunkered down and work productively, come back to it another day or even later that day.  Sometimes it’s too hard to focus.  There’s no point getting frustrated with it and down on yourself over any task.  And if there’s a deadline, don’t stress over it too much.  The anxiety you have about getting it done needs to be replaced by a plan to finish it later.  This requires you to avoid procrastination.  I know, it’s so easy to put things off; I often do it myself.  Break the habit as much as possible. 

All of these things require a conscious effort.  They do not come naturally for most schizophrenics, let alone people without mental illnesses.  You will most certainly fail to complete tasks or have unproductive conversations with people for awhile.  With time, however, you will start to gain mastery in these techniques and see a measurable change in the way you interact and complete important tasks.

Today, however, I just feel like taking a nap.  Time to give myself a break from everything.

Thanks for listening.

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