And I will never forget the first time I realised it.
It was back in my third year of medical school, and we were on one of those ward rounds that seemed to go on forever. My mind kept wandering off, seeking something more interesting than the drone of the consultant’s voice to latch on to, but I kept forcing myself back again.
Apparently, he had noticed.
And I knew that because he said in the most exasperated tone:
“Young man, you obviously have a problem with paying attention! Do you realise how many times you’ve looked out the window?”
That was not the first time, but it was the first time someone had ever put it into words in a way I could work with. Before then, I’d often been accused of being forgetful (my childhood was a history of frequently forgetting where I had put things things). The problem with that? Well, I thought I had a memory problem, and all my focus was on being better at remembering stuff.
But what I really had (and I am forever grateful to the poor consultant I got so upset) was an attention problem.
Of course, I didn’t know what to do about it at first, but it at least offered a new line of thought about a lifelong issue. And that line of thought has proven ever more useful as it has evolved.
But to explain the evolution, I must first make a clarification…
I’m not claiming attention deficit disorder.
Those who know me know how loath I am to loosely using diagnoses, especially mental health diagnoses. To do so undermines the seriousness of diagnoses for those who live with them, when those who don’t really have them claim them.
And there’s one singular reason why I’ve never been able to bring myself to honestly claim that my attention deficit issues was a disorder-level issue. And that was this: I’ve never had the slightest problem focusing on anything I was interested in. In fact, for things I’m interested in, I’ve been accused of being overly focused. Some have even used the word, “intense.”
Which made me realise…
What I had wasn’t an ATTENTION problem. It was an INTEREST problem.
Without realising this, I’d being living it sort of instinctively, but articluating it this clearly changed everything.
For starters, all that stuff I was being “forgetful” about?
The real issue was none of it was being registered in my mental files under “IMPORTANT.”