Silence is an important part of my daily life, to rest properly I need quiet. But I also need silence when I’m concentrating on things, particularly if whatever I’m doing requires a lot of concentration.

I recently had a phone appointment with one of the hospitals I’m under the care of, and right in the middle of it someone came into the room to tell me something. Rather than stopping what they were saying when they saw I was on the phone, they continued telling me whatever it was they wanted to say and as a result I missed an entire chunk of the conversation with the hospital. As it was happening I was trying so hard to concentrate on what was being said on the phone, as well as in the room, and I thought I would manage it, but literally seconds later it was blank. Not only did I blank what the hospital had been saying during that time when someone else was talking to me, but I also couldn’t tell you what the person in the room said to me either; I had some vague idea of what it was about but not the specifics. It’s as if my brain just shut down moments after trying so hard to take in both conversations!

At the time of this I was infuriated. Thankfully I did ask the hospital if they could send me a brief summary of the most important things discussed on the phone so that if I’d missed something really important it would be in there, and they were happy to accommodate that request. But that’s not the point.

However, it wasn’t until a few hours later that I remembered that not everyone has the difficulties I have in concentrating, or managing or following conversations on the phone. To this person, being able to take in a quick sentence about something else from someone else while they were on the phone was actually perfectly normal. But for me it is seemingly impossible.

So, like everything else in my life I thought I would blog about it, share my experience and the things I have to do to have some hope of following a conversation on the phone (and remembering it!) but also just generally being able to concentrate when doing things like watching TV, reading a book, or even typing this blog post!

I honestly don’t know how to properly explain what happens if I don’t do certain things in silence, but basically its as though if there’s more than one thing going on, competing for my attention, my brain shuts down and I can’t concentrate on any of the things going on.

So however troublesome it might be I have to have silence when I’m on the phone, or doing anything which requires concentration. Some examples include:

When the phone rings:

    • If I’ve got the TV on, I pause or mute it. Music or radio? Same thing.
    • If I’m out in the garden and it’s breezy, or other people are talking in the background, I have to go inside and find somewhere quieter.
    • If I’m in the house and people are talking in the same room as me, no matter how quietly, I have to go to a different room.

When I’m trying to concentrate:

    • If the TV is on, I’ll mute it or turn it off – it all depends on what I’m doing and how long it will take.
    • If the radio is on or there’s music playing, it usually has to go off or on a really good day providing it’s the only background noise and what I’m doing doesn’t require too much concentration it can stay on quietly (and by quietly I mean very quietly – my parents say they can’t hear it properly at the volume I can tolerate it on at while concentrating)
    • If I’m in the house and people are talking in the same room as me while I’m trying to do something which requires quite a bit of concentration, like reading a book, no matter how quietly they are talking, I have to go to a different room or stop what I’m doing until it is quiet again.

The truth is that when it comes to activities other than talking on the phone, it all depends on the level of concentration required and how I am that day as to whether complete silence is needed or whether I can cope with a little bit of background noise. For example most days when I am able to do some knitting I can manage to knit while the TV is on, or there is music in the background; providing it isn’t a complex pattern! However, I can only ever read a book when it’s quiet and there is no noise in the background except the hum of the fish filter or heating etc. anything beyond that and my concentration just vanishes so I have to put the book down.

Whenever someone visits, they’ll usually find I turn off the TV, radio or music, if it’s on, despite them saying it’s fine to leave it on. This is because my brain can’t filter out the conversation from the background noise, believe me I have tried. For short conversations I can usually cope, but anything longer than 30 minutes and my ability to concentrate on what is being said vanishes and not only am I unable to follow what is being said and join in the conversation, but it also uses a lot more energy! So if I know someone will be here longer than that I’ll opt to turn off anything in the background so I can participate in the conversation and pace myself better.

On a similar topic the other thing I can find difficult is multiple conversations going on within a small space; for example if we had say two members of my family come over for a cuppa and one is having a conversation about one subject with my parents and the other is talking to me about something entirely different, after a short time I struggle to concentrate and keep track of what is being said to me and think of a response because I can no longer block out the sound of the other conversation and my brain essentially tries to follow both at once and fails miserably! Usually in these situations I just quietly withdraw from the conversation entirely, not because I want to, but because I can’t manage to join in any longer.

I’m sure there are many other things I now do instinctively in order to be able to concentrate on things, stuff which most people wouldn’t think was necessary in order to be able to complete basic tasks. But alas for me silence is necessary, some days it just makes it easier to pace myself; it allows me to do that little bit more than if I had background noise to cope with as well, other days it is necessary if I am to do something which requires concentration. However, for some reason, I assume because it requires so much more concentration but I don’t actually know, I always need silence when I am on the phone if I am to be able to follow the conversation and remember what is said.

 

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