Withdraw and focus

In my last blog post, I had briefly addressed techniques I’d adopted for working with my short-term memory.

Unfortunately, these techniques are invisible to people around me.  And the closer I allow others to approach, the more they tend to trample over all of them.

Besides the numerous daily errands that I usually run, the start of the year is when my family members and I schedule checkups with our various doctors.  Neither Mom nor Dad drives anymore, and both would rather avoid my brother Jason’s ill temperament. That left me to coordinate all of these appointments around my work schedule and navigate driving directions.

sports car

During his college days, Jason had bought a posh Mercedes SLK sports car with my parents’ money – which he kept in a storage facility and never drove.  (He later told Dad that he was waiting for it to appreciate in value, before selling it as an antique!)  Last year he had it shipped home and parked it in my parking space in the garage.  I learned to squeeze my own car in between it and my Mom’s larger sedan – but, because our garage is situated at a right angle to the street, backing out from this new position can be tricky.  In separate incidents, I’d previously knocked off the covers of both the right and left door mirrors on my car, which I then temporarily re-affixed with clear industrial tape.  Recent rain in our area, however, caused that tape to shrivel up, inciting Dad’s harassment about their ugliness.  I subsequently had trouble locating just the specific new covers needed, without spending hundreds of dollars replacing both mirrors as well.

I also struggled to coordinate my own daily tasks while fitting in the demands of other family members. Mom and our housekeeper burdened me with a never-ending stream of groceries to pick up and errands to run; Dad wanted to tag along and have a meal out either beforehand or afterward, then mess up the clarity of my mind by pressuring me to follow his whims.

The start of each year was also the time when all family members got our annual doctors’ checkups.  While I coordinated all of these appointments around my work schedule, Mom & Dad both tried to dictate times of day I performed various tasks, and, on outings, the timing of each segment of our trips.  I had difficulty guarding my own time for reading, writing, and trips to the library and gym – priorities important to my state of mind, but superfluous to my parents’ mindset.

Meanwhile, some new regulations implemented at work in December caused some supervisors to give me trouble about techniques I’d adapted to accommodate my short-term memory limitations.  Throughout the eight years I’d worked for this company, I’d mostly fended off complaints and dissatisfaction by giving in to others’ demands: trimming my work days from 3-4 days a week down to two, limiting my the tasks I performed while at work, enduring muscular aches and pains when office furniture didn’t fit me; moving to alternate desks within the building when the heater or air conditioning bothered me.  But now I was informed that the law allowed part-time workers such as myself no rest breaks throughout the day.  Even my lunch hour was cut in half.

To save time, I packed all of my lunches to eat at the office, and gobbled them up as quickly as I could.  But it still took closer to 40 minutes for me to finish them.  I was warned that if this continued, that extra time was going to be deducted from my paycheck.

Then, during the work day, whenever I my memory got stuck, I was reprimanded for browsing some non-work-related sites on the Internet, then for reading a few personal emails I’d forwarded to the office from home, and even for flipping through a book that I’d checked out from the library. The law, I was told, did not allow part-time workers any breaks during the work day.

I finally said, “Okay, I don’t know whether you are aware of another law that applies to me: it’s called the Americans with Disabilities Act, passed by Congress in 1990.  It requires that all employers provide reasonable accommodations for employees.”

At that point, I was told that no action can be taken until they received verification from my doctor.

At a subsequent appointment, I handed my family doctor a full outline of the points I wanted him to cover in his letter.  He was very supportive, and his righteous indignation on my behalf soothed much of my own sense of wrongness.


But then Dr. Lin was out of the office with the flu for two weeks, while I continued to receive pressure at work.  Next, his promised letter arrived without his signature on it, and was rejected by my supervisor.  At my subsequent phone call, the receptionist wouldn’t let me speak to the doctor, telling me this was now a matter between him and my employer only.

Shortly after, I was driving home from work one afternoon when a big semi-truck on my right moved into my lane without leaving enough room between our vehicles, scratching up both the front and back passenger doors and completely breaking off my right door mirror in the process.  The semi driver failed to stop at all; I followed the vehicle until it turned into a parking lot a few blocks away.  Then he claimed that I was at fault for not seeing that I had his turn signal on.

The driver gave me his personal driver’s license and his phone number, but in my frazzled state of mind, I hadn’t thought to ask for his vehicle registration, nor jot down the license plate of the semi he was driving.  At home, I had to fend off criticism on this omission from both my mom and the insurance agent who took my report over the phone.

Mom wailed in despair that she was already plagued by foot pain and bad eyesight, but trouble just kept coming.  I fended off her waves of negativity by concentrating on scheduling repairs for my car; then ordering, picking up, and delivering parts to the repair shop using Mom’s car.  But I also had trouble cramming all new bits and pieces of information into my memory – and keeping portions of each incident from slipping and sliding in and out of my mind.

This is why my instincts tell me to keep my distance from all people, and to cut short all interactions: because it’s impossible for them to see my memory at work.

The closer I allow others to approach, the more they trample over the processes I’ve developed to accommodate these memory deficiencies.

Thus I resort to MY way of making sense of it all; taking into account how my long-term & short-term memories work:

  • Stay busy, and cut short all interactions by putting distance between myself and others
  • Allow words to surface – use them to pin down all experiences, then identify the causes behind them
  • Organize these points through writing – in order to successfully affix them into long-term memory
  • Effectively restore balance to my state of mind

And finally, follow the advice from one of the many books on writing I’d collected over the years:

“To have a writing life you have to do two things: Withdraw.  Focus.”

–Heather Sellers

Page After Page, p. 66

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