Attention & Multitasking Issues With MS: Where Did The Time Go?

What am I doing? What time is it? What day is it? What’s going on? These questions suddenly race through my brain as I’m overcome by a wave of confusion. I reach for my phone to check the time and realize it’s at least three hours later than I expected it to be. Where did the time go? This is a scenario that plays itself out almost constantly for me. I’m at a point in my life with MS right now where I can’t seem to go a single day without feeling like I’ve lost track of time and not understanding where that time went or what I’ve been doing.

Attention & multitasking

Yes, I get it, many people will enter a room and forget why they are there, I do too and I assure you this is different. To me, this seems like it has more to do with the overwhelming number of cognitive issues I’ve encountered over my years with MS. Issues with my attention span, which at times almost seems non-existent, certainly play in to this issue. In fact, I normally encounter this time gap when I try to multitask: something I used to pride myself on, but in recent years simply can’t attempt without failing.

A hive of productive activity

I once loved to multitask! I felt I was extremely effective at it, too (I think most people do). As a software engineer, I had three massive monitors, with every inch of screen space utilized by something I would work with throughout the day. I very much thrived in this environment too. I would get into a groove and feel unstoppable. Writing and testing new code, answering emails, messaging with my staff, reading up on new technology trends, seemingly all at the same time. My desk was a hive of productive activity. Until it wasn’t.

Leaving my career

As time went on and I suffered relapse after relapse, I slowly began to have difficulties with multitasking. By the time I ended up leaving my career (because of cognitive issues like this), I required using just a small laptop with one window open. Any distraction at all, would often mean starting over. That’s sort of where I am at today, unable to focus on multiple things at once. Unable to stop focusing on one item to check on another, without the risk of losing any progress I had made.

Where does the time go?

I honestly don’t know where all the time goes, but I’m pretty sure a lot of it comes from the scenario I just explained. I’ll be doing something, could be laundry, washing the dishes, working on a LEGO set, answering comments on, or any of the common tasks that I do in a week. Something will distract me, even a random thought in my head, and I will become confused and have to start my task over.

Mentally get reset

Even if it’s a physical task like doing laundry, I still mentally get reset, and have to think it all through again. What’s the situation? What steps have I already done? What do I do next? It’s not like I am distracted and can come right back to something. That’s the issue - I get distracted, and in my head, have to start over, and try to repeat the thought process in my head. That repeated starting over, I think, is where I lose a lot of my time. If I get distracted enough, suddenly a simple task that should have taken half an hour, now has stretched into multiple hours. Because I mentally start over though, it doesn’t feel like it has taken that amount of time, and that’s what leaves me so baffled.

What do I do about it?

This is something I struggle with constantly, however, I do take steps to prevent it, primarily by avoiding distractions as much as possible. I try not to multitask much. I attempt to isolate myself for the tasks that require it (for example, if I am writing something like this, I have only this up on my computer, I have the room as dark as possible, and I have a fan on as sort of a background white noise in an effort to block out any other sudden noises. I also keep my cell phone in another room when I try to write). Like most MS symptoms, the best way to help yourself is to learn about yourself. Try to recognize what distracts you, try to understand your limits. Knowing that you have limits isn’t a bad thing, it allows you to plan for them and overcome them. That’s what I try to do.

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