Concentration

We first began having significant issues with my youngest daughter when she was in eighth grade: that was when we first began experiencing the out of control rage, a symptom of—we later learned—bipolar disorder. That was four years ago, and the amount of time and focus that she has required rose with each passing day, week, month and year. There were periods of time in there when it seemed as if things were improving, and other periods when it seemed as if all was lost.

One consistency in it all has been how it has sucked energy from me. I remember when I had time to do more than exist, when I could focus my attention for long stretches on writing, reading, or hobbies.. Now, I find it hard to manage to focus my attention for longer than fifteen minutes at a stretch. To a large extent, this is a consequence of having my day interrupted that often by requests from my daughter, whom I spend every day with from the time she awakens until the time she goes to sleep. I make her meals. I fix the minor crises that confront her. She is on independent study for her schooling, because she cannot now manage being in a traditional classroom. This means that I must help her with her school work, answering questions, supervising her as she takes online tests and quizzes, explaining the things she can’t understand, sometimes over and over again.

And so I sit here at my computer, except during the times I’m trying to help her, doing my best to focus on my tasks and finding my mind distracted with the chaos around me. I want to work on my books—I have three novels and two non-fiction books that I’m attempting to write; they are in various stages of rewriting, some barely past the first draft, one that I’m just trying to get past the first chapter. I find it hard to do much more than just sit here. I used to have hobbies, but I find myself unable to make time for them. I try reading, and it’s hard for me to stay interested. I don’t even watch television much. If I spend even an hour during the week watching something it’s been an extraordinary week. The best I can manage for attention now is to sometimes flip from website to website, or to stare at Facebook without comprehending what I’m seeing.

I still manage to do my work and to function. Somehow I get blog posts up every day, write a newspaper column every week, and make some progress, however minimal, in writing the books I’m trying to finish. And I do manage to read a book or two each month. Which may seem like a lot, but I used to read that many in a week and often more. I remember when I used to write three or four novels each year—finish them—which meant I would do three first drafts and be working on rewriting two or three others all at the same time. And somehow, along with that, I was pursuing my hobbies: I like building and flying model rockets, playing with model trains, collecting stamps and coins. I enjoy hiking. And I’d be reading books and keeping up on the daily newspaper, reading magazines, and keeping up on the journals in my field of specialization. And I’d still have time to spend with my wife and kids, watch some TV, and attend the occasional movie—while also teaching Sunday school each week.

How is it that I can’t do all that now? There are still the same number of hours in the day. But now, why can’t I focus, why can’t I concentrate? Is it the stress of my daughter’s mental illness? Has it really taken that much of a toll on me?

I’m not really sure.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm a deacon at Quartz Hill Community Church. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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