For many, one of the worst symptoms of Fibromyalgia is ‘Brainfog’. An inability to think clearly which leaves us embarrassed, vulnerable and sometimes scared. Not being able to remember, or understand clearly what’s going on around you can leave you feeling lost and hopeless. But it might be more normal than you think, given what’s going on around us.
Ask yourself this question: How many people are likely to want your attention today? Ten? Twenty? Fifty, maybe? That might be all the people you encounter face to face, but in truth it barely scratches the surface.
When you leave the house you will be swamped. Are you driving? Think about all the pedestrian crossings, other cars, road signs, traffic at junctions and roundabouts, indicators, brake lights, traffic lights? As soon as you get in your car the demands on your attention are changing second by second.
What about the shops? Bright signs wanting to grab your attention so they can tell you who they are, what they’ve got, why you need it and what it costs.
After all, “Your life will be emptier than a hermit’s address book without a PO490 Techno Bloaterburger! Get royally stuffed with a delicious cheesy topping for £49.99!”
And this is just the stuff you’re walking or driving past. Go on the internet for an hour and you’ll see another hundred or so ads. Sidebar ads. Popup ads. Little boxes wanting you to sign up so they can invade your inbox with some more.
Then, when you get home, there’s the telly. At the moment in the UK there are only a few channels which do not carry ads. The rest are commercial, which is fine. They would not be able to operate without this revenue and we would not be able to put the kettle on without missing something. Nonetheless, they are all designed to grab your attention and keep you staring at the TV. Grab after grab after grab.
And I haven’t even mentioned the shows themselves. Filled with action, drama, and excitement to keep you curious and stimulated to the end. The classic example is Soap Operas. They are the original television attention grabber.
Yes, but so what? It’s just a few adverts, isn’t it?
No. It isn’t. It’s much more organised than that.
The Attention Bureau
Did you know that Facebook hires Consultants called Attention Managers? Their job is to make sure that you respond to their advertising in the most efficient and profitable manner. And believe me, they are very far from being the only ones. All the major advertizers and message sellers employ these tactics.
Attention Management is big business. I mentioned Facebook earlier but they are just a tiny part of this global industry. Attention Management focuses on both an individual level and a collective one, targeting whole social groups when required.
It can operate in what’s called quasi-real-time, which is sort of like from now to the next few hours or so. Or it can operate over the longer term. This can be weeks or months depending on what they want you to do. Which is usually to buy or subscribe to something.
The truth is, every minute of your waking day, your attention is being taken from you by someone who wants to profit from it. It’s called ‘The Attention Economy’ and I promise you I am not making this up. Search for it on the web. It has rapidly expanded since the explosion of social and internet-base media.
And it’s all about You.
The Attention Economy regards Human attention as a commodity and its approach is based on two principles:
1. Your attention is a resource
2. You only have a limited amount
Because of this, companies, corporations, political organizations are all spending fortunes trying to get your attention before someone else does. And before it runs out.
And it will run out.
Paying attention costs you. It costs you more than you realize. The situation I described above is highly stressful, not least because it leaves you unable to control anything that’s going on around you.
This in turn creates more stress and more distraction. When we allow this to continue unchecked for years we have ‘burnout’. A total inability to cope with anything for fear of the overwhelming stress.
And burnout can hit everyone, not just the ‘High Flyers’. Executives and home-makers alike, single parents unable to cope, or young people, so bombarded with images, messages and ‘rules for life’ that they don’t know which way is up anymore.
When we’re already struggling with ‘Fibrofog’, all of these constant invasions can overwhelm us. Worse than that, they make us feel as though it’s our fault. That we’re inadequate. It isn’t and we aren’t. We are being manipulated into this condition by Big Business, the Media, and everyone else who wants a piece of us.
Your attention is worth more than Gold. Quite literally, when you consider how much these corporations are paying to get hold of it. It is precious and it is yours.
So let’s start looking after it.
At the monthly group meetings I usually hold a Mindful Awareness session. The reason I’m so passionate about these sessions is that it is a really simple way to start looking after your mental health. And the ‘Awareness’ part of it is there to help you take it into everyday life, not just the ten minutes you are sitting down.
It’s simple because it’s actually something you already do. Everything you experience comes through your attention. So once you learn to manage it, you take control of your life. You choose. And choosing what to give your attention to means not letting the ‘Mind-Raiders’ take over.
- Choosing what to experience and what to ignore
- Choosing to be more aware of your self
- Being able to experience the moments YOU want to
- Being present with people you care about (and that includes you!)
- Not being dragged into fear and stress by people you don’t even know
Mindful Awareness isn’t difficult. Yes, you need to practice it regularly, but the technique is really quite simple. Why not come along to a couple of meetings and find out. It isn’t a cure for Brainfog. But it is a way through it. And, just as with life, it’s the small steps which keep us moving forward.
Yours, in kindness,
(The original version of this article appeared on The Gestalt Therapy Website)
Chris Pilling is a Psychotherapist working on the Isle of Wight