“So the first step of the strategy is “Preview”. That’s where you scan over the information you want to remember, and get an idea of what will be covered”. My new speech language pathologist points to the appropriate section in the instructions as she speaks.
I frown at her statement, uncertain. “When you say preview, what do you mean? What exactly do you want me to do? In truth, these days I mostly look at the pictures to find out what an article is about.”
“You’ll scan the information; just look through it briefly and get a general idea of the content.”
That’s when I realize the problem – something I have never put into words before, something that I haven’t even really been aware of until this moment. “I don’t scan through writing; I can’t scan anymore. It’s either a bunch of unreadable lines or I have to fully commit my attention and read it in detail.”
We talk on, but part of me stops there. Is that true? Is that really true? I can’t scan through writing anymore? Well, I don’t. I definitely don’t. I didn’t really realize it, but I don’t. No wonder letting any information in is so frikkin laborious. I have to commit all my attention to it. I can’t just casually scan through an article like I use to, deciding if it is worth my full attention. I have to commit. The reading switch is either on or off, there is no middle ground.
Did I do this to myself? Is this one of those moment when my compensatory strategy actually gets in the way of me functioning? I rigorously control what information I take in. I usually keep myself on a tight leash out in the world. I choose to see or not see. I choose to read or not read. I do this to avoid getting overwhelmed, which happens so easily now. I also do it to preserve my energy, my precious cognitive ability. But could I be undercutting another ability, that ability to scan, by my rigid on/off choices of processing information?
Later that night, I test myself. I challenge myself to scan through an article in the paper.
Damn. I sigh. It’s just letters before I choose to read it. I recognize it as writing, and individual letters, but not as individual words. And when I attempt to loosen my focus but not move to reading mode, it remains opaque and unknowable.
So I try for something less than reading, but more than scanning. My grade school teacher was very clear that the first sentence of every paragraph should summarize or highlight the main point of that paragraph. So how about I just read the first sentence of each paragraph?
And I do. And it goes like this. I find the first sentence of the article. Focus, open my mind, read it. I use the visual cue of the gap between the paragraphs to hook onto the first sentence of the second paragraph. While switching between the two paragraph, the words are a blur, unreadable. Then I focus, open my mind, commit my energy, and read the beginning of the second paragraph. After, I feel myself reigning my awareness back in, folding up my ability to read and switching to visual cue mode where I identify the beginning of the next paragraph. Focus, open, commit, read. And again, withdraw, close, switch modes to visual cue. Over and over again.
Weird. So Weird. And a hell of a lot of energy.
I know this is not how I use to do things, so rigidly, so regimented. This is definitely not scanning for content nor major themes. This is truncated reading, and not very pleasant. And – minor complaint here – the first sentence of these paragraphs do not convey the heart of the article, I expect. Or the article is so disjointed it makes no sense.
It is amazing, on some level, that I have gone 4 ½ years and not realized my ability to scan through writing has been missing. I suppose it is another one of those basic and fundamental skills that is so ingrained since childhood we aren’t even aware when we use them. It does makes sense of some of the struggles I have had since my first mTBI.
I use to love filling out forms. Now, hate forms. Light bulb moment – it’s because I can’t just glance over a form and figure out the important parts, or what it is about. I have to laboriously read it in it’s entirety instead.
I am also very limited on what I read on the internet, articles and such. Now I realize it might be partly because I have to commit to reading every article completely and seriously… and most internet articles just don’t deserve that level of attention. That cuts down on the number of topics I can casually check out, and also increases how much energy it takes me to engage with them. Wow.
And the paperwork in my life. I just recently gained Medicare coverage, and both the government and my new prescription plan sent me lots of papers. Lots of papers. I read the Welcome to Medicare pamphlet they sent from front to back. Every word. Not something I would have bothered to do in my previous life Then, I would have just glanced through it and left it at that, confident I got the important bits.
My inability to scan the written word must contribute to why I feel insecure about official information I read. I assumed it was because of my now less-than-stellar memory, and my concern that my brain wasn’t processing the information correctly. Now, I realize part of it is also that I fear I’m missing something, something important, because I can’t scan all the information. If something isn’t in bold, highlighted, or written in some other way to make it stand out, I might miss it.
I wonder why I’m not able to scan right now, and if it will return. I expect it will. I vaguely remember scanning articles once or twice, on good days, sometime in the last year or so. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know, but I feel like it is. That means it’s just a very peak ability for me right now, not lost. Probably, as my energy improves and my cognitive ability is on a more stable foundation, it will become part of my life again. That will be convenient, when (if?) it happens. A small tool, but a powerful one. Certainly one worth having in my toolbox.