Erin's Journals

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Just a Thought… “Hey, you ever walk into a room and forget why you’re there?”

“Yeah, it’s why I’m no longer a firefighter.” [Add your own rimshot!]

[Author Unknown] 

You can watch a video version of this journal on my Facebook page, or here on YouTube.

Sometimes you read something and it sticks with you in such a big way that you start telling your friends about it. Well, since my circle of friends is a dot, I’m going to tell you, because you’re my friend, too, right? And it’s about something we all do. Maybe you did it today; there’s even a name for it.

How often do you walk into a room and all of a sudden you blank on what it is you went in for? I know that sounds like the start of a lame observational comedy bit; there are a million jokes about it and if they’re not making fun of illness, they’re usually funny because they hit home.

So about that story (I didn’t forget where I was going) the New York Times and BBC have both done articles on just that thing. It’s called The Doorway Effect and here’s a link if you’re interested. 

Not only does it explain why this happens, but it may colour in some of the pieces of the artwork that is our intricate, amazing brain.

So let’s put it this way: we have three categories of things we are doing in a day. The person explaining it likens it to:

1. Putting a brick on top of another, again and again.

2. Planning to build a wall.

3. That wall is going to be a cathedral.

So here’s a scenario: you’re going upstairs to find your car keys. That’s #1. That’s the brick. The wall, or #2 is that you need the keys to take a trip. And #3 is that you have to get to school on time to pick up the kids, or get to work, or remember what you have to buy at the grocery store. That, my friend, is the cathedral.

The way our minds move from the simple (getting the keys) to the complex (figuring out which way the traffic will be best as you head downtown) is how we carry out complicated actions. How we layer all those bricks – keys + car + task completed successfully – that’s how we are able to carry out our day-to-day chores.

So The Doorway Effect is our minds moving from one to three to two to three back to one and so on. It’s a complex set of dance steps that the healthy mind is usually ready to d0, but throw in a monkey wrench like “Why did he leave the bathroom light on?” or “What pants were those keys in?” and suddenly you’re off track. Your whole wall starts to shake because that one brick wasn’t nestled in quite right.

Is this making sense? I’m not a psychologist – I don’t even watch one on TV – but for me, a light did go on when I read the story. It’s why I can be pausing a TV show when I find some spiky hair on my face where it shouldn’t be and I need tweezers, but when I get to the hallway, I’m suddenly wondering what I got up for, while also worrying about whether Elliot Stabler is in trouble with the mob on the show I just paused. Then “Squirrel!” (as Doug the dog says in the movie UP!) and there goes my train of thought.

The Doorway Effect: we enter a different room, we change the physical and mental environments we were in, and suddenly the thoughts that were with us in the previous room evaporate.

If you’re like me and you question your sanity nearly every day, this could provide some answers. It’s why after two years of wearing a mask, I STILL get out of the car at the grocery store with mine sitting comfortably, not on my nose, but on the gearshift in the car. When I got out of the car, I was thinking of the parking spot Rob chose, the nearest cart or the thing I forgot to put on the list that I have to remember…and the mask got left behind.

Especially these days, it’s important to cut yourself some slack while keeping your mind sharp where you can. When I was first getting sober again, I would tape Jeopardy, watch the show, and then watch it again to see how many answers I remembered. That was a good exercise. Sudoku. The new Wordle craze. Crosswords. Whatever works for you.

Just know it’s not entirely you. Yes, if you suspect you’re forgetting more than usual, or if you have a family history of dementia or Alzheimer’s, of course, don’t just brush it off. But remember: we’re all going through a lot.

Pay attention, but know that with our lack of social interaction and sleep, increased stress and all of the compounding factors – including depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder – there can be a lot of reasons for the bike chains in our brains to slip once in a while. As in all things that challenge us, you are not alone.

Have a lovely weekend, final one in January – we’re getting there – and I’ll be back with you here on Monday.

Rob WhiteheadThursday, January 27, 2022