Task List

I drag myself upstairs to my bedroom. All I can think of is collapsing onto the bed and burrowing under the covers. I can see it in my mind, I can almost feel the soft sheets, the weight of the comforter. I stumble into the bathroom, pee, brush my teeth, I’m too weary to floss. I walk into my room, shedding shoes, socks, pants, and bra on my way to bed, and fall onto the covers.

Just as my head hits the pillow, a disturbing thought plops into the still waters of my mind and sets waves in motion. My task list! I haven’t finished my task list! But I’m too tired. But it’s on your list. You have to do it. But I can’t, I just can’t.

Ever since the surgeries, I’ve had trouble initiating tasks. This is an affliction common to many brain injury survivors. It is similar to procrastination in the sense that the outcome is the same—things don’t get done. Though not a habitual procrastinator, I did my fair share of procrastinating before the surgeries and I still do. This bloody brain related trouble I have with getting started on new tasks feels completely different.

Before the surgeries, if I’d just completed a big project such as weaving yardage or writing a grant proposal, occasionally I had trouble getting started on anything new, like knitting a pair of socks or preparing lecture notes. Sometimes it was a matter of hours before I could shift gears, other times it took days. But I always knew that I’d eventually get to it. What I deal with now is an extreme version of that. Instead of happening occasionally, it occurs fairly frequently, and it often lasts much longer, sometimes years. There are a few tasks that even though deep down inside, I know I will get to, from past experience I suspect Inever will.

I feel as if there is something blocking me mentally from approaching a new task, not because I’m not in the mood, nor because I’m too tired, and not necessarily because it’s something boring or distasteful. It doesn’t even matter whether it’s a large or a small project—it seems to strike at random and lastsfor random periods of time.

Because I know with complete certainty that I will get to these tasks, it is often difficult to identify problematic ones. In some cases it has taken me several months to realize that I’m having trouble getting to a particular task.

Once I identify the culprit I have a strategy to conquer it, to move past the blockade. As my neuropsychologist suggested, I put together a daily task list, and in my daily planner I mark a chunk of time for each task. In order to ensure that the list is not so overwhelming I’ll ignore it completely, I put no more than two items on it and I divide larger tasks into manageable sub-tasks.

It works fairly well. Since the surgeries I have also become more rigid in my mindset; not horribly so, but enough to guarantee that I feel compelled to follow the rules: if a task is on the list and marked in my planner, I have to apply myself to it.

I lie in bed, my limbs heavy, my head parked in the dent in my pillow. Deeply distressed, I argue back and forth: I have to complete the task, it’s on the list, but I can’t, I’m wiped out.

Finally, I surrender to the fatigue. On the brink of sleep, a revelation rolls through me—I can just add the unfinished task to tomorrow’s list.