One of the well-known and oft-documented side effects of dealing with the loss of close family members is loss of mental focus. You just can’t get it together to read anything or make anything. In fact, your risk of accidents goes way up, because you just cannot focus, not even to save your own life. If you’re an artist, you find it impossible to do what you used to be able to do easily. Everything your attempt just feels like wading through treacle. Above all, your mind feels that way, too – sludgy and turgid.
If your day job requires concentration and focus, you’ll find that you use up whatever focus you are able to summon simply doing your work. Afterwards, you’ll have none left for your art, or anything else, practically. This is why my blog posting times are not quite as consistent as might be ideal. In fact, they’re tending toward the somewhat erratic, at the moment. I know it, but I can’t help it.
It seems to me that you can only focus on what you care about and the problem with caring about things, especially creating things, is that it all comes with a certain amount of inbuilt emotional pain and struggle. When you are already at your maximum pain quotient, you just don’t have the ability or capacity to take on any more pain voluntarily, so you avoid it. That manifests as lack of focus. You just can’t tolerate any more hurt.
I’ve seen it called emotional jetlag. You’re just not in the same zone as everybody else. Emotionally, you are out of sync with the world you live in. Perhaps you just exist, for the moment. Existing might be the best you can do.
At times, it seems like nothing and nobody can soothe the hurt. Whereas the immersion in the process of making your art once had the power to transport you to a more pleasant place, now it fails utterly to do so. There’s no escaping the sheer heartbreak. Art is no longer a way out.
If you have lost your focus, due to a loss or bereavement, I think it is important that you not judge yourself harshly for being dazed, confused, and preoccupied. You must be gentle with yourself. There is absolutely nothing to be gained by hammering yourself for being normal and human. If you’re not focusing, that’s what you’d expect to be happening, under the circumstances, wouldn’t you? The inability to concentrate is the single most common of all responses to loss.
While it is intellectually accurate to tell yourself that “life goes on,” many grievers have a hard time participating in life at all, so life “goes on” without them. It’s even less helpful if people around you, struggling as they are to deal with your emotional state, tell you that life goes on by way of attempting to “snap you out of it”. Of course, you know it to be true, but as a piece of information, it is of no practical use to you whatsoever, when you are in this state. If anything, it just causes you to withdraw even more.
So, my feeling is that you should do what you can, whenever you feel you can do something, and then give yourself a break when you cannot. You don’t need to keep busy. In fact, keeping busy may be the very worst thing, for you. When you’re already distracted, why compound that with still more distraction? Sometimes, the quiet, meditative state, in which you do nothing, in particular, is the most soothing.
It’s a miracle that you can focus at all, when you’ve experienced a significant loss, so even if it’s in short bursts, be glad that you have even those moments of productive lucidity. There’s no reason why you should be productive and motivated at all. Lower your high expectations of yourself. The passage of time and taking care of yourself, gently, are what will help most. There’s nothing to be gained by forcing your way through the pain and distraction, demanding focus from yourself, when that’s a completely unreasonable expectation.
Create when you can. Forgive yourself when you can’t. Do things you used to enjoy and trust that, little by little, the joy will return. In increments and gradually, perhaps, but that’s where healing is to be found. This, too, shall pass. Unresolved emotions eventually resolve.
That’s what they tell me, anyway.