Getting Lost in the Hyperfocus

Back in December, I touched on hyperfocus and adult ADHD, or as I like to think of it: Getting Lost in the Hyperfocus. Maybe I can visit there with my TARDIS?

To reiterate, ADHD involves focal struggles, but the colloquial paradigm of focusing (snort) on focus problems unfairly turned those into The Biggest Deal. Of course fidgeting and/or the glassy-eyed ceiling stare easily captures someone else’s attention (snort 2). But those cliched examples overshadow the primary long-term challenge for an ADHD brain, executive function: defined as neurocognitive processes that maintain an appropriate problem-solving set to attain a later goal.

Let’s focus (puns, like them I do) on my personal Top 4 of ADHD Life Challenges: stabilizing focus; the details are gonna get ya; getting lost in the hyperfocus; and executive function (e.g., Do you have a Plan?).

Examples are good, right? As an aside, why do all uterus-clenching bad dreams climax at 3am?

Anyway.

Consider the subconscious-driven, Poe-worthy, eyelid-screen-playing terrors that yank you from sleep, leaving behind a pounding heart, clenched fists, and the childish need to GET YOUR FEET UNDER THE SHEET. Eventually you go back to sleep, certain to remember each detail; after all the writer recognizes that horror as an urban fantasy goldmine.

Morning arrives, coffee is poured on your hand in your cup, and you sit to begin documentation on the masterpiece that will seal your yoga-pants wearing future. You find… nothing… but a vague imprint of terror. The details, completely gone.

Now what? Do you drink your coffee and try harder to recall the dream details? Do you free write? Did you even grab a pencil? Most people sitting down to write would have grabbed pencil and paper, yes?

By the time you’ve found something other than crayon to use on a surface other than construction paper, you wasted the remainder of the morning.

What if life found you lost, unprepared, and feeling moronic? Every day, at least once, sometimes more? Please note, it’s not the high-level stuff that makes me feel stupid; it’s the being overwhelmed by permission slips, purchasing postage stamps, and commas.

Hyperfocus Medical Dictionary

Yet cooking with Small People stresses me out to the point of sweating and hand-flapping.

So yeah, getting lost in the hyperfocus looks damning from an outsider’s point of view. Starting a new novel at 11pm and continuing to read for 4 hours represents both a choice, and an executive planning fail.

In reality, a vital part of my internal defense system ties into the laser-like tunnel-vision of hyperfocus. And my semi-neurotic list creation. The alarm I program in warning for an upcoming reminder.

Since I can’t wear headphones all day, I use hyperfocus to block the trivial annoyances (itchy bra tag, sand in my socks, humming light bulb, someone chewing gum) that stealth bomb my focus with their Distraction Drones.

Tragically, most coping mechanisms include a flip side. For example, three rooms away my oldest child reads to his brother. My husband types. Outside of my window, sleet pings against the metal gutter. But one sound– the sniff, sniff, SNIFF of someone’s running nose rattles through all the rest until I’m screaming, “BLOW YOUR NOSE”.

Starting and Stopping

I feel Newton and his first Law of Motion nailed the issue of executive function and hyperfocus.

Requiring yourself to level up to hyperfocus to finish tasks with more than 4 stops? The inability to halt an obviously destructive path?

Meet my arch-nemesis, Inertia. Getting started sucks, but wait– stopping sucks more.

I don’t love that part of my ADHD. Nor do any of the non-ADHD people interacting with me on a regular basis. For the longest time (oh, like 9 years) it never occurred to me that my hyperfocus-induced tendency to procrastinate affected my husband. He’s certainly not going to sew 25 seat cushions for the kindergarten. Alright, fair point– never would he accidentally volunteer to sew 25 seat cushions.

But guess who’s on the hook for everything else while I sob over my seam ripper? Whoopsy.

My favorite thing about having typically-brained (well, not ADHD-brained) spouse? Patience. He’ll sit for an hour to activate my new cell phone, because the idea of waiting that long on the phone? Shudder.

Muter. He’s learned how to navigate away from the default setting of being my Personal Brain Dump Receptor. My increased empathy definitely sprouted from being on the karmatic other side with my 6 year old, but still.

All of my successful long-term relationships include a person comfortable enough with asking that I shut up for a minute.

I make JB “talk more than anyone else. ever.” In return he stops my Verbal Vomit Faucet.

Balance. Important, that.

NaBloPoMo February 2013

This post was written in participation of Blogher’s NaBloPoMo February 2013.

How to Laugh at Yourself

My headphones delivered the loud BING of an incoming text message right about the same time I began to suspect I was lost.

I carefully shifted my vibrams to my left hand, so as not to dump out the shells I had collected, and…

What? Wet barefoot running shoes don’t make for happy feet, but it doesn’t mean they can’t perform an admirable impression of a happy bucket.

read the incoming message from my husband: “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, got distracted by some shells at the tidal pool. Be back shortly.”

I was peripherally aware that the tidal pool was less than a half mile from our hotel, having mapped out my intended running route earlier in the day.

Twenty minutes later my post-partum bladder upgraded its urgency alert from mild to severe prompting me to send another text.

“Can you go out on the balcony and look for me?”

Several minutes of -“can you see me now”- and he determined that I had missed both our hotel and its loud hip-hop-party-hosting neighbor.

By about a mile.

One would assume that walking from beach to hotel, then hotel to beach, more than twice a day for 3 days would have imprinted the building on my brain.

Wrong

Or maybe I noticed the bright red boat that had spent the day anchored 200 yards off-shore directly across from our room.

Nope

All I could do (continue to do) is laugh at myself. I can even applaud my response as a positive character trait after reading the findings from a small research study that suggests that “laughing at oneself may be the foundation for a good sense of humor”.

Note: “How to Laugh at Yourself” is going to part of a regular series where I share my embarrassing ADHD moments and how they taught me not to take my mistakes (or myself) too seriously. I hope y’all enjoy them!

Being ADHD is

There are benefits, you know.

Having an amazing idea

    and forgetting where you wrote it down, only to find that napkin scrap several years later. And keeping it because the idea is still amazing.

Never having an inside-the-box thought

    Often this totally rocks, except when it rolls instead.

Remembering to activate your brand new ATM card

    Then one Thursday, just purging the PIN number you’ve used for 3 years. True story– and I’ve done this twice. However, the second time I just waited until it came back to me– a month later.

Yearning for an organized and orderly house like some women crave fitting into their skinny jeans.

    Spending a small country’s GDP on plastic storage boxes, label makers, and other assorted organizing paraphernalia. Only to lose the box lids, and run out of labels. But then you discover modge-podge, think of the shoe boxes, and all is right with the world again. (See above regarding boxes).

Remembering the thoughtful letter you plan to write that special person: at a stoplight, in the grocery store line, while hiding in the bathroom, during planned quality time with your kid.

    but never, ever while you are surfing failblog.

Staying up way too late. Every. Single. Night.

    Of course you wake up in a piss-foul mood every morning. That’s the logical result of being awake until 2am, you dumbass. But those night hours? So quiet. My brain craves that quiet, but my mouth won’t listen if anyone else is awake. So here we are.

Thinking that you can make a scary ghost Halloween decoration from a milk jug, and old window sheer.

    C’mon now– isn’t that what a ghost used to be, before retail stores? And, ha– guess when I started (and forgot about) this post, hunh?

Never getting around to tossing the old kitchen cabinets.

    Eventually turning them into storage unit/bookshelf for the kids’ room.

Believing you are capable of remodeling two bathrooms with very little professional help. Convincing husband of the same.

    Not only doing it, but also learning proper propane torch procedures. And quickly learning what a water leak looks like from the basement; since you didn’t level the toilets– as clearly stated in the instructions you only sorta read.

Thinking on Friday that it would be cool to paint your kitchen cabinets, and then starting on Monday.

    Listen, the only way to move forward is to stop hesitating. I excel at moving forward.

Randomly deciding to sign up for a half marathon, despite previously having a “no running unless being chased philosophy”.

    Not getting bummed (or quitting) when you pulled a butt muscle. And, just yesterday, hitting the 6.5 mile mark AND still being able to walk today.

It’s not a perfect life– but it’s a good one.

DIY Christmas Tree Memory Ornament

So, I’ve mentioned my obsession with pinterest, right? Any website that directs me to a place where I learn how to fold an origami box

for a ridiculously large pool noodle wreath AND how to do an overnight sock curl for my hair? This is my place.

Ha. Place. Like the internet is a tangible world. /Wait? It isn’t?/

So, I’ve had 16 clear glass ornaments for 3 years. I bought them on clearance during my E postpartum hormone binge. They then found their way onto that high closet shelf where my ideas go to wither and die. But these didn’t die– instead I would spuriously rediscover them every January. Until last January’s discovery, where a perfect storm of cleaning and ADHD medication prompted me to actually go put them with the other holiday decorations. It’s the little things that seem the most obvious (and simple) that kick my butt every time.

JB is out of town, which means I should be all sad about being on-tap for the solo parenting gig, especially during the crazy psychosis period that is Small People Leading up to Any Major Holiday. But instead I gleefully spread all my crafty stuff, covering every flat surface in the house. The kids might mention the cramped (nonexistent) sitting space– but then I turned on Mario Kart for an hour to buy their silence.

I am not ashamed.

Last night, I stumbled upon marblized glass ornaments.

Boo-ya. Easy-peasy. Okay, mine still need some loving (practice) but, dude. How simple is this? SO.Simple. Theoretically a 5 year old could do it– if they could handle watching paint dry. Which they can’t.

Where it gets exciting for me was thinking to make ornaments for each Small Person and some of their yearly highlights/interests. I went ahead and did some for JB and I, too. New family tradition? Done. Advice? Use the plastic ornaments for this one– E broke his within 10 minutes of it hitting the tree.

Not all my crafty projects have been successes. I plain a “FAIL” post when I’m finally done. Now I either need to go to bed or attempt a Batman snowflake. Thanks, Cathi. Just thanks. :)

My First Half Marathon

Wait, let me say that again– Half. Marathon. Running. 13.1 Miles. Me, at 5’4 carrying 180 pounds of pure muscle leftover pregnancy fat. I’ve totally been running regularly have sporadically ran a mile.

That’s right, party people, Scattermom is going to be hoofing it in the Ramblin’ Rose 1/2 Marathon in October. Of this year.

Training and running a half marathon is totally on my Bucket List. That, by the way, was a huge, whooping lie. The only item currently on my Bucket List is to make a Bucket List. The Bucket List sounds so romantic. Sitting down, either alone, or with one’s partner, and detailing a plan for all this cool life experience. Me? I narrow my eyes at the romanticism, recognizing it for what it will become–yet another documentation of great ideas, unfulfilled, mocking me every time I clean out the drawer it’s been shoved in.

So if not a dreamt of goal, how exactly does one go from haphazardly running a mile here and there, to registering to run 13.1 miles?

1) Both Small People nap at the same time.
2) I waste most of that time on Facebook catch up on the lives of my close friends.
3) A good friend posts about registering to run.
4) I do a “whoot-whoot” and offer to wait at the end with a mimosa.
5) Next thing I know, Annie says, “hey, let’s be our own team and run it”.
6) I scoff for about 25 seconds, find out it’s not until October and before you can say, “Hey, did you take your afternoon dose of adderall”, I’m hitting submit on the entry form.

Then my dear, darling husband sparked my competitive streak by reacting with wide eyed amusement asking, “did you know how many miles that was before you paid” (No, but that’s NOT the point).

As I ran through my first mile in dunno-how-many months, I worked myself up to being obnoxiously excited. Six-ish years ago, I did a 5K– as a smoker, with a sprained ankle, in August. Being almost lapped by an 80 year old could have been embarrassing, but dissing on him would be ageism, and discrimination is wrong.

There are now several motivators, starting with:

Vanity

I do believe I turn 35 this month. Look, I’m not going to lie. I could shit-care-less about that number. Maybe there aren’t as many 3am party nights, but– you know what? There were many 3am– and beyond– party nights. My liver thanks me for being cool with not being in that place anymore. But what better way to say “fuck off middle age” than to set a crazy goal Right? With the power of a woman that can not hear Mom, MOM, MOOOMMMMYYY I’m ignoring the voice that keeps whispering about slot machines and strippers in Vegas. With age comes realism and all I can see is me, easily distracted by shiny objects, prone to impulsivity, in a pawn shop with a gaping whole where my extra kidney should be.

So maybe no to Vegas.

There are 30 more pounds to lose before reattaining Other Self status. And 40 before attaining the Bad Ass–as in, I could kick yours–Status that floats around my head during games of Chutes and Ladders.

I’ve enjoyed running, those rare times when it’s been a regular thing, because it’s quick, reasonably painless, cheap, and doesn’t require choreographed moves in a group class-setting. Drunk at a bar– I’m a rhythmic, gyrating fool. Routine fitness class– more pathetic, drooling buffoon. Running has a certain grace– if you can zone out.

And there my friends, is the clincher. I can run and let my mind wander off at its leisure. And, wow does it go some places, but that’s for another day. Today I just want to say thanks to my ADHD, as it occurs to me that my (dis)ability to make randomly impulsive decisions also works in my favor.

Now, off to spend some QT with Rammstein, Nine Inch Nails, Method Man and P!nk, pretending I’m training for a preternatural showdown, for which my latent powers are the only thing stopping total world annihilation.

What? You think about something else during exercise?

To Do Lists are for Forgetting

I make To Do lists so that I can forget what I need to get done. Yeah, I said it– what? Once upon a time I was so very responsible and organized (-ish). Why? Because back then Other Self had a paycheck that depended on not missing/messing up deadlines. Now I gracefully bow to my more anal-retentive friends (ahem- make fun of my accidental chili-ing of oatmeal, will ya!) who have a great need to have precise plans. Honestly, I love those people (and there are more than one of you in my life RIGHT NOW)– because even though I am capable of turning off my planner/Control Freak, I still like to know that someone trustworthy has mapped out the route. I can completely be cool with my forgetting the cheese…or the utensils–which I swore I packed and found on the kitchen table when we got home. And… for all of my control-needing friends– I am you for someone else in my life. All of you never-forgetting-important-things, if-I-need-20-extra-minutes-I-wake-up-earlier folks, take a moment and absorb that. Shocked? Or resentful? Or complimented that I believe so strongly in your abilities that I turn off my own only-child-ingrained need to be boss?
/But I only do this for the people that make a plan and then stick to it. You last minute plan-changers drive me completely bonkers and I trust you not at all./

My epiphany of I Write It to Forget It occurred this afternoon as I wrote another To Do list (often coinciding with long waits in places with the sign, “NO CELL PHONES”. Does surfing on your smart phone count as breaking that rule? No, seriously.) And since that list is on a scrap piece of paper that I dumped into a hobo bag full of other scraps of paper, diapers, and crushed cereal bars… Well, we all know what is going to happen to it, don’t we? The same thing that happened to my 2 hours worth of Home Depot/bathroom remodel research– that I wrote on the back of my grocery list. A list that, yup, I threw away. At.the.grocery.store.

Then there was that time I loaded all of my Really Important Tasks into the Astrid App for my droid–streamlining my life, right? Snort. Update blog design has been popping up to be ignored for oh, 8 months or so. Thank you note for the August Fire Station tour? I safely deleted that one. Like 10 minutes ago.

Or the Facebook wall post to a friend about getting pictures up soon, after realizing I’d forgotten to upload ones from a January playdate. I was making a joke-reference to college and how she used to have to harass me to get my film developed; equating “posting pictures on FB” to “developing a roll of film” (what, that’s not the same thing?). Bless her heart, she thought I meant getting the pictures printed. Egads– I haven’t actually printed a picture since…um… November 2009.

/bangs head/ Now, a good friend would print them. Especially a good friend who still hasn’t mailed an August 2010 birthday present. And it would fit nicely into my now 10 month overdue “make Z a friends’ photo album” task.

None of these To Do items are even that time intensive–to the average person. I could print the pictures as quickly as it would take me to upload them. Hell, if I used snapfish, I wouldn’t even have to leave my house to pick them up. But I couldn’t possibly just send the photos as-is without editing first. That’s like leaving the house without a bra.

Except it isn’t. But that, my dear friends, is where my personal Control Freak makes a mockery of any of your punctuality and remembering to bring cheese-type stuff. And as much as I love you all, my “blaming it on the ADHD” is not an just a convenient excuse. Any more than OCD, PPD, anxiety, or depression is “just an excuse”. I cannot take the dose of medication I need to attain optimal performance, because I need to be able to not tunnel in and focus. Those silly kids…and their occasional need for my un-tunneled attention. Which means I take just enough drugs to make sure I don’t forget one of them at the grocery store, or to give them their medications. And so that I remember to pay our bills– even though the dude at our water main with a wrench caused a bit of panic that had me looking for a paid receipt. Bet that doesn’t happen to you non-deficient attentioners.

That’s the problem with mental health though, hunh? If you can’t get a positive test for it, people think it’s not real. /shrug/ My husband, who has lived with me both on and off medication for more than a decade, can see the difference.

Maybe I’ll get the blog design updated this week. But it’s the first hint of spring out there, so I doubt it. Peace and Love Grease to you all, though!

Timers: not just for your kids

I assume that most parents have some concept of setting a timer to help illustrate and define time-limits for the Small People.

Well. If you lived in my house, that egg timer would apply to the adults, too. One evening, while my behavior was particularly Zach-esque– following Joel all over the the house, verbally regurgitating every scattered thought process– he reached over and set the egg timer for 15 minutes. When he turned back around, he quite matter-of-factly stated, “this is how much longer I’m going to listen before I go do something else.”

Life moments such as these make me wish Joel could download and print the images in his head, because I’d imagine that the look on my face was priceless indeed.

Shock, anger and annoyance– closely followed by realization, embarrassment, and acquiescence.

Now, I could have gathered unto myself all of the moral indignation of which I am so capable. However, deliverers of Blunt Truthiness need to tolerate receipt of Blunt Truthiness, too. So rather than pulpit-ize myself, I just nodded and said, “agreed”. I sometimes (okay, always) have a hard time making myself shut up if there are people in my sphere. And debating? Um…that’s why online debates are such a good forum for me–the act of hitting submit allows others the opportunity to “speak”.

I’m a talker. It’s been on every report card, progress report and performance review I’ve ever had. One boss even referred to me as grandiloquent, while totally missing the irony of his using that word to describe my writing style (though he was right–industrial writing is supposed to be boring).

One of the things I love the most about my husband (of 8 years, tomorrow) is that he can often recognize when I need to just shut up. Not that I always agree his assessment–turning on an egg timer during an argument, for example, has not worked out for him yet. But we used to joke about the potential utility in a socially-accepted Wrap it Up Box, back when our sleep deprivation was caused by choice and Comedy Central. Dave Chappelle, your comedic genius and astute social commentary is still very much missed.

Do other people finish things?

Like, do normal people actually finish things? Is my fantasy of this place where projects are completed and all of the stuff has a predesignated space just a myth. Are there more people like me, who have a dozen projects residing in either the plan or execute phase and–very rarely–the finished phase? Stuff makes me crazy. Disorder makes my brain hurt. Paying retail prices for just about anything makes stomach hurt. My heart aches over the creative things that I never get to, because it takes too long to shift, dig, and sort through all of the stuff.

I’d like to take this opportunity to blame my piles and unfinished-ness on my ADHD, thankyouverymuch. Impulse begets purchasing things that you aren’t ready to actually start yet. Random, creative thinking gives second lives to otherwise landfill-bound stuff. Which means that I have a hard time letting go of things.

And even as I cognitively realize that there are people who have control of their lives, I have to wonder if it is actually the norm. Mostly I just hope it’s not because that means I would actually be closer to normal.

For those of you that can actually take a package to the post office and mail it before the dust accumulates, well you’ll think I’m a moron. Whatever.

I have problems following a linear path even with the lines drawn out in the road. Well, here, let me try and explain with a recent example.

Since Memorial Day weekend, I’ve been in one of my “get rid of, put away, finish” things. I’ve been freecycling, craigslisting, and goodwilling. I started with the baby clothes in the basement. Which motivated me to clean out the playroom–they have too many toys, they can’t even decide what to play with. The storage system just wasn’t working, the cube idea is cute and all, but the bins don’t stay sorted. I upcycled one of our leftover cabinets from 2008’s kitchen makeover (of course I kept them! I might need it for something!) into a book shelf so I could switch over to the clear, plastic bins. My brain got away from me during the process and I ended up trying to make the bookshelf look like a house, but it just didn’t look right outside of my brain. The cabinet/shelf was fine though. Yes, I have pictures. Yes, I’m too lazy to get up and go download them off of the camera right now. I’ll post ‘em later.

By cleaning, sorting, and purging through too many toys, I reclaimed a line of wall space in my bedroom where two rubbermaid tubs had become toy boxes. But three little projects before I finished the playroom, I got distracted and started cleaning through the piles in the bedroom. And, once again, before I was done with either the playroom or the bedroom, I decided to clean out the top of the boys’ bedroom closet. Until yesterday, that closet space was the home to several random glass antiques, a broken coo coo clock, Joel’s ski bibs, and a korean hand fan. Now it has a giant box of kid winter and hand-me-down clothes, so at least the contents are appropriate and those clothes are off my floor. Of course, the clothes were replaced by previous closet residents. My piles are like an elaborate game of tetris. I do not have the high score.

Even now, I’m blogging because–thanks to the great bedroom re-org–I got motivated to finish the floor pillows I planned for the playroom. And by finish, I really mean start. I found all of the necessary items–pillow forms, fabric, thread–under my bed. The project was fresh in my mind after spending 7 hours in the hot, hot NC sun at the Spencer Transportation Museum today. Like the Grouchy Ladybug, at 6pm I looked at the unfinished project and said, “do you want to fight?” and got started. Everything is cut and pinned for three pillows, because if I was going to do one, I might as well do all three of them. In truth, all I’ve done is make a giant mess in the middle of the bed right…….before…….losing……interest.

Now it’s either:
1) finish the pillows, because otherwise I need to unpin the fabric and will have wasted all of my time investment.
2) create a new pile (mess) in a new place (top of dresser) to finish (not to be seen for another 6 months) later.

Decisions, decisions.

ADHD Ramblings!

I was in my mid-twenties when I first sought help for my little attention problem. Hell, I was in my mid-twenties before I even realized I had a problem. What I had always assumed was my own laziness—not working up to fullest potential made repeat appearance on all of my report cards—actually turned out to be a brain thing rather than a personality flaw.

Hunh, who knew?

It wasn’t until I left a management position at the local Food Lion and went to work at a contract research organization (CRO) that my habit of skimming over details was one I had couldn’t break despite best efforts to the contrary. I started making enough mistakes to be worried about losing my job.

One of our smartest, calmest SAS programmers shared that he was also ADHD, and had self-medicated it for years with competitive running. After getting injured, he had to stop running. When increased coffee consumption couldn’t cut it, he medicated. He likened his non-medicated brain to being a hamster on a wheel; the wheel was constantly turning, but the hamster never got anywhere. It was after our talks that I started doing research and found myself a doctor.

Starting medication was like a mental field trip to the land of normal brains. I take adderall—or its genetic equivalent, amphetamine salts— with immediate and obvious cognitive differences. Without meds I am scattered and impulsive; with them I am focused and deliberate.

Don’t mistake medication as a cure-all. A different brain with focus doesn’t always lead to a great end result. And while it may slow impulsive behavior, a lifetime of hasty decision-making isn’t going to be stopped with a few milligrams of drugs. I call it Getting Lost in the Hyperfocus. Just one of many examples— I once took apart a computer and decided that the problem with the hard drive must be related to the twists in the floppy drive’s motherboard cable. I decided to fix the problem by removing the cable, cutting off the twisted portion, and re-threading the connector pins.

Courtesy of PCGuide

I scared my IT department (no work computers were ever harmed!). One friend commented that he was truly impressed with both my stupidity and my detailed pin re-threading. High praise indeed.

Now I’m a mom, and I don’t take apart computers anymore. Okay, that’s a lie. But at least now I find reputable directions on the internet first. I have tons of mom-related coping strategies. I have accepted that I will sometimes be flaky. I will shut down and not answer the phone or turn on the computer when I start to get overwhelmed. I love sand boxes.

There’s a nice component to having a short attention span when you have small children; everyone loses interest around the same time.