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?


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.

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