I have to say my plans for June were ambitious. I wanted to write two posts about the duality of mental health, followed by a recap post about music, books, and movie recommendations. On top of that, I had also set a personal goal to read at least two books… easy! But then, June happened. Now here I am, on the 23rd day of the month, and I am ‘just’ sitting down to write the first post. I’d like to that I am not blaming myself (you know ‘be kind to yourself’ and all that). But the truth is I did, blame myself… for a moment, at least.
People with ADHD tend to talk a lot about their brains, working only in one of two modes. Those two modes are no-focus and hyper-focus (yes, the second one is a scientific term). I would love to explain, with my words, what it means, and how it works in my head. Please bear in mind it is based on my own experiences, so forgive me if this does not represent your ADHD symptoms fellow ADHD’er.
First, let’s talk about the broad idea of focus and attention. At some point, the world started to believe that people with ADHD cannot focus at all. On anything. At all. The truth is, we absolutely can focus, we just cannot regulate our attention. That is why many psychologists, psychiatrists, and people with ADHD are asking to change the term Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder to something more representative. ADHD is not an inability to focus. It’s an inability to regulate our attention. We can focus, but sometimes we can’t choose what our brain is focusing on.
To make it simpler, just visualize an empty desk. This desk is the command center of your brain in this story. As your day progresses, your mind is taking tasks that appear around you and is writing them on post-it notes. Your brain is using different colors, like red notes for work-related stuff, yellow for house chores, green for relaxation, and blue for your basic needs, i.e., drinking water and eating food. On top of that, it will put everything in beautiful columns for you to understand the proper order of your tasks and the time needed to do them. You need to eat around 2 pm, so it will put a mental note that to eat food, you need to prepare it first. That means you should probably start thinking about it around 1 pm. Easy right?
The ADHD brain is also using the same desk, the same post-it notes, but it cannot remember which color of notes and pens means what task. And because of that it’s very often looking for tasks that should matter at the moment. While showing random notes to you in the hope that it’s the right one, it makes a massive mess on the desk in a frantic panic. The result? Complete turmoil. All post-it notes have the same importance, and they all need to be done now. That chaos makes the ADHD brain very disoriented throughout the whole day. It also makes us feel like all the tasks are equally important, and it becomes super hard to choose one by yourself. Even I, while writing this post, knowing that I am over three weeks late, at some point, got up from my chair and went to the kitchen to make my coffee. My brain told me that this coffee is more important than writing the post itself. And if you think that it’s easy to control, I am sure that at some point you went to the kitchen and when going through the door, you were wondering why you are even going there. Imagine that feeling all day, every day for your whole life. Daunting isn’t it? Especially when it is left undiagnosed, but we’ll talk about this later.
Let’s get back to the table analogy for another second and talk about the ability to focus on selected tasks when needed. Your brain is going through those tasks and giving you signals, what is essential, and when. You can flow from one job to another with relative ease. I am not saying it’s easy for you – I am saying that it’s something to do while having a neurotypical brain. Yes, writing this essay is necessary, but you are also thirsty, so drinking water (btw drink a glass of water right now, go on, it’s healthy) is also a priority. So you get up, go to the kitchen, take a glass of water (go on) and get back to your task. Your brain is shuffling those post-it notes on the table as it goes and making it easier for you to react to them. ADHD brain, on the other hand, *clap* doesn’t *clap* do *clap* that *clap* accurately *clap*. Of course, I am simplifying all of this to make it easier to digest. The ADHD brain is either focused on everything around you (even sounds and smells) or concentrated on one post-it with such an intensity that it’s ignoring everything else. This is the Hyper-focus mode. It means that my brain will prioritize this blog post over everything else. Literally, everything else. Even eating or drinking water will not be as important. This hyper-focus appears in different forms. Sometimes it’s daydreaming; sometimes it’s intense gaming, sometimes it’s writing for hours without any breaks. At first glance, this mode can appear super helpful. It can help deliver results much faster than the Neurotypical brain that is trying to make sure all of its owner’s needs are met. In the long run, it’s easy to get stuck in, without any idea how hungry or how thirsty I am, and how much time has passed since my last break. Nothing else exists.
Because of those two modes, people with ADHD are also terrible with time perception, as some tasks can seem they lasted for a minute when in reality it was hours (or the other way around). I also will write about this more in-depth another time as I think it is an exciting subject for purely philosophical reasons.
This duality comes from a hormone called Dopamine, which is responsible for… no… not pleasure, although for years, that was the idea! We now know that Dopamine is responsible for motivational salience. It gives you this good feeling when you tie your shoes, and clean your house, and do your taxes, see a cute bird outside, and everything else in between. It gives you a nice feel when you complete a task. The ADHD brain has enough levels of Dopamine, but the Dopamine receptors are not working in a full scope (another simplification). And just for the clear science reasons – again this is not the only thing that makes the ADHD brain so unique – you can have lower Dopamine levels and still have a neurotypical brain. As each and every mind is different, those diagnosed mapped disorders are reserved for differences that make a difference in world cognition.
*SCIENCE TIME OVER *
Even though I am writing from my perspective and experience, I think there will be people with ADHD who agree with me when I say that the whole challenge is to make those systems work for us, not against us. That’s why we go to therapy, that’s why we take medication.
I planned to publish three posts this month – one on the 10th, a second the 20th, and the third on the last day of June. Unfortunately, I failed in that, as many people with ADHD do from time to time. Or even quite often. My brain didn’t work as I wanted it to work. It was overloaded and always focused on something else in the past couple of weeks. It didn’t listen to me when I tried to write a blog post. I felt pretty bad about it and started to think that maybe I overpromised my writing skills not only to my readers but also to myself. That perhaps I am not as good at it as I thought for a moment. That is the trap in which people with ADHD are often getting caught in. Our drive to prove that we can be and work as everybody else pushes us to perfectionism, and in situations where we “fail,” we revert and close ourselves out from the world, being stuck in our head filled with anxieties and insecurities.
“You failed” is probably the sentence I told myself and heard from others most often in my life. In the last couple of days, I started to look at my month from a bit of a different perspective. I wanted to analyze what happened that I had become so distant from my blog and went through my daily journal. On May 25th – the need to understand the senseless murder of George Floyd. I spent days learning, reading, and watching materials from the #blacklivesmatter movement. I spent entire days talking with my friends and people online, trying to educate and support not only my close friends but also all Non-white to become a strong ally in this fight. June 16th – the Polish President Andrzej Duda claimed during his speech that people from LGBTQAI+ spectrum are not people; they are an ideology. And that this “ideology” is more dangerous than Communists. Another devastating blow for my close friends and their families trying to build a life in a country they love. I spent the next days reading about politics and other candidates in the upcoming Presidential elections to be sure that my vote will go to a candidate who believes in equality and social justice. I started to talk to people and try to convince them to go and vote in upcoming elections. I spent another couple of days talking to my friends, supporting them, and finding other ways to help and make the situation in Poland better. Fascinated by the world of politics, I started to explore my political views. I read about political systems and systems of justice. I also read my daily journal from the past days. And then it hit me.
I wasn’t unfocused. I was focused on something else.
I wasn’t procrastinating. I was learning.
I wasn’t writing a blog. I was educating myself.
I wasn’t wasting time. I spent my time with those who needed it more.
I didn’t write three posts in June, but I can still write to them in July.
I wasn’t kind to myself, but I can start now.
And unlike George Floyd, I had the privilege to take a breath, reflect and share with you my monthly thoughts. My current focus and education on these matters made me realize the mental weight my fellow humans carry non-stop, still need to have to navigate their everyday life.
Justice for George Floyd, charge the police officers who killed Breyonna Taylor and Elijah McLain! #BLM. To support, please sign the petition and donate to
Sign: Justice for Breonna Taylor
Sign: Justice for George Floyd
Sign: Justice for Ahmaud Arbery
Donate: Black Lives Matter
Donate: The National Bail Fund Network
Donate: Say Her Name
Educate yourself: Anti-racism resources for white people
DISMANTLE WHITE SUPREMACY
DEFUND THE POLICE