Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The uniquely painful constrictions between the hands of a clock

Reading old posts on Bryan Hutchinson's blog, I ran across one that reminded me of a conversation I had with my mother when I was a child. He writes about how ADHDers have no concept of the passage of time.

A friend of mine commented on this "time" issue on my Facebook page "Yeah, days of the week, likewise. You don't realize the tyranny of those arbitrary names until you take a week off and forget what day it is.". And he's sooo correct. Another friend suggests that he would wish to change his axis, so he can exist in a relationship to the universe other than "North-South". Smaaht asses.

I was driving with my mother in the car and I don't remember why she might have said this because in my memory, time only begins as she says "You know that time is just a human construct" or something very close. I'm pretty sure she said construct because I had to ask her what she meant because she'd used a word I didn't know. She said "Measuring of time, humans invented that. Actual time and measurement of it are two separate things.". We needed measurement, apparently. We needed to get places "on time". We needed to know how long to cook the porkchops. We needed to know how long to sit still in class. I must REALLY need it because two of three of those are highly challenging to me.

As innovative as we ADHDers can be, I am sure that it was NOT one of us that first measured time. I know that it takes 20 minutes to travel by car between my city and the next one. Somehow when I have to go there, I forget about the five minutes to get ready to get in the car, and where I put my keys, and how long it will take for me to find them, and that I will have to stop at the gas station. Also usually forget that I need to grab lunch. Also forget about the five minutes that I need to find change in the car, go to the marking meter, pay the money, wait for the receipt to stick on my dash before I can even go into the building. Several un-ideal combinations of outcomes can result from this menagerie of disconnected details, and generally I will sacrifice my own needs to make sure that others don't think I'm a jerk. If I'm running late for example, I will easily not eat for eight hours if that's what it takes. It's taking years off my life, but on a rough day, that's the kind of prioritizing I have to do to get by.

Do "normal" people always think in these terms? Shit, no wonder they never get anything done. If I thought about those kinds of details all the time, I wouldn't leave the house. I know you think I'm joking but that statement is equal parts humor and dead honesty...and I will likely have the same damn issue tomorrow when I go to my therapist's office in the next city over, because for some reason, every time I think about it I'm buzzing along and go "oh, I have to go to my appointment, it takes 20 minutes to get there".

One day, just to buck the whole demoralizing process and to test the efficacy of this "stuff" they call medication I sat down and PLANNED to arrive 15 minutes early...but in classic ADHDer style I arrived and discovered that I had screwed something up and had arrived, in actuality, an HOUR and 15 minutes ahead of time. And isn't THAT pleasant for someone who can't stand waiting. And I CANNOT STAND WAITING...oh man, it makes me nuts...if there's no good magazines it's hell on earth...and it's even worse when the music is loud and I don't know why but at the mental health center it is often the case that the radio is just a WEE bit too loud and I am extremely sensitive to noise and lighting (fluorescent overhead lights, and if you're a regular reader you know how much I hate those).

Are we really that far out of the normal scope of time that others are living in? I know it seems unreal that I would have just written this post and can still be incredulous, but I have lived 33 years of my life outside of that normal scope, apparently...I just...I just...eh...I just don't get it. Moments like this I really, really want to understand why my reality and time don't connect well. I know, I know, it's ADHD by definition, I know...but there's a difference between knowing and really, truly understanding something. If you do not have the ability to see, someone might explain to you what "sight" is, and you will know what they said, and understand their explanation, but that is never the same as really experiencing it. Meds help me connect with that sensation somewhat...but not totally. Never totally. Because there is no "cure" for ADHD.

I am practicing noticing the kinds of details that others notice and I am making progress. Others may not even notice my progress because much of my progress is in my relationship to myself...remember how I said I would rather not eat, if I'm running late, than let people think I'm a jerk? In general, if you met me in person you would find me to be a very articulate, extremely energetic, highly functional, very driven and ambitious person. If you spend more time with me, the cracks show more. But I'm the only one who really, truly knows how out of control I feel sometimes. And just because that's true doesn't mean that I don't have a "disorder". People look at my life on a regular basis and comment "wow, how do you do it, how do you get it all done" and the correct answer to that is "at any and all costs". Any AND all, starting with the offering up of myself on the fire, because I would rather damage myself, than harm my relationships to others, whenever possible. Because of my issues with ADHD, it is then very likely that on a regular basis, I will make...hmm, rephrase...I will accidentally select ways of getting through my day that are not to my benefit.

So I practice things that others take for granted. I practice a gentler, quieter, more calm way of being. I practice, indeed, trying to get places insanely early...which results in my getting places on time more often, or only a few minutes late, but not early, because I still have the same challenges between me and the door. Practice means thinking and acting with intent upon things that others simply accept and simply do.

Practice for me means the difference between understanding time, and its passage and how to measure it, and incorporating those definitions into my own movements and thoughts as I move through the day. Sometimes feeling it and learning to know it is pretty awful...it means that for the first time, while I am freeing myself from certain kinds of stress imposed by the outside world, I am saddened by limitation that I now see. Not the limitations caused by ADHD, I've long since learned those limitations in intimate and painful detail...the limitations that the rest of the world operates within. There are benefits to letting go of lightning speed living by the seat of your pants...and there is a grieving process too.

Sometimes I just want to fly on the speed of my thoughts, even though I realize that I'm more productive and ultimately more creative when I take medication. But even with medication there is effort in choosing to dwell on "details".

My hope is to strike a balance, as much as I am able...between the best and the worst of my possible futures...because I was at the limit of my potential (whatever that may be) when just flying. I was intelligent enough to know that I was hitting a painful wall, but too impaired to stop myself from hitting it.

I hope to make choices that will enable me to have chunks of "time" where I can just be without the comet blasts of outside-world details and distraction...so that at other times, I can have the energy to spend mired and wading through details that never occurred to me previously. Right now, the constant starting and stopping littered throughout my days is a test of my energy, my patience...before I had ADHD as a label I told people I suffered from inertia...once I start I can't stop, once I stop I can't start. While this is happening, I have 1000 bits of input coming at me from the outside world and I am trying to catch them all. I am learning to let some of them go past me...learning...practicing...with time against me? Or for me? Or does it matter?


  1. i know your confusion!
    thankfully someone else who understands :)
    oh dear look at the time, i'd better sleep

    ps it's nearly 7am GMT time!

  2. Haha...time...it waits for no man, and certainly no ADHDer.

  3. With three ADHDers in the household, we use the timer more than we use the toilet. It helps us all a lot!!

    Love your blog! Tess

  4. I wish I could reconcile my inability to focus with a timer. Timers just put me over the edge for some reason. If I want instant anxiety, all I have to do is pull out a timer and threaten to use it on myself. One of the mysteries of my mind that I would love to just flush down a toilet.