I have a pretty severe case of ADD, also known as Type 1 Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. And by 'pretty severe' I mean utterly savage to the point that the dose of medication I need to function like a moderately normal human being is substantial enough that we have to monitor my heart so it doesn't explode (not kidding, my average resting heart-rate is ~113 bpm; normal-person avg bpm is between ~66 and ~86).
The best way I can put it is that ADD is like the last 3 days of being out sick with a really bad cold. You're better enough to be pissed off at how exhausting it is to simply exist, and while your brain is functional enough to recognize that it's not stuck in the sick-fog sleepiness, you also have to spend five minutes staring at your TV remote to figure out what button turns the dang thing on. ADD is a wall of that feeling that doesn't ever really go away. With meds it gets better, like staring at a room through a window instead of through an opaque closed-door, but it never goes away.
And yet, there is a converse to that: Hyperfixation. Not everyone with ADD has this, but a lot of Type 1's do, we hyper-fixate instead of exhibit hyper-activity.
Let me tell you, it is a goddamn SUPER POWER. Sorta. A lot of people with ADD hate to have this piece valorized because it's actually far more dangerous to our direct health than any other aspect of our condition. That's a very fair assessment. I have hyper-fixated to the point of forgetting to eat for 48 hours. I have forgotten to drink water for almost 24 hours. I have forgotten to breathe for about 5 minutes and only managed to avoid passing out because I was already laying on the floor. I chew through my fingernails and rip out my hair and dig furrows into my skin that bleed for ten minutes before I notice them--because the motion is somehow helpful to my focus-clarity and my fixation means the part of my brain that feels pain is just turned off for the moment..
Hyper-fixation is legitimately dangerous.
But it's also really really cool.
I have a partially eidetic memory, which means if I have heard a song I know it. If I've read a book, I remember almost all of it. If I have handled an object in my entire life and no one else has touched it since I last did, I can navigate to the geographic coordinates of it, blindfolded. I can research like BAMF, and I can instant-recall all of it on the spot and synthesize it into a legitimate argument at the drop of a hat. I can give college-level dissertation oral defenses on topics I've only skimmed the readings for, in after-hours presentations that I only remembered to attend because I left my water bottle behind after lecture... My brain is frickin' MAGIC.
At least on good days.
Honestly, on good days, the fact that this will probably kill me very young is a trade I could as entirely worth it. If this is my deal with a devil, man, I'm a-okay with the payoff.
On bad days, it's extremely difficult to remember why walking backward in the rain across a 6 lane highway is a rather poor life decision... Seriously, most of what keeps me grounded on bad days is remember that I have written records showing that on good days I think it's totally worth the bad days.
ADD, like everything else in the Universe, is cyclical. ADD is unique in that it has 3 separate layers of things operating on an influential cycle. There are some Psych Journal research articles on the topic, but I don't like how most of them describe the issue, so I'm gonna break it down for you myself:
- Engagement vs Disengagement
Am I able to legitimately engage with whatever I'm working on? Or am I looking at it through a plexiglass wall? This is the piece that is most easily influenced by medication. On bad days, the meds mean I'm still trying to play Operation while wearing wool mittens, but on good days, the meds let me manipulate my mental puzzle pieces on an atomic level to make them fit together perfectly. This is both the shortest cycle and the longest cycle. This because there's the daily circuit (pre-caffeine, pre-meds fog of nothing, then the productive bliss of extended release capsules, and then the nightly 'oooooh, yeah everything helpful has worn off') and a longer cycle where I'll just hit a mental block that keeps me from engaging with anything for a random month or two.
- Positive Feedback vs Negative Feedback
Is what I'm looking at interesting enough to make me ask another question, and is the answer to that question enough to spawn yet more? 'Positive' here doesn't necessarily mean 'good', it's used in the scientific way of 'increasing acceleration'. Anything that doesn't increase the interest / fixation level contributes to it slowing down. This cycle is the most obvious to me while I'm moving through these cycle-processes, and it's one I can effect. The moment I feel the acceleration of interest slowing down, I can stop, pull back, and take a break. Pushing against negative feedback does nothing but hasten burnout, which is AWFUL. Avoiding burnout is why I have queues set up and why working 8.5 hours in a boring office job would probably kill me.
- Present vs Dissociative vs Concurrent Mindset
A Present mindset has me fully aware of myself, my environment, and the intricacies of my current task. A Dissociative one has me exclusively aware of my current project and all it's permutating aspects, my body is not a real object and the outside world could burn for all I care. Both of those are productive, though only one is at all close to being 'healthy'. A Concurrent mindset has both awareness of what I should be doing (eating, homework, etc), and what I want to be doing (current project), occurring within my brain at the same time, without either of them really clicking into place properly. This is the mindset that has me staring at walls and into water bottle and just off into the middle distance. It's horrible because I can't focus on the thing I want to focus on, and I feel guilty for wanting to focus on a thing that is not the thing I should be focusing on, and we spiral into angst from there.
And then all of that is further complicated by Focus Fatigue. Also known as Hyper-Exhaustion or Burnout, this state of being happens when all the lowest points of the other three cycles line up with each other. It comes at random, though I can usually feel it creeping in a few weeks before it really hits, and it stays for a random duration. The only effect I can have on it is to not prolong it by trying to just push through. Accepting that I'm in a down-beat and just riding it out without attempting to DO anything is usually the best bet I have to hasten the recovery process.
This is what I've been dealing with from the end of October and all through November.
I've just got nothin' left to call on. I've been playing lots of Solitaire and a hidden-object game called SeekersNotes. I've just been letting my queue run itself out while hoping that I get my mojo back before it hits the end of its schedule.
It's possible that things will get back on track soon, but it's hard to tell. The best way I can characterize recovery is to compare it to alcohol consumption. When you're just sitting at the bar, you don't feel much different between your first shot and your fourth, a little buzz turns into to a little buzzier, but nothing major. But then you try to get up for some reason and you realize that the room is spinning and gravity is gone...
By the time you realize your drunk, your very drunk.
Likewise, by the time I realize I've got my focus back, I've been doing focus-related things for a while already and doing them successfully.
I'm hopeful that this Burnout will be over soon (being able to succeed in writing this is a very good sign), but I can't guess how long it'll take me to go from tipsy with a drip of focus to full on smashed with Hyper-Focus...
It could be a matter of days, or it could take a few more weeks. We'll just have to see.
Wish me luck!
(Fortunately, while I'm waiting, I've got plenty of little objects left to find in Seekers).
May 31, 2021 Edit: Since this post was originally published, I HAVE since had several periods of high productivity, one of which is currently still on-going!