Time Blindness

Francis Waters

Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

Generalisations, this piece is full of them and I can only apologise if I represent your group in a way that excludes you. I have no medical degree and the following can only represent my opinions, for what they are worth.

For all its faults, it is my experience that ADHD is handy in moments of crisis. At such times there is nothing to bear in mind or to forget to remember. There is only the situation right now, and how you respond to it. People with ADHD are great in such scenarios because they are largely incapable of doing anything other than thinking in the moment. Further to this, people with ADHD are very used to crisis. We are all so often late with deadlines, appointments and bills that we carry a sense of urgency with us throughout life, wearing it like a second skin. I have made a conscious effort in recent months to curtail my “battle stations” response to things because it is stressful and alarming for the people around me. I don’t mind intensity in dealing with problems. I’m very used to it, but most problems do not require intensity. They require diligence and hard work.

What I’m trying to say is people with ADHD are good in a tight spot because they are very well practiced at being in a hurry, and living life in the moment.

It seems strange in our culture to regard living in the moment as a problem when so many people long for it. They desire the ability to let their worries and responsibilities go, and to instead focus on being present with every sensation and thought. Really when you look at it like that, we’re blessed aren’t we? This ADHD crowd, with our of-the-moment thinking and our quick-witted emergency responses. Well living in the moment is all well and good, but if you are permanently stuck there you face a different set of problems.

Poor planning is the crux of it. ADHD means I have a poor sense for how long things will take. I don’t write things down because I am not considering the ‘later’ when I’ll need the reminder. And even if I did write it down: when later comes, due to my stimulus-response style thinking, I’ll only think to read my reminder if prompted to. I am no more thinking about the past than the future.

I won’t engage with anything boring because it seems like there is always later. And what could be so valuable later that would be worth the boredom now? When, because I am glued to the present, now is all I am capable of thinking about and a dull task can seem to take an eternity. These are the academic woes of ADHD, we require in-the-moment rewards for long-term hard work. It is difficult to write an essay because it will take hours to complete and no one will grade it for weeks anyway. The consequences are separated from the actual doing by vast oceans of impassable time and because I cannot see what lies ahead, I am incapable of steering towards it. In short, the thought of failing a few weeks from now does not motivate me at all.

Setting up artificial rewards has been one of the more useful tips I have learned for ADHD. There must be something at stake now which you care about in order to function. For example, I need to write an essay, but I want to play Elite Dangerous. Easy! 1 hour of essay writing is worth 1 hour of playing Elite Dangerous as a reward. But no ED until you’ve written for the time. And the alarm clock which chunks this time is god. IT MUST BE OBEYED. Yes, it would be quicker to just write the whole essay without the hour-long breaks, but I am not in the least bit motivated to do that.

This whole issue is why ADHDers will work ineffectually and sloppily right up to the moment the deadline rears its ugly head and only then will they get down to business. Because the thing they care about (the degree, continued employment etc) has finally come into their line of sight. Their short-sighted view of the future hid it from them until now. This is what is meant by time blindness.

There are many ways this myopic relationship with time causes problems. The morning suffers for the evening. The later suffers for the now. And most of all you suffer when you denigrate yourself for missing appointments and deadlines. For not having done what you should and for not being capable of the ordinary level of time management which most people perform relatively effectively.

Time blindness is a very helpful way to view ADHD. It is my go-to, when asked to describe what ADHD actually is. I say I am glued to the moment, responding to stimulus as it appears and dealing with threats as they come, unable to ignore either. I generally don’t get into how this stunts my ability to have long-term goals, or my ability to achieve the things I should. That part doesn’t make great natter at parties. But you know and I know that while living in the moment has its perks, it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

I’m starting to ramble now. This is just an interesting angle I wanted to approach our disorder from. I respect that some people with ADHD are better at time management than others. And I realise they probably aren’t all great in a crisis. After all there are different kinds of crises to be involved in. But I think the point stands. ADHD means time blindness, and I hope you appreciate this extra-poetic way to describe yourself.

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Francis on ADHD and Boredom

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Writing this blog is hard because it is boring. There are not many ways to make writing a blog interesting, unless you have particularly interesting subject matter. For instance, I could write a blog about advanced guitar technique with far more pique to my interest than this. ADHD is not something I would ever choose to obsess about. The only reason I do, is because it creates such problems for me. Unlike advanced guitar technique, because learning how standard modes as scales separate from their Ionian mothers IS fascinating. 

For most people, boring is a problem. For people with ADHD, boring is an anathema, the nemesis. It crushes freedom underfoot and blockades the passage of time. Boredom is like being under siege, nowhere to go and no ability to go there; surrounded by the same old same old, and a little bit of martial law. I wonder if boredom is just as stark for everybody? Maybe it is particularly bad for ADHD because we keep placing our wandering minds on how bored we are. We refuse to stop thinking about it. I find it difficult to stay focused when I actually am interested, it cranks up to 11 when it is something I simply have to do.  

There are some people, who on hearing a description of the symptoms of ADHD, take offense at the idea this issue could be considered diagnosable. They hear things like, “I really can’t stand doing boring things” and feel annoyed that they must. After all, boring is, boring no matter who you are. It is fundamental to the human experience, and only childish and selfish to indulge in the unpleasantness of it. Why should I be given a pass? Why am I even talking about it? Life contains boredom, get over it, with your “Oh-so-special disorder”. 

Well, I will quite literally walk for miles to alleviate boredom. I have done. Boredom will lose you your job. Boredom will drive you to addiction. I spent many years addicted to alcohol largely because I could not bear the thought of an evening alone with my boring, vanilla thoughts. Boredom gets you kicked out of school, boredom means you pay too much for too little. Boring means you do not go out with friends because it will involve a lot of sitting and talking, that is, unless they are doing something interesting. Boring renders you rude. Boring makes you talk during films.  

I feel like I’m leading up to an advertising slogan. 

Boring is. 

What boring is, is fu##ing boring. I’m bored of writing about it. I was going to write about the ways I might attempt to make writing a blog about adult ADHD not boring. But writing about the boredom itself did seem somewhat appropriate. 

Just before I go though, it may be that my experience of boredom is not a standard feature of ADHD? Everybody copes in different ways, perhaps I have just gone for the most childish option – that of saying BOOOOORING loudly and not trying to engage? I would be very interested to hear what my fellow ADHDers have to say about it. Just so you know however, I can’t promise I won’t get bored…….

Making friends with ADHD

Alex’s story

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For a long time after I was diagnosed with ADHD, I was reluctant to make friends and socialise with anyone else with the disorder. I grieved the loss of normality for a long time after my diagnosis and it stopped me from being kind to myself or accepting my “new normal”. The first year after my diagnosis was spent trying desperately to prove the diagnosis was wrong, but however hard I tried to fake it I was never going to be like everyone else – and it hurt. I felt boxed in, and smothered by my diagnosis.   

I thought if I hung out with others with ADHD, it would be embarrassing and it would be like having a sign around my neck saying “Yep! I’m a weirdo too.”  I would have to admit to myself that I had it, and I just wasn’t ready. I wanted to carry on pretending I was normal and that I could function like any other; even though my life was a complete shit show before my diagnosis and underneath my stubborn attitude I knew there was a reason I had pursued an ADHD diagnosis.  

Shortly after I was diagnosed, I was invited to a psycho-education course run by the Leeds ADHD clinic to learn all about my disorder. There were three other newly diagnosed people in the group with me, all in the same position, and yet while I was perfectly pleasant to them, I knew in my head that I would never see them again. I’d already made that decision before I entered the room.  

My first foray into willingly hanging out with others who have ADHD was a meeting of the Leeds Adult ADHD group about 14 months after my diagnosis. If I’m honest, I felt lonely and fed up. I had let my diagnosis affect me. I had received quite a few negative reactions from my friends and family about my diagnosis. I felt regret at even revealing it, and hadn’t seen my life change drastically like I thought it would. I desperately needed some support. 

I hated it! 

I vowed never to go back.  

I made excuses in my mind why I shouldn’t go back: 

“The cost of a taxi there and back is astronomical” 

“I derived zero benefit from it” 

“I hate the seating layout”  

“They were looking at me”  

“I’m not like these people” 

“I don’t fit in”  

Another reason I didn’t want to go back to a meeting was because of personalities I didn’t like, or get along with. Due to my dysfunctional and defensive attitude it was even harder to separate my feelings from the people I met and liked, and wanted to hang out with. I actually met a lot of cool and lovely people that night, but in my biased mind it was easy to say, “Well that’s just proof I shouldn’t go back.” Looking back to that first meeting, I was standoffish; even in the break instead of socialising with the others, I chose to go out for a cigarette on my own.  

I recognise now, that even though I made the effort to go, I still subconsciously had my back-up script prepared. This defensive and negative thought process won the day, despite consciously believing I had dealt with it. I spoke to my Gran when I got back. I was in floods of tears and she knew what a hard time I’d been having with it all. She gave me a good talking to (as she always does!) My Gran encouraged me to be non-judgemental, and persevere. As always, she was right!  

She convinced me I had to give it another go.  

It was during the next meeting that things changed for the better. I got talking to Adrian as soon as I got into the room, he was so lovely, friendly and welcoming. He told me he felt like he’d found his tribe, and even though I agreed with him out loud, inside I couldn’t have felt further from that. Despite being welcomed by everyone I again felt intimidated, uncomfortable and overwhelmed. Regardless, I vowed to carry on and stay till the end and I even remained in the room with the others during the break. I also met a very funny woman called Hannah who put me at such ease, we laughed a lot and connected very fast, and I think it was this relationship that made me want to stay.  At the end of the meeting Hannah offered to give me a lift back home, and we chatted all the way about the group and how we felt about our diagnosis. 

I began hanging out with Hannah away from the meetings, and I started chatting to the others from the group over social media which helped me realise just how much I needed others with the disorder around me. I also explored my feelings in therapy, and both helped the shaming process I was caught up in over something beyond my control. I started owning the fact I was different.  

I have recently finished a mindfulness class run by the NHS ADHD clinic. I absolutely adore everyone from that group. We get along so well. A lot of funny stuff happens, including at the end of one session seeing how long we could all hold our pelvic floors! There is no judgement, we all just laugh and I come away from them feeling less burdened, and a lot happier. I doubt it was all due to the mindfulness (sorry Jo!) It finished just before Christmas, but I’ve kept in touch with everyone and hung out with a few of them. I’m organising a pizza night for us all so we can catch up and have a laugh! 

It is so invaluable to know people who just get it; people who understand the way you think and behave, don’t judge your flaws, and give you the breathing space to discuss your feelings honestly. They don’t care that I blurt out answers, interrupt others, and swear like a trooper because they do it too! I can’t believe due to my previously protective pre-judgements, I missed out on 14 months of amazing friendships. They make me feel so much better about myself, and they raise my self-esteem instead of denting it. As a result, I approach myself with much more kindness when I make a mistake or have a meltdown. They make bad days better, they have the rare ability of being able to quickly turn my frown upside down, and they make me feel loved and accepted.  

I now have a big supportive circle of friends with ADHD and I can turn to them for anything whether it be in times of humour, crisis, or just for a natter. I can text them at any time of the day being like, “Great, I just spent the last 3 hours fantasising about my math’s teacher, and now I don’t know how to calculate the area of a compound shape” or, “I just spent half my rent on shoes that don’t even fit me.” Instead of getting a judgemental reply, you’ll get something like, “I feel you mate! I’ve been there” or, “How big do you reckon it is?”  

I admit, we can be a bit forgetful, we can be disorganised, and we can be loud; but you’ll never meet a more compassionate, friendlier or funnier bunch of people than those with ADHD. It’s been a bumpy road to friendship but Adrian was right, I had found my tribe, it just took me longer to realise.  

P.s I still don’t know how to calculate the area of a compound shape!

Francis’s Story

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Hello! It’s me, Francis. I appear in a couple of the Adult ADHD videos! This is my first attempt at a “blogpost”. It is supposed to be my experience from the perspective of ADHD which I find a little difficult to separate from my experience in any other way. I suspect it may resonate with a lot of people when I say I have never not inhabited my mind and so compartmentalising it is tricky. Like asking a colour-blind person to spot the wrong parts in their field of view. 

This beginning bit isn’t very good, its mostly to get me into the flow of the thing. I tend towards flowery writing for some reason. When I was in college it would amuse me to approach essays in as grandiose a manner as I could for comic effect and I am afraid I just kind of got used to it.  Thus, you may find I overuse words like thus, or that my writing might take an unexpected and upsetting alliterative lurch. It doesn’t help that I fancy myself a poet either. Perhaps it is true to say that this was the way I was able to push my ADHD mind to the end of writing essays in college. I made it a treat to myself and it worked. Because I was always taking such linguistic liberty, I felt obliged to back it up with some good hard fact. Such barefaced academic cheek could only be tolerated if I was also begrudgingly right about some of it. 

However, this style had far less traction at university. We poor students were obliged to observe referencing and style guides up to the placement of the very last comma. Why, I ask you and indeed did ask anyone who wasn’t wearing noise cancelling headphones, is this punctuative pettiness worth actual marks??? Who, the giddy fuck, cares? 

Apparently, a lot of people care and I crashed out of uni after one year. Using the time-honoured defence mechanism of ADHD I convinced myself that I never really wanted the degree anyway. This was easy to do because it was after all a music degree and who needs one of those to get busy musicing? So I did that, I started a band. 

Performing was easy, all the other bits were hard. But let’s not make this a life story. I imagine I’ll want to write some more of these blogpost thingys and I should save some of my frankyfuel. (I just made this up and I am pleased with it). 

Truth be told ADHD has always been for me, a little shameful. For one who was diagnosed so early I did a fantastic job of not educating myself about the thing. Thus, I didn’t know until my early 20’s which of my problems were squarely at the feet of our little disorder. I just thought it came down to not putting my foot in it and tablets were how I did that. Even that idea, that I must take tablets to function properly was a little shame-making. Knowing as I do now that my inability to do any homework or commit myself to anything boring are also camp ADHD, I can see I might have excused myself quite a bit of strife and warded off some of the anger from those around me. 

Mind you, was it ever my responsibility to be the educated one at the age of 7? Surely that wasn’t my gig. You don’t trust 7 year olds to get a bus by themselves let alone understand the complex inner workings of a developmental learning disability. Here’s the problem as I see it. In a perfect world, or a perfect childhood for me, every adult would have been educated to PhD level about this disorder in particular and would have made it their mission at every opportunity to help me understand why I was having the difficulties I was having. Tad unrealistic no? 

So, how to protect a child from the ravagings of the world around them when neither the world nor the child knows enough to excuse them their failings? After all ADHD is a disorder made most profound and hurtful by its developed comorbidities, its coping strategies and defence mechanisms. Without knowledge ADDers learn to retreat, to avoid social gatherings. They learn as a matter of fact that they can’t do what others can, and they are less valuable because of it. I’m preaching now. Let me sum up before I go all day. 

Despite the luck of my early diagnosis and treatment I still retain some shadow of the difficulties faced by my less fortunate colleagues. I am deeply sympathetic towards them and anything I can do to help a rising person (child) grow up in a slightly more enlightened world, I will do. Empathy, that’s the thing. Let’s spread it around a little.