ADHD hyperfocus

posted by Jeff | Thursday, October 19, 2023, 5:30 PM | comments: 0

There's a lot of value in self-awareness, and that too was an intended outcome of seeking an ASD/ADHD diagnosis. If it's real, and you acknowledge it, you can do something with it. ADHD is different from ASD though, because you can at least treat it. Autism you can only learn to adapt. I'm on bupropion XL for depression, but as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), it's sometimes used off-label for ADHD. Both conditions are often treated with drugs that increase the level of neurotransmitting chemicals in the brain, though the results of increasing serotonin for ADHD by itself is mixed at best. I'm not convinced it helps me for that. Heck, I've noticed that if I don't get a lot of water with the bupropion and levothyroxine in the morning (for hypothyroidism), I drag all day and don't feel emotionally great. Meds are weird.

All of that is context just to say that I feel the ADHD, and some days it's worse than others. It used to be that I thought my constant attention drifting was procrastination, now I better understand that it's not. I'm the guy who keeps my inbox at zero because I read the thing and either respond or delete it. But I can do that because it only requires a short window of engagement. Context switching is actually easy for really short tasks. It's the longer things that are harder to get into. For that reason, you can understand why the concept of hyperfocus is interesting to me.

Hyperfocus seems like an oddly contradictory thing that people with ADHD can do, but actually it makes perfect sense. Not being able to focus on stuff happens because of the low levels of neurotransmitters, specifically dopamine. So boring crap that you're not that interested in, it's hard to connect with it and get it done. But hey, jokes about dopamine hits are cultural these days, so you can't understand why doing stuff you like helps with dopamine production, and why you would find it easier to focus on things that make you feel good.

The question then becomes whether or not you can train yourself to embrace this phenomenon. It's not really that simple though, because not everything you do, especially long-running tasks, is something that you like. I find it easy to get lost in a video game that I'm into for hours, or a programming project (if it doesn't present roadblocks I can't get over). In fact, those are even cases where hyperfocus is actually bad, because I might forget to interact with my family, eat or go to bed. It happens.

Today I was plugged in for nearly six straight hours on a work project that I deeply hope is successful and delivers on time. This involved a lot of documentation creation with meetings about the same topic in the middle, and I ate while working. Normally, I wouldn't do this, because I know that I'll get Jell-O brain and feel spent. Well, I feel spent, but I also feel good about the outcomes. As a manager, much of the work is actually manifest by others, which is also gratifying, but it feels good to get more in the weeds from time to time.


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