Our doctor sent me this cartoon shortly after Nerdguy and I left her office with ADHD questionnaires in hand. She has ADHD as well, and knew that it would resonate. It explains how people with ADHD can be obsessed with something one minute and not care about it at all the next. Instead of turning on the lights, the switch controls the dopamine our brains crave and why we can have trouble sticking with things. The picture has become a short-hand in how my husband and I communicate, interspersed with quotes from The Middle, Friends, and Seinfeld of course.
While a lot of people believe that ADHD is all about hyperactivity and not paying attention, there’s so much more to it than that.
While it’s true that I am the first one you should call when you want someone to hold down a couch, my brain never got the memo that I am closely related to a sloth. Without the ultra-flexible toes. Maybe because I have five toes rather than two or three. The extra toes are clearly holding me back. I can hold my iPhone and the chip bag with a vice-like grip though, so maybe there’s hope for my sloth designation yet. Wait, I don’t think I am supposed to make that a goal, am I? The internet has made this confusing because they’re all like “oh sloths you’re so adorbs…I die!!!” mixed in with fitbit updates and marathon selfies. Pick one people!
Speaking of feet (which I swore I would never do because feet completely creep me out…also I’m afraid I’ll start getting more mail about what size ice skates I wear and how much I charge for photos of my feet) my feet are always twitching. So I look like I’m sitting still but my toes are acting out Flight of the Bumblebee inside my shoes. You would think that would burn more calories.
And my hands always have to be doing something. I can watch Netflix all day, but I have to be doing something else or I get squirmy.
As for the focussing part, it’s not always about lack of focus (although the preceding squirrel-chasing paragraphs would appear to be rock-solid evidence against that thesis), but rather it’s about changing intensity of focus, or appropriateness of focus.
The light-switch theory is demonstrated on the daily around this house by every member of the family. Each of us usually has one thing that we are deeply obsessed about doing, collecting, talking about.
Until we’re not.
Nerdguy will decide that we are going to track our expenses and will diligently record every receipt into whatever program he has spent days researching. Expenses are recorded to the penny. There are pie charts, budgets, receipt hoarding, and scanning systems. And then we switch to hiding bills in the drawer and leaving receipts piling up on the van floor.
He bought storage units to organize the garage a few years ago. I had to bring his meals outside, and the kids kept asking where Daddy had gone for his business trip, because he spent every waking hour dedicated to the task. This was after years of treating the garage like some remote cliff we could throw things off of and never have to see them again. I wondered when the day would come that we would need the fire department to perform a rope rescue to extract someone who dared to venture into the rubble. He went from ignoring the garage completely to making it his reason for living at the exclusion of all else. Until he got bored. Now you’re more likely to spot a unicorn in there than you are to see him.
I am just as guilty of light-switch behaviour. I move from micromanaging Maggie’s education by setting up bin systems, holding meetings, and mildly harassing educators, to not opening her zippy bag all weekend. From organizing the house…shopping for containers, pinning all things organization, loading the van with everything that doesn’t bring us joy…to dumping random bags of crap from the dollar store in the front hall and letting it fester there for three weeks. I joined every committee on school council and became the secretary at my very first meeting. Students were constantly asking me if I was a teacher because I was in the building so much. Now I wait in the parking lot like a lurker, prompting teachers to initiate lockdown procedures because they have no idea who I am.
The kids all have their own moments of rotating obsessions, but it’s pretty standard behaviour in kids. Just ask anyone who has a vacuum full of rainbow loom elastics that have been long-forgotten.
I never realized that it is a hallmark trait of ADHD, especially in adults. Routines are supposed to be important for people with ADHD, to eliminate some of the thinking from our day and give our executive functioning centre a break from freaking out.
But the cruel irony is that routines are incredibly difficult for us to stick with. We can do it really well in the obsession phase because this is going to be life-changing and my god I am so good at setting up this routine I should get an award for this. I’m never going to forget anything again and finally my life will be magical!
And then the rush of dopamine fizzles out, the light-switch has turned off, and neither of us has opened our Todoist in months. In fact I had to look on my phone just to find the name of the planning app I was previously devoting hours to because I couldn’t even remember what it was called.
Inappropriate attention is another aspect that is related to intensity of attention, but has more of a daily impact on our house (and on my level of rage and weeping) so that’s a topic for another time. After I start intensively training for the Ironman.
Do you relate to the light-switch theory?