How I Experience Hyperactivity Part 2: Hyperfocus and Anxiety

In the previous post I tried my best to describe the mental, physical and emotional responses I experience due to symptoms of hyperactivity. Today I’m going to continue by elaborating on two other symptoms that happen in a very hyperactive brain: hyperfocus and anxiety.

When a person with attention problems finally can focus they don’t just focus normally. For me, I basically latch on to that one thing I can finally focus on. It doesn’t matter what is it or if it’s especially important. Usually, it’s not. Most times it might be an online news article or a message board and I’ll get stuck on reading and replying for far longer than I anticipated. Even after I realise this and that I should maybe go and do something else, like do those tasks I planned to do like cleaning or buying food, I will find it impossible to pull away from that one thing that has captured my focus.

Pulling away from that focus feels like severing a physical link between me and that subject. I have to put a lot of conscious effort to force myself away. Having hypoglycemia kind of helps me do this because I have in the past decided to stay focused when I should eat and then I would crash so hard. For those who aren’t aware symptoms of hypoglycemia come with sudden weakness, muscle aches, vision problems, and what I can only describe as psycho-motor retardation; a slowing down of motor skills, sometimes with a lot of shakiness. There are also behaviour symptoms. When I’m out and about with people or even in the kitchen in a mad dash to stabilise my blood sugar levels and people talk to me, I cannot be polite. There’s zero suppression or regulation of emotions. I will yell at that person until they get out of the way of the fridge, cupboard, toaster, whatever. And if they try to talk to me – I really don’t have the patience to even pretend I care. I sound pretty harsh but I usually just tell people I’m dying, which is a huge exaggeration, but I just feel like my whole body is shutting down.

So, when I’m hyperfocusing and I know I’m going to crash soon I have the decision between experiencing these symptoms or getting up and getting some meal inside me. If I’m a few minutes to an hour late I’ll have a lil crash, but if I went about 3 -5 hours I will continue to feel weak even after eating.

Another problem is that if I spend a long time on one subject then I may drain myself both mentally and physically and often I have to attempt 10 minute breaks. I say attempt because after 2 minutes I want to try and do something else. I crash a lot throughout the day. Some days are better than others and I can break away from tasks sooner than on those days where I’m spending 3-5 hours longer on something.

Lately I’ve been playing an old Captain America game on my Wii and yesterday I was fine to stop after playing two levels but today I wanted to keep going. I probably could have but then I started to get fed up and decided to take a break to write this blog, something I had planned to write. I spent much longer playing Batman: Arkham City and even on Super Mario U even when I wasn’t that great at the latter. The gamepad kept dying after 3 hours too. I would play Batman in the morning, afternoon and at night having breaks only to recharge that stupid controller. Sometimes having more anticipation to play a game is better than just having a game to play with not much getting in the way. The more some outside force keeps me from playing games the more I want to play them.

I played Batman for weeks until I got stuck and decided to get back to it later which I never did. I actually had to make sure I ate a sizable meal before deciding to play, because I didn’t want to get hungry yet not be motivated enough to make a meal and instead just grab some chips. I did that with Skylanders and ended up feeling very ill.

So that’s the bad type of hyperfocus. People with ADHD will have their own definition for hyperfocus and some will say there’s good and bad, I tend to be very strict in my definition. Hyperfocus to me is anything I focus on that I didn’t plan to and can’t just easily break away from. It’s something I enjoy so much I lose track of time on it. I tend to forget about the world around me, all senses for anything other then the thing I’m focused on begin to dull and I might even forget where I am.

Then there’s controlled hyperfocus which are tasks I plan to spend time on. But to me this is regular focus even if I do get distracted about 50 times, have information processing issues (which means I have to read over lines or re-watch certain scenes in a show/movie over again) and have to put a lot  of effort in to stay focused, even if it’s something I like doing. I don’t often get stuck on it and once I’ve spent enough time on this subject that I had planned all along I can stop and move onto something else. Then I might begin to hyperfocus on them, that is, become so absorbed the rest of the world is blocked out and I spend far longer on the task than I planned.

Social Networking sites like Facebook can really suck me into all the wealth of information available. If someone with ADHD doesn’t want to read article over article or comment about 1000 times in 30 minutes then they need to limit the amount of time they spend on Facebook. Most forms of digital communication aggravate ADHD symptoms and even the most committed person who wants to better manage their ADHD can end up jumping from one story to another, play apps and partake in meaningless re-post rituals for hours, and they just threw away a whole day in which they finally wanted to be more organised.

I used to be addicted to playing games on my phone and using the internet on it until one day I just threw it across the room and just decided no more. At times I do go back on, though games are reserved for the iPad which is now barely nothing more than a journal and comic book reader. OK, I admit I have started to play Captain America: The Winter Soldier and it’s really fun. I only use the internet on my phone when I’m in a café or pub and begin to feel anxious.

I’ve dealt with anxiety all my life but I think some of it does come from having a hyperactive brain. I also have seizures which I wouldn’t say are connected to hyperactivity but they certainly influence each other. I can go from extremely hyperactive to suddenly convulsive. It’s usually on days where I have heightened senses which generally make life uncomfortable for me.

Some days when I go out I can have higher social anxiety than usual which turns into paranoia. I basically call it paranoia when I think someone can do harm to me and the usual ‘they’re thinking negative thoughts about me.’

I think some of my anxiety can be blamed on ADHD or rather it was developed out of the symptoms of ADHD. At times of high anxiety I will constantly re-check I have important items on me, like phone, wallet, keys etc. Even when I’ve checked about three times I’ll still get the lingering anxious thoughts from not being completely sure if I just had checked. I think this comes from having a poor short term memory because even though I checked I had something with me just a few seconds before I will still feel like I hadn’t done it yet, unless the memory becomes visual or has some sort of sound associated with it. Then I can forget whether I’ve closed the front door or turned off the stove and this produces extreme feelings of anxiety, and it’s not uncommon for me to have a panic attack.

There are moments when my mind is thinking of far too many things at once and this turns to having more anxious thoughts about possibly everything. There are specific things I’m anxious about like travelling overseas – not of flying but of going to someplace I’ve never been to before – aka. the fear of change. It’s not just about overseas but areas that are close to me that I’ve never been to before. That’s one of my autistic gifts.

I have generalized anxiety which is usually about fears of the future and about financial instability. I have anxiety attacks when I have to unexpectedly pay a lot of money upfront. I’m also not the best at managing my finances because of my impulsivity and inattention. I suppose it’s become more challenging for me since I decided to stop taking ADHD medication.

So, there’s a lot of anxiety that has come out of symptoms with ADHD. I haven’t even got into the social anxiety I feel about either saying too little or too much and my ability to occasionally blurt out something that makes me sound ignorant, selfish and just plain rude.

As bad as anxiety is sometimes it does help keep me organized and helps with decision making. Not when it gets debilitating. When it’s like that it makes all the wrong decisions for me which makes sure I stay locked up in my house and never have any new experiences. But sometimes I get the urge to do certain things even when I’m not planning to do them and it’s like I needed to do them. For example when I take photos of bands I might need to ask them for special access in certain venues. I’ll get these persistent thoughts about them and feel restless and even be unable to do anything else. Sometimes I just feel depressed or highly strung when I just need to go grocery shopping. Then when I complete those tasks I feel better, even a bit more hyper and happier. It also makes me feel safer that it’s there at the severe paranoid level it can get to, which makes it hard for me to seek treatment. My anxiety really is so bad that I think if I didn’t have it I wouldn’t be as safe.

Hell, I’m anxious about getting this post up as fast as possible.

So, there you have it. Two very detailed descriptions on two very common symptoms of hyperactivity. I hope I’ve made some people out there understand what goes on in a hyperactive brain more, whether it be from ADHD, bipolar, or even traumatic brain injury. I also hope that people will keep an open mind when they cross paths with a hyperactive person, most likely a child, and realize that under the hyperactivity (which often looks like it can be fun) are layers and layers of other symptoms that make us restless, physically and emotionally uncomfortable and get in the way of accomplishing the basic everyday tasks most people take for granted.

It is kind of fun though, at times.

It doesn’t really matter if people don’t believe what I’ve written in these two posts, or that they still deny ADHD could be a real disorder. Because I like many others will still experience the symptoms. And I challenge those people to try and think about those with a diagnosis of ADHD who may or may or not take medication for it in a different way; instead of thinking we are making up excuses for being lazy and wanting to get away with being rude and selfish, instead try looking at it like we realise it’s much harder for us to accomplish basic everyday tasks and we really want to, so this diagnosis and treatment is just a way to make us do those things better. And we want to do that without giving up chocolate. Think of it as a coping mechanism which are tools or methods we put in place to help us manage our symptoms. Like people who go for strict restrictive diets we choose a diagnosis and medication to help us to manage our symptoms and learn to understand ourselves better. We don’t need a complete cure because ADHD has shaped our life into what is it, and our personality. For me, it’s better to manage it than get rid of it completely.

And lastly, mind your own damn business.

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