Squirrels & hamsters

I’m not sure where I’m going with this. But I had a client a couple weeks ago who made a remark that stuck with me. He said that, “everybody talks about the squirrel running by the window that distracts us. But nobody talks about the hamster wheel inside our own head.”

Just in time I figured out where I was going with this. I do think it’s important to differentiate between internal and external distractions. I am the classic hyperactive boy. I am what society thinks about when they think about ADHD. My dad always referred to me as “shot out of a cannon.” But research consistently indicates that I am only one flavor of ADHD.

But I don’t think it’s an accident that my flavor was noticed first. My symptoms, at least some of them, are very externalized. I am distracted by my physical being and the physical world around me. Whether it is someone talking behind me class, or even the soft tick of the second hand on a clock in an otherwise silent library, those things derail me.

Internal distractions are just as difficult to manage. But they are happening inside an ADHD person’s brain in a way that you can’t necessarily see without visible hyperactivity symptoms. In the age of flat earthers, Holocaust denial, in general nincompoopery, it’s really important to remember that a lot of things exist that we can’t see with the naked eye. I think we are getting better at recognizing ADHD in inattentive but not hyperactive folks. But I still don’t think we really talk about what’s going on with those people.

Enter the hamster. I think average neurotypical people would have a hard time understanding what it’s really like inside our brains. I don’t think they believe or could even comprehend how much is rattling around in there at such an incredible velocity. I think about this a lot in the context of my mindfulness practice. The idea that we have too many thoughts, too many ideas, too many possibilities is counterintuitive to the normies. The idea that the ideas come so fast and furious that we may feel like we have to say them right away or they’ll be gone for good is difficult for people to understand as neurobiology and not a character flaw.

And of course, the follow-up question. If you have all these ideas and all these thoughts why don’t you get anything done? Because they don’t understand that we are not in control of these thoughts / ideas / feelings. I think a good way to describe it is that it’s like drinking from a fire hose. Not only is it going to be unpleasant at times, you’re actually going to get less water in your mouth then if you were drinking from a garden hose. So much of us is counterintuitive. Not to mention, getting stuff done requires us to be able to focus on one thing. We may have a gift for all these wonderful ideas and thoughts. But in moments when we can’t control it, it doesn’t feel like much of a gift.

Well, I’m probably preaching to the choir here. But I thought it was an important thing to bring up.