Everyone’s just been waiting for me to dispense completely unfounded medical opinions based on a hunch, right? Well, having had occasion recently to closely observe various people going about their daily routines, I have been thinking a lot about ADHD and focus. The traditional line on ADHD is that it’s an inability to focus, that it makes you easily distracted and you forget what you’re doing. But what I have more noticed is that for most daily activities, neurotypical people don’t use their brain to accomplish them; they get into their muscle memory and then their body just executes them while their mind wanders free in the clouds. But for people with ADHD (at least those I have lived with, which is quite a few), this never seems to happen — they have to focus mentally on a task no matter how many times they’ve performed it because when their mind drifts, their body simply stops performing the task and wanders off from it.
I am praised as being an especially focused person and always have been, but I actually am almost never thinking about what I’m doing. My body is just going through the day performing tasks. I even write sometimes while thinking about something else entirely. I would never have to remember where my keys are, because I don’t ever think about my keys. My hands store and retrieve them in a location automatically when I come in the door. I don’t have to focus on doing laundry while also making pasta, because my brain is not involved in that combination of activities — my brain is thinking about the recent loss of my human rights while my body carries on with whatever chores it has started.
So what if everybody is equally unfocused, and this is less about our focus and more about the extent to which our bodies function as programmable automatons, or fail to?
Driving, on the other hand, is an activity that never gets into my subconscious muscle memory, because I am terrified of driving and of being in cars, and that never goes away no matter how many times I do it. So while other people can easily drive and carry on conversations, if someone in the car is talking to me, driving becomes impossible for me. I cannot split my attention in that way, because my brain is always actively involved in the driving — the fear acts as an interruptor that blocks my body from taking the wheel (literally). But that is the exception on tasks I regularly perform; usually, my brain isn’t involved at all.
By the way, sorry if any of this is accidentally offensive in some way (I don’t think it is?), but before you cancel me, I’m allowed to say it, because I also have been diagnosed with ADHD. I don’t really think I have it, but I’m not above indignantly claiming that I do in order to make a point. Although actually maybe I do have it, because whenever I do have to fully focus my mind on something (a conversation, reading, writing something complex), I have to spend like 30-60 minutes sort of meditating myself into it by force, because otherwise my brain keeps wandering off to obsess about other things like, say, the fact that over half the US population is now not in full possession of their own bodies. And I also can’t listen to anything anyone else says unless there are subtitles or I’m also playing with a coloring app on my phone. I took adderall for awhile and it fixed all this, but when Edith was born I decided I cared about longevity and although I don’t know for sure, I just feel like taking speed every day probably doesn’t contribute to living into one’s dotage, especially when combined with all my other unhealthy lifestyle factors which I am making no serious effort to improve, so I cut it out.
And so if you’re ever talking to me and it becomes clear that I have not been paying attention to what you’re saying whatsoever but have just been nodding and smiling and interjecting politely while my brain is obsessing about something like, oh, I don’t know, a massive backslide in women’s rights that will make our overall society substantially worse by just about any metric you could think of, you can’t get mad at me about it, because I’m just trying to stay healthy for my child.