Unfortunately, medication doesn’t fix susceptibility to distractions. If anything, medication just makes it so that you get distracted for less time. Or, in another perspective, you get distracted from your distractors and you complete your work faster than you would originally. This comes at the cost of having spent more energy in total.
Imagine mowing a lawn. Most people would start the mower’s engine, push it up and down the lawn with gentle guidance around obstacles periodically. It’s safe to say that you have been mowing lawns for a while now so you can pretty much stop thinking about the act of pushing until you need to turn and reorient.
To a person with ADHD, it would feel like mowing two lawns at once. Most people only have one lawn mower. It would make sense to mow the first lawn and then mow the second. If you had to stop mowing one for some extraneous reason like, say, the dogs needing to go outside, then it would still make sense to take your mower and start on the second lawn in the downtime.
This isn’t how a person with ADHD would feel about it. They would start the mower, make some decent progress going back and forth at least three times before, in the middle of it it all, their mind would wander.
When pushing a lawnmower you don’t need to think about anything other than looking at the area before the mower and ensuring there is nothing there but grass. You stare at the green, you watch the individual blades pass, but slowly the grass is soon just a moving texture; it becomes visual noise like television static and you zone out. You’re left with nothing but your mind. You are still receiving sensory inputs but nothing takes your active attention. You are lost in yourself. You decouple your mind from the task. You no longer feel the compulsion that you once did to mow your lawn. Why did you start? Was it because you didn’t want your neighbors to think ill of you? You don’t particularly care about your neighbors’ opinion. Cutting the grass is a little bit futile to begin with; it’s only going to grow back. Having tall grass wouldn’t be that bad anyway; you don’t go outside that often anyhow. Why are lawns so important? Isn’t it just a cultural holdover from generations before us about taking pride in our property? What’s the point of showboating any— Your peripheral vision unclouds and your eyes focus in like a hawk at the brown frontier that invades the area you were monitoring with your disinterested gaze. It’s the wood fence, it’s time to turn the mower around. It comes back to you. You mow your lawn because you don’t want your dogs to get bitten by snakes or spiders. You come back to it and turn the mower.
Every time you zone out you lose your sense of self. Even though you know why you are mowing your lawn now, you feel less encouraged to do it. You had time to question, you had time to stare into the void. Even though you know you need to mow your lawn the questions still persist in your mind. They’re valid questions, at least from where you are standing. You’re not even sure why there is yard and not more house. That would explain how cities and apartments came to be. It must be hard to have a pet in New York City. You’ve done it again, you were just idly exploring your mind when suddenly you’re no longer in your body.
Sometimes you don’t like where your mind goes when you leave it to itself. If you’re lucky, you might just ponder the meaning of some things and apply some folk-etymological musings to things as explanations for why things are the way they are because you can’t be bothered to research them right now. Research is hard, sometimes, it’s difficult to navigate google, sometimes it feels like it’s suffocating you in a plastic bag. If you’re not so lucky, you may find yourself exploring old memories. Like that time that you were rushing to get to math class. When you sat down you felt the cold plastic against your lower back and you realized you were so focused on getting through the crowded halls that you never considered that at some point you may have needed to pull your pants up or maybe your shirt down. You can’t recall clearly, all you recall was swiftly correcting your outfit. Well, you also recall trying to figure out who might have seen you. Someone you know? Someone you wanted to know? That might just be why some people didn’t want to hang out with you. You can’t put together who was there, all you have is doubt. That one incident is why you always check your pants and shirt when you stand up. You also walk with your hands in your pockets. Part of it is to take up less space, the other is to keep your pants up if they happen to begin slipping.
You finish mowing your lawn. You don’t feel accomplished, though. You feel beaten down. Somehow mowing your lawn turned into a nihilistic departure from this world. In the process of doing something you were largely indifferent towards, you managed to kick up a dust cloud of negatively charged emotions. They attach to the process of mowing your lawn. You like mowing your lawn a little less. You’ll be more likely to put it off next time.
Surely, not every memory or thought you have is a bad one. You can remember the times in your life that were good and appreciate them for what they were. But those are times in your life where things were going right, there’s not much use in thinking about what you’ve already done. The fragrance of positivity doesn’t lift as easily from your scratch-n-sniff memory as the pungent cloudy odor of negativity. The only times you really think about the good is when something bad is happening. When you want to figure out why the good stopped and when the bad started. You may take for granted everything you accomplished and have. The good things are a given, you have no reason to think about them further. You just might introduce some insecurities about what you have. You’ll start to fear losing them. You’ll draft hypothetical situations of the many potential subversive realities and plan to address them to prevent the loss of what you have. It only makes sense, you don’t want to have bad things happen and feel bad, do you?
Oh dear. In the process of trying to envision the incredibly unlikely scenario where we would steel our minds against the monotony of lawnmowing we followed the trail of good directly into the bad. Like a greyscale rainbow that leads to a chamber pot. What if we tried mowing the lawn when we’re happy? We might just have enough happy in us to coast and have nothing too bad happen. This sounds like a good approach, but how likely are we to feel happy in the first place? Plus, if being happy in its own regard is so rare, can we really trust ourselves to break away from that to do something we’ve rationalized a thousand times to be pointless?
It appears that no matter what we think about when we’re doing something we’re going to be sapping our own energy. The mere fact that I exist causes anguish. Like Descartes, I am assured my own existence by my self-inflicted nightmares.
The more we think, the more problems we create. We are happiest at rest. Clearly the subterfuge to evade our mental despotism is to exhaust ourselves before our mind can.
So we mow two lawns at once. With two different mowers. It’s at times like this that we discover first-hand that concurrency is merely an illusion and its reality is precluded by the fact that we are but one person with one mind to assign to one task. Just as we begin to zone out on our first mower, we can free our hands and do something else of equal importance. They both need to get done, right? It might be a little bit slower but at least it will get done. If we get bored of the second mower we can go back to the first one for a while. If I simply alternate between two tasks swiftly enough I can keep so busy that I don’t get a chance to think about the world around me or what I’m doing. When I’m done, I’m too exhausted to move or think. In order to accomplish a task I have to lose sight of the world around me. A tunnel vision so incredibly focused that it forces me to work against other parts of my whole. Leaving an engine running in idle while I rush to operate another. Beginning any task is like pulling the rip-cord. Every start is the cold entry into a pool.
But the world doesn’t seem to have time for the time it takes for you to run between two objectives. To the regular guy that finished mowing his two lawns, you look pretty damn stupid. So you rush yourself to meet the expectations of the world around you. The world expects you to have the output of the first guy, what makes you so special? Every time you begin you dive into the cold water. Nobody waits for the slow submersion. You have to keep the momentum. Where most people live for the weekend at rest, you are forced to live in the microcosm between actions. You must exist like the lightning that strikes between the charged cloud that is your current struggle and the earth that is the whole of all the rest of your burdens. Your body becomes a combustion engine where every action hammered out is an explosion that propels you further. You feel powerful, you feel as if each stomp of your foot cleaves the earth as you get nearer and nearer to the end. You are strong. When it’s over you savor not the fact that you did something that you needed to, but the fact that you merely did it. You no longer felt like you existed only to experience the terrors but instead you violently asserted your existence by overcoming the struggle that inhibits your ability to do.
You feel as if you belong atop mount Olympus as a god yourself. You can’t just stop now, not with how easily you just tore through that task. You have to do something else. You are raw potential energy and you’re eager to hear the thunderclap of yet another success. You take on things that are challenging and difficult. You always knew you could do it, all you had to do was apply yourself. Now look at you. Your velocity and will alone allowed you to vault into something completely new like you’ve been doing it for years. You’ve always known yourself to be capable and observant. It comes with the territory, you see and hear a lot and simply retain it. You’re smart, that’s good.
You do not live through the burden of obligation, but rather the obligations that you have acquired allow you to live. Your hands begin slipping, though. You slow down. Your high is dying. Panic sets in. You need something to do, you can’t let this energy go to waste. Anything to keep your hands busy. The world that was previously trembling beneath your feet is now hoisted upon your shoulder. You kneel to help your body carry the load but the relief is only momentary. It isn’t long before you let loose a primordial yell, and it isn’t easy to tell if it’s fear, anger, or if you’re calling for help. It feels like you’re breathing fire as you feel your spirit fly out through your throat.
From an outside perspective, you mowed the lawn and maybe did some other things you’ve been meaning to do that you never found the time for. From an inside perspective, you have very few parts of you that could be said to be “inside”. It’s hard to tell, what with you being crushed.
You feel destroyed not because you eventually failed, but because you fear never being able to start again. Your pistons worked their grease off and you tore right into the walls of your motor. You overextended, but you can justify it to yourself with how rarely you get an opportunity to do something.
Deep down, though, you feared being held prisoner once again inside your own skull. In a world where vices aren’t nearly as romantic and make you unsympathetic, especially to yourself. Where this amount of effort needs to be exacted from you to make you as productive as the next person. Where the only thing you want in your life is the ability to achieve and having it always be out of reach. You internalized everyone’s criticisms of your character. I mean, from where they’re standing all you need to do is do it. When they see you struggling with what they thought to be an easy task you look inadequate.
We like to tell ourselves that we live in a sympathetic society where this issue would be understood, but instead we hide it. Like chickens we must hide our wounds for fear of being torn apart by our brethren. In the workforce admitting to your problem makes you less employable. In an environment that’s remotely scrutinous you’re incredibly likely to fail inspection and admitting to it later only makes your employer feel like they’ve invested in defective livestock.