Music and movement as a reboot/shuffle button for my atypical attention inertia (ADHD)

March 17, 2018 – 9:42 am

One of the ways in which I understand my ADHD is that my brain has an atypical, wildly varying, and unpredictable amount of attention inertia. It’s hard to get my brain to focus on command, both starting and stopping. It’ll focus on what it wants to focus on, when it wants to focus on it… it’s a tremendous charging boulder that I can’t steer directly — but I can carve the landscape around it to funnel it more towards the spaces I hope it’ll go.

One of the strategies I have for working with my ADHD is discovering the effect that music and movement — even in small doses — can have on my attention. They can jolt my attention inertia out of a stuck place. Movement and music are a partial reset/reboot button for me, brain-wise. They don’t magically make me able to focus on a specific target, but they can shake my attention out of where it’s currently stuck. It’s like a random shuffle button — maybe if I press it, the next thing will be what I wanted! Or maybe it’ll be a place where I can start and then go where I wanted! Or maybe it’ll be some totally unconnected place that won’t work, and I’ll have to press “shuffle” again!

So if I can dance and move while working, this is great. At any point in time, I can flip on music, I can do air squats or dance around the room or do a couple Turkish get-ups… I typically only need a couple minutes for that to start jiggling the massive boulder of my attention in a slightly different direction. And sometimes “slightly different” is enough. And sometimes “slightly different” sends the boulder careening down a hill towards a cliff-edge while I run behind it screaming “Noooooo!!!” — but if I remember, I can hit the music/movement/shuffle button again and throw myself into a different place, and hopefully a better one.

The challenge is that this is typically not… a socially acceptable thing to do. Offices where I can go barefoot and move around and not be seen as “unprofessional” are few and far between. This behavior looks odd/useless to people who don’t understand that it’s a coping mechanism for me, because… why can’t I just sit down and focus?

Because I can’t. That’s not the way my brain is built. I can’t sit down and simply decide to think about a thing any more than I (as a deaf person) can sit down and simply decide to understand a person talking to me. But if the end goal is for me to work on thing X, to sit down and think about thing X — that, I can do… but I will have to go about it differently.

Yeah, this is sometimes frustrating… for all the obvious reasons, typically the ones we think of ADHD as a disability. But this is also me, and I would not think in all the ways I love to think if I didn’t have ADHD, too. Atypical attention inertia and the ability to rapidly switch between seemingly unconnected things can be a powerful birthing place for… what the world might usually call “innovation,” but feels to me simply like play. It weaves into my enthusiasm and my offbeat creativity and my ability to pull a million things together and hold tremendously complex new worlds within myself for extended periods of time.

When people ask me “how did you think of that?” — my answer is often simply “I don’t know… I’m not sure how not to.” But the flip side of that is that when people ask me “why can’t you just do (or stop doing) X?” where X is something related to regulation of attention, emotion, etc. or any of the things that ADHD tends to affect, sometimes my answer is also “I don’t know… I’m not sure how (not) to.” It’s the flip side of being non-neurotypical. You don’t think like most people, and this is sometimes really cool! And you… don’t think like most people, and this is sometimes really hard.

So I keep on trying to build worlds for myself, and ways to work within the worlds I’m given, and looking for people who can understand, or at least want to try. It’s lonely sometimes, and I need spaces like this blog (and my text-based internet of friends in general) where I can be myself and rest and soak in easy understanding and expression, and play music and dance to my hearts’ content without people looking at me sternly. This is one of the worlds that helps me go back out to the big one.

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