Behind this there’s the bigger question of what causes anorexia. Are my (and possibly Dylan’s) eating disorders singular obsessions, triggered by trauma or stress or societal expectations of body image? Are they fostered by self-indulgence and lack of moral character? Or are they the most damaging manifestations of fundamental systems of thought, genetically programmed biochemical dispositions? That’s why the idea that we might have ADHD is so intriguing. It suggests a mind-set or a mental structure that underpins both conditions – a tendency to become a little too intense and obsessive in our pursuits, perhaps.
This idea is a relief because you feel like such a fool. It is so shaming to have got yourself into this position and be pathetically unable to get a grip and just stop it. It ought to be so easy. Your whole being shudders with the intensity of the mortification.
There’s a wonderful guy on YouTube called Rick Green. He posts videos where he explains and discusses aspects of ADHD (which he has). On one, he describes the condition as “uneven attention”. He says,
“ADHD is a problem managing attention, managing focus and ideas, forgetfulness, regulating what we focus on and what we don’t, what’s important and what’s not important, sometimes lost in thought, tuning out, distracted, and other times we are super-focused. It’s a matter of degree, which is why it’s called a spectrum disorder.”
This sounds very much like my thinking, except mine is a much paler and watered down version. I’m not hopping around madly like this, and I’m never “super-focused”. I’m just not very good at concentrating, especially on subjects I’m not very interested in. But doesn’t that describe everybody? At school, I found it impossible to do any homework. Along with every other student who’s ever lived.
Rick Green is explaining the difference between hyper-focus and hyper-fixation in this video. He claims that people with ADHD can become totally absorbed, for hours, in tasks they like. This he calls “Hyper-focus” and it sounds like my idea of busy-brain thinking, worrying at, burrowing into, a subject. It confuses people because they think if someone can focus, they can’t have the condition and so, their off-task behaviour is just wilful naughtiness, or evidence that they are spoilt.
I don’t think I’ve ever experienced hyper-focus, except that Jo says I often find it difficult to drop a subject until I’ve fully developed my point. It seems to cause me actual distress. Apparently, it makes me “difficult to argue with”. That’s just being a bore, though.
I’m more interested in Mr Green’s definition of “hyper-fixation”. This is an ongoing obsession with a particular subject or hobby or grievance or conspiracy theory, or whatever. It can last months or years.
I recognise this. It’s when your mind keeps coming back and back to something, touch and touch and touching on the same topic, thinking about it in the same manner, from the same perspective. It becomes one of your comforting habits, its manifestations more and more ritualistic. Even if it is a profoundly negative, you settle comfortably into your familiar brooding thought cycles. Often you will start off thinking about something else, but quickly bring your thoughts back to the cosily familiar obsession.
I think I indulge in a sort of thinking that bridges the gap between Hyper-focus and Hyper-fixation. If I have something on my mind – a plan, a pre-occupation, I’ll often embark on a thought-sentence, part of my internal dialogue with myself, but fail to reach the end of it before I break off. Then I’ll repeat and repeat that fragment of words over and over again. It’s often a conditional clause, and the consequences are too many or too complicated to dilate upon easily, so I’ll just abandon it and return to the beginning. So, if I’m planning to do a writing course, I’ll think, “If I do the course then I can…” Then, I’ll start again: “If I do the course then I can…” Soon, I’ll have made it into a chant: “If I do the course then I can…, if I do the course then I can…, if I do the course, If I do the course, If I do the course then I can…”
Of course, the more you starve your brain, the more difficult it becomes to complete your thoughts, so this behaviour is reinforced. Often the chant would degenerate further, into meaningless sounds in my head, especially when I was trying to run.