a display of three gold clocks and an hour glass on a table

NeuroDivergence Time & Hyperfocus – Managing Time & Hyperfocus as an NeuroDivervgent Person so it Doesn’t Ruin Your Life (an Autistic ADHD Perspective)

NeuroDiversity, brain diversity, diversity in how we experience and interact with the world around us. This often invisible form of diversity impacts how we experience our emotions and the sensory world around us, how we process and share information, and the depth of our focus and our internal experience of time. 

No two people will experience the world the same way. 

I am NeuroDivergent in at least five ways (that I know of). 

Our individual brains’ combination of NeuroTypes (because people seldom have only one measurable brain difference) heavily influences our reality, including our experience of time (and space). As Einstien would have said, “It’s all relative.”

Some people don’t struggle with time – I DO.

Since my diagnosis, there are three things I have become aware of regarding my hyperfocus as an AuDHDer:

  1. I know I NEED to maximize my hyperfocus ability to complete certain types of tasks. 
  2. Some things can hinder my ability to hyperfocus. 
  3. My hyperfocus can be so all-consuming that it can cause me not to do essential things in my life (if left unchecked). For example: making me late to appointments and causing me to neglect my relationships and important self-care tasks (like eating and going to the bathroom). 

As an Autistic ADHDer, one way my NeuroDivergence shapes my reality is in my experience of time. Time plagues me, stressing me out because it is often in direct conflict, why my hyperfocused nature.

I can either be early or late. I don’t know how to be “on time.” I don’t know how long “an hour feels” or what five minutes is like because time warps in my head, depending on what I’m doing. Meetings I can’t be late to are buffered with lots of space for transitions, alarms, and reminders (so I’m early to everything). 

My Autistic brain allows me to focus so intensely on things that catch my interest it can cause hours or days to feel like minutes. I can lose large chunks of time when I fixate on and can’t let go of something. 

Sometimes, these fixations bring me joy and are fun to dive into, but other times they can be unhealthy and unhelpful. 

I latch onto problems. Some of the issues I get stuck on are problems I can solve (and some I cannot). The unsolvable problems torment me as my brain refuses to release them, keeping me tangled in their clutches. 

ADHD also greatly influences my time experience, as my (dopamine-seeking) ADHD brain is always hungry for entertainment, like an insatiable itch that can never be fully satisfied. 

When there is nothing to feed that need, time moves at an excruciatingly slow pace (so slow time can feel suffocating), but when I’m doing the things that “fill my tank,” time zips by so fast that many hours fly by and I may not notice. 

Autism influences the depth and intensity of my focus, which impacts my time experience, and ADHD affects my ability to direct and regulate my attention in a “timely” fashion. I also find it nearly impossible to focus on something uninteresting or unimportant (even if my life depends on it).

As a younger (unidentified) AuDHDer, seeking dopamine and unaware of the consequences of my actions, I would frequently hyperfocus for 12 or more hours on one thing (art, writing, video games, music) without minding the impacts (or the crash) that would come later from failing to stop for rest or food (and taking bathroom breaks only when it was almost too late). 

Time, a social construct I’ve struggled with since elementary school, when they wanted me to learn to read those clocks with the hands-on them (something I STILL struggle with, but now shamelessly have given into the simple solution of not having that type of clock in my home).

There are time changes in the spring and fall, confusing me and throwing off my routines. 

Alarm clocks stress me out to the point where I can’t sleep because I’m stressed about sleeping through my alarm or waking up every hour, wondering how many hours of sleep I have left before the alarm goes off. 

I solved this struggle for many years by working the 2nd shift (which started no earlier than 2 pm), so I wouldn’t need an alarm clock. Eventually, shift work (often manual labor) became too much for my body (damaged from years of ignored and poorly understood hypermobility). 

When shift work began to wear me down, I moved into working in an office with strict time schedules and many meetings (sometimes early in the morning in unfamiliar locations in a city with LOTS of traffic), where being late was unacceptable. 

When I worked in an office or had the morning shift, my anxiety over alarm clocks, oversleeping, and being late for things made it impossible to get a good night’s sleep, when I did sleep, I would have nightmares about missing my alarms and being late for whatever I had set my alarm for the night before. 

Does anyone else ever have that nightmare where you wake up late for work, and everything random keeps coming up, preventing you from getting to work? 

I had this one dream: I’d run to work on the highway (3 towns away) with cars in traffic because my car had something wrong with it. Which wasn’t even logical because my work was so far away that if I walked to it, I would get there by the time work was over.

Most mornings, I would wake up tired and unrested, worse than when I went to bed. Often my stomach and nervous system would be on edge from the adrenaline of reoccurring nightmares, waking up repeatedly in a panic through the night, worried I was late for work. 

The unpredictability of the commute was hard for me; as an (undiagnosed) Autistic Person and as an (also undiagnosed) ADHDer, who still struggles to know “how long” things take or how much time I’m spending on something (if I don’t have a big clock in my face or a timer). 

NeuroDivergent People who don’t know they are NeuroDivergent are frequently held to NeuroTypical standards (by themselves and everyone around them). We are expected to do the same things as everyone else does without “complaining” or asking for help. When we can’t do things the same way our NeuroTypical peers do, we find alternative ways to meet those expectations that we can hide or that our peers find “socially acceptable.”

Instead of crying, melting down, and panicking in traffic as I watched the clock count down to and past the start of my appointments, I solved my time struggles by leaving home (sometimes hours) earlier than I needed to for things (because having a meltdown on the way to something would guarantee I wouldn’t be my best by the time I got to whatever appointment I was attending). 

I would leave for the morning commute hours earlier than most people (pulling into work before the traffic started). 

After arriving early and sleeping in the parking lot for a bit, I finished getting ready in my car and then managed to be the first to arrive at work in the morning (while most people were still in traffic).  

This method ensured I was always on time, keeping me out of trouble (and often in favor) with most of my employers (but it wasn’t perfect and did cause problems on more than one occasion). 

People assumed I was an early bird. Nobody knew my promptness, and the 7 am start time was a tactic I used to soothe my chronic anxiety. 

There is panic, fear, and shame over my struggles to be “on time” (and not knowing how much time is passing or how long things should take me) because my entire life, people have told me I should know these things and scolded me for them. It is a shame I still struggle with today (though not as much as when I didn’t know I was NeuroDivergent).

I do better when these expectations are not placed upon me, but society values time (and all its oppressive social constructs) highly (even if I HATE them).

When optimized, my hyperfocus can be my greatest strength, but if left unchecked, it can wreak havoc on my life. I’ve had to learn how to manage my hyperfocus so it doesn’t run (or RUIN) my life.

Read more on the NeuroDivergent Rebel Substack!

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