I’ve always used this blog to document and share what I learned. Lately, I have been learning about myself and my neurodiverse mind, so I plan to share some of this new learning. First off, I am not a psychiatrist, and I have not seen any professional or had any diagnosis. I am going to talk entirely about my experience. If some of this resonates with you, maybe spend some time researching neurodiversity because understanding how your brain works can unlock the super-power part of not being typical. Being neurodiverse hasn’t stood in my way. I have been married to my (first) wife for nearly 30 years, we have two adult children who live independently but communicate and hug us when we see them. I have a fun and successful career where I go to amazing places and do amazing things with awesome people.
For a long time, I have known that my brain works differently to most (neurotypical) people and thought that it was Autism spectrum. I like systems and patterns; I like things that work the same way every time. I fold up my socks in a particular way and arrange them in my sock drawer, and I like to have the glasses in the cupboard lined up a particular way. I even spent years creating AutoLab to build a consistent vSphere lab. For the Autism aspect of my brain, order and systems are very rewarding, this will be important later. They say that everyone is on the Autism spectrum, and I don’t think I’m too far out of typical. Although I have my systems, they are just that, my systems. I don’t believe anyone else needs to follow my systems or that my way is the “right” way. This is important; I doubt my wife would tolerate me telling her how to stack or unload the dishwasher and demanding that she do it right. The Autism tendencies have been great in my IT career; creating systems and automation has always been valuable, and there is a detail-oriented aspect that helps with project plans. Remembering that one article I read four years ago that applies to the current issue has allowed me to resolve nasty issues with customers more than once.
Lately, I have learned that I also have ADHD parts in my brain too. It feels like some of the characteristics of Autism and ADHD are opposites, but it turns out that having aspects of both is common. One of my most powerful ADHD traits is hyperfocus, the ability to do one thing to the exclusion of all else. Spending every evening and weekend for months at a time building AutoLab is a long-running example of hyperfocus. My mentor in learning about ADHD taught me that one way to think about it is that an ADHD brain has a low basic level of reward chemicals. If a typical person has a baseline level of, say, 500, then an ADHD person might have a baseline of 300. To feel like a task is worthwhile, you might need to get to 750. A typical person that just needs an increase of 50% from baseline, while an ADHD person needs a 150% increase. It is much harder for an ADHD brain to feel like a task is worthwhile because more reward chemicals are required. But getting over that threshold also makes more impact on an ADHD brain. Imagine that the reward level gets to 900, then the typical brain has only seen an 80% gain and really enjoys the task, but an ADHD brain has seen a 200% gain and will keep doing the task as long as possible to maintain the reward. That is how I understand hyperfocus, and I try to manufacture that reward level when I need to get things done. I’ve been doing this since long before I understood anything about ADHD. I knew that I needed a little ritual and a move to a different place to write. I can seldom write while sitting at my desk, there are far too many things that are more rewarding, like writing Arduino code, designing 3D printed gadgets, or scrolling Facebook. I drive to a park & put my earbuds in with music, then I can write solidly.
Not that it is all managed. I still suffer from procrastination, where I know what needs to be done, but it just isn’t rewarding enough to feel worthwhile. Sometimes there will be a big decision to be made, and I will know exactly the choice I am going to make but need time to make the decision. The other fun part is being both overwhelmed with the amount of work I need to do and totally bored. This is classic ADHD; none of the tasks are rewarding enough for me to start. I’m bored not because there is nothing to do but because there isn’t anything rewarding to do. This does pass; when the tasks become urgent, they are more rewarding! The Autism side is useful here; ticking items off a list is rewarding, so I always have a To-do list and reward myself by ticking items off that I might otherwise procrastinate for longer.
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