The Dilemma, and Value, of Distraction

Sunday 26 January 2020 14:30

Yesterday was a classic day of wall-to-wall distractions that were out of my control. I got nothing done. 

Further along my little cul-de-sac someone was moving out. They had a small self-drive hired van and a couple of cars so made lots of trips to and fro, and whenever they were loading up, one of the vehicles had its doors open and its music system on LOUDEST. Despite my house being 150-200m away, with (double-glazed) windows and door firmly closed, the incessant BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! literally made my head ache, and made it impossible to think.

Even more continuously distracting though, was a neighbour opposite building a rather bizarrely designed fence around the front of his house.

I should explain, my daytime workspace at the moment, for several reasons including comfort and light, is a window-seat built into the lounge bay window, which in the winter, looks directly out onto the road. I’ve tried to create as much of a screen outside as possible with planting, but without shutting the light out completely, and especially while many of the plants are in their naked winter state, what’s going on outside is ever present. Usually this isn’t much – it is a fairly quiet road, and many houses open directly onto the pavement, so aside from comings and goings, there is little activity thankfully. Unfortunately on days like yesterday when there is, the distractibility of my ADHD brain goes into overdrive.

I tried to work, I really did, but between the incessant BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! from the house movers car radio, and the pneumatic drill of the fence builder, even without looking up to see the developing bizarreness of the structure that was going up, I was doomed.

Memories of schooldays, when I would be, seemingly pointedly and without caring, “gazing out of the window”, and the ensuing trouble it got me into.

Being aware of everything – and I mean EVERYTHING – that is going on around you, is far from the only symptom of ADHD, and it’s not even the worst, but it is incredibly inconvenient and can be exhausting. It does, however, have a purpose that, were we living many hundreds of years ago when humans were simply hunter-gatherers and other living creatures were either food or foe, would have been considered extremely desirable. Imagine how valuable it was to be able to pick up the sound of an approaching predator despite being deep in conversation about what colour to paint the cave. How vital to note a flash of movement of danger to your right even while aiming your sling at that evening’s supper to your left (thus ensuring that you don’t become supper for someone else)!

At school, I may have been distracted by the construction outside of a new bike shed when I should have been paying attention to why x=y, but no-one ever thought to ask what I HAD learned (I bet I could have given a very detailed description of how a bike shed is constructed for example), only punishing me for what I hadn’t.

Those of us with ADHD may be out of sync with the society we find ourselves in now, but we did very much have our place in times gone by. I can’t help feeling that society needs to be kinder and more flexible towards us now.

After all, the time for the special qualities of ADHD brains might yet return…

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