My earliest memory of “hyperfocus” was in grade school. I had grown bored of whatever the lesson was, had completed the worksheets, and was sneaking a book under my desk.
Suddenly I looked up and the whole room was empty. Not a single person was there.
An entire classroom. All the kids. The teacher. The aide. Everyone. They had all gone to lunch. I sat there, alone.
I remember the panic feeling rushing over me. My cheeks burned with embarrassment. How many of the kids must have looked at me as they walked past? Did anyone even try to get my attention? How long had I been sitting there? What should I do now?
Hot, sharp tears of anger welled up in my eyes. I was SO angry at myself.
Why couldn’t I just pay attention? Why couldn’t I just sit like the rest of them? What was wrong with me? How did an entire classroom of people suddenly become invisible to me? I sure wasn’t invisible to them as they all walked past me; the only one who didn’t get up! The girl with the book in her lap. They probably nudged each other and pointed at me. One tear escaped the corner of my eye and ran down my cheek. NO! No no no no! Now I would be the girl who missed lunch then cried??!
I shoved my book into my desk and rushed to the bathroom. I hid there for awhile, until I could hear that the lunch room had emptied and everyone was going outside for recess. I quietly joined them outside. I acted as if nothing had happened. I was so hungry. And I was terrified that I would have to explain myself for missing lunch. I would be in so much trouble. The fear was unbearable all day.
But nobody ever said a word to me. As we lined up and filed back into the classroom I waited for a snicker or a look, but nothing. When we sat down at our desks I expected a trip to the hall with the teacher. I thought maybe my book would be gone. Not a single person said a word, not even the teacher.
I was angry, scared, hungry, and invisible.
The rest of the day dragged on. My stomach rumbled from missing lunch. Every few minutes the thought of the book would pop into my head, causing a knot in my chest, and the burning in my cheeks to return. The thoughts that I was different raced through my head. Not only was I different, I also didn’t fit in or matter. I was alone. It seemed like everyone else had a friend. Where was mine? Where was the person who would have kicked me to get up? Or asked me what I was doing? Or where I was at lunch? Nobody even cared that I was gone. How long could I have gotten away with that? Would anyone notice if I disappeared forever?
As an adult I get it. I was quiet. It was easy for the teacher to pass over me as I sat with my head down, obviously not paying attention, but not interrupting her either. And I was doing well. My grades were great. I wasn’t a problem. I was just doing my own thing, teaching myself. I didn’t need her, and she didn’t need to stop the entire class to screw up her own flow over a quiet kid who was getting better grades than most the class.
It was easy for my friends to walk past me, because they were used to seeing me doing things differently than the other kids. All the kids were used to seeing me sit at my desk, trying to finish one last paragraph, in a totally different book than the class was reading. I always put the book down when I was ready, and made it into the line of people heading to lunch. To them I probably seemed kind of cool. Like a rebel. A silent rebel.
I was a silent rebel. I wasn’t disrespectful, but I did what I wanted. I was impulsive but in a weirdly appropriate and polite way. I wasn’t missed because I wasn’t a person who ever went missing. I was always doing different things. It wasn’t unusual to not see me at lunch. I could have been at a different table, or down in the band room practicing, or in some kind of spelling bee meeting. I was always doing my own things.
To an outsider it looked like I was a high achiever. Independent. Smart. Strong. A kid who pushed past comfort zones and wanted to grow.
On the inside, I was a mess. I needed those constantly changing activities to keep me from going crazy. I wasn’t trying to grow and learn. I wasn’t trying to step outside of any comfort zones. I was trying to distract myself. I was in a hundred different places because I couldn’t tolerate being in just one. I pushed comfort zones because I didn’t know what it felt like to be comfortable. I never felt out of place because I never had an inner place.
In a way, at an early age I was already self-medicating and finding tools and strategies to deal with the insatiable discomfort I felt inside.
I wasn’t drawing attention to myself. I was desperately trying to keep the attention off myself because I couldn’t fathom managing my own attention and that of someone else. I wasn’t talking out of turn, I wasn’t throwing fits and flipping over desks. I wasn’t making fun of my classmates or causing trouble. I was a silent rebel. I did assignments out of order, I read ahead in books, I found little ways to make things novel. I’d start from the end of a spelling test and work it backwards. I joined band, and spelling bees, and reading clubs, and jumped at any other activity that would allow me to physically leave the classroom for a while.
I didn’t so much want to be in the spelling bee or band as much as I just wanted to catch my mind. I was a talented musician because I sat in hyperfocus for hours at a time practicing paradiddles and slow rolls. The rhythm felt good in my brain. I was great at spelling because of all the reading I did. The reading kept my thoughts from racing. The words inside my head that I think or hear, they just kind of float around and I can’t keep them straight. Written words are locked down to a piece of paper. They’re caught. They don’t move. They make sense that way. They’re calm. They’re calming. Words on paper feel so good in my brain.
Looking back, I was a textbook case of undiagnosed ADHD in a girl.
I had been self-medicating by treating my symptoms with distractions, since pre-school.
As my story progressed it took becoming an adult with a baby to finally pull the symptoms to the front where someone noticed them. My jack of all trades, master of none lifestyle wasn’t working anymore.
So what does one do in this situation?
Stop letting your preschool-self medicate you.
ASK FOR HELP!
Then, start a blog, of course.
Do not, under any circumstances do what I did!!
Don’t graduate law school, get married, have a baby, take the bar exam, start a law firm, and become a realtor, and move your 94 year old grandma in with you, all in a span of about two years because you think if you fill up your life it will stop shaking around.
Why shouldn’t you do that?
That is the solution your pre-school self would come up with.
You will find yourself on the verge of a nervous breakdown and finally go to a therapist who will tell you to quit your law firm, and bury the real estate license for awhile.
So what should you do?
First, ask for help!
Then, keep reading books, play some music, huff some essential oils, find a great workout program, eat healthy foods, and do whatever it takes to stay out of the common working population. Read. Write. Write a lot. Read a lot. Just maybe not in a classroom full of people.
Pray a whole lot and understand that yes, you are different. You are wonderfully different. You are a person who was designed to be free and your soul will not stop hurting until you find that freedom. Packing it in tight will not make it feel better.
It kind of sucks. It’s painful. But the methods you have used since preschool to get relief from the pain you feel inside are not going to serve you into adulthood. Trust me. I tried it.