The King and I were talking today about hyperfocus, a quality of ADHD that can easily hijack the mind making it easy to get lost in ideas, creative ventures, and activities. The conversation was inspired by a wonderful blogpost I read written by Zoe Kessler for Psych Central called A Hyperfocus Balance Sheet: Is Hyperfocus Worth it? A wonderful breakdown of pros and cons to hyperfocus. In the discussion the King said he considers hyperfocus one of the greatest qualities he gains from his ADHD. It has taken a long time to get the balance just right, to master it rather than it controlling him, but now it's an asset that he uses in many aspects of daily life.
The benefits to my husband and our family are really hard to quantify but I have pinned down specifics of this sizable inheritance beyond the obvious financial benefits we have gained from his successful career.
The King has taught them to use hyperfocus to accomplish an unwanted, even hated task. One of the hardest things for the ADHD mind to do is focus on something boring, uninteresting, or undesirable. Unfortunately life is full of such tasks. Right now, for our kids, school is full of such tasks. The King uses something that his mind wants to hyperfocus on as a carrot to get through the mundane and irritating.
We have a son, now a freshman in high school, who is a grammar freak. Until we had him diagnosed with ADHD and medicated in the 1st grade he couldn't remember his alphabet. Then, like someone turned on a switch, he started reading. Within a couple of months he was reading at a 6th grade level and much to the chagrin of the teachers and office staff he was correcting the spelling and grammar of the school newsletter and returning it each week. Now this same son had to read a book in honors English, House on Mango Street. It has been several months and he still randomly breaks out into rants about how horrible that book was to get through. Why? It has no grammar at all - just one run-on sentence. The boy who can sit down and read a 400- 600 page book that he wants to read in a day or two was struggling to get through a page.
With the help of his father he learned how to hyperfocus on the task he didn't want to do so he could get to the one he wanted to do. Reading chunks for the reward of reading chunks. Important to note that you have to set limits on your pleasurable hyperfocus or you will easily get swept away. In this case it was pages or chapters, sometimes it minutes or hours. Today he used those same skills to write an essay for the same class. Each time he uses the skills he is learning about managing his focus and engaging the ability to hyperfocus he is able to do more and more on his own without the Kings help of guidance.
The King has taught them how to establish a state of hyperfocus, how to get into the groove. Getting into that hyperfocus state of mind is easy when it's where your mind wants to go but when it doesn't want to go there it can be very difficult. The King has certainly proven it can be done. He has also passed the process onto our children. Recently we found out we had to move, the King took one of our daughters out to the garage, surveying it he said to her, "Mary, I need to know what is in this garage. I need someone who can get lost in this job." Other than a few parameters he didn't tell her how to do the job. She strung up Christmas lights, found an old boombox we thought was dead forever, fixed it, blasted music, created a system for finding and cataloging everything in the garage, and went to town.
As each day passed she employed the first lesson listed above by doing other chores that needed to be done and then headed back to the garage. The King is still teaching her the lesson, helping her learn to take breaks, praising her work and progress, helping her see the value of the time and effort she is putting into the task, and satisfaction of finishing a long hard job.
Important to note that the King didn't dictate how she got into the groove of hyperfocus, that is a very individual process that changes for each person and each task.
The King has taught them there is a time to stop - pull yourself from the groove and pay attention to other things in life. It took the King years to learn this and personally I would like to think that I had a little something to do with it. Just like he would go out the garage to help Mary learn to monitor and balance her ability to hyperfocus I have helped him, over the years, to see when he was loosing perspective. This has probably been one of the harder lessons to learn but he has really come to a place of where he can pull himself from that hyperfocus state and enjoy the world around him. Having both the ability to put yourself into that frame of mind and take yourself out of it allows you to use it daily, finishing small projects and making marked progress on long ones.
Part of learning it and teaching it is learning to recognize what you need and what those around you need. While getting his focus ripped out from under him is hard - he even describes it as painful, he has learned to communicate it and teach ways to cope with it to our kids. Being self aware and being able to express it to others helps them understand where you are coming from and what they can do to help. He consistently includes them by asking them to look at something he's working on and for their critique. When our rather random house is firing distractions like a war zone he asks for their help in keeping his focus. He often says I can't think about that right now but let me get to this point in my work and my attention is all yours.
The kids have become very good at being equally self aware and expressive. As they vocalize their struggle between what they need to be doing and the multitude of ideas that flood them we can help them manage the way their brains work while they learn to manage it themselves.
Most commonly we see this manifested in the uncontrollable need to write down an idea, record a melody, or draw an inspired picture. He has taught them to jot down notes or record ideas quickly and then get back to the required task at hand. He has taught them that even though it is hard to wait they can. They can remember the inspiration and act on it in the appropriate time.
The King has taught them that you can include others in your hyperfocus state, making it not such a solitary quality. Their are aspects of his job that are not very inclusive. We can't all sit around and edit a film or draw the same picture. He includes us in the source of his hyperfocus by including us where he can. More than just asking our opinions he has pulled us into his world and activities. When he worked on a film a couple of years ago our family became intimately involved. Our older girls were production assistants, the younger ones acted as extras, we were often on set if nothing else just to watch and be there with him. We write stories as a family, make movies, deeply discuss art, literature, and music. He proves all the time that hyperfocus does not need to be a solitary place, in fact it can be very inclusive as we look for ways to share our joys and obsessions. Many of our fondest memories revolve around getting lost together in a wonderfully creative world come to life.
It has passed along to our children and they are know to come and share their inspiration with us and involve each other in their creative endeavors. Fernando asks Hannah or Rachel for drawings of characters for his story, Mariah has Rachel help her with lyrics and has her sing her songs, Rachel takes lyrics to Mariah, they help each other with plot ideas for stories and movie, they share and pull others into their process.
The King as taught them that there is a satisfaction that comes in finishing, a confidence that carries you through to the next hard thing to conquer that requires the ability to hyperfocus. When our daughter Mariah was about 15 she was already heavily into the world of composing music. I think she fell into that world from the moment she took her first music lesson at 7 years old. At 15 he had a tall order for her though. He needed a song written for a movie he was working on - one that she could write and she and her sister could perform. A song that would play during a movie scene where one of the characters, a young gang kid, is considering suicide. He pulled her into his hyperfocus, spinning her off into her own.
It was a hard thing to do, she had to use all of the skills mentioned above to complete it. She had to pace herself and find balance using hyperfocus on a consistent basis to complete a task. She had to put herself into that hyperfocus state when she didn't necessarily want to finding a process to do that, a place to best work, set the mood for herself. She had to communicate when she needed help following inspiration because it finally hit. Often she had to find ways to hold onto the inspiration and set it aside until she could work on it at the appropriate time and place. Sometimes she needed help pulling herself from that place back into the flow of life. It wasn't a song she ever would have written on her own, it was dictated by the script and mood of the film at that moment. But she did it. How priceless is the knowledge that you can apply yourself to a task that isn't what you would choose to do, one that is hard and painstaking, and you can finish with high praise.
ADHD is a life long disorder, the way their brains are wired is not going to suddenly change. They will struggle with how to manage and use the qualities of ADHD to some degree all their life but every bit of ground they gain, every bit of understanding, every tool they acquire changes what their future looks like. They are fortunate that the Distracted King is there to lead the way, that he embraces his strengths and weaknesses and strives to show them that they can work on them everyday because he works on them everyday. In the end is there really any inheritance more valuable than that.
*The song, Smoke and Mirrors, is written by Mariah Aro with help from her sister Rachel and performed by Rachel Aro with harmonies by Mariah.
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