Time Blindness in AD(H)D

Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: pexels.com

So… this blogpost was planned for 3 PM today. That’s when I was supposed to start writing it. What happened? Well, see, that’s the thing… I don’t really know what went wrong.

There were just a few things on my schedule today: an appointment, packing for a women’s retreat that starts tomorrow and taking a long bath. The appointment was at a set time, with other people, so that went fine. The bath came right after because I felt like it right then. The packing has taken up the remaining 4 hours filled with diversions into cleaning, getting eggs from the chickens, eating dinner and watching shows. So now it’s almost 5 hours after I was supposed to start and I’m finally sitting here when I’d probably be better off getting to bed early.

Yet, if anything, it does make for a great topic of today’s blogpost: time blindness.

Time is tricky for me to deal with. The days when I’m most productive are the days in which I have a lot of places I need to be at a certain time. I bring my kids to school, need to drive my son to therapy, pick up kids, get to the dentist after, cook dinner and have a choir meeting at night. Having a place I need to be or else someone will be left alone or disappointed, is the best way for me to keep track of time; engagement after engagement after engagement.

However, if I have a lot of time by myself, that I need to organize myself, something strange happens. It seems as if time sometimes stretches into forever and may even disappear. And then, all of a sudden, it’s 3 hours later than I thought it was, and all the things I wanted to do somehow become impossible.

Never having this time is not really a solution to my problem, because I have a lot of projects that I want to work on and for which I need this uninterrupted time. I can’t use my ability to hyperfocus without a space to do that in. I just need to find a way to bring the far future up close.

In this short fragment, Dr. Russell A. Barkley explains how time blindness is really time nearsightedness. It’s as if people with ADHD can only see the time that’s right in front of them, the appointment that’s next on the agenda or the deadline on today’s to-do.

That very much clicks with how I experience time. Why do the days that are planned full run relatively smoothly? Because there’s a sense of urgency throughout the day keeping my adrenaline high enough for me to focus. All that adrenaline comes at a cost, though. When I worked as a substitute teacher for two years, always falling in when one of my colleagues got sick, it meant that I often didn’t know what and when my next class was going to be. I usually performed really well in most classes, magically drawing activities out of my top hat, but I was also exhausted pretty much all the time.

Not focussing on the future has some advantages: I don’t worry so much about what’s going to happen tomorrow or in a few weeks, and I can drop something and start with something else that is urgent fairly easily. There are some disadvantages too: it takes me a lot of effort to plan into the future and even more to be realistic in that planning. It’s hard to look back in time as well.

I’ve learned to use some strategies to help cope with this inability to estimate time correctly. One is to overestimate how long things take so that I leave room for my own margin of error. I’ve convinced myself that it takes 30 minutes to bike to the train station. By now, I know it has to be less, because I’ve left late before and still made it on time, but I refuse to check how long it actually takes because that would make my margin of error disappear, and I need that.

The way I made it to my classes on time was to aim for arrival half an hour prior to the beginning of class. That way I could settle in, but also limit the chances of being late. My clocks are set 3-4 minutes early throughout the house. I know they are, but seeing the time appear at which I need to leave is the best way to get me moving.

Another tool I learned to use is a visual timer (such as the Time Timer) that shows how much time I still have left for a certain activity. It helps me keep the bath from filling up too much and the food from burning (cooking and kids’ bathing times often coincide).

I’ve struggled with this my whole life, and only now am able to understand where it comes from and what I may be able to do about it. There are still lots of strategies to try (like actually timing how long things take), but for now, I’m just grateful for the strategies I already have, and for the time I get right :-).

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