The A.D.D.er Can Not Understand Life Because the A.D.D.er Can Not Understand Time

T o make sense out of life, one must also be able to make sense of time, that is, understanding one requires understanding the other. In our everyday world they are inseparable. Life requires time and time has meaning because of life. The life of the human being is understood to be “a life” because it occurs in time over time. [note 1]

If time and life are so entwined, so ontologically inseparable that the existence of one requires the existence of the other and, furthermore, if the fundamental problem of A.D.D. is an inability to understand time, then the only conclusion is that the A.D.D.er can not understand life. After all, to understand life requires one to understand time and time is exactly the concept that eludes the A.D.D.er.  It is this inability to understand time that is the source of the A.D.D.ers’ problems with finances. [note 2] It is this inability to understand time that makes the A.D.D.er see life as a series of “do-overs” [note 3] where every life change is seen as an attempt to get it right this one time. [note 4] The A.D.D.er has enormous difficulty understanding that life is a linear progression that starts with a birth and ends with a death. The A.D.D.er is trapped in an infinity of “nows” and can not, except with great difficulty and much artifice, comprehend the linear nature of life. It is only based on observation of “the past” and continual repetition of the past (that repetition may be little more than a mantra spoken over and over again) that the A.D.D.er trusts [note 5] that there is causal link (however tenuous) between an action occurring now and an action in the future. But the A.D.D.er does not truly know this and, therefore, does not truly understand the progression of life.

  1. It is not possible to conceive of life without time since our understanding of life is that it is something that exists over time. And as we know, whatever has life also has its opposite, death. One might ask, what does it mean to die? Perhaps it means to no longer exist in our time. Can the dead exist in a time that we can not comprehend because we do not live it? The living will never know.
  2. To do well with finances requires one to understand how “now” translates into something that is “later,” in essence, a “now” that is in the future. But the A.D.D.er has great difficulty escaping the current “now” and therefore has great difficulty both imagining and, most importantly, ACTING ON a “now” that will occur in the future. Now…have I lost you? ;)
  3. “The do-over was one of childhood’s most powerful rites, for it exerted our dominion over the laws of space and time. The clock was rolled back, the game was restored to its exact status as before the contested event and play was resumed.” See: Do-Over
  4. This is reminiscent of the movie Groundhog Day in the sense that each day is lived as if this were yet another chance to get things right yet, biology and chronology make the A.D.D.er painfully aware that there is a finite number of chances to get it right. Eventually one runs out of “nows” because one is simply too old.
  5. Trust: Now there is a concept that eludes the A.D.D.er. I will try to examine this concept at another time. However, let me say now that trust requires a belief of something “over time,” a reliance on events occurring at some future time. However the A.D.D.er does not understand the concept of time and therefore does not understand, and therefore often misplaces, trust.
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  • http://tetlaw.id.au Andrew

    You’re freaking me out Jeff… but I know you’re right.

  • Jeff

    Andrew,

    I’ll be writing much more about this in the near future. Unbeknownst to me…I was actually channeling Dr. Barkley. For a sort of sneak preview, see this: http://www.sharpbrains.com/blog/2008/02/23/self-regulation-and-barkleys-theory-of-adhd/

  • Scott Hutson

    This sparks a memory of something I saw on tv years ago.It may have been a “Twilight Zone”episode..not sure but…A man was dealing with alot of stress about his life,and his wife’s never ending yelling at him about his actions or his non-action in getting things done.

    One day while she was yelling at him, he said:”STOP!”..And the whole world stopped,time froze,ppl froze,..etc,exept for he was free to walk around and do whatever he wanted. ..Go to the bank and get his account squared away,change directions frozen ppl in the street were walking,..etc..then say:”GO!” and time started again.

    Life was good,because he was able to stop time anytime he wanted,and fix what he had messed up, before anyone would see his mistake.,,Then one day sirens blaired and nuclear warheads were moments away from hitting the ground, there was panic in the streets,and as he looked out the window, He said:”STOP!”…and there he saw the warheads inches from the ground..frozen,along with ppl frozen,with horror on they’re faces.

    This has stuck in my mind for years,being able to control time.

    Scott.

  • Jeff

    Scott,

    That sounds like a GREAT episode of Twilight Zone. I’m going to have to track it down!

  • Scott Hutson

    Jeff,

    I’m not sure if was Twilight Zone, but it would be the the short lived series of TZ,that tried to get back to tv after the original black an white….maybe in the late 70′s-80′s,..not sure. You are much better at computer navigation,and so forth,than I am.

    It’s in color,and I have a very clear picture of it,in my mind.And yes, it was a great episode..Maybe Ray Bradbury…

    Scott.

  • Scott Hutson

    Jeff,

    The speed of light. I thought about this a few nights ago while sitting on my porch after sundown and gazing at the stars……Someone told me, or I learned this in elementry school, but I can’t stop thinking about this every night when I go out on the porch after sundown(every night) by myself, to relax(I try to anyway.. lol…relax).

    When I see the light of a star, I assume that I see the star as it exists at this moment. But in reality, that star may have exploded or fizzeld out many yrs ago, and I am just seeing the light of what happened many yrs ago.

    This thought could many subjects about my own ADD way of dealing(or not sometimes) with it. Do you see any relevence to ADD in this way of thinking?

    Scott.

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  • Sharon

    I know this is an old post but I am new to this site. I am sure this discribes me. I always wondered why I had trouble with visualizing some math concepts. I can always find a way to figure out the problem. I’m just not able to visualize it. I always thought it was just me. I’m excellent in Math with the exception of matrices. (And satistics. Because whatever else I am, I am always a realist.) I can always get the right answer but I don’t know how it’s right. I thank you for this site and I am happy I stumbled upon it. The only problem is it makes me a little sad to know that I can’t just find a cure all. I don’t have the mind capacity to keep trying all the time. Sad thing about ADD. Time has always been my enemy. I sometimes feel like Miss Scarlet, “After all, tomorrow is another day.” I would love to know how you keep youself focused on the site and keep it mantained. I know I wouldn’t. God I hope my inner optimist shows up soon.

    • Jeff

      Never let the age of a post stop you from commenting. The down side of a blog is that good stuff gets buried so…keep digging…hopefully you will find other things of interest. (You may want to sign up for my newsletter.)

      I too wish there was an “off” button for ADHD but, unfortunately, there isn’t. And there are days when I just can’t stand it that I am ADHD. (I have a little poem called “Not A.D.D.” on this page: http://jeffsaddmind.com/about ) When I’m fed up with it. I’m having fewer of those days..but…they still occur. Those are the days when I think, “Ok…not going to get much work done today.”

      Here’s the secret on how to be focused. You ready? Don’t be focused. Not joking (sorta). I have one hundred posts in draft format. Many will get deleted and never see the light of day. Others may get combined into another post which eventually goes live. There are days when I can sit and write and write and write…and other days when I cannot. So what I really do is work on a post for a bit…take a break…come back to it at another time…basically let my natural rhythms take control. From the outside it may seem like I’m doing this daily but, in fact, I may write several posts at once and just schedule them to appear on various days. In fact, the next four ADHD-related posts have already been written. So…focus is more a matter of going back to it again and again over a period of time as opposed to sitting in a seat for 8 hours at a clip. I’m focused, sort of…but in only little bits of time.

      Don’t worry…your inner optimist will make an appearance. Excercise and vitamins may help the optimist to come out.

  • Sara

    For me it is not that I do not comprehend time. I don’t comprehend LINEAR time, however, I believe there is another kind of time, a more primitive one that is commonly seen in less developed countries: aboreal time. I first heard of this on the radio in terms of Haitians I believe. It’s a tangential form of time that is non-linear and moves backwards, forwards and sideways. Aboreal tiime spreads out like a tree and branches in several different directions at once. So when I say, “I’ll see you in ten minutes…” I will see you in ten minutes: I am just not clarifying which segment of the earth’s entirety of ten minutes I mean.

    This was always a grave problem for me when I lived in California. Then I moved to New Orleans where the city functions in it’s own semi-third world reality. Here, they call it New Orleans time, and under its rules I am actually early sometimes!!

    • Jeff

      So now there are three reasons to love New Orleans: the music; the food; the ADHD-friendly conception of time.

      The time required to “understand life” is not just the time to be somewhere at a designated time. It is really the long term time horizons, the one where you do things in-the-now based on some future time that is years or decades away. It’s that ability to see these long horizons of time and to modify one’s actions as a result of that conception, that often alludes ADHDers. The best example is saving money for one’s retirement which may be decades away. That retirement is difficult to visualize, especially when you are young, yet non-ADHDers have a comparatively easier time handling such long time horizons whereas we are often consumed with what is going on right now and/or in the very short term. If we can “see” a few months out and modify our actions accordingly, we’re in good shape. But to see decades, well, we have great difficulty with that.

      -sent via blackberry

  • J

    I don’t quite get your take on understanding time. Can you explain it another way?

    • Jeff

      Each moment I take to think about my response to your question is, in reality, a series of time slivers (we can divide time into infinitesimal pieces but, for argument’s sake, let’s slice it into minutes). We experience time in slices of minutes yet our minds stitch these slices together to make something whole, something coherent. So the time I have spent thinking about and writing my response is understood as, is experienced as, a chunk of time that I call “the time spent to think and respond.” If it took me fifteen minutes to write my response, I don’t think of it as fifteen one-minute tasks but as a single task that took fifteen minutes to complete.

      To tackle much larger tasks, such as a very large project that takes several months to complete, requires an understanding of time that spans months…not small chunks of time such as minutes. It also requires that I understand that the minutes spent at it on this day, Jan. 30, 2011, will have an effect on the completion of the project which may be, say, May 30, 2011. But wait…there’s more. What if I want to plan for my retirement which may be, not a few months away, but twenty years from now? This is a different, much longer, time horizon and so I need to understand how the minutes spent “now” tie into events that I can’t really fathom but simply know will occur. It also means that I need to alter my current behavior in light of that far off, nebulous life event.

      So…the problem that ADHDers encounter is that they are ALWAYS caught in “the now,” in the tiny time slices and have great difficulty “escaping,” in a sense, the allure of “the now” and its demands so that their behavior right at this moment can be modified in light of the future. They have a problem understanding the flow and connection of events over time. Think of the child who has to wait till Christmas to get a toy they desperately want. It’s a terribly frustrating position to be in but it is something that must be endured. Now imagine the ADHD adult who desperately wants to buy a particular toy (a new computer; a new car…etc.) but must decide between purchasing that toy now OR waiting a year (or several years) before making that purchase or, in some cases, putting that money into a retirement account and NEVER making that purchase. It is that type of decision, one that requires altering one’s current behavior right now (in the present) and understanding how that altered current behavior in the present will have an effect which may be years away. This is a very difficult thing for the majority of ADHDers to grasp.

      See notebook page 3 of this post for another explanation and a picture (it’s worth a thousand words…btw). http://jeffsaddmind.com/pages-from-my-notebook-adult-adhd-reflections-on-life-and-adhd-4256.htm

  • http://addmsorboth.blogspot.com/ Scott Hutson

    Jeff,

    Your words: “The A.D.D.er has enormous difficulty understanding that life is a linear progression that starts with a birth and ends with a death. The A.D.D.er is trapped in an infinity of “nows” and can not, except with great difficulty and much artifice, comprehend the linear nature of life. It is only based on observation of “the past” and continual repetition of the past” …

    There are days when I feel like I have escaped from the “trap”. But I have days that I feel “trapped”. The days I feel “trapped” are the most important because I will search and take a look at my past mistakes. Then I can see and learn from them.

    I should probably have put a ? mark on that, because I am still trying to learn how to understand life and time.

    • Jeff

      Of course you are certainly not the only one trying to understand life and time. But I’ll bet that you have a somewhat better handle on it now than you did a few years ago. What I’ve found is that I’ve gotten much better understanding time for short term projects so that they actually get started and completed. (I have an upcoming post that deals with this.)

      Now if I could only understand my cell phone bill…well…that would be a real accomplishment! ;)

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