Brain... buffering... please hold

Hi Brains!

I’m 24 and I’m currently trying to work through the idea that the little voice that’s been in the back of my head since I was about 14 saying “hey maybe you have ADHD” may have been right all along. I’m working on trying to get to a doctor/psychiatrist for official diagnosis… but in the meantime…

I’m wondering if you guys can help me out a little?

One of the biggest things I’ve been struggling with is this constant feeling in my brain any time I’m trying to focus on something that requires a lot of sustained attention or that requires like incredible amounts of attention to detail (not great for someone who’s an admin assistant). It feels like there’s a tug of war happening in my brain while simultaneously both sides of the fight are sinking in quick sand. I want to do The Thing that I’m supposed to be doing, but it seems like my brain wants to do anything else. I need to do The Thing, but it physically makes me feel like my brain is turning to mush.

THEN when I FINALLY accomplish The Thing, my brain decides that’s enough for the day and for the rest of the day, my brain will just stop periodically and buffer. You know? Like I’ll be doing something and then my coworker will come in to ask me a question and when I turn back to The Thing I was doing, my brain kind of sputters and freezes and won’t let me back on task right away. Or when I go home and have a conversation with my roommate, my thoughts will get ahead of my speech and The Color Wheel of Death (shout-out to all my Mac users) pops up in my brain and I have to stop in the middle of my sentence to get my train of thought back on track.

Is this something you guys can relate to? Is this simple overworking and being burnt out (already? at 24? hoowee that’s rough) or is this something that may resonate with ADHD symptoms?


I have a tendency to do that. Or when I start explaining something, I add a hundred of menial details for context – which seem important to the story, except… I forget what I was trying to explain in the first place.

For focus, I’m afraid I’m equally bad :confused: While awaiting my meeting with a specialist (next week) I have tried to implement a few things recommended in Jessica’s videos:

  • meditate at least once a day;
  • the Pomodoro Technique (focusing for short periods of time and reward yourself with a break or a cookie once you’re done);
  • getting enough sleep (at least 8 hours), stay hydrated and slowly re-introduce sport in my routine (it’s Winter so, for now, I’m trying to walk home from work, which is about 30min)

It doesn’t work every time, but when it does I manage to cross out 90~95% of my To-Do list tasks.

Give it a shot! :fist: :smile:

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Sounds like ADHD to me.

If “Yes” . . . Medication might do wonders! My 42 year old son was diagnosed with ADHD at 4 years of age. Along with a great deal of parental support; tutoring (for learning disabilities); ADHD coaching; and allowing him room to make his own, age-appropriate, decisions . . . AND medication (which was of great benefit) . . . He is now happily married with 2 daughters and works as an Electrical Engineer.

When he graduated High School he planned to go to vocational school to become an auto mechanic. After several turn arounds and 7 years, he graduated a 4 year engineering school. During that 7 year period he did not take stimulant medications. He struggled without it. He said more than once: “ I’m studying too hard and burned-out my brain.”

Without being prescribed medication as a child I doubt he would have finished High School.

Best of luck to you!

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It does sound like it could be ADHD. That’s very close to how I operated a lot of the time in the workplace, and I didn’t get diagnosed until age 36!

The business of struggling to return to focus on the Thing is apparently very much something that happens with ADHD. It can take us up to twenty minutes to get our full attention back to whatever it was doing before we where interrupted, and I dare say for an admin assistant that would be a constant feature of your work.

I’d recommend seeking a professional diagnosis. If you do have ADHD, it means you’ll have a much better chance of finding tips and tricks that work for you. I can’t tell you how hard a time I had going through every time management and productivity course under the sun, only to find that it just didn’t work! Now I know why - time management techniques that work for neurotypical minds are likely to be a useful as tits on a bull for ADHD minds.

It doesn’t cut the other way, though. If a technique works for us, it probably works pretty well for neurotypicals as well. Lucky people - they’re like regular omnivores at a food festival, able to eat whatever they like, while we’ve got celiacs and are struggling to find something that won’t leave us bloated and uncomfortable for the rest of the week.

The other clue for me that you might have ADHD is your truly wonderful analogy! I love the idea of the brain buffering, like you’ve been throttled back to dial-up speeds and that video you need to watch keeps pausing every ten seconds, with that horrible little spinny wheel thing in the middle that you soon learn to hate. It’s said that one of our superpowers is creativity, so I’m gonna take that analogy as a good sign!

One thing, though: a diagnosis won’t force you to do anything. You won’t have to take drugs or undertake therapy or even tell your boss and co-workers (there’s a whole debate over that). All it means is that you have an explanation and a better understanding of the options available to you.

In the meantime, check out Jessica’s videos. Time management and focus is such a bugbear for us that I think she’s up to a dozen separate videos on those subjects. Not to mention that she’s generally very entertaining!

As for burnout, well, it is possible but, I dunno, from the way you’re writing it just doesn’t seem like it. I copped burnout at a similar age and it lasted for about three months, but it was in the aftermath of my honours year at uni. I don’t know how honours works in other countries, but in Australia it means a combination of very high level coursework and (in the humanities at least) a 20,000 word thesis of original research, all in the space of a single year. Post-grads rate honours as the hardest year of uni - I suspect it’s been set up to winnow out those who won’t cope with post-grad work.

Burnout is very similar to depression, but more… dead. It’s like a state of complete mental shutdown, almost a waking catatonia. During my stint it was possible that I’d start getting out of bed, but then just stop and spend an hour or two staring at the wall with literally nothing going on my head. Not anything negative or positive, just nothing at all. I was lucky to still be living with my parents, as I’m not sure I could have coped at all on my own.

Burnout is probably more of a risk for those of us with ADHD because we’re always having to put so much effort into focusing on things, but it can happen to anyone who is sufficiently stressed for a long enough time. Like I said, you’re writing just doesn’t come across as someone burnt out, but at the same time, that really isn’t enough to say either way. It’s something I’d get a professional opinion on, if I were in your shoes. If nothing else, raising it with a professional may lead to them giving you a good idea of risk factors and signs of burnout, even if you don’t have it.

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That’s sounds like ADHD. Plus, I’m over here almost recovered from a burnout at 18. That’s even younger. Don’t worry about burnouts that early :grin:

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Welcome to the tribe! I somehow managed to do very well through High School and College (Mechanical Engineering degree!) before I got diagnosed, but felt mentally exhausted pretty much the whole time. It might be different than full-on burnout, but I was just drained from how much energy my brain was spending on classwork.

Getting diagnosed was personally very helpful to my well-being because I finally had an explanation for why I struggled with certain things that I previously believed “normal people should just be able to do.” It helped me forgive myself, and I was able to start utilizing “abnormal” tools to help me get things done! Also, medication actually has helped me quite a bit, but I’m still early in that adventure and didn’t start trying it for several months after my official diagnosis, and you absolutely don’t have to do anything you aren’t comfortable with.

So here are some tricks that worked for me:

  • Mentioned already: Get plenty of sleep and stay hydrated!
  • Make time for self care. Recharge in the evenings, and take time to wind down before bed.
  • Externalize executive function. I use a whiteboard any time I need to sort more than 2 pieces of information, like backtracking a timeline to start getting ready to leave for something, or prioritizing to-do lists, or writing myself reminders, the uses are endless! And if I need to remember that stuff for longer, I take a picture of it before erasing!
  • Create visual reminders for work. (See previous point) I like to print things out to take notes on them, or check things off my to-do list, or mark where I left off reading something. This could help you get back on track when you get interrupted, since your brain won’t have to work as hard to sort out what the task was and what you already did and what you still need to do.
  • You already started. One trick I’ve learned to help start a task that my brain doesn’t want to do is to tell myself that I’ve technically already started. Don’t want to do that project because it looks too big? Well, writing the task list was the start, so you’re already on a roll! Don’t want to file taxes because it’s such a big process? You already have that email to log in, so you’re already working on it!
  • Buffering: Let people know. I do that thing too, where someone asks me an unexpected question (like an option I didn’t know about when ordering food) and I feel stupid about how long it takes my brain to process what was said (but I know we shouldn’t feel bad!), but you could say something like “hmm let me see…” while you think, like you’re thinking out loud, so they know you heard and are just processing, or to actually help you process, and to give yourself some time to think before the answer just pops out (I still struggle with this one.)
  • Find what works for you. After my diagnosis, I just tried noticing all the ways that it impacted me that I never noticed. I’m becoming more aware of myself and how I react to situations, understanding that I’m feeling overwhelmed and connecting that to what’s going on or recognizing that I feel really drained and understanding that my brain is low on feel-good chemicals. I started writing down when I noticed I was struggling with something, so I could see how I might be able to overcome it and see if there were any patterns (time of day, lack of sleep, outside stress, etc.) A Bullet Journal has really helped me organize my personal life, and I’m working on methods to organize my work life.

Some really great replies, lots of good bits in here. Here are a bit or two from me. (But no shave and a haircut…)

What is it that is going on as your brain slowly meltsdown: Well, your executive function is saying “Hey! Do the thing! Job! Important!” and the rest of the brain is basically saying “But it’s haaaaaaard… I don’t waaaaaannaaaaaa, there is nothing in it for meeeeee” and being all whiney because at the end of it, when neuro typical people get that boost of happy feel good chems in the brain, we get bupkis.
What to do: On your computer or phone, start a 10 minute timer. Work for ten minutes. Just ten minutes. When timer stops, get up, stretch your legs. Walk around the office, something. Get some coffee, sweet tea, lemonade, something with water soluble sugar. With LOTS of it, ideally. Go back to desk.
Set timer for 10 minutes. Sip drink. Work. Sip. Work. Sip. Work. Timer. 3 minute break. Timer. Sip. Work. Sip. Work. Timer… BATHROOOM! (Ahem.)

Your working memory, the part that needs to buffer, is small. Exercise will give a short boost to it, but it’s still small. If most folks have 8 gigs of RAM, we have like… 5. Maybe 3. Something smaller, and ODD and so people freak out trying to figure out an odd number of RAM. Who has an odd number of RAM? It should be even…
The working memory uses a fuel tank to operate. The Crane of Data Input is trying to insert and move around the freight in a small freighter ship. If it was a BIG freighter, it would be fine, just kinda chuck it all in and figure it out once it is in there. Nope. Not us. We special.
As the crane starts tetrising the cargo in, it has to handle it in the right order and time, and drop it in the right place, for the line to clear, a datum to compute, and we can write down the result and move on to the next part of the problem.
In my work, this would look like "I need to script an install here. I need to accomplish X, Y, and Z with script, with these other factors, and make it silent to the user, and test it in a group, and then deploy. So first, I need to find the switches in the installer file. Then write a bat file using the switches, find if order of operation is important… " And I need to break it down step by step, solve each step in order, externally, write the answer down, and move on. Neurotypical do that, but it isn’t as external, and they can hold more of it internally before they need to do a datadump somewhere.
Also, when the line clears, it isn’t really TOTALLY clear. Junk data remains. Ever sorta “wake up” from a work session you have been really getting things done in, and you look around and it is like seeing your workspace for the first time? The working memory is dumping the junk data out so that it can take a fresh look at the new data.
But wait… it gets worse.
The crane? It is not Electric. It is not hooked up to the city power grid.
It’s diesel.
And there is no fuel gauge.
And when it runs out, it is down for a while. You can refill it, but if you wait too long to refill, it has to warm up again. And you gotta wait.
And the Crane operator? Has. No. Fudging. Clue. None. WTF. Who hired him? Who ordered this!?!?!?!
Oh… wait. We are the operator. And after YEARS of banging on the crane we finally figured out that cranes aren’t meant to work like this!
And SHIPS should be BIGGER.
The sugery drink? Here is the deal. It fuels the crane. Sip. Work. Sip. Work. Now, you can’t gulp. You will flood the system, and maybe the crane starts going janky. Sip. Work. Just top off. Keep it from going empty.
Ok, the crane Operator is keeping an eye on the gas tank. And now he knows to clear junk data, and that how the cargo is loaded is important, and he is being real careful, AND he has a timer going because he figured out that if he ran the crane too hard for ten minutes or so the engine heats up and seizes. And right as he is in the groove of things h-
Knock Knock
“Hey, Crane Guy, can you look at this other ship for a moment?”

And the plans crane guy had for the current ship sorta… flicker…

“Gotta get this other ship loaded, gotta a bunch of Jargony Jargon that excels the words and points power and the access to publishers and suite stuff yo.”


… “But… I’m working on this ship.” Says the crane op.

“Yeah,” flicker “but this’ll just take a minute and then you can get right back to your ship. Sorry, but you are the most efficient crane op we have.”

“Ok, if you really need me…”

“We do.”

And the plans crash to the ground as we can no longer hold both it and the new interruption in our heads. And we can’t have a partially loaded ship.
So we unload what is in the ship, (and if it is written down, at least the stuff that already cleared the line is ok), move the next ship in line, and start working. Oh, shoot… gotta cool the engine down. And top the tank, and… and… and…
Half and hour later that ship sails (see what I did there?) and we take the next ship in line. And the next and the next. And then we see the manifest sitting next to us for the first one, that we NEVER got back to.
Well ship.

What do we learn from this?
Well, we talking about the brain already. Timers, breaks, sugar, hacking the biochemistry to get done what we need to get done.
Now we need to re-program what we taught our selves about how we work with others, and what they taught us to do for them.
We need to talk about Self-Advocacy.
We need to talk about saying the dreaded N word.
Saying “No.”

Knock Knock
“Hey, Crane Op, you gotta minute?”
“… But I need help.”
(Still not looking away from work) “I got a freighter I need to get out in the next hour. Every time you interrupt me studies say I will spent 20 minutes simply picking up pieces of where I was to even get started again. (Real studies, btw, per my old ADHD coach) So unless you got a burning ship, or you get the harbor master to re-task me, I literally don’t have time. Sorry.”
“… Okay. Can I try again in an hour or so?”
“You can try. No promises.”

Don’t be rude (unless you gotta), but be firm. You don’t want (… usually) to ignore them, you just cannot afford to give them what they want. And, explain that. If they say that study is garbage and you have never disclosed anything about ADHD, simply say “My experience says that” and let that sit.
Most of the people in my dept now know that they need to get my supervisor or manager to re-task me if they have something they perceive to be urgent, but is not in my direct area. (“Hey, need Eric to help with a script in KACE.” “Eric doesn’t do KACE anymore.” “I know, but he knows it best, and we need to get this out by end of day.” “Sigh, ok, I’ll go get him.”)
Practice saying “No.”
Learn the difference between caretaking and caregiving.
Co-worker is struggling. “Hey, Eric, I cannot get this to work, I don’t know why. Can you help?”
Look at problem. Identify issue. Lead co-worker through it, let them fix it. Care giving.
Look at problem. Identify issue. Take it, fix it, hand it back. Care taking. In the end, he is just gonna keep asking. Which leads to more stress.
Also, be wary of holding on things too much. Lately I am needing to allow a co-worker to do more of the things I do, and I hate it because I know he is gonna screw up. I know it. Boss does too. But I can’t keep up the way it is going. I need to have some back up. And if that is going to be the only way for them to learn, well…
I call it the Mordin Problem.

(Mass Effect 2 and 3, for those who don’t know)
I have a hard time believing that someone else could do what I do. It does not help that there are really three of us on the team, one is more focus on another half of the issues, I am on the other, and third guy is a bit iffy on ability and covers both. … Sorta feeds the belief, however wrong it may be.

I have now been typing for an hour. I really should be working. So. Later!


I don’t have any great advice at the moment as my brain is currently in that buffering state. :slight_smile: That being said, I can totally relate.


Thank you all for the support and advice. I started using some of it and it really helped!! I’m sorry I didn’t say anything sooner, truth be told, I kind of…forgot?

Also, just a personal update, I got tested and there is absolutely no question that I have ADHD. I’ll probably be on here a lot more trying to navigate my way through this. This community is so wonderful!

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