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From neurodivergent meltdown to lucid thinking: Understanding the mind of someone with ADHD

Recognising why my mind does what it does really can help in a tricky situation

ADHD brain

My ADHD brain allows me to experience a full meltdown then speak enthusiastically in front of an audience a short time later. Image: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Last Wednesday, I experienced the best and the worst of my prefrontal cortex but, fortunately, not in that order. As anyone who has read a little about understanding ADHD might know, many of the issues of the errant mind arise from the neural pathways of the executive function. Here is where much of the monstrosity and splendour of me lives. This is the place of thinking flexibly, working memory and self-control can be found. 

That afternoon, at 5.10pm, I decide to just check when my event in Chelmsford with the author Sarah Perry is. I am correct: it is 6.30pm. My only mistake is that it is not tomorrow, it is today; 80 minutes and 60 miles away. 

My working memory hasn’t worked and now all self-control is gone. I do not drive a car. The train in and out of London will take at least two hours. 

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My brain goes insane. There is an electrical storm inside as great as any that would revive the flesh that Victor Frankenstein stitched. 

First there is panic mode.

I phone a nearby friend with a car – but he’s not answering (turns out I rang the wrong Charlie. I rang the one who is dead whose number is still in my phone).

My brain won’t give me the cab number that I know off by heart. 

014444265… 01224862… 0144286…

Eventually, I recall the number.

I am relentlessly screeching, “Jesus Christ! Oh my god! Fuck fuck fuck! Aaaargh!! YOU IDIOT!”

The rest of my family hide. 

For those who have not witnessed a neurodivergent meltdown, they can be terrifying, histrionics; wild flares illuminating the atmosphere as if they were seeking a sinking ship. 

The taxi will be 10 minutes.

Time slows as if I was falling into a black hole.

(I haven’t got time to enlarge on this, but what happens to time as you fall into a black hole is almost worth the spaghettification and imminent death.)

I had not prepared the interview or finished reading Sarah’s novel. I simmered and bubbled in the taxi, then ran the final few hundred metres into the bookshop with one minute to spare. I said hello to Sarah and apologised profusely and then, in front of 60 people, we had a fluent conversation covering faith, ghosts, astronomy and critical failure. 

The speed from an ADHD brain of despair and confusion to a mind of full engagement with access to all the knowledge I needed was almost dizzying. The very faults that led to me getting the day wrong, being appalling around the house, were also how I could then access exactly what I needed to grasp this defeat and turn it into victory (even if I was quite out of pocket from the taxi fare).

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The understanding of why my mind does what it does really can help. It doesn’t mean I can avoid the ADHD wiring when it crackles, but I think it can speed up the whole process, and it really helps with the self-loathing. 

Many minds that are not quite as people think they should be also offer us ways of thinking and achieving that are not accessible to those that are comfortably normal. It is important for many who only see their faults, to know there are gifts too, and even more important for those outside them to acknowledge that.

Oh, and Sarah Perry’s Enlightenment is a delight on so many levels and takes you to so many places. She has taken on the responsibility of re-enchanting Essex and she does it so well. 

Robin Ince is a comedian, writer and broadcaster.

Bibliomaniac by Robin Ince

His book Bibliomaniac (Atlantic Books, £10.99) is out now. You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

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