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The ADHD Tool You May Not Have Heard Of

It took me a real long time to realize I have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Growing up, I had spent a lot of my time reading books and  binge-watching TV and soap operas with my mom (or sneaking downstairs at night just to watch more TV). Back then, I just thought it was fun to watch stories play out on screens and it was normal to imagine yourself in the plot. Different time periods, fantasies, and dragons — why not? It was always fun and relaxing for me to imagine I existed in a whole other realm where none of my bullies would come after me and my very mundane, teenage, angsty problems could not find me.

Later on, I learned this was called escapism.

And then later later on, I realized it was ADHD.

I learned people read books and watch movies to escape, but then I discovered many people don’t imagine themselves in the scenario.

And what does this mean? Sometimes, at home, at night, when I don’t have to be around others, I finally let it all out and… I cry. And that’s OK. But I am sad because I spend so much time mimicking and pretending and playing down part of myself, I feel like I don’t know who I am. I feel like I only know who I am as a character, who society needs me to be. But other times, I use this to my advantage, because why not?

I’ve started referring to these as my brain hacks and the most useful trick I have is body doubling… in my head. Except I didn’t even refer to it as body doubling because I didn’t realize this is what it was. I was simply imagining scenarios. Just role-playing, or play acting, if you will. And the wonders it does to help me focus and finish the task at hand.

You see, I am a huge Marvel fan. A big, big fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and sometimes when I have a hard time focusing at work or find I’m not pushing as hard as I could be during a workout, I recognize this in myself and conjure up a plot in my head that encourages me to focus. Even as I’m writing this, I’m not Erica in her bedroom writing an article. I’m Erica, an associate of Stark Industries, putting together an important and timely report for Pepper Potts. Steve is standing at the door behind me, just wanting to check in on me after a mission, as we file reports.

And these scenarios are detailed. Let me tell you, they are detailed. Steve, right behind me, in my peripheral, is leaning against my door frame, still in his stealth suit, as Natasha just walked by and peeped her head in, because she and Pepper want to wrap this up and call it a night. So, how could I dilly dally or scroll through my phone when I have Avengers who need me to do what I do so they can do what they do? The world depends on it!

But of course, I know this is all made up. I am under no illusion I’m actually in the Avengers tower, but the logic and concept here still stands. And it wasn’t until I was speaking with my friend Chris I realized this is indeed body doubling, but hey, whatever works, right?

I had never thought of it like this before. Why? Because my previously very limited knowledge of ADHD meant I knew folks with ADHD often worked better and could focus more when there was someone else in the room with them, but I never understood why. And I had always assumed it had to be a physical person. Or maybe a camera. But I’ve since learned being on camera with someone else (Zoom study dates!) or online working sessions while working from home also work. Or, in my case, a made-up alternate reality wherein Captain Rogers himself is the one supervising my work.

And that’s OK. Honestly? That’s cool. Because it means I can dream up any scenario as long as it help me get my work done. I could be on the moon, I could be in a submarine, or writing reports for Mr. Clark Kent… the possibilities are endless! And the best part is it works in any scenario. I’m not “doing chores,” I’m cleaning up the apartment in preparation for a million-dollar showing (I live in a shoebox). Forget food prep, I am an “Iron Chef” contestant on the Food Network! Or the “Competition For The World’s Fastest Laundry Folding.” The gamification is endless here.

And while ADHD and its lack of publicized knowledge for ADHD in adults can be scary, it can also be fun. And at the end of the day, if I’m getting all my work done, why not imagine I’m in a cook-off with Black Widow herself?

Getty image by Atstock Productions