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Why Hyperfixation Feels Like a Toxic Part of My Mental Health Struggle

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Hyperfixation, commonly associated with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is an occurrence when an individual becomes fully engrossed with something, may it be a hobby, movie, book, person, and so on. Often, this hyperfixation affects the rest of the person’s life as they have a challenging time focusing on anything other than their fixation, including work, school, self-care and relationships. While hyperfixation is associated with ADHD and autism, it is also present in various mental illnesses, and as someone with mental illness, I often experience hyperfixation and would like to share my story with you.

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If you aren’t familiar with me or my writing, my name is Ashley Nestler, MSW, and I have been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), “quietborderline personality disorder (BPD), fibromyalgia, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) and multiple eating disorders. I have struggled with my mental health since I was 12 years old, but I was only diagnosed and started receiving help in 2019. It wasn’t until recently that I realized what hyperfixation was and was able to put a name to something that has controlled my life for many, many years. Hyperfixation, for those who don’t experience it, may seem like a passion that a person has for something, but for me, it is so much more than that. When I am experiencing hyperfixation, I seldom have the ability to focus on anything else in my life, and — for me — this fixation often feels toxic.

When I was younger, I would experience hyperfixation with television shows, books and characters so much so that I would often find myself imagining that the characters I was fixated on were physically with me and I would have conversations with them. If I came across someone else who liked this particular show, book or character, I would experience immense jealousy and restlessness, while trying to prove that I knew more about the show, book or character than the other person. Possessiveness was a big part of my hyperfixation, and I would find myself so immersed in my fixation that I often forgot to do things that I needed to do — such as chores, schoolwork or maintain friendships — because my mind was so preoccupied. Growing up, I experienced my fixations as a comfort because I felt that they were always there for me; but now, I find that they often disrupt my life.

While I still find myself fixating on different shows or series, I now tend to fixate on actors from those shows or series as well. I become so entranced with an actor that I will spend hours upon hours watching YouTube videos of them or looking them up online, and they even take over my dreams and the majority of my thoughts. Experiencing these fixations now is frustrating for me because it feels as though I am stuck inside of my mind watching myself obsess over an actor and I want to break the fixation, but I feel trapped. Oftentimes the fixation will last for a few weeks before my mind moves onto someone else, but I feel like I don’t have a say in when the fixation will end, or how long it will go on for. The feelings that I experience for these actors during my period of fixation, I liken to being in love. My emotions for the actor become so strong that they take over my life, and I am often unable to attend to my work or any of my responsibilities.

I feel like the majority of my life has been lost due to these periods of hyperfixation, and as I have grown older, I am often struck with grief over what I perceive as lost time. I have seen my friends and those that I have grown up with moving on with their lives — getting married and having kids — while I feel like I am still stuck in my hyperfixations and the control that they have over my life and my time. They have disrupted my personal relationships and my work, and while my hyperfixation was once a comfort to me, I am often angry at them and at myself for feeling so out of control. To me, hyperfixation don’t feel like a passion or something that is an element in my life; they feel like an all-controlling force, and I am still learning how to navigate my life around them.

If you experience hyperfixation — whether you perceive them as positive or negative — please know that you are not alone!  Also, please feel free to share your personal story with me. I would love to hear how hyperfixations have impacted your life!

Photo by Richard Jaimes on Unsplash

Originally published: March 8, 2021
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