Stress & Anxiety

How ADHD Guided Me Through a Hurricane

As Hurricane Irma bore down on my hometown, my unrelenting ADHD hyperfocus took the wheel, guiding me with focus and efficiency toward safety.

hurricane irma adhd hyperfocus
hurricane ocean

ADHD complicates my life in a million little ways each day. Getting out of bed, for instance, is neither natural nor enjoyable. Also, my energy levels fluctuate incessantly. And once the inspiration has faded, I bump into brick walls seemingly erected to block me from my finish line. Checking off items from my to-do list is the main highlight of most days.

But September was not a month of “most days.” September was the month that brought Hurricane Irma to my front door. And the month that reminded me not to underestimate my ADHD super powers. I felt, for not the first time in my life, an invisible cape wrapped around my shoulders. And I stood, solid as a mountain —strong, and grounded — while everyone else ran around like I do most days: frantic.

Summers in South Florida bring warm, sunny days with afternoon rains that pass in an hour. When June 1 arrives, so does hurricane season — and there it stays until November 1. We face threats several times a year. And once every few years, a threat turns into catastrophe, as it nearly did with Irma, and all normalcy comes to an abrupt end.

[How to Manage ADHD In An Emergency]

Anxiety levels rose in lock step with the frequency and urgency of news reports preceding Irma. Once a hurricane begins churning in the waters south of Florida, all television stations shift into emergency reporting mode — every move and model of the storm is reported in detail. From my perch in South Florida, it did not look good —  sustained winds of 185mph for 12 or more hours from a hurricane wider than our state — and the options and routes for evacuation were limited.

Let me be clear: Had Irma’s storm path shifted just slightly, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here on my computer typing this. We would have been without Internet, cell phones, or electricity for weeks. In the end, Miami was largely spared. But we still had to go through the same process of preparing, deciding whether to evacuate, and then anxiously waiting and watching the storm’s trajectory.

The only good thing about hurricanes is that they can be tracked for weeks before landfall. That also gives us lots of time for prolonged anxiety, sleepless nights, and panic attacks. Or, in my case, a chance for my ADHD to align with the emergency at hand and propel me into action. Here is how and why my ADHD saved the day:

Deadlines help me get things done.

Here’s the thing about hurricane preparations: They must be done before it’s dangerous to go outside. No leeway here for procrastinating. After a specific time, lockdown begins. Gas stations run out of gas. Propane is scarce and ATMs run out of money. If you don’t act quickly, you’re in serious trouble. Ironically, that’s when I do my best. I’m most efficient when I have an exact deadline.

[Free Download: Your Free Guide to All the Best Parts of ADHD]

I’m a science geek.

Meteorology fascinates me. It’s an illogical and unpredictable science based on facts, possibilities, and probabilities. There’s always a bit of last-minute randomness, as we saw in Irma. And that unpredictability sparks my brain into action. After years in South Florida, I know the difference between the low- and high-pressure areas that move the storm closer or farther. I know what parallel we are on, and what rising barometric pressure does to the wind speed. Irma arrived during a full moon, making a King Tides storm surge a greater threat. If I were a better student in school, I probably would have been an awesome meteorologist. Instead, I’m the most engaged and fascinated novice hurricane watcher around.

Thinking of all possibilities.

Individuals with ADHD live in the moment and deal with what comes. We are not planners, by nature. Normally, family meal planning for a week (or two or three) without electricity wouldn’t register in my brain. But intense pre-planning is an absolute requirement if you want to stay safe, alive, and not starve. So I transformed into a creative chef in the days before Irma. Frozen food will defrost, I thought. All perishables will perish and you’ll be left with a stinky fridge to clean out. So I devised a balancing act to help me juggle the food given power outages and store closings — and it worked.

Keeping my family safe.

In addition to staying safe in our home, we had to make sure the outdoors didn’t come in. That meant thinking about protecting our home from ripped roofs, falling trees, shredded electric poles, dangling live wires, and flying objects hurling through the windows. All of this meant bringing in every outdoor item. It was an intense and frantic experience but I stayed focused and hyper-zoned-in for days, facing the possibility of getting through the next days without electricity, internet, or cell phones.

I’m resourceful.

Yes, I can be a forgetful scatterbrain sometimes, but when times are tough, I have a way of getting tougher. Thanks to my over-imaginative ADHD mind, I thought of every possible hurricane-related scenario and how to handle it. My other ADHD family members and I scoped out our safe spaces, investigating and analyzing every room as a refuge for four adults and a toddler. No windows, concrete-solid, with room for a few mattresses, food and flashlights. My ADHD truly empowered me to stay calm and in control.

[How to Keep Your Cool In (Almost) Any Situation]

I became the captain of the team.

Without teamwork, we couldn’t get it all done. I called a family meeting to assign each person the tasks best aligned with his or her skills. Amazingly, the five of us covered all necessary bases — technology, supplies, meals, clean-up, and childcare. We worked individually and together like we’ve never done before. Hurricane Irma gave us that opportunity to unite. And it gave me the opportunity to take the lead and become the grounding force in my home.

Bringing out the best.

Most days, my head is filled with noise — overthinking, self-doubt, and regret. But when my family’s safety was at stake, there was no room for unnecessary negativity in my mind. My brain was zoomed in on holding it all together and, thanks to my ADHD, I did. A person never knows how strong she can be until pushed to her limits. Sitting through flashlight dinners without TV, Internet, or cell phones, I realized how strong and fortunate I really was. What matters most in life is never a thing; it is always your family.

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  1. Excellent example of how we need to stop looking at ADHD as a curse and look at it as a super power that can harness to improve our lives. The ability to have super fast intuition as well as second to none problem solving is something I really cherish.

  2. Thank you for sharing your story! You were the boss! I’ve just been diagnosed at 48, but as I learned more and more about the symptoms, I also realized when the ADHD made me a superhuman. I was driving a friend home from Las Vegas in her large-size Lexus and a car completely lost control maybe 20 yards ahead of us. I went absolutely CALM and, as if time slowed down, I was able to assess the situation and make predictions of where the car will end up, meanwhile looking in the rear-view mirror to anticipate rear end situations, etc. etc. I calmly steered the car away from any danger and looked back to see the tragic ending (the car rolled several times and hit the bridge support beam). I swear it was like dodging the bullets in The Matrix. My friend, who always made comments about my spacy-ness, couldn’t believe what happened. She was screaming the whole time (apparently, I didn’t hear it), and she made me get off the freeway so she could get out of the car and breathe some fresh air. She thanked me for saving our lives and never gave me another comment/look about my scattered brain.! HAHA. I bet the best race-car drivers are ADHD! If Irma did come home to you, there’s no doubt you and your family would have kept it together.

    1. I have had a few similar incidents, and I was able to recall a discussion or something I had read, assess that according to the current situation, and make a good decision, and all within a fraction of a second.
      Proof is that I am still here.

  3. One explanation is that the heightened situation causes neurochemistry to balance out the deficiencies, rendering abnormal, disfunctional, behaviour in normal contexts into normal functioning behaviour in an abnormal context!

    I first noticed it when I joined the police and then the army, then as a professional musician performing on stage and live sound engineering and eventually as an academic. When others were stressed and anxious, I became calm and organised, able to process even extremely complex, demanding or threatening situations with surprising clarity. I found normal mundane work difficult and my superiors couldn’t reconcile the inconsistencies in my performance. Sustained, physical activity such as mountaineering has the same effect.

    I’ve been on methylphenidate but now experimenting with beta-blockers, ketogenic diet and exercise as a reflection of that theory.

  4. My kids used to tell me that thats what i did when anything major came along. Considering one was adhd It never occipurred to me that i might be also for another 30 years

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