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COVID Time is Warped, Dodgy, and Baffling — a Lot Like ADHD Time

“My sense of time expands and contracts like a jellyfish, sometimes suspended, other times shooting forward. If I’m hyperfocused, one, then two, then three hours fly by before I know it. If I’m impatient, bored, or stressed, one minute feels like a lifetime, and five minutes feel like eternity.”

Distorted clock to represent ADHD time blindness
Clock submersed in water and distorted by water drops - macro photography

After who-knows-how-long in coronavirus quarantine, have you found yourself losing track of the time, the day of the week, even the month? If so, welcome to the world of time blindness – a world all too familiar to ADHD brains like mine.

“But, Emily, you’re always on time!” I’m told. Sure, but only with special, extra effort on my part at all times.

These days, I’m on time thanks to many ADHD-friendly strategies: I calculate when to leave well in advance, schedule in lots of extra time, and set reminders (possibly two or three) to get ready to leave – for a virtual, socially distanced meeting. I pull all this off using my three analog clocks and two Time Timers. Still, I want to buy another clock because I can still get confused about timing.

From what I can tell, most people out there aren’t time blind like me. They can do five “simple” minutes of yoga every day for a month, and can check off that “quick” five-minute errand without a second thought, or even glancing at a clock.

I often wonder how time passes for these people. Are their minds like atomic clocks? Does time tick by in their minds, with an alarm bell going off after exactly five minutes? Are those “easy” five-minute tasks actually easy? Is that even possible?

[Essential Reading: ADHD Minds Are Trapped in Now (& Other Time Management Truths)]

A world where time is constant and reliable is an alternate universe from mine. Time doesn’t tick in my ADHD world. Five minutes doesn’t always feel like five minutes. Instead, my sense of time expands and contracts like a jellyfish, sometimes suspended, other times shooting forward. If I’m hyperfocused, one, then two, then three hours fly by before I know it. If I’m impatient, bored, or stressed, one minute feels like a lifetime, and five minutes feel like eternity.

For me, “five simple minutes of daily yoga” isn’t simple at all. It would mean sticking to yoga for about three days, then forgetting about it for three months, and later despairing that I didn’t do any yoga at all. That “quick” errand also means spending 40 minutes agonizing over logistics – when to go, what to bring, and where to park.

Even as a child, the perennial “five-minute warning” set off sirens in my head. Whether I was working on an art project, doing classwork, or taking a test, that warning meant, “Hurry up! Time’s almost up! You were working too slowly again! Work faster so you can finish!” I’d rush and rush, but I still didn’t know how long five minutes were.

But I’ve learned that I don’t need to succumb to the tyranny of “five minutes” anymore. I don’t need to feel bad for not knowing how long five minutes are, for sometimes taking longer, for finding “easy” tasks difficult, because many tasks aren’t quick, and many aren’t easy. These days, I know that five minutes really means 25 minutes, so I opt for the latter, more forgiving unit of time when planning. I’m less likely to be late, even if I spend some time confused, distracted, or running behind. I’m allowed to be my time-blind self.

[Download This Free ADHD Time Assessment Chart]

When the coronavirus quarantine gradually lifts, I hope that those who usually have reliable internal clocks will remember what it was like when 11:38 am very well felt like 2:11 pm. I hope this experience can prompt us to reflect on what five minutes has really meant all this time, and what that does to people like me, whose internal clocks are more like the melting clocks from Salvador Dalí’s The Persistence of Memory. Are we using five minutes as an unrealistic synonym for “quick,” “easy,” or “hurry up?” Does anything ever take exactly five minutes and zero seconds? Is it okay if a task takes two minutes and 23 seconds, or 21 minutes, or 11 days instead?

One thing is for sure: When our calendars start bustling again with in-person meetings and engagements, my internal clock will be as elastic as it always has been, and always will be.

[Read This Next: “Your Concept of Time Is Not Broken, It’s Just Unorthodox”]


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Updated on July 15, 2020

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