For years I’ve dealt with a strange brain issue which I thought all people had–the need to switch tasks frequently. Some days it is worse than others; some days I can stay focused on a task for an hour or two, and some days I ricochet around between five different tasks in as many minutes. But for certain, long periods of time focused on one solitary task is nearly impossible for me these days.
I’ve noticed, while suffering this, that there’s an almost physical sensation along with this need for frequent task-switching. I can best describe it as “the jackhammer in my brain.”
This description is about as accurate as I can get. When I’m having one of my “bad focus” days, I will begin work on a task, and about five minutes later, I start feeling a slight vibration (not quite physical, but just about) on the nape of my neck. It starts off soft, like a gently purring kitty, almost but not quite breaking my concentration. If I’m determined enough, I can ignore it.
But then, after about 10 minutes, the brain “vibration” becomes stronger. Now no longer a purring kitty, the vibration is more like a cell phone on Vibrate. And after a few more minutes, it’s like a blender on “Puree.” And after that, if I’m still on the same task? The “jackhammer” begins–an entirely concentration-breaking vibration, along with the obsessive thought that “if I don’t stop what I’m doing RIGHT NOW, I am going to go CRAZY.” In desperation, I switch tasks…and the jackhammer stops, blessedly, for about 15-20 minutes.
Again, this isn’t an actual physical sensation, but it is as annoying as a physical sensation or a sensory experience. When I’m desperately trying to complete tasks, this keeps me from being able to deeply focus on anything, and I end up feeling horribly restless, bored, and frustrated.
Is This Normal? Well, It’s Normal for Me
For a long time, I thought this was how everyone operated, especially when I was younger. After all, I could lose myself in a good book pretty easily as a kid, but I found that tasks which required a lot of mental effort/concentration were difficult to stick to (such as piano practice). Only when the task became fun or easier could I accomplish it in one fell swoop–for example, I rarely managed to practice piano until I began composing my own music in sixth grade. This manifested in various ways throughout my childhood; I would have two or three toys out to play with at once and switch between them, and would always take a book to the table when I ate by myself because I needed something else to focus on besides food.
Through elementary and middle school, this didn’t bug me so much during school hours, but during high school and college, I increasingly had to fight to control this jackhammer effect to stay on task. Eventually, I came up with the “rotating task list,” which provided me with up to 10 options of tasks to switch to, should I become mentally jackhammered while trying to complete one. That is a strategy I still employ; as I compose my blogs for the week, I often have all 6 blog files open at once, so that I can switch between subjects if my brain gets too “buzzy” to concentrate on one particular subject.
But most recently, I’ve found that paying extended attention to even enjoyable things is difficult. While watching movies or TV shows at home, my smartphone is never far away, promising me something constructive to do with my hands; during Sunday morning worship, the backs of my church bulletins get filled with doodles, or I’m on my smartphone again. Even when I WANT to pay attention, the “jackhammer in my brain” takes over within minutes, demanding that I switch tasks. Sometimes the need to switch almost makes me physically nauseous.
Physical Causes Don’t Seem to Explain It
I’ve tried finding the causes for such strange behavior on my own, but most of my investigations seem to lead to dead ends. For a while, I thought I was just tired, because I’ve increasingly found sleeping to be just as difficult as paying attention for long periods of time. My brain just never wants to settle–I have to thoroughly exhaust my body before my brain will finally wave the white flag and allow me to sleep. And, once asleep, I often wake up every hour on the hour, because I feel simply bored of sleeping. (How is that even POSSIBLE? I’ve heard of insomnia, but this is ridiculous…)
But even with a full night of rest (which usually requires medication to achieve), there are still some days that the jackhammer in my brain refuses to let me watch favorite TV shows, complete Sunday school lessons, or write my novel for more than 5 minutes at a time. I don’t have any physical tremors that I know of, though I do have severe neck and shoulder tension which has required chiropractic care to resolve. Additionally, I suffer all sorts of headaches, and so I’ve wondered whether a silent migraine may be to blame. But a silent migraine lasting weeks at a time?
Having been a very physically active child, and now having to be a more sedentary adult because of my lower body injuries, might have something to do with it; perhaps I’ve still got all that energy pent-up somehow. But if I have all that energy, shouldn’t I be able to direct it to completing tasks instead of frittering it all away in the aimless junk I do trying to get my brain to stop buzzing?
Mental Cause: Anxiety or Adult A.D.D.?
Failing to find a physical cause thus far, I’ve begun to wonder about both anxiety and adult A.D.D. I am a worrier, but even when I’m not really worried about anything, my attention can often wander. It seems as though my brain constantly changes the channel on me, searching for mental stimulation and incessantly pestering me when I refuse to give it the most stimulating fare possible. I constantly have to have something to do with my hands when sitting somewhere; I must be actively taking information in, otherwise, I get the horrible jackhammer sensation again. (Sitting still is also very difficult for me; as well as having a jackhammered brain more often than not, I also fidget like crazy and trot my leg, even while I’m in an enjoyable situation. It’s REALLY weird.)
Anyone Else Had This Happen to Them?
The “constant-channel-changing” brain phenomenon has often been associated with A.D.H.D. or adult-onset A.D.D., at least in casual conversations I’ve had. I don’t have any scientific basis for it, though, so I’m left to wonder what it is that makes my brain reasonably cooperative on some days and rebounding around in my skull on other days. I’m wondering if anyone else has experienced this kind of brain weirdness and can recognize these symptoms. Am I just strange? LOL!