My Autopilot Needs an ADHD MechanicIn my last post I mentioned having interviewed Michele Novotni, Psychologist, Author, and AD/HD Coach.

Novotni described how people with ADHD can have trouble doing things that others do on autopilot.

I’ve been mulling over that “autopilot” state and what it means.  I realized the truth in what she said, in that I’ve always felt that the things that others take for granted seem completely foreign to me, like getting to work on time while managing a spouse, kid, and housework – and still feeding yourself AND remembering to wear pants (I literally almost walked out the door without pants on one day).

Fly cut-rate at Zoë’s ADHD Autopilot Airlines!

While I was mulling all this over, I realized that I too sometimes fly on autopilot. I’ve been doing it all my life. Problem is, my autopilot is in desperate need of a mechanic. My instrumentation must be wonky ’cause I keep going off course.

Here’s an early example of the kind of thing that happens to me when I’m switched on autopilot.

As a child, there was a dirty laundry hamper in our bathroom beside the toilet. First thing in the morning, I’d stumble sleepily into the bathroom, arms hugging a multicolor mass of dirty clothes.

It was about a 50/50 chance that, instead of lifting the fuzzy hamper lid, I’d lift the toilet seat and let the bundle plummet to the porcelain. I’d watch in horror, suddenly shocked awake, as my clothes turned dark with wetness, slowly settling at the bottom of the toilet bowl.

“Boy, am I going to get it!” I’d think. Welcome to my day.

Even at that tender age, I knew my autopilot needed an adjustment.

Tuning up my autopilot: enabling focus

Recently, I wrote about focus. Being on autopilot is obviously a variation on this theme. The expression, “being on autopilot,” as I understand it, means that you’re able to do something without consciously thinking about it, while consciously focusing on something else. Lots of people are able to carry on a conversation, for example, while preparing dinner. (I’m not one of them, I’m just sayin’…).

In my post about focus I mentioned having, “…absentmindedly ripped up my supervisor’s document because she’d put it on top of a stack of mine.”

As I think about how and why I did that, I realize it was another example of being on autopilot. My supervisor and I had been talking, and my eyes drifted towards the stack of papers I had just photocopied.  Sitting on top was a sheet of paper with dark lines across it, just like the shadows or black lines that sometimes appear when you photocopy something and the image is marred.

ADHD autopilot: an accident waiting to happen

When I saw this sheet, I unconsciously saw it as one of my copies, automatically picked it up and ripped it in half, while talking to my supervisor.

“That was a quote I just got in,” she said, to my horror. Only then did I realize that the paper wasn’t part of the stack I’d just placed there.  She’d dropped it on top of my papers without my noticing – maybe she was on autopilot too – so I just reacted on ADHD autopilot.

Quality control! Can I get Quality Control over here?!

So what’s the difference between a well-functioning autopilot and ADHD autopilot? Higher maintenance? Faulty right off the factory floor? Crazy calibration? Check. Check. Check.

With all the great changes I’ve seen in my life since my ADHD diagnosis, it’s my broken-down autopilot that still gets me into trouble.  And I agree with Novotni: having to think, consciously, about every little thing I do, everything I say, all day, every day, is exhausting.  But I’d rather crash from weariness than switch on my autopilot and just – well – crash.

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