Object Permanence – The Bane of My Adult ADHD Existence
It has been nearly 20 years since I started my career in radio. In my earlier days, I would make jokes about how I must have ADHD to do this job. How else do you explain how I would typically be doing at least three different things at any given point in time and somehow managed to juggle it all with ease?
Late ADHD Diagnosis
Fast forward 17 years later, and I finally have found out why I have always performed best under pressure while simultaneously executing multiple tasks at one time... I do in fact have ADHD. I received my official diagnosis in late 2021, just before my 43 birthday.
That's A Symptom and Not a Quirk?
Now, my ability to multitask or to perform under pressure are not the only things that led to my diagnosis. There are a number of other idiosyncrasies that I thought were just weird personality quirks but as it turns out a lot of those are symptoms of my previously undiagnosed ADHD.
Why Do I Forget Things Exist?
One of those "weird" things is my ability to completely erase something from my memory. More specifically, to forget that something exists altogether. It isn't that the "thing" (an object, an experience, a task, or even people) actually disappears or vanishes. I am no magician! Rather, it is like if I don't see it, it ceases to exist in my consciousness.
Object permanence is the ability to remember that an object still exists even when you cannot physically see, hear, touch, or otherwise experience. It is a cognitive function that grows in our early development when we are first learning to interact with the world around us. According to Medical News Today,
Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget was the first person to coin the term in the 1960s. He observed how babies reacted when a favorite toy was shown to, and then hidden, from them. Babies who had not developed object permanence would appear confused or upset, as if the object had ceased to exist. Babies who had developed object permanence would continue to look for the toy.
So how does something like object permanence (or a lack thereof, as the case may be for myself and other neurodivergent people struggling with ADHD) impact day-to-day life? Oh let me count the ways!!
Eating/Using Food Before It Goes Bad
I am notorious for buying food and then not eating it before it goes bad, particularly fruits and vegetables. I have learned that because of my struggles with object permanence if I put my fruits and vegetables in the crisper drawers at the bottom of the fridge I actually forget that they exist. Then the next time I would open the crisper drawer to drop my newly purchased produce, I would find the sad remains of the previously purchased produce.
How do I work around this? I don't use the crisper drawers. I try to keep any and all food and produce on the top three shelves of my refrigerator. This keeps them within sight when I open the refrigerated door and helps me not forget that they exist.
I used to really struggle with this when I was younger, and I still do sometimes even now if I have a new bill that is not part of my monthly routine. I have had this happen before after coming home from traveling and then receiving a bill for a toll road that I accidentally took. I have a system that I use that works well for me to make sure that all of my recurring bills are paid on time, but those irregular bills still get me!
Here's what happens: I get the bill in the mail. I open the bill and look it over before putting it in the designated stack of "important papers" - read: papers and pieces of mail I plan to come back to later. Now fast forward a couple of months and I am receiving the second notice for the same bill. Why? Because once I put it in that pile and walked away, it ceased to exist in my brain. I have literally stuck a bill to my front door or even stuffed a bill in my purse before just so I would encounter it again every time I walk out the door or go to get my wallet to keep me from forgetting about it.
Buying Clothes, Groceries or Other Things
This one is rather obnoxious and sometimes even expensive. I have been known, from time to time, to buy something for myself - or even a friend - because I forget that I (or they) already own one. Before I go shopping for something to wear for that "special" event, I always make sure that I check my closet to refresh my brain on what I already own. Likewise, before I head to buy groceries, I take inventory in my pantry and fridge so I don't accidentally buy a box of pasta when I already have three boxes unopened from the last time I shopped without checking the pantry first.
I have found small little life hacks or workarounds that help me to function despite my struggles with object permanence, like keeping all of the fruits and veggies on the top three shelves in the fridge instead of the crisper drawers, but I do still struggle with this aspect of my ADHD from time to time.
The biggest help I have found so far is to remember to practice grace with myself when I miss a bill deadline or find that rotten lemon in the bottom of the fridge. Where I used to beat myself up over these kinds of things, often participating in negative self-talk, I now try to remind myself that I am doing the best that I can with a brain that is not wired like everyone else's - as long as I am doing my best, it is enough. That coupled with regular therapy visits and the addition of medication has had a tremendous impact on my day-to-day life.
There are plenty of online resources available. I have found Doctor Sasha Hamdani's content on Instagram and TikTok, @thepsychdoctormd, to be incredibly helpful in making me feel less "crazy" and more accepting of myself. She is a board-certified psychiatrist specializing in ADHD and she also has ADHD herself.
Online resources are only going to take you so far. If you are struggling with your mental health or suspect that you may also be neurodivergent, I strongly encourage you to make contact with your medical care provider.