life in “now or not now”
not quite as present as it seems
I used to think it was funny before I was diagnosed when I’d tell people that I really only had two times, now or not now. I thought it showed how I stayed present, aware of what I was doing. I wasn’t thinking about the future or the past, I thought. I couldn’t even remember anything beyond now or not now. So, I had to be naturally someone that stayed present.
Only, being present isn’t quite the same as being in the action & chaos around you, though.
Because yes, technically I was preoccupied with what was going on at that moment, but I was never present. I was concerned with what was happening now, just not my body. It was my environment and everyone around me that was taking my attention. My focus never allowed me to stay in my body, instead my attention was successfully diverted away from me, like a buffer supporting my incredible ability to dissociate at a moments notice. I was never present, but I still never knew time beyond now or not now either.
It doesn’t surprise me that many neurodivergent people see time as “now and not now.” Our brains are there to protect us, to stay on high alert for anything that feels like a threat to the body. Discomfort feels like a threat in our bodies, but it don’t know any different if that threat is still real or not. It’s up to us to access the thinking part of our brain (aka: the frontal lobe), so we can discern whether we’re dealing with a real threat and how we can ensure our reaction matches the stimuli we’re facing.
Only… what was that part of the brain that impacts so many neurodivergent people including those with trauma, again…?
Oh yeah… the frontal lobe.
That same part of the brain which plans out what we might do next or organises our thoughts in order to put together a thoughtful response. That part of the brain that prioritises the actions we want to take or helps us manage ourselves so we can consider how to respond in integrity. When we can connect to our frontal lobe, that’s when we start considering what lies beyond now or not now.
[ID: First officer Riker (sometime after season one because of his beard), from Star Trek: The Next Generation, has his mouth open as if shouting orders. Graphics read: “My ADHD when I have to do something mentally taxing. No you CAN’T don’t even try!” Because sometimes a freeze response works best to avoid a threat. End ID]
But problems arise when the ability to pause in order to reconnect to our thinking mind feels way too dangerous for our bodies. So our brains act accordingly, shifting the focus back to now.
Ready to protect us at the moments notice.
Ready to attack aligned with our fears.
Ready to react from our wounds.
Our brains stand guard, hyper-vigilant in their mission to keep our bodies safe at all cost - because we can never be too careful because an emergency can happen at any time, now.
In an emergency we’ve only got seconds to act. There’s no time to connect to the thinking part of our brain when a threat suddenly appears!
Action needs to happen automatically. It needs to happen now. Our bodies exist in a world where it feels constantly under threat and our brains just want to keep us alive. To ensure we’ll survive.
We’re walking around in survival mode.
A survival mode called now or not now.