The ADHD Brain Meltdown

On 18. February 2016 by Peter 'ADDSpeaker' Vang

That ADHD is a complex mental disorder is common knowledge by now. But what is it that really goes wrong, within the brain? Here’s the explanation, in plain English!

Usually when we talk about what’s wrong when you suffer from ADHD, we are talking about advanced neuro-biological and neuro-psychological contexts based on neuro-genetic factors that affect our neuro-chemical balance, which then affects our meta-cognitive abilities and our emotional impulse -and self-control, together with all the derived neuro-psychiatric symptoms as that of having ADHD causes.

But who understands a damn thing of it?

If you are not, as I am, a total ADHD science geek, it is reasonable inaccessible and very boring to try to understand, for the general population.

Therefore I have decided to try to explain whats going on, in plain English instead.

The brain is divided into two systems

Let’s imagine that it is that simple, for the sake of arguing. Let’s call these System 1 and System 2. Inside these two systems, there is a lot of advanced stuff going on, but what’s important to understand, is that they work both individually and together as a team. In cooperation they are you entire mind, and control everthing you think, feel and do.

System 1

System 1 is tasked with making sure that we survive and reproduce as a species. It is a very old system that we share with many other species on our planet. It is the system that Charles Darwin was studying back 200+ years ago, when he discovered the “Origin of Species”. It is the system that is run “automatic” in your subconscious mind and it is based on an intricate set of rules, that governs our subconscious and conscious behaviour. To maximise energy efficiency, System 1 always tries to solve the task at hand, by finding an existing solution and applying this solution, to the newly presented task at hand. This is where all our habits are stored and executed from.

The senses

There are 5 human senses, that we know of, called

  • Sight
  • Sound
  • Smell
  • Taste
  • Touch

The “Spiderman Senses”

But in order for us to put these sense in to an environmental context, they are supported by 5 additional “Spiderman Senses”, which are not senses in a traditional sense, but act more as supporting services to the five main senses.

These are:

  • Position (Laying, Sitting, Standing, Jumping)
  • Acceleration (Slow, Medium, Fast)
  • Temperature (Freezing, Cold, Average, Warm, Hot)
  • Pain (Low, Medium, High)
  • Balance (Up, Down, Left, Right

The Holistic 3D Human Sensory System

When we combine the 5 human senses with the 5 Spiderman senses, we get an extraordinary thing, namely the ability to place ourselves, in a 3-Dimensional Space, where we can decide where we are, what we are doing and what it feels like to be here and do this.

3DSpaceTime

As the image above shows, this is pretty mind-bending stuff, so let’s make it a bit more accessible, shall we?

External vs. Internal Experiences

To make this simple, I will use System 1 to ben in charge of all things that are being received from an external source, eg. “the sound of a dog barking in the distance”. We will hear the sound og the barking, turn are attention to it and use our sight to try to visually locate the dog, and our Spiderman senses to figure out if it is close or far, if we are in danger or not etc. This information is then put in a “Package” which is then passed on to the internal part of System 1.

The package is then examined, as a whole, and is compared to past time experiences and make a quick selection to either;

  1. if a match IS found, System 1 makes an easy decision and sends that on to “The Control Tower” which simply stamps the package and let is through to be handled “as we normally do when we receive a package like this”, which in case of the dog barking in the distance, is to simply ignore it.
  2. if a match is NOT found, the System 1 sends the package to The Control Tower, which then opens the package and distribute the contents to the various experts of each sensory input, like sight, sound, smell, taste and touch, which then looks for similar experiences in the Visual Memory Bank, to come up with some suggestions of what to do.

If a match IS found the we go on “autopilot” to execute a known set of tasks, also called a habit, which is mainly done using our subconscious mind.

If a match is NOT found, then System 1 hands the package over to The Control Tower for further analysis and decision-making.

The Control Tower then decides if it can figure out what to do, by it self or if it needs to promote this decision to System 2

The Control Tower

sleeping atc

In The Control Tower sits a group of highly experienced people, who together have tried everything and know everything about what we have experienced in our lives.

These specialists called;

  • Mr.SmellItAll,
  • Mr.TasteItAll,
  • Mr.SeeItAll,
  • Mr.HearItAll,
  • Mr.FeelItAll,
  • og Mr.WhereIsItAll

For example. one who has mastered all of our memories, Mr.WhereIsItAll, whose task is to save all our memories as an image in The Visual Memory Bank, along with an emotion of how the situation in which this picture was taken, felt like, so he can quickly find them again if anything comes through the senses, that needs to be compared with anything we’ve seen before.

To make it much faster to search our memories, he adds some sensory meta-data to the memory, so you can search for hot, cold, good, bad, joyful, sad, exciting, boring and traumatic memories. The traumatic meta-data, however, he puts into the “parental locked area”, so they don’t just show up at random times, but have to be recollected on purpose.

The same goes for all the other sensations, here sits a specialist and appreciate the sensory input and attach other forms of “search criteria” on such “smell of roasted almonds”, one who has mastered the “feeling of a sharp knife”, one who has mastered “the sound of a car horn “and one who has mastered “the taste of chocolate”.

When they are all done re-packing the external experience, with the knowledge we have from our Visual Memory Bank, they hand it over to Mr.WhereIsItAll

Mr.WhereIsItAll

milhouse_van_houten

Mr.WhereIsItAll is a smart guy, because he has found out that we sometimes do not know what it really is we’re looking for, that’s why he also posted some “clues” into the memories so that we can search for “80’s music”and then he finds a image from the “80’s “which he hopes can help us to remember the song “Wild Boys” by Duran Duran, when we see ourselves in trumpet-jeans and Prince Valiant hairdo (actual photo of myself).

Little_PEV

In addition, Mr.WhereIsItAll is constantly keeping track of whether we are standing, walking, lying or floating in the water so that “we always know where we’re at, at all times”

Mr. KnowItAll

When I was a kid, we were playing a game, where we put 10 things under a towel, got 30 seconds. to remember them all, and then the was the towel laid across. Afterwards we should mention as many as possible.

The Control Tower feature in System 1 is basically the same. This group of specialists in each of their fields, get a quick overview of “what it is”, for anything that comes in through our senses, and then they respond back to The Control Tower’s leader, Mr. KnowItAll which then determines what should happen here and now.

Mr.KnowItAll is not aware of what Mr.TasteItAll know, but he knows that Mr.TasteItAll has control of its business and trust that what he says is the truth. The same applies to all specialist contractor, Mr.KnowItAll trust them 100%.

Ned Flanders

 

Mr.KnowItAll have as task to find out two things:

  1. Is it dangerous?
  2. Have we done it before?

MissTakeItEasy

Lisa Simpsons

If something is considered as hazardous, then Mr.KnowItAll sends an alarm signal up to System 2, where MissTakeItEasy sitting. She looks at what it is that Mr.KnowItAll have sent her and perhaps ask Mr.WhereIsItAll on how far away the threat is, and ask Mr.SeeItAll if it’s something we’ve seen before, and asks Mr.FeelItAll about what feeling he has about what she has found. Mr.FeelItAll gives her quick response whether it is nice or nasty, and depending on his answers,  MissTakeItEasy makes her early assessment on what to do next.

The answer is then sent down to Mr.JustDoItAll.

Mr.JustDoItAll

 

willie

Mr.JustDoItAll has no idea of what the reason is for him to set his procedures into motion, he just does what he is told and do it immediately. He sends a message to the body to close down all non-essential systems down, such as digestion, get pumped some fresh blood through the system and down the legs, and get sent to the brain that it must produce more adrenaline. When everything is in place, so he sends message back to MissTakeItEasy.

System 2

System 2 is where all the packages are sent, that we are not sure we know what to do with. These are then assessed and it is decided here, what is the best thing to do for our survival and the best long-term performance to achieve a future desired objectives, eg . “How to Get That Cheese Cake in Grandmothers Refrigerator.

System 2 has several meeting rooms, in the first meeting room sits Mr.RememberItAll and look at images from the olden days, using a device called “The Mind’s Eye” and in another meeting room sits the argumentative MissTalkAboutItAll that can sit and listen to all of the sounds you’ve heard and all of the conversations you’ve had in your life, using a device called “Your Internal Voice”. In a third meeting sits MrImagineItAll and his task is to gather all the impressions from MissTakeItEasy, Mr.RememberItAll and MissTalkAboutItAll and try to get it all together into a coherent meaningful story that can be sent up to Mr.DoIReallyHaveToDoIt.

Mr.RememberItAll

moe

Mr.RememberItAll is the one who has all the facts. He has mastered all that which we have experienced, learned, know and are capable of doing, throughout our whole life.

MissTalkAboutItAll

Selma_Bouvier_2

MissTalkAboutItAll used to work as a hairdresser until she got this job. Now she spends all her time listening to everything that is sent up to Mr.RememberItAll and she sits so all alone, talking to herself and matches the story to fit the images that Mr.RememberItAll gathers.

MrImagineItAll

frink

MrImagineItAll is a scientist, and he is really good at remembering everything. He cannot always remember where he has heard or seen, everything or where the images came from exactly, so he needs a lot of help from Mr.FeelItAll, and together they make sure to keep track of our Visual Memory Bank. MissTakeItEasy has only one task: to try to get us to “do what we always do” so that we use the least amount of energy possible. She is the Master of Habits and govern her area of responsibility, really tough!

Mr.DoIReallyHaveToDoIt

Homer_simpsonwoohooo

 

At the top, above the System 1 and System 2, sits Mr.DoIReallyHaveToDoIt.

His tasks are:

  1. To make sure that we use the minimum required energy needed, to perform the fewest possible tasks, with the best possible positive outcome
  2. To take care to ensure that we do not run out of  resources, by ordering more “energy” when it is needed.
  3. To ensure that our overall behaviour is linked so that it best serves our long-term goals, which is to survive and multiply.

So when Mr.DoIReallyHaveToDoIt get a new task, he looks at it, looking for every opportunity to say NO THANKS to the task and send it back to MissTakeItEasy, who then retrieve something similar, from the Visual Memory Bank, which we have used before, a habit and then sends the message back down to System 1 to “just do business as usual.”

Sometimes Mr.DoIReallyHaveToDoIt has a little doubt about what the right thing is to do, so he calls on Mr.ImagineItAll and ask him to come up with all sorts of suggestions for what to do in this situation, so that he has something to choose between. Next, he takes all the proposals and send them down to Mr.KnowItAll to hear him what he thinks “feels” like the right decision to make. Next, Mr.DoIReallyHaveToDoIt makes his choice and decides to make one of the proposed solutions, as his final decision.

It sometimes happens that there are two or more solutions which are all equally good and then Mr.DoIReallyHaveToDoIt is faced with a dilemma on which solution should be chosen!

In such cases, Mr.DoIReallyHaveToDoIt have a special button he can press called “Ask Gut Feeling”. When he presses this, a signal will be sent to Mr.SmellItAll, Mr.TasteItAll, Mr.SeeItAll, Mr.HearItAll, Mr.FeelItAll and Mr.WhereIsItAll who all quickly checks all the senses in the body for what they believe is the right decision to make, and their answers is reported back to Mr.DoIReallyHaveToDoIt on which option they think is right.

Finally Mr.DoIReallyHaveToDoIt present his chosen proposed solution to Mr.IAmTheBossMan.

Mr.IAmTheBossMan

Mr_Burns_evil

Mr.IAmTheBossMan sits way up, in the very front of the brain, just above the right eye, with a good view of everything that happens inside the body and outside the body. He has held this position for at least 30 years from the time your body was born and until your brain was fully developed around 30 years, so he has “seen a few things” in his life, and he knows instinctively everything that your body and your mind, prefer to do. It is  Mr.IAmTheBossMan who has the final and absolute power over what happens next.

Mr.IAmTheBossMan thinks for a moment, looking at the evidence, looks around on what is happening around the outside of the body and inside the body, and so he presses one of two buttons; Go or No-Go.

When he presses No-Go, then a signal is sent back through the entire system, right down to System 1 to “just continue as if nothing had happened”, but if he presses the Go button, then he signals System 1 to get the whole body “to get busy” carrying out the chosen resolution.

This is how a normal brain works – now here is how the brain of a person with ADHD works …

The ADHD Brain Meltdown

homer_simpson_doh1

People with ADHD do not experience many errors on System 1. We sense the same things, we have an equal number of good and bad habits, just like everyone else, neither more nor less.

But sometimes when Mr.KnowItAll sends tasks to MissTakeItEasy it happens that there is no link from System 1 to System 2. This is because our brain, physically, is not finished evolving, and therefore do not have the capability to send the task on up to System 2.

When System 1 is filled with an excessive amount of sensory input, which it cannot get passed on and up in the system, then Mr.FeelItAll gets so stressed, that he begins to fall behind his sorting of sensory impressions, particularly sound, light and touch, and that makes Mr.KnowItAll become irritable, irascible and restless, because he cannot get rid of everything that is pouring in on his table, and he does not know how he will be able to manage it all. So Mr.KnowItAll begins to throw things here and there, without any order, and suddenly it all just becomes messed up.

This is how chronic stress begins, for those of us, who have ADHD, and it is here where anxiety, depression and PTSD originates, as our ability to separate “Nice To Know” and “Need To Know”, causing it all to be into a single pot and everything ends thus to become one great big rehash of feelings instead.

Meanwhile, back in System 2, everyone else is sitting around, asking each other WTF!?!

Mr.RememberItAll, MissTalkAboutItAll, and MrImagineItAll keeps asking each other, what is happening huh? huh? huh? and then Mr.DoIReallyHaveToDoIt then becomes so annoyed at being disturbed by their eternal questioning and due to the stress that he is feeling, he throws everything he has in his hands and progress down to the nearest tavern to get himself a “simple tightens.”

beer-homer-simpson_1366x768_6704

While this is going on, MissTakeItEasy is running around, trying to get control of everything in his absence, but since she do not have the full picture, it becomes a somewhat messy scenario, where most decisions are made by asking Mr.FeelItAll about what he thinks and he is gradually being well overworked, his answers becomes shorter and shorter until finally he only sends sour smileys back to everyone else.

When this happens, The Control Tower losses control of the body and everything that MissTakeItEasy sends to it, is just instantly being carried out in the entire body, which then makes everything that MissTalkAboutItAll think, mistakenly, go straight down to the mouth which then just says what she thinks without a filter!

 

Lisa_Simpson_Scream

While all this is going on, MrImagineItAll and Mr.FeelItAll has a very important role to play, as it is their job to keep track of time. This applies both to the past, future and present.

The past holds all the memories in the Visual Memory Bank and is retrieved through the images (with the built-in emotions) and is likewise used to “foresee” the future, which helps Mr.DoIReallyHaveToDoIt to “imagine” the possible future solutions that there is to a problem. When they present the possible solutions for Mr.DoIReallyHaveToDoIt, he looks at them and asks Mr.FeelItAll to come up with the feeling that belong to each solution. Then Mr.DoIReallyHaveToDoIt makes his choice.

But when you have ADHD then MrImagineItAll and Mr.FeelItAll are far too busy to keep track of time, and therefore there is no past or future, only the present. So Mr.DoIReallyHaveToDoIt can only see the options available, right now, and he therefore base all his choices on what Mr.FeelItAll feel is the right thing to do, right now.

This is why people with ADHD are so impulsive and lacks the understanding of the consequences of their behavior and actions, especially in terms of achieving their long-term goals.

But after a while, even MissTakeItEasy,  cannot handle the pressure anymore, so she just say NO to all suggestions and run away screaming if someone asks her for her help.

LisaSimpson4

So now the whole of System 2 is out of service, and we are back to only having System 1. System 1 is not built to perform complex calculations on what best serves our long-term goal, and now Mr.SmellItAll, Mr.TasteItAll, Mr. SeeItAll, Mr.HearItAll, Mr.FeelItAll and Mr.WhereIsItAll all begins shouting all at once, and “when everyone is responsible, no one is responsible” and thus, all actions, all behavior, all thoughts and everything that is projected through our body language and said with our words – is just one great hotchpotch of emotions, impulsiveness, hyperactivity and inattention.

Homer Expressions

Hence the name “Attention-Deficit Hyperactive Disorder” – but as you can see, it is not the correct name for this disorder, for it only describes what the symptoms of ADHD looks like, not where we find the real cause of the disorder!

I hope that this makes a little more sense for most of You?

/ ADDspeaker

What a load of crap – I don’t understand a damn thing …

If you were left with this feeling, then I recommend you read four books, all of which has given me inspiration to make ovenstånde history;

“Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman
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The Gap: The Science of What Separates Us from Other Animals” by Thomas Suddendorf
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The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success” by Kevin Dutton
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Executive Functions: What They Are, How They Work, and Why They Evolved” by Russell A. Barkley
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