After over a year in isolation during varying degrees of Covid-related lockdown, we can’t deny that the experience has stayed with us. During the throes of self-isolation, days, hours and weeks would at times blur into one big mess without the traditional markers of time that come with a routine in the world outside of the walls of our home.
Increasingly, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) experts are suggesting that larger amounts of people might be suffering from “time blindness”, which means they have trouble with their awareness of the passing of time.
But even if you don’t have ADHD, everyone still has varying levels of “time awareness” – i.e the ability to assess when the timing of something is going to affect their life, so if they’re running late or they’ve left something important to the last minute.
But if you’re actually time blind, it can be a whole other story.
What are the key symptoms of time blindness, and how do you know if you have it?
According to Sarah Templeton – a therapist with ADHD herself and author of How not to murder your ADHD kid: Instead learn how to be your child’s own ADHD coach – time blindness affects “the past, the present and the future” and can be broken down as such.
When it comes to the past, Sarah says people with time blindness “never know how long ago something was”. “So when people say to us like ‘when did you last go on holiday?’ we haven’t got a clue. If a doctor asks a woman when they got their last period, they won’t have a clue. Our brain doesn’t know how long ago anything was – it will know it’s happened, but it doesn’t know if it was a week, a month or a year ago.”
Time blindness in the present causes issues as it makes it difficult to judge how long something is going to take. If you set a deadline for someone with time blindness, they are likely to have trouble making sense of that and may not be able to stick to it without outside help.
And lastly, when it comes to time blindness about the future, those with this condition might have trouble making plans, perhaps judging when they might need to take time off. It’s all about your judgment of the impact of time passing on yourself, and if you are “time blind” you may not find understanding or dealing with this easily.
Sarah adds that a loss of routine – which we all have been through due to past and present Covid restrictions and lockdowns – can be a huge trigger for those already dealing with time blindness, or for those who may not have encountered it or been diagnosed with it previously.
Is time blindness only linked to people with ADHD?
Experts are increasingly saying this is unlikely – time blindness is now linked with sleep deprivation, depression, anxiety, grief and alcohol overuse. These conditions can all dramatically affect our mental health and how we see the world, and therefore can impact our “executive function” of our brain, which is a set of mental skills that include flexible thinking, self control and a working memory.
Therefore, the more mental and physical health conditions that are linked with time blindness, the more widely known it is likely to become and the more people are likely to be diagnosed with it.
What can we do to combat time blindness symptoms?
Because time blindness comes back to the issue with keeping pressing things at the forefront of our brain, Sarah recommends setting alarms to remind you of deadlines and committing important things to paper.
But above all, she stresses that normalising this feeling and suspending judgment at behaviour surrounding time blindness would help those who are dealing with it as part of a condition like ADHD, or as part of a circumstantial period of grief or any other issue.
“It’s not always something you can completely train yourself out of, if it’s the way your brain works,” she says. “It’s important just to be accepting, to be less judgmental and to accept that for some people this is a massive problem. It can really affect their day-to-day lives, so the last thing they need is people judging them for it – it just makes them feel worse.”