The Dreaded Betweens

I’ve never found an official name for this. A small, very informal survey indicates that it happens to AD/HD people and autistics, if not others as well. Maybe it will sound familiar to you, too. Let me know.

I’ve always just thought of this distinctive funk as The Betweens once I had been through enough cycles to see the overall trend. But The Betweens is more than just your “get-up-and-go done got-up-and-went”.

It’s somewhat analogous to the manic ups and depressive downs of bipolar, but doesn’t really function the same way. The Betweens is much more inwardly focused. I would expect that having The Betweens premenstrually or in combination with some other cyclic physiological thing could definitely make it worse.

The Betweens are evidenced when the intense GoGoGo from having a new perseveration (or a new slant on a favorite old one) has worn off. Sometimes it’s the body and sometimes it’s the mind. Or maybe it’s both, and you feel about as useful as a beached jellyfish and as brainy as a slug.

You can’t keep your train of thought on track. You can’t remember squat, which is frustrating as hell for a mind that’s used to going brilliantly full-tilt. The ennui is horrible, and like a junkie searching for old dribs and drabs of xir favorite fix, you schlump from staring at the dregs of one old obsession to another, staring dumbly at piles of hobby materials or over-loaded bookshelves, and not even sure why you have these things sitting around, or possibly even what you did with them.

It’s not just problem of, “I had a brain; I miss my brain”. The pang of nostalgia that seeps across the heart is neither for a particular time nor a place, but is for the feeling of having been in some manner intensely connected with the universe, and then someone has cruelly cut the umbilicus. (And if this is what “normal” feels like, I don’t want it!)

You ooze out of bed, and once up, seem to be crashing into wall corners and tripping on shoelaces and all those other entertaining tricks, but even more so than usual.

You’re disoriented and distractible, and staying focused on a complex task like driving a vehicle requires much more concentration than it ought to. Your adept has turned into un-dept, or some such thing.

Even worse is being in graduate school and having a bad case of the Research Betweens, ugh! Academia is rife with stories of students who achieved all their coursework and finished collecting and analysing all the data, and then got started on their theses but never finished the writing, thence never finishing their degrees. One doesn’t have to have been in such circumstances to have done this, but it sure is easy to understand. This is the sort of situation that makes up aspie nightmares, right up there with job interviews and cocktail parties!

In a way, The Betweens is like a craving. There probably is some kind of positive-feedback (dopamine?) loop when one is in a long perseveration “zone”. Once you crash out, there’s the withdrawal. It’s kind of a rebound depression from a sustained high. C’est normal, but the trick is recognising it, “Oh yeah, this is just the cool down / recharging stage”.

In a charitable moment, I suppose I could say that the Betweens are an opportunity for recharging one’s batteries. Then again, in real life I need to be spot-on, day after day, and therein lies the problem. Thankfully, The Betweens does go away. But never, never soon enough! ::shudder::

I probably would have written some Blues lyrics about, “Being in The Betweens” except that when you have them — you can’t ! (Oy, the irony)

The closest thing I have found that works to tripping the Restart button is to do some heavy, simple exercise that takes several hours to complete.

Alas, it usually takes me a few days of seeping down into The Betweens before enough stray thoughts coalesce to generate the realisation that, “Er, I am once again suffering from the Betweens!” And then of course, I have to retain that realisation and lurch myself into doing something about it. (Because part of The Betweens is the Nomothetic Fallacy, which explains that merely naming a problem is not the same thing as actually solving it.)

Normally this is when I would go outdoors and do a couple days of heavy-duty gardening.

Woe is me if the world outside is covered in ice. There is no indoor work that is analogous. Cleaning out closets is much too mentally taxing, and I have learned the hard way that I would be way too likely to do something terribly foolish, like throw away boxes full of materials that are highly necessary when in another frame of mind. Painting walls might run close, except for all the blasted furniture-moving and hole-spackling and sanding and careful brushing-in the edges.  I don’t have the mental energy for this prep-work when I’m in The Betweens.

But when I can, shovelling, or raking up thousands of leaves, or turning over the compost heap only requires a few stray neurons for the task, and are such gross motor skills that I am not a threat, even to myself. (Despite that, I bought a leaf rake with plastic tines, just to be sure — one does get wiser with age).

With all this therapeutic manual labor, the brain mushes along lazily for a couple hours, and eventually the rhythm of the labour asserts itself. For some reason, all of my re-set activities end up being those that require me to rock back and forth, but unlike rocking in my chair, this is whole-body rocking. The fact that I am equipped with a rake to collect a pile of leaves, or a pitchfork to manœuvre a heap of dead plant materials into a more aerated mass, is mere camouflage.

By the time I am into the soaking-off-the-dirt-in-the-tub stage, the endorphins begin to kick in and my brain is mellowed out from the intellectual vacation. Trickles of concepts begin to flow again. Give me another day, and I will have reached critical mass once more, and be lit afire!




  1. 14 September 2012 at 21:17

    I don’t think I’m ADHD or Autistic but this seems pretty normal to me! I see it myself and my husband and my son! Doesn’t this happen to everyone????

  2. David N. Andrews MEd (graduating Dec2006) said,

    19 September 2006 at 2:53

    Just declaring my new qualification :)

    And the month in which I am admitted to that degree :D

  3. Catana said,

    14 September 2006 at 17:26

    Oh, if only it was that easy! Andrea’s yard work would help, but I live in a third floor apartment now, and just the thought of all the physical effort I used to expend when I couldn’t find my way to the next project makes me tired.

  4. autiemom said,

    14 September 2006 at 10:48

    If limbo is the same as purgatory, I think you can do enough penance to buy your way out of there ;-P

  5. Catana said,

    14 September 2006 at 6:48

    Ouch, ouch, ouch! You got it. All of it. I hope the rant I posted a while back about transitions inspired you. But you really got into it and did it way better.

    Sometimes I think I spend more time between than anywhere else. I keep meaning to think it through and find practical ways to defeat it, or at least shorten it. Another good name for it is limbo. Isn’t that supposed to be a sort of waiting room before hell? It certainly has the feel and smell of hell.

  6. David N. Andrews BA-status, PgCertSpEd (pending) said,

    13 September 2006 at 22:27


    Good thing is… I definitely graduate this year! Yes, in December, me and that piece of paper I’ve been working like a bastard for over the past 5 yrs are gonna get married… (!?) … and spawn a really big bugger of a kid called… PhD! Someday….

  7. autiemom said,

    13 September 2006 at 19:51

    I get something like this every single time I finish a huge project, and every time post-IEP meeting, and every time post-extended-inlaw-visit. It’s not just when a creative project is done. It’s also having to hold myself together for longer than usual for a meeting or for company…then the release, which spills out my brain onto the floor. I think what I’m talking about is more in line with the “letdown” that Janna describes, which is a nuanced version of the “betweens.”

    For me, the betweens is more of an itchiness *toward* a creative act, with snippets of information, ideas, processes, whatever, that are kind of floating and swirling around in my mind *after* I have just something coherent that I am proud of. In other words, I sometimes try to ride the wave of a previous accomplishment, only to find that there is no surf left to ride on.

  8. Jannalou said,

    13 September 2006 at 18:58

    I get those, definitely. I call it “the letdown”… what happens after a stint of hyperfocus runs out and I’m suddenly left with nothing to do or no energy to keep going (or no ability to do so, due to executive dysfunction).

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