For me, as a mood cycler, it's a secondary symptom. By this I mean that it's not one of the symptoms used to diagnose my condition. But that doesn't mean it doesn't give me a hell of a lot of trouble. In a hypomanic state particularly, attention is a trait that escapes me. My mind jumps between topics and ideas constantly, which means there doesn't even need to be an external stimulus. My thoughts and ideas, sitting in a clumsy mess inside my own head, are enough to distract. Virtually nonstop. Getting through a task can be agonizing, and knowing I need to focus and can't just creates anxiety, and occassionally panic, which only serves to intensify the issue.
On the flip side, when I manage to zone into something, say writing or reading, I've been told the house could be burning down around me and I don't notice. I've found out, hours later, that someone was calling my name (at close range, like standing next to me), talking to me, having a nice little soliloquy, because I had no clue - I wasn't ignoring them, I literally didn't hear them because I'd gone into my zone. My attention, like my mood cycles, seem to be either at one end of the spectrum or the other. I notice that it's mainly in those tasks that take me into another world, my creative, imaginative world, that hold my attention so deeply. I'm not quite sure why this is, other than that to get there, I must have to focus so much energy that there's no turning back.
Focusing isn't only troubling during hypomania. In a depressive cycle, well, everything's difficult. During these cycles, it's not that my brain is jumping around, firing here, there, and everywhere. It's that it often doesn't feel like it's firing at all. Clearly, it must be, because I'm alive and going through the daily motions. But I can't feel it. I know it's weird to say you can feel your brain firing, but I honestly feel like I can at times. During depression, though, I'm in a fog. My senses are diluted. My emotional core feels vacant. And when there's no sensory or emotional intake, it's difficult to find anything worth focusing on. Nothing grabs at you. It's not that there's too much stimuli. It's that there's none at all.
I write about this because it's a part of mood cycling that I think is easily overlooked, and yet a very frustrating part. It makes day to day, supposedly mundane tasks challenging. Things like cooking, for instance. Nothing like putting something on the stove or in the oven and then getting pulled away by thirty different different thoughts, only to completely forget all together that you were cooking. Or starting five different emails when things pop into your head, and getting so wrapped up in each new one you start that you forget you've not finished or sent the others. And what's more, every thought seems equally as compelling and necessary. The fact that you need to ask a friend about concert tickets truly seems as important as the item cooking on the stove. It's not "having messed up priorities", as I've been accused of, but everything seeming vital right at this moment, because you know if you don't do it now, poof, it could be gone forever. Not because it's not important, but because even those with expansive, hypomanic brains, can only hold so many stimuli at once.
So please, if you see us focusing, concentrating to get something done, leave us to it, unless the house is literally burning down around us (or something truly as emergent). If we don't get this done now, we never may, and though it may not seem vital to you, we'll get very anxious about it if pulled away. It's just the way our brains work, whether it makes sense to you, or to us, or not.