379: The ADHD Escape

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Living with ADHD is a mystery. Sometimes, we’re completely present and aware of our symptoms, sure. But most of the time, we aren’t completely aware of what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, or the impact our symptoms are having on others… until we’re thrown in a laboratory.

Today on the show, Pete shares his experience in just such an environment. A perfectly benign social engagement offers the opportunity to see just how ADHD symptoms are triggered and resolved over minutes thanks to some clever puzzles… and the urge to escape.


Episode Transcript

Brought to you by The ADHD Podcast Community on Patreon

Pete: Hello everybody, and welcome to, Taking Control: The ADHD Podcast on RashPixel.FM. I'm Pete Wright and I'm here with Nikki Kinzer. Hello Nikki.

Nikki: Hello everyone. Hello Pete Wright.

Pete: How are you doing? You're feeling good?

Nikki: I'm doing well.

Pete: Outstanding.

Nikki: How are you?

Pete: Oh, you know, it was a little bit of a rough weekend. Had a bit of a health scare in the family, but everyone's okay as of today and more news will come this week, I'm sure. And until then, all I can do is smile. And so that's what I wanted to do today. I wanna talk about the ADHD escape today.

Nikki: Oh, I like it. I have no idea what this is about because this is your show.

Pete: Yeah, yeah. I did this thing, and I posted the notes.

Nikki: And your notes do not make sense.

Pete: They're so cryptic. Oh, they're so cryptic. Before we jump into this, however, we do want you to head over to takecontroladhd.com, you can get to know us. You can get to know the show a bit better. You can listen live right on the website or subscribe to the mailing list and we'll send you an email each time a new episode is released. You can connect with us on Twitter or Facebook @takecontroladhd, we would love to see you there as well. All right, Nikki, we do have an announcement, yes?

Nikki: Yes we do. We have an announcement, spring, I really like talking about spring because we just got hit with snow last week, so it's right around the corner. Spring Group Coaching enrollment is now open and so if you are interested in joining a group of lovely ADHD-iers, who are all experiencing the same thing as you and have great conversations and we talk about great topics, enrollment is open. We begin the first week of April and it's 10 weeks, so it goes into June. There's two groups you can choose from. I do have limited spots, so if this is something you wanna do, is this something you're really interested in joining, I highly recommend that you sign up immediately before you have to go on a waiting list. And enrollment closes on March 22nd. That is my announcement.

Pete: Outstanding. I got it all set up and I think everything's working, right. We tested that.

Nikki: I think so, right? Yes. Fingers are crossed that everything's working and I'm just going to go with that. Yes, everything's working.

Pete: Go with that, yeah. Go with that, all right. We actually have another announcement and that is our friends, they've got a podcast.

Nikki: Yes. James Ochoa and his son Jules have just…well, actually I shouldn't say just, they released a new podcast called "Shiny Shorts" back in January and it's a monthly podcast. So there's only two available right now. And I had a chance to finally listen to it this weekend. We happen to be mentioned in the first episode, so I feel terrible. I'm so sorry James Ochoa that I didn't listen to this sooner. But yes, we're in the first episode and I'll tell you a little bit just kind of what the mission of the podcast is and how we got kind of wrapped into it.

It's called "Shiny Shorts." And what he wants to do is he wants to highlight a storm, somebody's ADHD storm. And then they want to talk about it and they want to, you know, give suggestions and ideas, but also have real stories out there for people to learn from and hear from other people. So the first episode is his storm about getting the show to come to light. And I don't know if you remember this, but when he came on the show to talk about his other podcast, "The Complex," we were saying, "Oh, well, when is season two gonna come out? Are you gonna do season two?" And then he was like, "Well, I'm kind of thinking about this other thing." And I think he even said Shiny Shorts on the actual podcast.

Pete: Oh, he did. He totally outed himself on our show.

Nikki: He outed himself on our show. So that's when he talks about is how he was on our show and outed himself. And then he took it a step further and announced it in his newsletter. So then he was really outing himself to his tribe too. So anyway, he goes into his story about the storm of getting the show to come together. And then the second episode is in February and it's from a listener and she tells her story about her weight, and I think a lot of people are going to be able to relate to that. And then James and Jules has a conversation around that. And it's really interesting and he kind of incorporates his method of being able to…how you get out of the storms and, you know, self-care and resilience and all of that. So it's really interesting. I loved it. They're short, they're not long. They're very relatable and definitely encourage you to listen to "Shiny Shorts." And it's a cute name.

Pete: Well, it's super cute. And I think it is as ADHD a podcast as you can get, because there he is living with ADHD and producing, and just do a season that's one format and then just change it.

Nikki: Change it.

Pete: We're gonna do something different. From what I understand and check me if this is not your understanding too, my understanding is… I mean "The Complex" was a production circus. I mean it's a big deal to produce what they did and to have actors and do all that. And part of his mission is to try to, you know, bring his education of, you know, emotional storms and how to do the things that he does to people in a much more efficient manner, especially now that his son who does all the technical stuff is in Grad school. And so that I think was a real challenge.

Nikki: And that is part of the story in that first episode is about him being in Grad school. So it's very interesting. You'll have to…yeah, absolutely. You'll have to listen to it. So, "Shiny Shorts" from James Ochoa.

Pete: Yeah, so we've got some comments coming in, so no more of "The Complex." I think this is "The Complex," it’s the complex shiny shorts. So whether or not they ever go back to the actual, you know, apartment that is to be decided. I think they don’t. We don't know, but for now we get to hear James and Jules and they're both fantastic. And so definitely check that out.

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Nikki?

Nikki: Pete.

Pete: How are you doing?

Nikki: I'm doing great. How are you?

Pete: I'm telling you Nikki, I did a thing. I did a thing with some people that I'd never done. And you might think, you might think by looking at me, you'd say, "Hey, Pete, you look like a guy who might have done this thing, this thing with these other people. You look like a guy who might be into this thing." And I'm gonna tell you, I'm not naturally that guy. It's a lot of work to get into this thing. And that thing that I'm telling you about Nikki, it is the escape room. Have you ever done an escape room?

Nikki: Yeah, I have. Yes.

Pete: Tell me about your experience, will you?

Nikki: Well, I did it with my daughter, and it was for her birthday party. So this was a little bit more age appropriate for like teenagers or young teenagers. So it wasn't meant to be like really hard. I'll tell you what I came away with is that I am not the brightest bulb, and it was really hard and the girls got it a heck of a lot faster than I did. And I think I would still be in that escape room if it wasn't for my daughter and her friends. So, and I like puzzles but not those kind. It was really frustrating. And I felt really stupid.

Pete: I did not expect that answer at all. I'm legitimately in stitches. Okay.

Nikki: I'm just being truthful.

Pete: Okay. So for those who don't know, an escape room is a puzzle experience where you go into their facilities, you go to this facility, and ours, I went to the Portland Escape Room and they have different themed rooms. And the whole idea is you go into this room and you were presumably, "Locked into this room." And the room is themed around some sort of, you know, environment and you have to solve puzzles and clues and riddles and things in order to get the clues that allow you to be allowed out of the escape room. And you usually have…there's a time limit, 45 minutes, 60 minutes.

Nikki: Which is very stressful.

Pete: Very stressful. Absolutely. And there you have it. That's the escape room. Now, I also live with anxiety in addition to ADHD as I know you do as well. And so I suggested we needed to buy a Christmas present for another couple, for some friends. And I suggested to my wife without even thinking, I said, "Oh, what about an escape room?" And the moment I said it, the moment the words came out of my mouth, I wanted to reel it back in. I was done. This was a terrible idea.

Nikki: Right, yes, "Wait, I did not mean that."

Pete: But before that happened she said, "Oh, great idea." So there we are. So I spent weeks like hoping for snow that never came. I was hoping that we would get canceled out because I thought this is going to trigger everything. And I was worried mostly about the anxiety because that's something that just the pressure, the performative pressure, the stress and...

Nikki: It's probably why I didn't like it. It's probably why I was like so confused all the time. I didn't know what I was doing.

Pete: That's right. That's right. And in fact, I actually went back and, you know, I wrote this up as an anxiety topic for this other podcast I do, "What's That Smell?" And so that's coming later. And believe me, there's anxiety involved. But what I found most fascinating, and I've never had this experience that this was a laboratory for my ADHD triggers like nothing I have ever seen. And I wanted to walk through that and see if you sort of resonate with that experience and see if others do as well. So there you go. Here we are. My escape room experience was the American Revolution. It was not necessarily a teen-themed thing. But I will tell you that I think nine high school girls were immediately before us, and our host Robert, he's charming and handsome. Robert tells us, "Now, just so you know, this room was just solved moments before you got here by a group of nine AP history students, nine girls who came in and solved this hour-long maze in 31 minutes thus setting the entire Portland escape room record for this room and you're following them. Good luck." Are you kidding me?

Nikki: So you're making me feel even more stupid. You know what the theme of my room was?

Pete: What?

Nikki: Circus. It was a theme around a circus. You're walking into a theme about American Revolution? Oh my gosh, I don't think I would've done it. I think I would've been like, "No way, have fun." So yes, continue please on your journey through the American Revolution.

Pete: It's all of the worst things. No, no, no, it's all the worst things. And I will say there wasn't anything in here that was necessarily related to the revolution. Like I told the guy, I said, "You know, I've watched Hamilton like 16 times to prepare for this." He said, "No, don't worry about that. You don't have to worry about that. That's not what we're doing. These are generic puzzles." But the theme was, you know, you walk into this room and there's a tent. It's like there's tents and there's cabinets and things with padlocks on them and you have to some…there's a giant map table right in the middle and you're supposed to take it all in. Now, as it happens, I was standing closest to the door when he was giving us the little speech, right, the anti-room speech. And the last thing he says is, "Now, I need a volunteer to be the first one in."

And this was one of these experiences where everyone else takes a step back and then I'm left in the front. It's terrible. And so I was the volunteer to go in first to the room. And so I go in with Robert, Handsome Robert as he will henceforth be known. And he tells me a few things that I'm supposed to kind of keep in my head to tell the rest of the group and teach them about our experience, you know, after he leaves. But then he says, "Now, I'd like to lock you in the stocks."

Nikki: He's gonna lock you in the stocks.

Pete: Lock me in the stocks. So the stocks are those wooden…it's that wooden thing where you put your…it's got the three holes, one slightly larger hole, and you put your head in it, and your hands, and they put the wood thing down and then you're locked in. He locks you in this thing. And the last thing he says is, "Okay, the clue to unlock the stocks is written on the foot of the stock." And it says in the name of the king or something like that, I don't know, you know, in the name of the king. And that's the first clue. Good luck. And then Robert leaves.

Nikki: And then everybody else comes in and you're like, in this stock.

Pete: I'm in the stocks.

Nikki: And they have to get you out.

Pete: Oh my God. I was in the valley of despair at this point, Nikki, because my brain is firing, firing, firing, and the panic starts to set in, like, "What if I'm with a bunch of idiots and they're not gonna be able to let me out?"

Nikki: You're really glad I wasn't there.

Pete: They just leave me in. The nice thing about it was, is that, you know, I had the other clues, so it was sort of a hostage situation where I could tell them…

Nikki: Yeah, they had to get you to keep going on, right? I mean, that was like the thing. Yeah.

Pete: All right. As it turns out, there was one person who was more devoted to my troubles then everybody else kind of went to the wind. And there I was, one person kind of helped solve the clue and got me out of the stocks. And we went into...

Nikki: Was that your wife?

Pete: It was not my wife, believe that. Yeah. She was done.

Nikki: That’s funny. She was done. She was like, "Just stay there Pete."

Pete: She was like, "I'm gonna go and see what's going on." Right. Right. She said, "Finally some peace." Anyway, so we get out of that. And then we get into my first ADHD trouble, apart from the fact that already the sensory overwhelm is I'm fritzing out. But when I stand up, I realize, oh my God, like there's so much, there's so much to do. There's so much to do right now. Everything's so shiny. I don't even know how to approach, whatever the next thing it was. How the hell do I see what's next? And I turned around and the only modern thing on the wall is this giant TV screen which is up on the wall and it has the clock on it, this giant red clock counting down from 60 minutes. And by the time I get out of this stock, we have 45 minutes left.

So I started doing what I now call the ADHD Wander, where I just circled the room like a shark. Like you never stop, never stop moving. And all I can do is hope that there's something that attracts my attention enough to lead me in a new direction because without any guidance I'm sunk. The next thing that happens is I pick up the thing that feels like it's going to be the thing for me. It's going to be my thing, and it's a three pointed colonial hat, right? A three pointed hat, you know what I'm talking about?

Nikki: Yes. I know what you're talking about.

Pete: And I went into deep hyper-focus on this hat, right? I studied every seam. I carried it for the rest of the journey, almost like feeling every seam. And as it turns out, totally useless hat, it had nothing to do with anything. It was a giant Magoffin and it was useless.

Nikki: You were attached to it. It was yours.

Pete: I was attached to it. I wore it. I had it attached to my belt at one point. Like I had the hat with me all the time and I was totally touching. It was my fidget. It was my love. It was my life for the escape room.

Nikki: Oh, that’s so funny.

Pete: And that was another one. It was like I was sitting there in this escape room dealing with all of like the manufactured pressure that does not exist, right? This is an entertainment experience and I am so buried in the part that I have fallen into a deep obsessive love with this stupid hat. And that hyper-focus like I was aware that I was doing it and that's not often an experience I have where I'm in it and aware that I'm in it, right? That's a very rare thing. So I got to kind of look at myself under that microscope. Okay, totally useless thing and now I move on to the next, whatever it is. There were these candle sticks all over the place and somebody happened to turn over the candle stick and saw that there was a symbol on them. So we turned over all the candle sticks and there were symbols on all of them. And we're like, "How do we possibly make these symbols work?" Then we noticed there are ribbons hanging off of the candlesticks.

Well, now what? Do we tie these things together somehow? What is that? It was totally useless. And we actually had to ask for help. There's this revolutionary bell. You ring the bell and then Handsome Robert shows up behind the TV screen. He doesn't show up. He's on the screen, he just types, he types to us. So we say something and he types a response. And after way too long fidgeting with these candlesticks, he said, "Did you happen to see the rug?" And I was met with a deep grief like almost immediately because I felt so dumb, right? It was…you know what I mean?

Nikki: Yeah, I know exactly what you mean.

Pete: Of course I'm smiling and oh we're having such time, but I was deeply disturbed that we had to give up on something so stupid as turning the rug over. We should have turned the rug over. And now I'll be turning over everything if I ever do this again. It's gonna be upside down because I'm not making that mistake again twice. And so I'm not experienced with escape rooms and I have to give myself permission to be okay with that. But the pressure, the anxiety that comes with all of this triggered all these little experiences that felt so familiar to me and so deeply personal that, you know, it was hard. Asking for help was incredibly hard. I didn't want to fail, but I had no idea how to get to the other side of it. But on flip side of this, then you have what I love to call the accidental solution, right? Where you don't really know...

Nikki: How you got there?

Pete: …how to get there, right? You don't really know but you're the one who happened to get it open and so you're gonna take the win, right?

Nikki: Sure, yeah, of course.

Pete: You're gonna take the win and that's okay. That felt really good in our case. It was a fantastic…it was an RFID like magnetic table and you had to move certain pieces in a certain way and nobody else really wanted to do all of the moves, right? There were moves that were quite specific and everyone else seemed to think like if you just put these in their final destinations, things will be great. But it turns out you actually have to go through all of the move sets and that unlocks the secret mechanism under this table and opens the false floor and the table magically. And that was our final sort of clue to get into the last stage. And that felt really good. It was accidental, but we kind of landed on it and took the win. And so now I come from the valley of despair and now I'm kinda feeling pretty good about things, right? And then I look back up at the TV and I'm thinking, "God, there are cameras everywhere. Like I'm on Big Brother, now I'm being watched and judged." And that feeling of being...

Nikki: And probably laughed at because Handsome Dave or whatever his name is.

Pete: Truly, Handsome Robert.

Nikki: Robert is probably out there laughing a little bit. Yeah.

Pete: He's enjoying the hell out of this. That's right. That's right. He is enjoying the hell out of it. And so, you know, I realize I'm giving Handsome Robert a show and that suddenly piques that anxiety piece, right. And now I feel like I'm being watched, not that I'm being watched in my performance, but that I'm being watched in my behavior, right? That he's watching my brain, make my body do things that aren't natural, right? And I'm fidgeting with the hat still. Don't forget, I've still got this cockamamie hat. Okay. So the final thing that we have to go through, the final hoop through which we must jump, is we have to align a series of objects in just the right way that again triggers an RFID fancy machine to drop a key from the ceiling, right? And that would get us out of the escape room. And time is absolutely clicking down for us, right? It's not good.

So we get the objects in the right order, everything's right, and we're feeling really good about it. And we look up at the screen and Handsome Robert after spending way too much time watching the seconds tick down, and all we see on the screen is say, boom, what do we do? Why do we do that? And just, yell, boom, yell, boom. So we yell, boom, and the clock stops and Handsome Robert comes in with 16 seconds left on the clock and he says, "I am so sorry. Remember the high school girls that were in here before, they broke the last thing that you were working on? You should have had the key a long time ago and that would have let you get this cannon ball and put it in the canon and fire it. And then it would have made a boom sound, which would unlock the final door." And so he had to let us out, but…

Nikki: But you still got it.

Pete: We actually got it. I couldn't believe it. And I was so…like, then, you know, I'm feeling already pretty good. I was frustrated about the thing we were working on, but I'll be damned. We actually did this thing, our first outing in an escape room. There were…you know, we did it with 16 seconds to spare. And I found myself, like, I know why this is a team building thing because I didn't know half of the people on our team and I wanted to hug them very badly, right.

Nikki: Thank you for getting me out.

Pete: I was so grateful for them. They are amazing. And so it ended up being an enormously satisfying thing. But to walk through for me and be able to feel the experience of, you know, the anxiety of being watched, the experience of living inside of hyper-focus, right? The experience of living inside of a distraction, of not being able to find a direction at all, this like put a magnifying glass on the things that I struggle with. And I found that, honestly, really satisfying, right? I found that it was confirming because it reinforced the things that I struggle with every day where I struggle with them. And by the end, I can honestly say it's kind of fun, right? It was fun. The end experience was fun. Being in there was not so fun, but getting out was fun.

So I started researching a little bit on some other potential escape rooms. And did you know there you can go…there are coffin escape rooms where you go as a couple, like you and your husband can go and you're both locked in coffins that are side by side for an hour and you have to get out?

Nikki: No, I couldn't do that.

Pete: That's awful. Yeah. A lot of them have actors in them if you haven't gone through them, right. So there'll be performers who are helping you. Like another one of the Portland escape rooms is a steam ship captain. Like you're a steam ship crew, an air ship, and there's a whole crew in the room with you and they're trying to…they're doing what you tell them to do, which I think is really fun. The one that is most famous is in Los Angeles called The Basement and The Basement LA, you have been kidnapped by a serial killer and you have 45 minutes to get out of his basement before he comes back to finish the job. And that is on the world…it's world-renowned at how popular this thing is if you're a horror fan. And it's gross. It's awful.

Nikki: I'm gonna stick to the circus theme.

Pete: Yeah. You can also do it. One of the popular themes is trapped in a room with a Zombie.

Nikki: Yes. They had a zombie room where we went. Yeah.

Pete: And every five minutes, the chain on the Zombie's neck gets longer so the Zombie gets more run of the room. So you've got to figure out how to stage the clues. It's awful. But it was a really interesting social experiment and as hard as it was, I'm really glad we went through it. And I hope if you're dealing…I guess that's the message that I wanted to leave people with here that if you have ever wanted to see, if you haven't really had this experience outside of like school or work and want to see how your ADHD manifests under this kind of pressure, this was a totally new experience for me and I am super grateful that I did it because I learned a lot. I thought it was going to be not at all what it ended up turning out, so.

Nikki: Wow, that's awesome. Well, there's a lot of parallels too when you were talking about how hard it was for asking…or how hard it was to ask for help and then how grateful you were for your team. One of the things that I was thinking about is just with ADHD in general, how hard it is to ask for help, and how easy it is for people to think that they should just know this stuff and do this stuff and it should just be easy because it's easy for everybody else. But then how grateful people are with their community and we see that in our patreon group, you know, being grateful for other people who get them and that they're not alone. And so I actually see a lot of parallels just from your story and how that relates to ADHD in general. So I love it. Thank you for sharing.

Pete: Yeah, it was super. And the other thing that I forgot to mention is there were eight of us on this team and four of us knew each other and the other four didn't. There were two other couples who knew themselves, right? There were two groups of four, and that was another bit of social pressure because you go in and you're like, "Oh my God, how…" like, "Now I'm performing not just for my friends, but for these people that I didn't know."

Nikki: And Handsome Robert, you've got so many people watching you.

Pete: Oh, Handsome Robert. Yeah. No, it was gross but super fun. So hopefully, that ends up being something that is useful for others to give yourself a test, see how it works…

Nikki: Yeah. Good story. I like it.

Pete: Thank you everybody for downloading and listening to this show. We sure appreciate your time and your attention. On behalf of Nikki Kinzer, I'm Pete Wright and we'll catch you next time in the serial killer's basement.

Nikki: Jeez, you won't see me.

Pete: On Taking Control: The ADHD Podcast.