Friday, September 17, 2010

Oh Look, A Bandwagon!

B. Graham posted about hers. Ali posted about hers, twice. Now it's my turn. But (as I'll explain momentarily), that's not why I titled the post "The Bandwagon."

I have ADD.


Not impressed?

In our generation, ADD has become the poster child for overdiagnosed, almost meaningless disorders. It's the butt of a million "let's go ride bikes!" jokes. It's hardly considered a debilitating, harmful or particularly special disease. We all know a few people who take their Adderall do their homework (if they don't sell it), or who took Ritalin back before Adderall. It is a bandwagon that millions ride on, a silly bandwagon with streamers on it, that mostly serves to deliver the children riding it straight to Medication Land, via one of two routes - Easy Street, or Stop Being A Kid, Kid Avenue. A kid on the ADD bandwagon is either someone to be laughed at/with for being diagnosed with something so meaningless, or an opportunity to rail against the Overmedication Culture.

In other words - it's no big deal, just stop diagnosing every last hyper kid with it, ok? Moving on.

Even comparing it to OCD or Tourette's seems whiny, self-absorbed, or ill-informed. And it is not my intent with this post to say "ADD IS A REAL DISEASE GUYZ STOP MAKING FUN OF US." My main problem with ADD has not been the disease itself - it's been dealing with the question of whether I should even think of myself as having a problem at all, or if whether even suggesting my ADD is something to be considered problematic is in itself whiny etc.

I was diagnosed in '94 or so, as a 4th or 5th grader. At the time - for those who know me, this should be surprising - I was very hyper and talkative - hard to get to shut up, even. (Why I stopped being like that has nothing to do with the ADD and is a completely separate story.) The ADD test at the time (I don't know what it's like now) consisted of putting me in front of a computer for some simple tests that required me to pay attention to rather uninteresting patterns. I don't know how I did, but evidently the result was "ADHD all the way." They put me on Ritalin; it almost immediately made me narcoleptically sleepy. (Bear in mind Ritalin is a stimulant.) I said I couldn't take it anymore, and was taken off of it. I have not taken any further treatment for the ADHD to this day. Arguably, I no longer have the "H for Hyperactive" part, although you might not be so sure if you saw me on a long car ride by myself.

At the time, my parents told me not to use the ADD as an excuse for anything, not to think like I was disabled or something, or that I should act or be treated like someone who needs special help. I took this advice personally.

Over the years, on occasion, I would use the ADD as an excuse, like when I got extra time on some tests in elementary school; but for the most part, I didn't request any special treatment.

For the most part, I don't think it interfered that much with my school until the end of college. I learned how to deal with it (probably before I was even diagnosed); I am to this day a master of barely listening to a lecture, but still picking up all the crucial information, and being able to regurgitate it for the exam.

Where it has affected me has been in other, stranger places. Like socially.

The way ADD works - for me, at least - is my mind is essentially incapable of not-following any train of thought, or focusing on any situation, any situation at all, for longer than a few seconds. Only tasks that simultaneously require active unbroken thought and are rote can hold my entire attention continuously - like playing certain video games (press B, move right, press B, move left, press B, move right, press B, move left, can't think of something else for even a split second or Mario will die, but thankfully there's nothing in "press B move left" that inspires me to think of other things). Everything else - nope.

If I read a book, no matter if it's Great Literature that I love, or easy fun reading like Harry Potter, every couple sentences or so I'll start thinking about some other random thing. Maybe it will be something related to a word on the page. Maybe it will involve me imagining the situation on the page going a different way. I read very, very fast, but it takes me a long time to finish reading any novel because for every five minutes reading, I spend anywhere between one and ten minutes daydreaming - no matter what I'm reading.

The same thing applies to conversation, on a smaller scale. If I am conversing with you, then every couple seconds, I am thinking of something else. It's only thanks to echoic memory that I'm able to actually hold a conversation; without it, every few words you say to me would go missing.

Occasionally, I'm not able to compensate, however, and I miss chunks of what people say - again, no matter how interested I am. This happens especially if there is a lot going on. I have a very hard time making anything useful or sociable of myself at a party, because anytime somebody laughs across the room, no matter what conversation I am involved with in front of me, I will usually look over in their direction and have to intentionally pull myself back to what's in front of me. If you converse with me in any busy place, you will probably notice that I constantly look away and look back.

Now we get to the meta part, because how I feel about all this depends on whether I feel like it's legitimate for me to consider my ADD a real thing or not (am I just riding on that bandwagon?) If not - then every time I have a conversation in which I fade out and miss a chunk, I have to get mad at myself for being rude, or wonder if I really like this person, and if not, what am I doing? And if so - then does that mean I either go on being like that with an excuse and never try to change, or take medicine and admit that the past 27 years of conversation have been damaged?

This gets worse for other activities, considering I can sustain continued attention for almost nothing. Seeing a play can be a struggle, especially if a plot point hinges on one word, and I blink out for that word. And, worse - as I venture into serious TMI territory here, apologies - sex is not exempt. I REALLY have to ask what's wrong with me if I start thinking about dinner, or that school dance in 8th grade, or what I might write on These Gentlemen during sex. I definitely CAN'T say it's because of ADD. How f***ing ridiculous is that? "ADD interferes with my sex life?" Get over yourself, dude. Luckily, I don't think any partners have noticed (bear in mind my blink-outs are very brief), or I'd also have had to deal with some sort of horrible "No, I really like you, it's the ADD!" conversation. Yikes.

But it does happen.

The ADD has definitely interfered with work; it may have contributed to me getting fired from a job because I was barely there during boring staff meetings. The ADD has made me late on turning in homework assignments, particularly at the end of college (when for some reason it seemed to have gotten worse). It's simple math - if it takes me two hours to do an assignment because I'm a fast writer, and I have three hours to do it, then I should be fine, until you add in two hours of blinking out.

So why don't I take Adderall?

For one thing, if I took Adderall, that would be saying I have some sort of Problem that needs to be Remedied. I don't have a problem! I just need to stop being a lazy, rude jackass and grow up and engage in my conversations and deal with boring assignments!

For another thing, it would cost some money. For another, I try to avoid medicine when it's unnecessary. For another, I don't want people bugging me to sell extras to them.

But the main thing is... I credit my ADD (if mine exists and isn't just some chimera) with a lot of my creativity.

I spend almost all day, every day, thinking about... everything. As a writer of plays and fiction, I have approximately twenty five to thirty story ideas in my head, which I intend to put on paper some day (I work on about three-four at a time). At any given moment, something might remind me of an element in a story, which leads me to plotting the next step in that story.

Or, more accurately, I might be sitting with you, complaining in a standard way about how nice it would be to take a vacation, maybe to the beach. "Oh man," you say, in response, "My aunt and uncle have..." I think about the beach and how it has sand, and imagine this one beach I was on in North Carolina or was it Assateague, and how it had seaweed stuck in the white sand, and the white sand in those little boxes in kindergarten in the middle of the classroom, and those little rounded scissors and Elmer's glue, and glue is like the Shmooze from that My Little Pony movie the family used to watch when I was little in the living room which later appeared in a dream I had which also had a volcano like that other volcano dream in that big valley like that gentle valley that also has a lake in my novel-in-progress "Angels Come," and maybe there should be a lighthouse in that one, too, wouldn't that be an interesting metaphor for Amanda's growing empathy? " on the beach in Ocean City," you finish saying.

In other words, I'm afraid that without the ADD, which may or may not exist and may or not be a valid excuse for irresponsible and rude things I do, I would be nothing as a writer. I'm afraid to take Adderall and learn that the ADD is part of who I am. And for such a silly disease to be part of who I am - to be responsible for my art - when, really, who doesn't have trouble paying attention to boring things? - suggests I'm quite the dunce.

Recently, a good friend discovered she had ADD when a doctor finally said to her that she sounded like a textbook case. She told me, and said "it explains SO MUCH!" The idea that discovering you had ADD, in this day and age, could be considered any sort of meaningful revelation, or even really called a "diagnosis," struck me. It's not really a disease, I thought, it's just an excuse for being a procrastinator. Doesn't she know this? You're not joining some special club. Nobody considers ADD a real problem; it's practically unheard of for someone to talk about it as if it's anything more than a mild annoyance. Nobody even laughs that hard at the jokes because no one's really offended. Isn't she lucky, I thought, to have such a naive view of the disorder.

Oh look, online Settlers of Catan!


B.Graham said...

My dad and I both went in to see a doctor once to see if we had ADD; he told me that I most likely did, but Adderall would make me even more ticcy than I already am and I was like NO THANKS.

I hear ya on blanking out, though, I miss whole minutes of my own life sometimes; it's like I just jumped forward to a point in time in which everyone is staring at me, apparently waiting for the answer to a question.

Another question: you said you have a hard time focusing on things, even things you enjoy, but do you ever get hyper-focused? Like, everything else fades to black and the only thing that exists is the project in front of you? I've been told that's also a symptom for some people.

David Pratt said...

I think that's Attention Surplus Syndrome, an acronym most people won't admit to, so it sadly goes mostly undiagnosed.

Brett said...

Dave's amusing comment aside, yeah, that's definitely a symptom, and my mother would probably be the first one to tell you I sometimes exhibit. Again, going back to video games, when I was a kid, my mom would sometimes have to give up trying to get me to respond and say what I wanted for dinner if I was absorbed in a game. From my POV, mac and cheese would just appear in front of me. Which was kinda cool for me, but probably hella annoying for Mom.

I've actually observed that this hyperfocusing has become less frequent or extreme with me as I've gotten older, and been replaced by even less concentration ability. Some things I once hyperfocused on I now blank in and out on.

~brennan said...

I think the belief, or worry, that one's issues are in some way false is part of being coherently aware of an issue. There are plenty of different bizarre things our brain chemistry and upbringing do to us that we cannot control... and cannot believe that we cannot control.