Attention Deficit Déjà Vu

(Photo: Punxsutawney Phil’s life has nothing on the daily grind of the average ADDer. Credit: Business Pundit.)

Take my ADD, please. When my ADD sits around the house, it really sits around the house. I just flew in from Los Angeles, and boy is my ADD tired. Knock knock. Who’s there? ADD. ADD, who? ADD to you, too, buddy.

Life with Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD) can frequently be its own punch line. A lifelong neurological condition often badly misinterpreted as a mere childhood behavioral issue, it’s not so much paying attention that’s the problem for us ADDers. The real impossible dream tends to be stopping ourselves form paying attention to less important tasks so we can focus on issues of immediate importance.

Often we hear from colleagues, friends, and family that we should “try harder” to focus on the task at hand–after all, they tell us, when we really put our mind to our work, we zero in like a laser. There’s usually little headway to be made in explaining that no amount of trying harder can overcome a prefontal cortex wired to shut down the moment a task requiring executive thought functions occurs. Or that our occasional ability to hyperfocus on work is actually a symptom of ADD–the same symptom that more frequently leads us to watch Netflix, listen to iTunes, or play Xbox for eight-hour stints without coming up for air.

If there’s an immediate payoff in sight, we’re there. When faced with a boring task requiring us to order our thoughts or prioritize our work by time or importance, however…what did you say? I can’t hear you. Too busy watching my Blu-ray of The Devil Wears Prada over here, for the third time in a row. Too engaged in doing so to stop and change gears. No matter how critical the task I should be doing, much less how large the eventual consequences may be. After all, an ADD/ADHD-wired brain only understands time in terms of now or never. So unless those pesky consequences are going to happen in the next few minutes, my brain just won’t interpret them as mattering at all. Ever.

Those of you reading this with normal brains have absolutely no idea how to identify with the last two paragraphs I’ve written. Right now, you’re scratching your heads and wondering if I’m kidding. Meanwhile, those of you with ADD/ADHD are nodding in agreement. It’s a gap in understanding that often leaves ADDers feeling like we’re living in a separate world, without the vocabulary to adequately explain to outsiders the all-encompassing nature and pernicious tenacity of the disorder we fight on a minute-by-minute basis.

Recently, the popular ADD/ADHD memoir blog, Jeff’s ADD Mind, underscored this feeling of separateness known well by ADDers. A staunch opponent of the growing idea that ADD/ADHD is somehow a “gift”, in a post entitled, Adult ADD as a Form of Madness, blogger Jeff describes the way an ADDer can seem to live the same, unproductive day over and over:

“I’m beginning to see ADD as a mild form of madness: a sort of insanity that never lets up…Its ‘victims’ lead a maddening, Sisyphean life as they relive the same day again and again as if they were performing their personalized version of (the movie) Ground Hog Day…ADD assures that its victim’s life will ALWAYS be a series of do-overs, a series of attempts to ‘get it right,’ to try to ‘do the right thing.’”

Jeff notes that for every one battle ADDers manages to win against their symptoms, there are likely 10 other battles with less victorious outcomes. I agree. While I wouldn’t consider myself “mad” by dint of having ADD, there’s definitely a feeling of hopelessness that arises at the end of an hour, or day, or week when you realize you haven’t performed your most critical activities or fulfilled your most important responsibilities–even though you’ve spent every spare ounce of your energy and second of your time trying to trick, cajole, force, and otherwise do an end run around your brain to make yourself start and follow-through on them all, all the while reminding yourself of the consequences of failure at every turn.

The urge to blame oneself is great in such circumstances. The truth, however, is that ADDers are slaves to outside aids. If it weren’t for smart phones, electronic calendars, and email reminders, Ritalin and Adderall, or for the chronically uninsured–like me–fish oil, B supplements, and L tyrosine, we might never get anything done. As Jeff points out, even for all that technological and medicinal assistance, sometimes we don’t get anything done, anyway:

“It seems all one can do is accommodate oneself to this madness, acknowledge that there will be good days (even good weeks!) and bad days (and even bad weeks!)…It is tiring to have to always fight to put it back in its cage again and again so that one could lead a ‘normal’ life.”

Not all ADDers are built the same, of course. Although as sure as like attracts like, we do seem to gravitate towards each other. Without knowing it, regular readers of this blog are already acquainted with a few of the other ADDers in my life. Pastry Chef Chris. Sole Man Donn. Bartolobampo. My Cincinnati-expat friend, Handyman Nick. All of us experience the unproductive temporary madness of ADD in our own ways.

I tend to get wrapped up in distractions that last for days, even weeks at a time. Others in our group have a distractibility cycle measured in hours. Minutes even. Most of us have the ability to laugh about our symptoms. Some of us take meds. One of us doesn’t but really, really needs to. Another one of us pretends he manages his symptoms perfectly, while knowing perfectly well that he doesn’t.

And all of us would be at different, more advanced places in our personal and professional lives if we didn’t have ADD at all. Jeff bluntly covered that topic earlier this year in a blog past called, You Have ADD/ADHD and You Will Not Be Rich and Famous. Maybe not. But the occasional ability to meet a client deadline the first time I put it on my calendar instead of the fifth would sure have me feeling like a million bucks. Imagine that–an ADDer being able to successfully manage his time.

It’s madness, I tell you.

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