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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.

Categories: ADHD

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Mike Doyle

I’m an #OpenlyAutistic gay, Hispanic, urbanist, Disney World fan, New York native, politically independent, Jewish blogger in Chicago. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I write words and raise money for nonprofits. I’ve written this blog since 2005. And counting...

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11 replies

  1. Nice job, Mike. Explaining ADHD to the general public isn’t easy.

    I agree with my friend Betsy — great to see blogs such as yours and Jeff’s. Let’s plaster the Internet with ’em……ADHD is real. 😉


  2. Mike, I like the greeting card idea. I would like to propose one for when I’m in one of my frequent bouts of hyperfocus that says “(outside) My dearest friend…(inside) either kindly shut the f*ck up, or refrain from criticizing when it seems like I’m not getting anything done later.”

    For when I can’t listen when people are talking “(outside) Just a little something to express my truest feelings…(inside) Maybe if what you were saying wasn’t so goddamed interesting it would be easier for me to simply listen.”

    Oh dear…you may have just inspired a new way to fill the entire afternoon…

  3. You’re welcome, Betsy. Jeff probably won’t mind if I tell you, he said the exact same thing about that sentence. Misery loves company I suppose 😉 If only humor would make those deadlines easier to meet.

    I know Jeff doesn’t like Ed Hallowell, promoter of the idea that ADD/ADHD is a “gift.” But I did read something over on his site that made sense. On his “newest findings” page, Hallowell uses this metaphor to describe our plight:

    “Having ADD is like having a race car for a brain, A Ferrari engine for a brain. It will propel you to win many races in your lifetime. However, there is one problem. You have bicycle brakes! So, you need to see a brake specialist…Once you get your brakes strengthened, then the race car can win races instead of spinning out on on turns.”

    That makes sense to me. The problem isn’t starting the next task, it’s yanking myself away from the previous one. I think as ADDers we place a lot of effort on the wrong goal–moving forward. I think adding trying to let go of what we’re doing, instead, would allow those deadlines to be met a little more easily.


  4. Your sentence, below, is so apt.

    “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.”

    Even occasionally, it would be such a profound pleasure. And I mean, profound. Your post is excellent. I am a regular over at Jeff’s ADD Mind and I am gratified to see increasing numbers (among them, yours) of blogs where intelligent, articulate people write the truth.

    Thank you.

  5. Pingback: Handyman
  6. Katy, I often wonder if there’s a way to get through to non-ADDers quickly–or at all, sometimes. Hallmark should make explanatory greeting cards for us to hand out to troublesome friends and colleagues to do the repetitive explanatory work for us!

    Matt, what can I say? On Twitter, you said you took the World Health Organization ADD self-assessment and scored the same as I do. Welcome to the club!

    Jeff, thanks for writing a wonderful, brave post on the subject (as always) that got me thinking in the first place.

    Matt, & Jeff, thanks.

  7. Damn you, Doyle.

    My partner has been diagnosed with ADHD for quite some time now, and I have slowly had to adapt to his occasionally frustrating habits. He has often teased me though that I, too, have ADD symptoms, which I have always brushed off as humorous ribbing.

    However, those two paragraphs which supposedly wouldn’t have made sense to “sane” brains made perfect sense to me. When working, I have to do research… and I find myself on extensive research tangents. Wikipedia is horrible for ADD-ers; there are endless links to click. I also find that I can’t “just” work. I HAVE to multi-task, otherwise I feel… itchy? Fidgety?

    I had always pointed to my childhood/teenage ability to read through an entire book in one sitting as proof that I didn’t have an attention problem… not realizing that that very “hyperfocus” might actually be a clear indicator.

    If I do have ADD symptoms, they’re certainly not as severe as others’ I have heard. I have friends who have left food burning on the stove because they got distracted by cleaning the living room, organizing the DVDs, and watching that DVD they hadn’t seen in 3 years.

    Of course, it’s too easy to self-diagnose. I really hope this isn’t the case though. I already have OCD tendencies. I don’t need another acronym.

  8. Yep…this was a particularly good post on Jeff’s part. I was another one who read it and went “damn…get outta my head”.

    What sticks in my mind about YOUR post…where you say that non-ADHDers won’t relate to your description…that makes me sad. Not because you’re not right, but because you ARE right, and one of the great struggles on a day to day basis, for me, is trying to explain to my partner why certain things about me just ARE. I have also learned to accept, though I do not enjoy, those moments where my ADHD-related eccentricities shine and become more than obvious to the observing “normy”. Can’t let my embarrassment get in my way, and I push onward…but…I just get a little sad sometimes when I feel that divide 🙂 Sometimes I’ll try to crack a joke like “geez, there goes my ADD brain”…and people usually think it’s a joke, but it they don’t, and they’re just a little uncomfortable because something isn’t matching up…and they realize I’m not kidding but they’re too polite to ask the clarifying question (even though I wouldn’t have mentioned it if I wasn’t willing to clarify)…ugh…anyway, babbling, but I bet you understand at least parts of what I’m saying 😉

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