I think I have Attention Deficit Disorder. Or what used to be called ADD. Except now, it’s not called ADD anymore because ADD is now ADHD again, this time with an “I” or a “PI” after it for “Primarily Inattentive.” According to some books I’ve read, basically it’s ADHD without the H. If there ever was a name designed by committee, this is it.
Anyway, it the idea that I had this attention deficit thing occurred to me earlier this year, just before my 40th birthday. I was reading about ADHD for my younger son who is five, because we think he may have it. My older son is autistic, so we kept a close eye on the younger one. Our younger one did a year in special-ed preschool and had trouble with any sort of rigid routine and has trouble sitting still sometimes and doing things impulsively, more so than the average five year old.
For example, we were walking down by the river last week, looking for rocks to toss in the water. He picked up a good sized one, and stuck it in his mouth. He has been sticking everything in his mouth lately, just touching it to his teeth one time, our little Robert Barone. I said “don’t put rocks in your mouth,” and he put it in his mouth. I took the rock and put it on the ground and said “don’t put rocks in your mouth.” He picked it up and put it in again. This continued ten times until I just threw it in the river. He cried. My ever-patient wife reminded me that I should have given him an alternative, like “touch it to your cheek.”
So we came up with the idea that he might have ADHD and I started reading about it and came across ADHD-PI and thought This is me!
I didn’t make that leap lightly, though. I am well acquainted with mental health systems. In 2000, I started having serious difficulties which often resulted in me locking myself in a dark room for hours at a time and began to see a psychologist who diagnosed me with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and we did talk therapy. Eventually she referred me to a psychiatrist who thought I had either bipolar disorder or plain old depression and prescribed me an antidepressant. He said of his treatment plan, “We’ll give you an antidepressant, and if you buy three new cars or go running through the streets shouting that you’re Jesus, we’ll know you’re really bipolar and start on those meds instead.” Comforting.
The talk therapy and antidepressants helped. The combination took the edge off and I’ve made lots of life changes since then: moving closer to work, simplifying finances, quitting a Ph.D. program that I had stalled on, making my job as a college writing teacher workable. I would say my anxiety is under control.
But if my anxiety is pretty much controlled, I couldn’t make out why I kept doing the things that got me into trouble in the first place. For instance, I almost never pay bills on time, even now when there is plenty of money to do so. Also, I am a consistent procrastinator; when I get in a funk, my normal mode is crisis mode, and I need that pressure to perform. I am also consistently inconsistent. I can be an excellent teacher and campus leader for a couple of weeks, and then for a couple of weeks be an absolute mess. If I attached such anxiety to certain tasks, shouldn’t they be easier to do when the anxiety is under control? In all my years reading about anxiety, I could never find a satisfactory
explanation as to why I have always been so inconsistent in life.
Enter ADHD. I had never considered it before, because I thought “I don’t have an attention deficit. If anything, I have too much attention.” For example, I read voraciously. One semester break, right after I started teaching full time, my fiancee went back East for the holidays and I had an extra long break, which meant that, after the holidays were over, I had two weeks with nothing to do in January in Michigan. I also didn’t have a television. So I read Isaac Asimov’s entire Foundation series. That was 15 books in 14 days.
Also I am legendary for my ability to eat up time reading or playing games online. My current addiction is political news blogs. Last
year, I could not stop playing Diablo 2, even though it wasn’t fun any more, and so had to delete the software from my computer and delete my account at Blizzard Entertainment so I couldn’t download it again.
It turns out that “deficit” might send the wrong message. Maybe it should be called attention misplacement disorder, because one of the sure signs is “hyperfocus,” the ability to focus on one thing intensely for hours at the exclusion of all other things. Like playing a game instead of working, or eating, or sleeping, or being a father to my children, etc. I suffered from a myth about ADHD that says if you have it you can’t pay attention.
I can pay lots of attention, it’s just to the wrong thing a lot of the time. Anything that’s a new toy (like a blog), a new project (like a blog), a challenge (um, writing a blog) just pulls me so strongly that I can’t control myself. One can read about symptoms in a lot a places, but what it means for me is that I don’t grade papers, I don’t pay bills on time or manage money well, and I have a really hard time finishing projects that I’ve started (such as: my kitchen remodel, my bathroom remodel, my hand-build wooden kayak, two Ph.D. degrees, and five novel manuscripts).
And the explanation with ADHD is simpler: biology, not neurosis. Meaning an ADHD brain just has trouble with certain kinds of tasks, and it’s not due to one’s mother, to trauma in childhood, to fear of success, etc., although all those things certainly don’t help matters.
So, off I go to evaluation. I’ve got an appointment at the end of the month to start the evaluation process. It couldn’t come sooner!