Saturday, February 21, 2015

Refuting Some Common Myths About ADHD

This is turning out to be a harder post than I thought. First, I started the post. Then I edited it on my phone. Then I completed it on my Chromebook. Then I opened blogger on my phone which happened to have a previous incomplete version which fucking overwrote the completed one. Then a partial page load stuck the content of the partial post in to this post, and just totally slaughtered everything. Oh, well. Back to the drawing board. I’ll try to reproduce this as close to the original as possible. Lesson learned. Blogger app and Blogger site do not play nicely together.

So, back to the reason for this post in the first place. I wrote a little post on using the Pomodoro Technique, and part of the lead-in had to do with why I use it and how it works out for me, and that touches on the fact that I’m a professional adult with ADHD. That sent me off on a train of thought ranting on about some irritating bullshit that I’ve seen floating around about the “benefits” of ADHD and I realized that was a worthwhile rant all on its own, so here it goes. Refuting some of the apparently common myths of the benefits of ADHD and what it is really like.

It’s not that we can’t focus. It’s that we can’t control what we’re focussing on.

So, here’s the deal. I can focus on things. I can focus on lots of things. In fact, all too often I’m focusing on everything all at the same time. I’m paying attention to the tire guy tell the other guy about his breaks. I’m paying attention to the cars driving by. I’m paying attention to the news telling us that Bill O’Reilly lied about his warzone experience. I’m paying attention to the impact wrench tighten lug nuts on some car in the garage. Get the picture? It’s all there, and it all gets equal billing. My wife has to deal with this all the time. She thinks I’m not listening, or when I insist that I am listening then I must be deaf because I can’t really hear her. No, I’m not deaf. In fact I do hear quite well. The problem is that I’m hearing every damn thing going on out there, and yes, it all gets equal billing. You know how when you’re having a conversation and you can filter out everything around so that you really only hear what the other person is saying? Well, I don’t. I can’t do that. In a restaurant the conversation 5 tables away is coming in to my head at equal volume with equal priority as the conversation two feet away from me and I often can’t separate the them.
Over the years I’ve worked out a technique for trying to deal with this. At work I’ve set up three monitors that generally are configured with specific purposes. The one on the left has my email, checklists, Google News, Facebook, project tracking tools, etc. The middle one will be running Visual Studio and Eclipse. The one on the right runs my various consoles. The idea (and this will usually work) is that I’ve given myself a pile of things to randomly focus on, and each of those is set up to work for my benefit. I don’t really control which one I’m paying attention to, but since I put them all there I’m generally going in the direction I want to go.

Hyperactivity is not always what you think it is.

This one gets a bad rap. Mainly because when kids are diagnosed as hyperactive, the skeptics respond with “all kids are hyperactive.” They’re right. Kids bounce off walls. That’s what they do. It’s the weird ones who sit quietly and don’t make a peep. The problem is that’s not quite what hyperactivity is. Not in this context. Those are kids overflowing with energy and they don’t know what do to with it. Hyperactivity in this context is impulse control. It’s a thought going through your mind, your body acting on it, and your mind going “what the fuck just happened? Was that me?” As these kids get older and their energy reserves get more under control the symptoms begin to turn more to inappropriate comments, interrupting conversations, or acting on partial information. That’s the difference. You sit there and say, “think before you speak or act.” It doesn’t work that way. In my world this stuff happens before I knew it was coming in the first place. I take my Ritalin daily, that helps. It helps a lot. It makes it possible for me to see these things coming and deal with them before acting on them...most of the time...

It’s not “Shiny Object” syndrome. In fact, it’s nothing like that stupid little label you give to your inability to practice a little self control.

This is one that drives me completely out of my mind. I hear the term “Shiny Object Syndrome” thrown around. Those people have it, they equate it with ADHD. I want to smack them. I’ll break it down for you. If ADHD were “Shiny Object Syndrome” or SOS one would have to believe that I’m extraordinarily interested in doorknobs or houseflies or hard water deposits on the car window or the question of whether that water spot on the knee of my jeans will be interpreted as a pee spot. Get the picture? SOS is about a person who doesn’t have the discipline to follow through on a project because they’re after some sort of immediate gratification. ADHD is one’s rebellious brain acting like a roulette wheel. It stops to focus where that little marble might land.

ADHD is not your secret to success.

We’ve all seen the articles talking about the successful billionaires who have ADHD. Too many people draw the conclusion that the condition was, at least in part, responsible for their success. Bullshit. They were successful in spite of this condition. The fact of the matter is you’re more likely to have your ADHD drive you to addiction than drive you to riches. No, it’s not an either or proposition, but given the two choices it is what it is. Why? The causes of ADHD are not unknown. It is a distinct condition, and there are many substances out there that impact the effects of the condition. Those substances are not hard to find. Let’s discuss a few.
Probably the easiest one to find is alcohol. In small amounts it tends to slow down the ADHD brain. When things are slower, it’s easier to remain calm. Impulsive behaviors can come under control, and these things together can, every once in a while, make it a little easier to be productive. In larger amounts...much larger amounts...alcohol can relieve the symptoms of hyperfocus. Alcohol makes you stupid. It numbs your brain. A numb, stupid brain isn’t often able to maintain hyperfocus.
Marijuana and Opiates. In spite of the fact that I live in a legal state, I haven’t smoked pot in a couple of decades. Opiates, on the other hand, well, a couple of serious injuries with surgury and I’ve gotten to have some pretty good stuff. Anyway, what does it do? It detaches you. Sets you outside of your own head. The chaos is still there, but it’s interesting to watch as an outsider. Let the thoughts wander and enjoy it like some sort of weird disjointed movie. It is a major relief.
Amphetamines. Crystal Meth. Holy shitballs. Why? Seriously? Do you have any idea what Adderall is? Hint: Dextromethamphetamine. Adderall is crank. No, seriously, Adderall is crank.

Hyperfocus is not a “benefit.” It’s more like a damn psychosis.

The last one may be the one that annoys me the most. People hear hyperfocus. They hear a state in which one is completely focused to the point of losing track of the world around them, losing track of time, losing track of everything except that which they are focused upon. First, to address those who think this is the opposite of ADHD. You’re wrong. Remember, this condition is about inability to control focus, not about the inability to focus.
Now, let’s talk about what hyperfocus is. Yeah, basically it’s what I said. You become fully absorbed in what ever subject grabs your brain. The problem is you can’t get out. Imagine if you were a runner. You go out for the day and start running. A couple of hours in you get exhausted, but for some reason you’re unable to stop, or even slow down. A few hours later friction on your feet is causing blisters and bleeding, and it hurts, but for some reason you’re unable to stop, or even slow down. Maybe a day later you’re bones are starting to develop stress fractures. Your bones are beginning to break, but for some reason you’re unable to stop, or even slow down. Now how awesome does this sound? Starting to get the picture? There is a point when you can no longer work through whatever is spinning in your head. You know it, you’re painfully conscious of it, but you are unable to stop. Now we go back to the previous point, how does one deal with it? Well, alcohol does work...for a time. If you drink enough you can break the cycle, but know what? When the alcohol is out of your system the hyperfocus is often still there. It never left. You just weren’t aware of it for a little while.
On more occasions than I can count I’ve had something stick in my head on a late Friday morning, be spiraling out of control by 3:00. Spinning away until a sixpack or so Friday night. Saturday morning I’ve woken up with a headache and the something still there, and it has managed to stay with me until mid-morning Monday. It is painful. I describe it as a rabid, cranked up gerbil trying to claw its way out of the inside of my skull.

What’s the point of all this? I dunno. Feel free to chime in.