Tuesday, July 30, 2013

I'd love to have a career, now if only I could pick one

When you talk about ADD, the first thing I ever hear about is how it affects school, and I know it affected my school career, probably from day one.  Prior to school I didn't know I had a problem.  I wasn't hyper, and I didn't have discipline issues at home or in church, and there wasn't really that much expected of me.  So I think it caught my parents by surprise when I had trouble in school right off the bat.  And since I'd had no trouble prior to school, when I found out that I had ADD almost at the end of my scholastic career, I mistakenly thought, "Well, if I can just make it through this last semester or two it won't really matter anymore, and I've coped this far so I'm sure I can cope a bit longer."

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  My post-school career was affected by my ADD LONG before I was out of school.  You see, for some reason there's this silly practice of picking a major in college, and by picking a major you set your post-school career in motion.  It took me eight years from start to finish to make it through college, not because I couldn't do the work (though I'm sure ADD slowed me some) but because I kept switching majors.  I couldn't decide what I wanted to do with my life.  Did I want to teach biology or music?  Or would music performance be a better option, and if so voice or piano or some combination of the two?  Opera? Pop? Christain? Popera?  Or maybe I'd be a better painter?  Would I work better with oils or watercolors?  These are the questions I asked myself over and over.  I couldn't maintain an interest in one thing for a full week, much less long enough to achieve a degree.

So finally I dropped out of school.  Over the course of one year I worked 4 jobs, and then the next year I combined a fifth job with music performance on the side.  Even once I went back to school my goal was less about finding a major that suited me, than finding one that I could just get THROUGH!  It was during this time that my brothers testing for ADD led my mother to recognize that I had it, and while I didn't disagree with her assessment, I also figured I was so close to being DONE that didn't really bother to learn more or do anything about it.  After all, I figured once I was done with school it couldn't cause me any more problems.

I couldn't have been more wrong.  The longer I observe myself in daily life, and the more I learn about ADD, the more I am recognizing how it affects every aspect of my life.  Even now, almost exactly eight years after I left school, I wonder almost every day what I should REALLY be doing with my life.  What do I want to be when I grow up?  Oh, I have a job, one I've written about on this blog before, that is pretty well suited to my ADD.  I do it pretty well, or at least people keep paying me to do it, but none of my diverse interests have died down.  I still have bursts of interest in fashion design, music, various branches of science, oh, or maybe I should be a writer, but what genre to write?  SciFi?  Fantasy?  Romance?  or maybe not even fiction at all?

The longer I'm in the workplace the more I know that no matter what I do, I need diversity.  I can't do the same thing day in and day out.  I've found that I don't get that at larger companies.  The larger the company, the more specialized the position, and as a company grows and my niche becomes more well defined the more it chafes.  That happened at my last job.  I started out trying to write doc, help with QA, and support customers, but as the customer base grew so did the support related tasks, and eventually all other work was squeezed out.  So I'm switching to a smaller company again, one where I get to have a finger in every pie.

With fewer people comes more responsibility as well, and there's a part of me that wonders whether this is the real reason I'm changing.  You see, it's very stimulating to know that the buck stops with me.  And with ADD it's the stimulation that counts.  I know that in a small company I can't just pass all my problems up the chain of command.  If it's going to be done, I'm the one who will have to do it.  It's a frightening prospect to know that I can truly make a difference in the direction the company will take, but it's also empowering, and in a way that risk is also thrilling.

Another great thing about working for a small company is that we can be responsive to changes in the marketplace.  A behemoth can't be turned on a dime, which can be terribly frustrating for someone who recognizes the synergy that goes into making a successful product.  But when you can anticipate the direction a product needs to go and make those changes quickly, well, every little success can have huge effects.  I think that's part of what makes people with ADD such great inventors and entrepreneurs.  We can switch modes easily, or in computer speak (after all that's my industry) we have very low cost context switches.  

... This post hasn't really gone the direction I intended when I started, but the more I read and learn about ADD the more I see that it does come with some strengths.  After years of failures in school, to finally find that there is a place where I can use this to my advantage is a great lightening.  I've recently been reading Delivered From Distraction by Dr. Edward M. Hallowell.  He makes the point over and over that the most important part of treatment is not in minimizing the negatives, but in finding the positives.  He maintains that every person has strengths, and as I think this through I'm starting to find mine.  I haven't ARRIVED yet, but maybe I'm finally STARTING to treat my ADD.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

How can you sleep when you can never be still?

Ok, so I never had the hyperactivity that's so common with ADD, hence my continued use of the term "ADD" instead of the newer, technically correct, "ADHD."  But think about the most active, hyperactive, bouncing off the wall child you can think of, and that's what the inside of my head is like.

A couple years ago I saw a video where Mark Gungor is explaining the differences between the male and female brain.  To me that could be the same thing as the difference between the ADD and the "normal" brain.  My first thought was "that's totally true!" but as I watched my husbands calm thinking, and saw him go into his "nothing box" each night before sleep I found myself wondering "what would it be like to have a nothing box."  I'm jealous of his ability to think about... nothing!

Mental calm comes so rarely to me.  It's rare for me to have less than 2-3 things swimming around in my head.  Right now, I'm writing, watching Chopped, and there's ALWAYS a song running around the back of my head (right now the theme from the original Nintendo's Super Mario Brothers).  When I was a child I was the outwardly calm one.  My sister was athletic and always on the go, while my dad was totally surprised to find that I could sit still and play on my own for 10 minutes at a time.

I was outwardly calm.  I remember laying on the couch with my head hanging off the edge for ages, lost in my imagination of what it would be like to walk on the ceiling, a world where everything was upside down.  In school I rarely had trouble sitting still, but in my mind I was likely to be zooming from planet to planet.  Thinking back, I think at least one teacher actually sat me with other kids who had hyperactivity, possibly hoping I would be a calming influence.  Looking back I think their energy actually fed my imagination, all the undiagnosed ADHD kids in one corner.

But at night I had a horrible time falling asleep.  I was tired and I WANTED to sleep, but to get my brain to stop was nearly impossible.  I remember spending hours laying awake in the dark, trying to imagine myself to a place of calm so that I would fall asleep.

With my mind always on the go like that, it's even more important that I get plenty of sleep.  After all, it's the only time my brain gets to rest!  I would say it's the only time my brain is still, but not even then.  I have extremely vivid and detailed dreams.  If I ever got them written down I swear I'd have plots for hundreds of books or movies.  Sometimes I dream something wonderful only to wake up and promptly forget it, but often I remember my dreams for years.  Where most folks can get by with 7 hours or so of sleep a night, I'm really better when I have something like nine.

Of course now as an adult and mother, I rarely get that.  I'm also generally tired enough so these days I don't have trouble falling asleep, but it's not uncommon for me to wake up around 3:30 in the morning (or whenever the baby wakes me up in the middle of the night) with to much going on in my head to get BACK to sleep.  Often I can't get back to sleep until I work through those thoughts, get them processed and out somewhere.  A good half of my blog postings have been written during these bouts of insomnia, so thanks for giving me a forum for working through my thoughts.

Oh, and just because it's SO true...

Monday, July 22, 2013

I would argue with a sign post

I love a good argument, er, discussion.  There's a thrill to picking a viewpoint and defending it with every fact, every feeling, every bit of logic in your arsenal.  I remember growing up I would have regular discussions, usually with folks much older than me, and usually about fine points in Christianity.  Oh occasionally politics were brought into it, or what toothpaste was the best.  But I was raised in the church, went to Sunday school every Sunday, listened to Moody radio and Focus on the Family, so church was really what I knew enough about to have an opinion.  I would debate the merits of baptizing adults rather than infants, and immersion over sprinkling; a woman's place in the church; and I remember one mission trip in high school where I took on two pastors and the majority of the youth group over the topic of predestination.

It wasn't even really about being right.  Oh there have been some folks who took a hard line attitude and tried to back me into a corner, you just can't back down from something like that.  Mostly it's about the stimulation that allows me to focus all of my mental power around a point of view.  That kind of focus doesn't come easily for the person who has ADD, so these arguments gave me the opportunity to construct my own belief system and to really understand why I believe what I believe.  I get a thrill from listening to someone build a case point by point for an opposing view, and then taking each point and either knocking it down, or twisting it to show why it really fits my point of view better.

That kind of structure for organizing your thoughts doesn't come around every day.  When I was in high school I joined the debate team thinking I would really enjoy it.  I dropped out after one meeting.  I couldn't wrap my mind about researching one topic to death, and then being arbitrarily assigned which side of the topic I could take.  Oh, in most arguments I can see and understand both sides of the topic, but I can't really argue for something I don't believe.  That need to believe in the thing I'm doing has caused me trouble throughout my career, from needing to believe in the music I was singing, to needing to believe in the people I'm working for and the product I'm supporting.  Sometimes we end up having to do something we don't believe in, and I find I just never can do that as well.

The more I learn about ADD the more I realize that this desire to discuss... everything, isn't normal.  It's part of the un-regulation of focus.  I also need that thrill of proving my intellectual prowess.  Not that I have to beat you down, but after years of feeling slow and stupid I need that acknowledgement that I am your intellectual equal, that I am worthy of the debate.  One of the hardest things for me is to back down from a discussion, or to have someone unwilling to talk or listen to me.  It's akin to yet another person saying, "you're not worthy of my attention."

Keep that in mind when you deal with the ADD people in your life.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Living With ADD

I've been planning to write a book about all the various ways ADD affects my life for some time now, years really.  I notice something new and say, "Oooh, that should go in the book!" and may or may not make a note of it.  So after several years of working, perusing, mulling over, and contemplating this book I've come to a realization... It's never going to be written.  Probably because I have ADD.

But I still have this feeling that I have something to say about ADD, something that may help others that have it, but that especially help those of you who have a loved one who has ADD, to help you to understand a little something about what you're living with.  And I think it's still worth sharing, even if this book is never completed.  And I don't want to wait in getting it out there to people.  I mean, even if I COULD finish this book, then I'd have to find a publisher, and get them interested, and convince them that other people would want to read this (which I don't really know whether they would or not), and that all sounds like a LOT of work for me.  And really I spend all my time playing catch-up so I don't have time to convince people to read my stuff.

So I've decided instead to post it here, and you can read it or not.  Hope it helps someone, but if not at least I'll have put it out there.  So without further ado...

So the first thing you're going to say is, "This chick doesn't know what she's talking about, doesn't she know it's ADHD?"  Well, I suppose officially it's all ADHD, but I never had the hyperactivity, so I'm writing about what I know.

Another thing I've heard a lot is "I know, you can't pay attention to things," but that's not it.  ADD is about the inability to REGULATE your attention to things.  There are some times I'm so distract-able that I'm doing 5 things at once (and none of them well).  But at others I can get so tuned in to what I'm doing that I forget everything about my surroundings, which can actually be even more dangerous than distract-ability (more on this later).

So lets start with a little background...

My World Before ADD

I was a generally happy child.  After the constant activity that was my older sister, I think my parents were a bit relieved to have a baby who WANTED to sleep in her crib and could play with dolls on her own for a whole ten minutes at a time.  I was into princesses and long frilly dresses and doing my own hair.  In most ways I was really quite typical.  I also showed musical talent quite young, singing before I could talk and playing the piano by ear at age three.

To all appearances I was a bright and happy little girl, so I think everyone was surprised when very early on in Kindergarten I had problems completing the most basic assignments.  I'd be set to copying a page (and a Kindergarten page is NOT a long page) of information, and in the time everyone else had finished I would have written a sentence.  My parents and teachers thought I just needed help with motivation, so they tried everything they could to bribe and cajole me into working faster.  I remember in Kindergarten we weren't allowed to bring toys to school, but someone had the bright idea that I should be allowed a SPECIAL toy, that I was only allowed to play with after I finished my work.  I chose a red stuffed monkey that was a favorite toy (that happened to belong to my sister, I'm also a thief).  I loved that monkey, and that led to a whole other saga where the monkey was stolen and then appropriated by the nursery class, and it must have been months before I got it back and then it was missing an ear.  But I don't remember it making any difference to my work habits.

My "lack of motivation" continued and morphed into "needs improvement" in all aspects of doing my school-work.  And that followed me throughout my school career.  Oh, I don't think I was ever a real disciplinary problem.  I rarely had any trouble learning the material, but I never could memorize anything, from spelling words to multiplication tables.  In second grade I discovered I was a daydreamer.  In third I found out I had an incredibly messy desk.

In fourth I was diagnosed with a writing disorder.  I had trouble putting pencil to paper, but I got permission to give dictation to my mom who started typing all my papers.  It was also in fourth grade that I was tested and found bright enough to be placed in the gifted program.  Every once in a while you encounter a teacher who is truly excellent.  I look back at my fourth grade teacher, Ms. Arnold, and I think she had more of an impact in getting me through school than any teacher up until my tenth grade English teacher.  Oh, I had several good teachers in there (and some bad ones), but she did a very good job at noticing where I was struggling and helping me to find coping strategies.

My whole time at school was about coping with one thing or another, and I developed strategies for dealing with all kinds of assignments.  I'm sure it didn't help that I showed flashes of "brilliance."  I had an amazing memory for brain teasers and absorbed odd information like a sponge.  By 5th grade I would write up little brain teaser tests and give them to my teacher to take.  I look back at my audacity and wonder that they put up with me at all.  I already "knew" I was smarter than my teacher.  But that amazing memory had holes like swiss cheese, and I never knew where they would form.  Sure I could remember where all the states were, but I couldn't spell their names, or remember their capitols.  I could amaze you with interesting facts and I had a thorough understanding of what I knew, but there didn't seem any reason to what I could and couldn't learn.

I spent a lot of time thinking outside the box.  I remember in sixth grade we were given an assignment to write and illustrate a book.  While everyone else wrote a simple story, I wrote a "Choose Your Own Adventure" story about a girl who got sucked into the world of "The Wizard of Oz" (my teacher must have thought me seriously disturbed when she read the ways I killed off my main character).

I remember another incident in math when we were learning long division.  There was a misprint in the workbook and one of the problems couldn't be solved (with what we were supposed to already know, we hadn't learned about remainders yet).  I spent the entire class working on that one problem solving it out 10+ decimal places, but of course I hadn't paid a bit of attention to the lesson nor the work I was SUPPOSED to be doing.  I was hyper-focused on that one problem because I KNEW it could be solved.

I'm sure there was no measuring the level of frustration I brought to my teachers.  I continued to be a strange conglomeration of gifted, curious, creative and talented. I was an avid reader, but I was slow, SO slow, at EVERYTHING.  I was constantly running out of time on tests, especially standardized tests.  Completing homework assignments and projects took hours each night, all day some Saturdays, and Sunday afternoons after church.  And yet, I managed to absorb most of the material, enough to scrape by at least.

I could paraphrase the Gettysburg address and understand what it was saying, but I couldn't memorize it.  I could read and write poetry, but when I had to give a presentation or was in a play I was a nervous wreck because I could never memorize my lines.  To this day I watch Inside the Actor's Studio and am in awe when they talk about memorizing what they need to know for each day's shooting.  To this day the only thing I can memorize is music, and that takes a lot of work to remember even the simplest lyrics.

I forget what it was I was supposed to memorize and recite in tenth grade, but it's the only time I remember breaking down and crying in the classroom.  I just couldn't do it.  The teacher didn't understand, I had read over it what must have been hundreds of times, but it was simply an insurmountable task.  We had to read some of the most depressing literature that year.  I don't know how The Scarlet Letter and As I Lay Dying fit into the curriculum for impressionable teenagers (I certainly never plan on taking my mother's coffin on an un-refrigerated road trip in the middle of summer), but I do remember that Ms. Gilham taught us how to write.  To this day I credit her with getting me through EVERY writing assignment from tenth grade through college exit exams.  For a child with a writing disorder who was incapable of putting pencil to paper, I certainly do a lot of writing these days and it's all thanks to her.

So I made it through high school with mediocre grades, but with SATs that outshone all but the top handfull of students in my class.

Then when it came to college I seemed incapable of sticking to one major.  I liked Biology and focused on that for a year, then switched to music where I excelled in theory, but made straight C's in voice (I had trouble memorizing arias in various languages), and I barely scraped through music history.  So I switched to art, at which I was a complete failure before dropping out to work.  I simply couldn't pick a major and go with it.  One day I'd have a fantastic idea for a painting, the next day I'd have an idea for a great song, the next I'd be fascinated by the taxonomy of local flora.  I could never settle for even a whole semester, much less long enough to get a degree.  I also found that while all my friends were carrying an 18 hour course load, there were times when I couldn't even handle 12-15.  It just took me so much more time to do anything and everything.  I decided to drop out and work for a while.

So there I was, unqualified for anything, hopping from job to job and never staying anywhere very long (four different jobs in a year) and I knew I had to do something that would get me back in school with some direction.  About that time my best friend graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in computer science, and started making what at the time seemed like a fabulous amount of money (which sounded nice to me).  But I still had to figure out how to get back in school, so I took a 10 month job in Americorps because I knew I'd have the educational stipend when I was done, and I'd HAVE to use it on school.  My strategy worked.  After a 10 month stint in Americorps I went back to school with a major in computer science.

I had a new strategy this time around.  Instead of summers off, I was in school full time year round.  I also found that if I was completely lost in any given class a few weeks into the semester, or if I thought a course had a completely overwhelming work load I'd just drop the course.  This gave me a bit of cushion and allowed me to have a little extra time to manage my coursework.

It was also during this time that my little brother underwent testing for ADHD.  As the psychologist diagnosed him and described what he was going through my mom said it hit her that he was describing me even more than my brother.  It clicked for her that all of my seeming misfits, the trouble I'd had from the very beginning of school, could be traced to this one problem.  Even though I agreed that her diagnosis was likely, I figured I was so close to finally making it through school that I never bothered to do anything about it.  And I did finally make it through school.  In only twice the time it took all my high school friends I graduated, and figured that since I was finally through with school this wouldn't have any more impact on my life.  Right?

Monday, July 8, 2013

Apologizing for the Trinity

I've been reading some Christian apologetics lately and it's gotten me thinking.  First of all, why is the defense and explanation of Christian beliefs called apologetics.  I don't really feel the need to apologize to anyone for being a Christian.  That's a real misnomer, and I think someone should look into calling it something else.

Whatever, what got me really thinking was something I read about one Christian condemning Bishop T.D. Jakes for saying he believes in the Trinity but not explaining it in the right terminology, so this apologetics expert says the Bishop isn't a Christian.  Now first of all, I don't want to apologize for the Bishop, I don't know what he believes.  I just got caught up by the semantics of the thing.  The Trinity is a really hard concept for most people. The idea that God is three things, that are distinct, but the same, all the time.  I've heard it described as a three leaf clover, all three leaves part of one clover.  But then folks come along and talk about Jesus being FULLY God, and the Holy Spirit being FULLY God, so it's not like the three are interdependent.  And a three leaf clover is whole only with three leaves.  It doesn't just have two leaves and then say, "oh, I think I'll sprout a third."

But that's essentially where the Holy Spirit came from.  If you read the Bible, there's no Holy Spirit prior to Acts.  And we don't see Jesus doing much before the new testament either.  Oh there's "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."  The whole of the old testament was pointing to Him, but He didn't have a name, and we didn't see a whole lot of Him until he put on flesh and walked around with us.  But does that mean that Jesus wasn't distinct until he was born, that this aspect of God sprouted forth at that time, or was he just kinda hanging out before then?  And if he was with God from the beginning, then why do we call him God the Son.  I mean, my daughter came forth FROM me, and I suppose the egg that she grew from has been there all along, but she hasn't exactly been hanging out with me until this last year.

So what I'm saying is that this is an admittedly difficult concept.  I don't know of any Christian who would say, "Oh, the Trinity, yeah I TOTALLY get that!"  When I was growing up in Sunday School they had whole serieses of lessons trying to help us understand how God could be three, and also one at the same time.  I'm still not sure I get it.  Oh, the Bible says it, so I believe it, but I can't say I really understand it.  There are a fair number of concepts like that in the Bible.  Does that make me less of a Christian because I don't really understand it?  Oh, I can quote the scriptures that say it, but it's hard to make it mesh in my mind, so I just have to take it on faith that God (who is infinite where I am finite) can make it work out so that he is wholly three and also one.

So where do you, mister Apologetics man, get off calling into question the fundamental Christianity of a guy who says he believes in the trinity, but just explains it a little differently than you.  You're the same guy that got all up in arms about baptizing in the name of "Jesus" instead of "in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit."  But if those are the three parts of God that are also the one true God then doesn't it amount to the same thing?

I don't get how we as Christians can put up with these divisive people in our midst.  When we should be finding ways to edify each other and to build each other up, we're instead nit picking every word.  I don't feel it's my place to judge whether another person is right with God.  Oh, I know what I believe, and will gladly discuss it with you, but if your beliefs vary slightly from mine I don't see that as a personal attack.  Heck, I see it as an opportunity for me to affirm my own beliefs and dazzle you with my love by trying to understand how you could believe something differently.  I try to be discerning, I may examine the scripture to see the merits of what you believe.  I may change my own personal beliefs through greater understanding of the different ways scripture can be interpreted (and there's a lot of variation to the way some things can be interpreted), or I may find my own personal beliefs are stronger for having been re-examined.  But I WILL NOT condemn you for believing something different from me.

You see, I have a secret.  I know something that many Christians don't seem to understand.


I'll leave that up to God.  And I have faith that He can sort it all out in the end.  And if I'm wrong, or you're wrong, or we're both wrong (most likely scenario as I see it) then what better way to learn it than by accepting the possibility that I MAY be wrong about everything (though I don't think I am, of course) and that God can teach me differently in His own way, in His own time.