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?

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