INSIDE ATTENTION DEFICIT DISORDER
(No, you're NOT stupid, lazy or crazy!)
BY SHARI SCHREIBER, M.A.
I've written this for folks like myself, who've struggled with shame and frustration most of their lives, because while we might be smart, we're not so great at studying or following through with goals or plans, even if our initial feelings of enthusiasm for these things runs extremely high.
Because I've lived with these challenges, I can intimately understand and sympathize with yours. I've surmounted a lot of my own ADD obstacles, and it's my hope within the body of this material to help you surmount some of yours.
Attention Deficit Disorder or ADD, is a very common neurological issue that for years, has been classified as a learning disability. If you’re born with it or acquire it during your lifetime, you do not "outgrow" it~ though it's likely you'll invent some useful coping strategies to make your symptoms feel less troublesome.
This is a cyclical disorder that's attended by mood fluctuations, which coincide with periods of intense productivity, contrasted by periods of apathy or inertia. These cycles impact your self-esteem and confidence no matter how talented or intelligent you are, because you're not able to consistently demonstrate what you understand are your abilities and strengths.
Aside from various challenges you may face with ADD, I assure you, there are a great number of positive characteristics and traits associated with this "disorder," which are discussed a bit farther along in this literature.
This self-diagnostic material is intended to help you discern the degree to which you may have ADD/ADHD. If you've struggled with some of the obstacles mentioned within, there's help to overcome them! Imagine breaking free of the shame that's a by-product of this disorder, and creating a life more rewarding, than you've ever thought possible. You are well on your way there, right now.
If you have an iPhone, iPad or iPod this app will let you hear this material; http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/web-reader-text-to-speech/id320808874?mt=8
THE MOST TYPICAL HALLMARKS OF THIS CONDITION ARE:
*Chronic procrastination~ always putting things off until the last minute, or indefinitely--especially if it's a task you'd prefer to avoid.
*Reluctance to commit~ You make appointments 'on the fly,' when you're in need of seeing your doctor or chiropractor, 'cause you're never sure of how you'll be feeling, when you've booked that appointment weeks ahead of time.
*Mood cycles ~ sometimes up, feeling motivated, confident, “normal” and capable of getting a lot accomplished--and sometimes down, feeling unmotivated, inert, disorganized, insecure, overwhelmed, ashamed, “crazy or stupid” and mild to moderately depressed.
*Wondering if you're manic-depressive, or "a little bipolar." Believe it or not, lots of ADD'ers have questioned this at one time or another! Check out my piece on Bipolar Disorder, and discern the difference for yourself.
*Feeling like an underachiever~ no matter how much you’ve accomplished during your lifetime, and it just never seems like enough!
*Getting started, is the hardest part! Once you're at the laundromat you do okay, and momentum carries you along--but it's beginning a chore, that's the most difficult. Just start, and you'll be fine!
*You may feel like an impostor or fraud. Your accomplishments are usually within areas of innate talent or ability (you're born with 'em), which means they're fairly effortless! Because they've come so easily, you may take them for granted, and can't feel deserving of accolades, honors or rewards for your work or contributions.
*Lack of follow-through~ starting projects and seldom finishing them. Loss of interest, motivation, enthusiasm for an activity or goal that might have previously generated a lot of excitement (I've coined this, The Gym Membership Syndrome).
*You may be a Novelty Junkie~ you'll get really excited about a new health benefit or gadget, but lose the 'juice' soon after. You keep buying stuff on infomercial's, and end up with a kitchen or closet full of items you've never used more than a few times (if at all). You may have solid plans to turn these into a service business--but before you can, the novelty wears off, and you're out another few hundred bucks. Great intentions fizzle-out before they get off the ground.
*You work best under pressure~ in the ‘eleventh hour’ when time's running out on a task or project you must handle, you're suddenly efficient, focused, driven and effective. (More on this below.)
*Chronic tardiness~ always "running late" (see 'pressure' issue above).
*You're inclined to find 'shortcuts' for resolving an issue, rather than going through the usual or "proper" channels to get something handled.
*You're drawn to work that allows you a lot of creative expression~actors, writers, artists, designers, photographers, directors, inventors, architects, plastic surgeons, cosmetic dentists, etc.
*So many goals, so little focus! 'Changing the channel' of focus feeds your need for diverse stimulation, and may inspire you to create several streams of income. More on this, under "The Good News" section (below).
*Attraction to jobs or careers that involve a high degree of risk or danger~ stunt people, firemen, paramedics, emergency room doctors/nurses, interventionists, etc. You're drawn to environments that are highly stressful and production oriented, or where various types of activities are all going on at once. Any kind of job requiring your attention to be several places simultaneously, or hyper-focused when there’s a crucial situation you mustrespond to with the added pressure of time limited, high yield performance (i.e. physical rescue work).
*Attraction to high-risk activities for sport or pleasure: Jumping out of airplanes, off cliffs/bridges, high risk snow or water skiing/surfing, mountain climbing, dangerous, high-maintenance (Borderline) partners, or potentially fatal sex practices, etc. In other words, “adrenaline junkies” who insatiably crave intense stimulation.
*Intense relationships: A romance with someone who has personality disorder features (like NPD or BPD) is stimulating to an ADD'er, whether the partner is invoking pleasure in them or pain. Pain is grounding, and makes us feel alive. The craving for a sense of aliveness keeps us going back for more, even when it harms us.
There are many symptoms associated with ADD and these are just a few! Not all of the above may apply to you, but if you resonate with several of them, it may serve you to (at least) browse the rest of this piece.
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"I'VE ALWAYS FELT LIKE I WAS DIFFERENT FROM OTHER PEOPLE."
You are, and so am I! This is an extremely common perception among ADD'ers, because your rhythm or pacing is different from other individuals you've known. You may get various tasks accomplished and do them well--but this is according to your rhythm or tempo, and they're more easily managed when the “pressure’s on” or during periods when you're feeling more energized, up or empowered.
There are times you’ll feel productive, focused and on top of your game--but at other times, it's just the opposite! It's been my opinion for years, that Attention Deficit Disorder should be called Attention Inconsistency Disorder, as this seems a far more accurate description of how ADD affects literally hundreds of thousands of individuals.
While it's true that you have this learning disability, it doesn't mean you're unable to learn--you just have special ways of doing it! ADD'ers are typically more visually oriented than auditory, which is a very typical characteristic of creative minds. You might say that your brain's "processing plant" is a little different from other folks; it typically needs to form mental pictures in order to make sense of visual, auditory or written information, so that you can determine how to respond or react.
Visual stimulation can inhibit your ability to process auditory information, and this affects us in various ways. Have you ever noticed, you can't look at your waiter while he's describing that day's specials, and retain the information? This happens because your mind's eye has to construct images that help it 'see' what's on those dishes being described, so you can more easily make your choice. Lowering or closing your eyes as you listen, lets your brain do what it does best (and no, it's not rude). By the way, foreign or subtitled films, or movies where much of the story-line is told through the characters' dialogue, can be anxiety provoking and troublesome to ADD'ers for the same reason. In essence, we're visually distracted, and become afraid we'll miss important points that help us understand or 'track with' the story that's unfolding for us.
Some ways of learning are linear. People with ADD/ADHD have a non-linear way of learning. The creative ADD brain is capable of making abstractions, which is a higher order of thinking that we ideally learn between the ages of 9 - 12 years old~ around the time we're supposed to develop empathy.
Developmentally arrested people whose emotional growth was stunted early in life due to trauma, haven't successfully crossed this bridge, and may struggle with personality disorder features.
A bright mind finds ways to process new information by applying it to various other similar situations in his/her life. This requires analytical ability! The ADD'er automatically looks for ways to make fresh data 'fit' with other parts of his puzzle. He presumes that if something's true in one sense, it could be true in others--and naturally connects the dots! Someone stuck in a concrete(lower order) way of thinking can't do this. Their mental process is more childlike, simple or linear.
Problems can arise between adult children and their parents, if one is stuck in a concrete level of development, and the other has acquired the capacity for abstract thinking. Often, the child has surpassed the parent's mental/emotional capacity in this regard, and frustrating relationship dynamics ensue, because they're literally speaking different languages! It may feel to the adult child like he/she is trying to make themselves understood by a small child. A gifted therapist can illuminate this issue, and help them discover new ways of communicating with a shared language that can serve the relationship.
HOW (AND WHY) DOES THIS DISORDER EXIST?
There's a small structure at the base of your brain called the Thalamus. Your Thalamus combines with a tentacle-like structure called the R.A.S. (Reticular Activating System) that functions much like the valve on a garden hose, to allow stimulation to reach your cerebral cortex (thinking part of the brain) or not. When this “valve” is closed or shut down, it’s like having a kink in your garden hose, and water can’t flow through.
When this happens with your brain you’re unable to get the stimulation you need, to think clearly and function/perform as you would like. You work best under pressure, because when time's running out on a task that's needing your attention, your body's anxiety response to it triggers an adrenaline release in your bloodstream. This chemical functions like high-octane fuel for your brain, so that it can go into 'overdrive,' and help you push through most resistance/procrastination.
The worst part of living with attention deficit issues, is you've carried around a lot of shame about not being able to get your ship in the water~ and those around you (like your parents or partner) think it's your fault, for "not trying hard enough."
WHAT CAN CAUSE ATTENTION DEFICIT ISSUES?
*Head trauma; serious bruising/concussions, etc., during any part of your life, either in childhood or adulthood.
*Chronic/severe earaches; or multiple ear infections during childhood.
*High fevers; particularly, if they've lasted 24-hours or more.
*Encephalitis and/or Meningitis.
*Heredity; if your parent or close relative suffers with ADD/ADHD (or bipolar issues), there’s a genetic probability that you may too.
*Near-death experience (NDE); especially if your brain has been deprived of oxygen for more than a few minutes.
*Birth trauma; umbilical strangling during the birth process, or other types of fetal trauma involving oxygen deprivation or acute pressure to the head.
*Damage in-utero; if your mother regularly smoked or drank alcohol during pregnancy, this could have impaired normal brain development, and left you at risk for acquiring this disorder.
WHAT IS "ADHD?"
ADHD is ADD that includes a hyperactivity component. This disorder is far more readily identified (and treated) in childhood than ADD, and is more prevalent in males than females (nobody’s quite sure why). In children and adults it's generally characterized by restlessness, agitation, inability to focus or concentrate, irritability, inattention, lack of follow-through, difficulty resting, feeling relaxed or “laid-back.”
In my experience, a lot of people with ADHD have gravitated to marijuana use during adolescence, and have stayed dependent on it to help slow their brain, and focus. ADD'ers are generally attracted to anything that speeds up their brain, like cocaine, crystal methamphetamine (speed) or diet pills that contain it, caffeine, commercial "energy enhancers" like Red Bull, etc.
We humans do our best to self-medicate and balance our brain chemistry, whatever it takes. Please know I don't condone the use of these substances, I'm merely including it here, for your own edification.
Achieving scholastic or professional success might be easier for ADHD'ers; their ability to self-activate could be enhanced, simply because it's harder to sit still! Depressive episodes and inertia are not quite as common with ADHD, but the ability to focus or slow down enough to complete a task, may be more challenging. ADHD'ers often feel flooded by stimulation, which can easily prompt sensations of overwhelm. When overwhelm occurs, it's like an electrical overload that 'short circuits' our brains, and causes a mental system shut-down that can feel paralyzing, and subsequently depressing.
OK, HERE'S THE GOOD NEWS . . . !
ADD’ers tend to be exceptionally bright, and are typically highly creative, artistic and/or inventive. It is believed that many of our most famous artists and inventors throughout history had ADD, which allowed them to harness acute, sustained focus for extraordinary periods of time. Their ability to 'hyper-focus' when motivation (or pressure) was sufficient, enabled them to produce tremendous works of art or significant and important inventions, which have contributed greatly to our advancement as a society. ADD/ADHD'ers are not stupid. In fact, they're often way smarter than the average bear!
Once recognized, attention span issues can be easily managed, and various treatment modalities are discussed later on. It's also important to understand that certain kinds of professions or occupations require abilities and skills that are possessed by ADD’ers! As mentioned under the "hallmarks" section, people living with this disorder are particularly adept at multi-tasking (managing several different tasks at once) and performing well under pressure! Split focus is as natural as breathing for people with ADD, and productivity is more readily maintained in fast-paced work places where there's lots of interaction with others.
Hyper-focus is an ADD blessing. Quite often, I'll get fired-up and inspired about a topic, and begin writing an article in the early hours of the morning. Before I know it, I've worked straight through until it's dark outside! I may have wanted to get out and do some fun stuff or errands--but I just couldn't put that piece down and walk away until I ran out of steam, and my mind got to a place where I could accept a natural segue. That's passion for ya!
Passion is housed in the second chakra of the body, or your abdomen/lower back area. It's sitting right there with sexuality, reproductivity and creativity. It's virtually impossible to be creative on demand, because that's like requiring yourself to feel sexual on cue! It's not gonna happen~ well, not unless you're in the porn industry, and there's a 'fluffer' on hand (usually a gal who orally and/or manually stimulates a male actor so he can get aroused and erect for the upcoming scene).
Working on an artistic, creative project is a lot like giving birth. At times, you'll feel depleted and a little sad after you finish it. This could be compared to mild, postpartum depression. You'll need to recharge your batteries for awhile, until you can 'get up' for the next party. This is normal. Don't shame yourself! Go with it.
Your subconscious mind is working 24/7 even in your sleep, to help you solve problems, find solutions, get inspired about a new project or direction, etc. It needs considerable 'down time' to do this for you, when your conscious mind isn't interfering or being mean to you, about feeling flat or inert. Try to trust these little breaks or hiatuses as being essential and necessary, so you can rise up again, be your wonderfully creative self, and do what you do best.
REJECT THE ADD MYTHS YOU'VE ALWAYS HEARD
Contrary to popular opinion or belief, ADD'ers may have strong organizational skills on the job or in a workplace--even if their home environments appear completely chaotic!
The structure and stimulation of a work environment can actually allow their creativity to shine. For example, they might set up an entire filing or billing system that's far more effective and efficient than what's existed before. Remember, ADD'ers like taking/creating shortcuts, and they'll usually find a quicker, more expedient way to get to the 'cheese' in any kind of maze. The pressure and responsibilities they face while working, can help order their thoughts, and heighten their capacity to focus and function.
It's not uncommon for ADD'ers to maintain several occupations (streams of income) simultaneously, or enjoy a few avocations that augment a primary job or career. For many, being able to switch focus is essential, because it provides relief from boredom, and allows access to different types of stimulation that can virtually 'jump start' their brains. Starting a new project can produce feelings of euphoria~ returning to one after a break or hiatus can be richly gratifying and productive.
Unfortunately, self-judgment about not having found a specific 'niche' during one's lifetime, can be harsh and demoralizing. Very young, we're programmed to believe that we need to "decide" what we're going to be when we grow up, and this limiting notion must be dismantled. The truth is, ADD'ers are generally capable of being several things at once, because their talents and abilities are nothing short of prodigious!
Think of your talents this way; imagine that you're asked to draw a picture and given a full box of Crayolas--but you're only allowed to use one crayon from that entire box, to do it. How would you feel about that? Would this artwork reflect your true abilities? Of course not! Well that's what happens when we try and pigeonhole ourselves--or put all our eggs in one basket. It stifles us, and leads to depression. Discover your strengths, and follow your passions.
LITTLE TIPS AND TRICKS
It's helpful to rein in your self expectations. ADD'ers put too high a demand on themselves, and it often keeps them from starting a project, or completing one. Lower the damned bar for yourself. If you're beginning a work of art, let it lead you along~ rather than having a specific agenda, and trying to execute it perfectly. Take the attitude, "if I hate it, I can toss it in the trash bin" and you'll be happier in your process, and with the end product.
I often 'back into' things I wanna do, and I've found this strategy very helpful. Professionally, I've often done the things I've done, before I legitimized 'em with schooling, training, etc. They were innate talents or abilities, that came naturally and easily to me.
Years ago, my well-meaning friends said, "Schreiber, write a book~ it'll put you on the map!" This seemed like a monumental, impossible task to me back then. No way could I even consider writing a book, without going into instant, total overwhelm.
Truth is, I've been writing for decades, and while the "book" idea was intimidating as hell, I was already writing articles, and even submitting a few of them to magazine editors. My web materials at www.GettinBetter.com were my way to stop getting rejection letters for those laborious submissions, and make my ideas and concepts available to people worldwide. What a relief! Now, I just had to please myself, and cutting out the middle-man helped my work become far less constrained, and way more authentic.
By the way, a good number of my lengthier articles have turned out to be book-worthy, and I have at last, felt ready to get them published. This is what I mean, by 'backing into' things. Do what you wanna do, but allow yourself to go about it in reverse order.
IMPORTANT FACTS YOU SHOULD KNOW:
Attention Deficit Disorder is fairly easy to treat and manage, using a variety of interventions discussed in these pages. Plus, within areas of ability that inspire your interest and passion, symptoms can virtually disappear for long stretches of time.
What's crucial, is that you stop beating yourself up for having to grapple with certain impediments and obstacles associated with this issue! Living with untreated ADD, can be like trying to reach an island in a small boat that has a hole in the bottom. As you keep trying to row out to that island (your goal/aim), your boat keeps taking on water, and you must periodically stop and bail it out, so you can stay afloat, and begin rowing again! Maybe "next time" you'll be able to get to your destination before you start to sink, and maybe you won't. You must begin to accept that it's not your fault that you suffer from this condition, over which (if unassisted) you have very little control.
JUST THE FACTS, MAN
Most folks with mild to moderate levels of this disorder aren't diagnosable with standardized tests administered by a physician, which are expensive, incredibly tedious, painstakingly long and frequently, inconclusive! Still, these people suffer terribly from psychological and emotional scars incurred throughout a lifetime of trying to live with, and surmount this issue!
Tremendous feelings of shame, guilt and remorse over not living up to one’s “potential” (or the expectations of others) are constantly with ADD’ers. Since many people have never had this diagnosed, or even identified in their make-up, they go through life feeling like failures, and believing that if they "try just a little harder" they’ll be able to stay on target, and create the kind of Life that matches their daydreams. Sadly, if this condition remains undetected and untreated, that's seldom the case; this is a physiological issue--not a personality defect or character flaw!
Children can very easily acquire ADD around the age of 3 years old! While they've become fairly adept at walking, their little leg muscles and joints are not fully developed, so their ability to balance themselves is compromised. Climbing stairs isn't too dangerous, but descending them is!
Unfortunately, many parents think their toddler is able to independently perform this task, and leave him/her to negotiate it on their own. I've met with a considerable number of ADD'ers who've reported "falling down a flight of stairs around the age of three," and none of their siblings genetically suffer from this disorder.
It is a grave mistake to not maintain solid hold of your child's (or grandchild's) hand or arm while descending stairs! Walking down beside or just ahead of your child, is not an adequate preventive measure to keep him or her from tumbling down, and incurring significant brain trauma that can cause Attention Deficit or even, Bipolar Disorders! In short, just because your toddler isn't bleeding after a fall, it doesn't mean he/she hasn't been seriously injured.
ADD'ers can feel completely overwhelmed with personal setbacks; romantic, financial, familial, etc. Basically, any sort of event that 'startles' the brain can virtually blow their circuits, and trap 'em a state of emotional paralysis that can take weeks (or months) to overcome.
Along these same lines, inability to achieve desired results from efforts made during an up-cycle can be hugely disappointing, and inhibit forward movement for long stretches of time. It's important to note, that energy expenditure during a 'push' time can leave one feeling depleted, once a task or project is accomplished--meaning, gearing up for more productivity can be very difficult; it's literally the aftermath of an adrenaline rush.
Since ADD cycles are attended by fluctuations in energy and mood, self-esteem levels are often impacted as well. Depressive episodes of varying degrees are almost always part of this picture, and can further compound one's struggle. This is generally why actors (and other creative types) may lack the confidence, impetus and mind-set they need, to consistently self-promote! In essence, not seeing immediate results from efforts made during an inspired time is deflating, which derails them from trying again within a reasonable period.
Gum chewing can help us focus. For some reason, the very act of chewing interacts with the brain, and helps to calm and center us. I've heard of studies done with school-aged children, which suggested that cognitive function was improved by letting them chew gum.
It seems ADD/ADHD'ers may compulsively eat, partly due to this issue. Eating can help us 'change the channel,' break up our boredom or inertia, and improve our sense of well-being. The simple mechanics of chewing might engage a part of our brain that helps us override certain symptoms we're struggling with in the moment. If you're routinely having meals or snacks while working at your computer, try sugarless gum instead. What have you got to lose, besides a few extra pounds?
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Too much ‘alone time’ is tough on ADD'ers. They thrive on stimulation, but often lack the ability to produce it for themselves. Individuals with ADD or ADHD respond best to fairly disciplined/structured schedules, even though they really hate regimen!
Free time or time-off from work, can easily be frittered away or spent unproductively, and self-reproach is very common under these circumstances. While unstructured time can seem appealing to ADD'ers, an over-abundance of it can make 'em feel dissatisfied, overwhelmed or even, depressed.
For some, a sort of emotional autism (stemming from infancy) kicks in, to help them adapt to deficits in interaction, which may then convert to self-imposed hibernation. While these periods may be somewhat safe/comforting (and familiar), the flip side is, they can also feel imprisoning.
ADD'ers actually need to balance stimulation and contact with quiet/restorative time, but this can be very challenging. Due to the cyclical nature of this disorder, it's often difficult to make plans in advance or commit to future activities, because ADD'ers cannot predict how they'll be feeling, when an upcoming event actually arrives--which (naturally) influences vacation plans.
Getaways may have to be more spontaneous, arranged by a partner or spouse, and be organized or choreographed in a way that's highly stimulating, activity based and structured, particularly if there are ADHD issues present.
Nicotine is often the drug of choice for ADD/ADHD'ers. Smoking calms us and helps us focus, mostly because we're getting more oxygen and blood to our brain with every deep drag we take! ADD/ADHD'ers might have a hard time giving up cigarettes. Set aside a couple of minutes throughout your day, and focus only on breathing much more deeply and exhaling very gradually, to give your brain the oxygen it needs!!! After two minutes of this before you light up, if you're still craving that cigarette, have it.
Many ADD'ers can be "late bloomers," because the obstacles they've faced while living with this disorder (and presumptions that "everyone's like this, and it's normal") held them back from tangible achievements and successes earlier in life. What I often hear from people in their forties through sixties is, "I sure wish I'd gotten help with this much sooner--my life would have been so different!"
No news is always bad news! In the absence of a return phone call, an ADD'er typically scans his or her internal landscape (mentally replaying their behavior and/or dialogues), and hyper-focuses on all the possible reasons they're not hearing back from you! In short, they personalize your lack of responsiveness to them, and may suffer a great deal in the interim before you get around to making contact.
Folks with ADHD tend to have monologues, not dialogues. They'll ask you a question, and then presume to know your answer. In short, they're not the least interested in your reply, and you can't get a word in edgewise. They only like hearing themselves talk.
ADD/ADHD'ers can go off on tangents about anything under the sun, and you're left wondering why the heck you invited them over in the first place. Some of these folks are what I call, Verbal Exhibitionists. Verbal exhibitionism is typically driven by deep insecurity, and one's need to compensate for it by seeming important or smart.
A DIFFERENTIAL DIAGNOSIS~ IS IT ONLY ADD??
I hear from a lot of folks who've read this article, and want to blame their difficulties solely on ADD/ADHD. This neurological disorder can influence how you feel and act, but it seldom constitutes the entire diagnostic picture for all people who struggle with it. I've written this piece to help you determine if some of your issues are emotional, and should be factored into this mix as well.
COGITATION vs PROCRASTINATION:
There's an enormous distinction between cogitation ('kau-ji-tay-shun') and procrastination! To cogitate means you're giving consideration to how you want to go about executing a plan, project or goal. This could be something you've thought about off and on for years, but may feel more ready to tackle now. You're not wanting to just forge ahead and risk making some costly mistakes, so you might cogitate on it awhile, to minimize risk and maximize potential. I'm a huge cogitator. For instance; I may want to start writing an article I've been planning--but my subconscious mind needs time to think it through (or 'chew on it') beforehand. This helps me determine the best way to present the material, bring the pieces together in a clear/cogent manner, figure out a catchy title, and find time to put my accumulated data into an informative, cohesive format. A finished piece take could take months or even years, but I've come to trust that cogitation is an essential part of my creative process. Sometimes, we can kick-start our creativity--but it's very hard to manufacture on demand.
Procrastination is more about delaying an unpleasant task that makes us put it off, due to the emotional, mental or physical demands it puts on us. This could involve anything, from organizing your yearly receipts for your tax preparer, to approaching an uncomfortable but necessary conversation with an associate or close friend. Anything we feel a level of resistance or apprehension about, is probably going to fall within the procrastination zone--and this is when mock deadlines really come in handy!
HOW IS THIS DISORDER TREATED, AND WHAT CAN HELP?
*Diet; foods that are protein based (eggs, fish, fowl, meats, cheese, certain nuts and seeds) help maintain brain chemistry at levels that facilitate focus and encourage sustained mental activity. Stay away from SOY products, as these can impair cognitive ability, and exacerbate ADD/ADHD issues (for more about the dangers of soy consumption, contact Dr. Kaayla Daniel: www.wholesoystory.com). Caffeine is often helpful for jump-starting the brain and enhancing focus, but may be counter-productive for ADHD'ers, because it can rev them up too much. Sugary, starchy, high-carbohydrate foods (oatmeal and other breakfast cereals, potatoes, pasta, breads, rice, pastry, etc.) trigger a series of chemical changes in the brain that result in serotonin release. This chemical helps us feel calm and relaxed--but often drowsy or tired, which inhibits concentration and mental acuity. Might be better to save these types of foods for your evening meal or before bedtime. Magnesium supplements at night may be useful in decreasing symptoms.
*Exercise; rigorous workouts that are aerobic bring more blood and oxygen to brain tissue, enabling an enhanced sense of well-being and more feelings of “aliveness.” Running, vigorous walks, sustained weight training, etc., are all positive interventions that help ameliorate symptoms of this disorder. Try to breathe more deeply when you're driving, or just going about your day.
*Drugs; pharmaceutical intervention can be extremely effective in mitigating a lot of symptoms related to ADD/ADHD. In many instances, you can finally begin to reach goals and dreams that have eluded you thus far, because you’re able to harness the impetus or focus you need, to remain stimulated longenough to stick with a project or activity. The feelings you experience during an “up cycle” are available on a more consistent basis with the help of a stimulant. Occasionally it takes a few trials and a bit of time for you and your doctor to figure out which drug will work best for you, but a little patience can yield dramatic, life altering results!
Ritalin and other stimulant drugs start working almost immediately, and have a fairly short half-life (the time it takes to leave your system). This half-life depends on whether you're taking a time-released amphetamine or not. The standard version of a stimulant generally stays in your system for 4 - 6 hours, and is often available in various dosage strengths. As opposed to a daily dose of medication, you may take your stimulant discretionally, or during times you think you really need it! Having a non-time-release version of your stimulant on hand, can more easily facilitate discretional usage. As your physician comes to know you better and he/she is willing to work with you on this, you can take either depending on need. For some, this can be a more favorable option, as amphetamines rev up your brain and body, and (with extended usage) can seriously deplete your system of much needed rest or recovery time.
EXPLORING THE MEDICAL ROUTE . . .
While most of the pharmaceutical drugs used to treat this disorder are amphetamines (controlled substances), which require a special prescription--not all stimulant drugs are classified as amphetamines. If you discovered 'uppers' or "speed" while in college and this helped you maintain focus and study for exams, it could be that you were self-medicating an attention deficit issue! If you have a history of substance addiction or drug abuse, your doctor will avoid prescribing an amphetamine-based drug regimen to help alleviate your symptoms, but this should be addressed in your intake with him/her. Young children should not be prescribed amphetamines such as Ritalin, as it may stunt physical growth. A couple of alternatives to amphetamines such as Ritalin, Dexadrine, Concerta, Adderall, Cylert, etc., are Strattera and Wellbutrin. Wellbutrin is an antidepressant with stimulant properties, and physicians frequently prefer it over amphetamines, for initial drug trials. A good number of my clients have benefitted from WellbutrinXL, which is a recently developed, longer-acting version of this drug. Strattera might be a better option for ADHD'ers, as it's less likely to cause irritability and nervousness.
It seems that ADD has reached almost epidemic proportions in the U.S. and fortunately, new drugs are continually being formulated to effectively treat this disorder with few side effects. If you're on antidepressants in addition to stimulant therapy, read; ARE YOUR ANTIDEPRESSANTS WORKING FOR YOU, OR AGAINST YOU?
Often, just a small amount of an SSRI-type antidepressent can greatly improve our ability to focus. If there exists some anxiety or a tendency for obsessive-compulsive thinking, a micro-dose of Celexa, Lexapro or their generic, Citalipram might effectively reduce symptoms associated with ADD better than a stimulant drug can, by moving minor depression aside. I experienced this while trying to study for my state board exams many years ago. I'm not an obsessive thinker, but I felt depression over having to harness the focus I needed, to gear up for my first test. I took a small amount of Zoloft daily, and realized I didn't need Ritalin to help me stay on point for several hours each morning. You might say, I've been my own best Guinea pig all these years.
Everyone’s blood/brain chemistry is uniquely individual. The trick in effective medical intervention is finding the right formula that works optimally for you. This can be a daunting and frustrating process, but negative side-effects tend to show up pretty quickly (within a few days), and it’s important your doctor assesses a “typical” short term discomfort (as you're adjusting to your meds) from what should prompt a trial with another drug or drug type. Frequently, a change may be called for within a day or two, and should be implemented based on how (and what) you’re feeling. A psychiatrist can usually send you home with some (non-amphetamine) drug samples to try before filling your Rx, and this can save you a great deal of money. The more information you can give him/her about your experience with a current drug therapy, the more positive your outcome will be. If you feel your physician isn't responsive to your needs and concerns, find a doctor who is!
HERE'S AN EXTREMELY EXCITING DISCOVERY . . . !
I've been researching potential benefits of cranial adjustments in relation to ADD and Bipolar Disorders. Preliminary information strongly suggests that this specific mode of treatment can positively impact these neurological issues, particularly if onset of symptoms is associated with head trauma. Relatively few chiropractors specialize in this work, but if you think you'd benefit from seeing someone who does, you can find practitioners who do cranio-sacral work in your area, by going to The Upledger Institute's website; www.Upledger.com.
Along these same lines of more natural forms of treatment; Omega 3 (fish or flax) EPA/DHA oils may enhance focus and cognitive function, and lessen ADD symptomology. Some individuals have difficulty with these repeating(particularly the fish oil capsules) and understandably, neglect to take them consistently for this reason. Any deep sea or cold water (check the label) fish oil is especially well tolerated (as are the new 'odorless' varieties) and unlikely to repeat or leave an aftertaste. Other types can be taken just prior to eating, to eliminate most of this unpleasantness. Both types can usually be found at most retail health food establishments, or large drugstore chains (like CVS). If you can't find this type of product, ask your local vendor to order it for you! Two to three capsules with each meal may positively impact cognitive function and alleviate depression. These products should be refrigerated once you get them home.
Quite surprisingly, magnets have greatly enhanced my ability to focus for long stretches of time (how else could I get all these articles written?!), and they may also help you. I haven't the slightest idea of how they actually work, but my experiences with them have been pretty amazing. You can find magnetic jewelry on the Internet. Might be worth a try.
I don't want to neglect to mention homeopathy and bio-feedback. You may be inclined to explore whether these options can be effective for you, before trying pharmaceutical intervention or other forms of treatment. As is the case with any treatment modality, results can vary widely. Some feel that homeopathy and bio-feedback are more effective for children than adults, but (so far) I've not seen outcomes that have seemed conclusive enough to justify the significant time commitment or monetary costs of these approaches.
"WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF I DON'T GET HELP?"
ADD'ers are frequently misunderstood and misdiagnosed by therapists, as their symptoms can mimic other issues, such as Bipolar and/or Personality Disorders, Attachment Disorder, intimacy issues or non-compliance with treatment. Needless to say, lack of an accurate diagnosis can unnecessarily prolong therapeutic intervention! These issues may be part of your clinical picture, but should definitely be ruled out by someone qualified to identify, differentiate and diagnose ADD/ADHD. Unfortunately, few psychotherapists have learned to recognize and respond to this condition (it's not part of their schooling or training), because it's neurological (not psychological), but troubling and scarring to the psyche just the same. What will happen if you don't get help? NOTHING. And that's the problem!
New studies are suggesting there's a link between ADHD (seldom seen or diagnosed in females) and Borderline Personality Disorder. Attention deficit issues are attended by mood cycles, which can certainly heighten acting-out behaviors. This newfound awareness may help us more easily discern what type of pharmaceutical intervention can lead to favorable outcomes. While this does not imply that BPD problems are exclusively neuro-chemical rather than emotional, we may just begin to treat/manage the symptoms of this disorder differently and more effectively.
Typical repercussions from untreated ADD or ADHD are poor self-esteem, emotional and psychological scarring, addiction to various drugs/substances or compulsive behaviors (shopping, gambling, over-eating, etc.) in effort to self-medicate the “down times.” Relationships may be compromised, as the spouse/partner of an ADD'er usually carries the lion's share of responsibility for the couple's financial and emotional balance, as well as social planning and goal setting for the relationship! He or she must frequently manage more of the household and/or parenting tasks. All these elements can lead to feelings of anger and resentment, which prompt conflict in an otherwise compatible and harmonious coupling.
Being romantically involved with someone who has ADHD can be sexually and emotionally frustrating, as his/her attention span and internal rhythms are very different than yours. If you relish intimate contact that includes languid love-making sessions, meaningful conversations and long periods of 'hanging out' with your partner, you'll have difficulty getting these needs met with an ADHD'er. You may require time to replenish and recharge your batteries on the weekends and crave this in your romantic connection, but your partner needs to keep changing the channel with a variety of other activities, which can leave you feeling short-changed in the intimacy zone of your relationship.
Does your partner, friend or relative interrupt you mid-sentence? This can be infuriating, but it's pretty common with ADD/ADHD, and here's why: As you're telling your story, it triggers their memory of a similar experience or issue they'd like to share with you. Because it's difficult for them to retain a thought or idea before their channel changes, they've acquired subtle anxiety that makes them jump in and sweep you away on their tangent, the very moment you touch on something they're wanting to relate! They're not meaning to be rude, they're just attempting to connect with you. Help them become aware of how this makes you feel (frustrated, angry, etc.), and why you suspect it happens. A nearby notepad makes it possible for them write down a word or two in reference to what they want to relate to you, so they can return to it when you've finished speaking, and join you in conversation.
At the start of a new romance, ADD’ers are usually highly stimulated and motivated, but their sense of elation may quickly fade. This can impact their ability to follow-through with contact, or remain engaged long enough to allow a relationship to unfold. This tendency is dramatically influenced by unpredictable and ungovernable mood fluctuations, making ADD'ers feel like they can't always bring their "best self" to the relationship. Naturally, this invokes and reinforces familiar, long-held feelings of shame.
In response to this shame, they 'hide out' for awhile, hoping to recapture their original enthusiasm. The longer they have to wait for this impetus to return, the more embarrassing and difficult it is for them to resume their previous connection. This issue can be exacerbated by the fact that ADD'ers typically 'scan the horizon' for disaster, in order to feel more control over their existence. This causes them to mentally fast-forward into the future to try and mitigate anxiety about unknown or potentially threatening elements that might lie ahead.
Within this fast-forwarding process, the entire relationship may be envisioned to its conclusion--and the concern this invokes, compounds their need to distance. In essence, they can easily talk themselves out of an involvement, before they've even begun! The potential (new) lover senses a shift in their connection, because there's a visceral departure from what he/she experienced in the beginning. This triggers feelings of confusion and loss, which can be very painful. This issue is often attended by Borderline Personality traits, which could also be an important part of the seducer's diagnostic picture.
ARE DRUG THERAPY, EXERCISE AND DIET ENOUGH?
Not usually. It's especially helpful to engage the services of a counselor or therapist who's experienced in treating this disorder, so you're supported in learning healthier, more productive coping mechanisms and organizing strategies, in addition to medical intervention you mght receive. Typically, there are levels of shame and inferiority you've had to live with most of your life, in relation to how attention deficit issues have influenced your learning capacity and behaviors. Gaining insight into how profoundly this issue has held you back and impacted your self-image and relationships, is crucial to developing a more empowered, self-confident lifestyle.
In extreme cases, you might be incapable of holding down any kind of job, but this is somewhat rare, and may be related to dual or mixed diagnoses which can include mood disorders. This must be explored within your initial psychiatric evaluation, because bipolar issues, dysthymia and ADD/ADHD can easily co-exist. Varying degrees of ADD and atypical forms of Bipolar Disorder are frequently overlooked, which means that an accurate diagnosis of your symptoms may be missed in a 'psych-eval' (psychiatric evaluaton). Once various medical and clinical concerns are ruled out and your ADD has been identified/diagnosed, specialized support can help you perform well in arenas that hold special interest for you, and correspond with your innate talents.Effective therapeutic assistance helps you discover your passions, and gain a sense of accomplishment, satisfaction and joy!
"WHY DIDN'T I KNOW ABOUT THIS SOONER?!"
Unless you were a hyperactive kid who had a lot of difficulty in school, ADD wasn't suspected, recognized or attended to. In recent years, ADD and ADHD have steadily received more focus than ever before within scholastic and medical communities. Unbelievably, there are 'doctors' (and I'm using the term loosely) who still think this disorder only affects children, and that we “outgrow it” in adulthood! If you’re missing the hyperactivity component in ADHD, your doctor or psychotherapist can easily overlook this diagnosis. This can curtail your progress and extend your talk therapy--which means that a lot of your money could be going down the drain.
If you have a child with ADD, it's crucial that you introduce him/her to topics or activities he/she might enjoy or find interesting and stimulating. Each child has his own unique talents and genius! One of your most important tasks as a parent, is finding out what these are, and gently encouraging expression and expansion in these arenas. Your nurturing, patient support combined with a greater understanding of the obstacles your child wrestles with, will make a substantial difference in Who he becomes as an adult, and how he feels about himself throughout the remainder of his life! Learning about ADD will help you develop more compassion for your child or partner, and assist him/her in getting the help they need to move forward. If you’re an adult who's personally resonating with what you’ve read here, it can be highly beneficial to explore treatment options, so you can begin creating a richer, more rewarding life, and actually achieve your dreams!
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You'll find more information about ADD in FORUM LETTERS, Volume II (scroll to the bottom of that page). A tutorial will soon be available to help you surmount these issues. If you have more questions on this issue or your group/organization would like me to speak on this topic, contact me.
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