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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Writing with ADHD

Some of you may be aware that I have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  This is something I have lived with my entire life, and it has had some major impacts on me and the way I work and think.

I will not go into detail about the potential causes of ADHD, the claim some people make that it is not real, or the medication I used to go on.  But perhaps I should give a brief rundown of what it is like and what I have had to go through.

When we were very young, my brother and I (yes, he is also ADHD.  Twins.) would wrestle together while the TV was on, only stopping long enough to watch the commercial break.  We were put on medication which we hated and which tasted awful.  It made me feel... strange.  Despondent.  Shy.  We always had trouble making friends for a variety of reasons, and this certainly didn't help.  We moved when I was 6. Then we changed schools between 1st and 2nd grade, when we moved again.  We were homeschooled in 3rd grade.  We stayed at one school for 5th and 6th grades, then were enrolled in a private Catholic school.  Because neither of us were raised Catholic, we were often seen as outsiders and it was hard to get to know people.  Thankfully, we were at this school from 6th grade through 12th, giving us the first real opportunity to make friends.  The friends we did make were odd and nerdy, like us.  We called ourselves "The Outcasts."  There were 5 of us.

Throughout school, we were medicated, twice a day.  When the medication wore off, we found it difficult or impossible to stay still, to focus, to do homework.  When it was working, we found it difficult to open up to others, to really be ourselves.  And we were naive.  It tended to wear off at the end of school, so that we would often make fools of ourselves and not really care because we simply had too much energy and too few inhibitions.

Inhibitions.  One of the hallmarks of a true ADHD kid is that they have great difficulty controlling impulses.  Procrastination is chief among them.  This is not to say we would ever become a hoodlum, but it would make it harder to control one's own emotions.  As one doctor told me, we all are born with filters.  These filters let in only the pertinent bits of information, leaving everything else out.  They let out only the things we should do or say, keeping the other things in.  Someone with ADHD does not have these filters and must learn how to handle life without them.  If I am trying to watch a movie, I get distracted by what the people in the row over from me are doing.  Although I know I shouldn't, sometimes I spend money on something we do not need simply because I wanted it at that moment.

Yes, I am still living with ADHD.  It still makes impulses hard to control and makes it difficult to pay attention to things sometimes.  But being ADHD is not only like you are filterless.  Sometimes I have amazing filters.  If I truly get absorbed into something, my mind really does filter everything else out. I have gone without eating, lost complete track of time, and even been unaware that someone else walked into the room with me because I was focusing on something.  But in order for this to happen, I generally move.  Most people say that I vibrate.  My leg wobbles, sometimes a lot.  I chew my tongue.  I fidget in my chair.  And I am completely unaware that I am doing any of it.  The more I focus, the more I tend to move.  It is rare that I am not moving.  Perhaps this is the secret of ADHD weight-loss.


When I graduated high school, I stopped taking medication.  I went to college.  I began to open up.  I somehow became extroverted (most of the time) and had a ton of friends.  I had a girlfriend for the first time.  Sadly, she cheated on me and I was devastated, but I got over it.  Then, I had a big test and wanted to really focus for it, so I began to take my medication again.  The result was not good.
I was no longer a naive kid, but had gathered real life experiences.  And when I took that pill, I realized very quickly that the feeling I had always felt when I was medicated was depression.  A deep depression.  It was stronger than before, because now my mind could focus on how I was cheated on.  I had been living most of my life in a depression.
Needless to say, I stopped taking the pills.  I experimented with others for a while, but they all had negative side effects (such as losing 15 pounds of muscle in a week).  So I decided I needed to learn how to LIVE with my ADHD instead of fighting against it.  I've been learning ever since.

I've learned that sometimes I really do need to simply vibrate.  I've learned that at times I need absolute silence, but most of the time I need noise in order to concentrate.  When I write, I often put on music, anything from heavy metal to classical, progressive rock to electronica.  The only music I never put on is something catchy (sorry They Might Be Giants).  The only way I can explain this is that the music acts as my filter - it takes up those parts of my mind that are apt to wander and keeps them focused on something that does not distract the rest of me.
Sometimes, I need to go to a public place to work.  I tend to prefer restaurants - not ones that are too busy or with live music or interesting stuff on the TV.  I used to go to a coffee and ice cream shop.  Now I go to a sports bar that is pretty quiet on Tuesdays (and sports hold no interest for me).  I am hoping that I will be able to change my venue in the coming days when a new restaurant opens in the area.  However, other times I need to be at home.  Perhaps it is my capricious nature, or perhaps I simply need a change of scenery from time to time.
When I am researching, it becomes hard to keep the research on topic.  When I am going about my "dailies" (the websites I frequent on a daily basis), I tend to put things off (like responding to an email, paying the bills, etc).  And sometimes I need to be reminded that it is time to leave or to get lunch ready.  I am not just a writer with ADHD, I'm a stay-at-home father with ADHD, too.

Living with ADHD has other consequences.  No matter how much people tell me they love my writing, I always get nervous when someone else reads it.  I always think my writing sucks.  I have a hard time filtering out my own inner critic.  It is something I need to learn to deal with.  I do not know if this is related to being ADHD (or if it is simply the nature of adulthood), but I have always felt like a child, albeit a child with arthritis.  I do not think I look or act like an adult, and sometimes I wonder how other adults do it.  That being said, I find it easy to understand what kids are going through, to empathize with them and play with them.  I still have many vivid memories of my childhood, dating back to when I was 2 or 3, so I remember what it was like as a toddler to get a reward or be yelled at or play a game with other kids.  I remember the first time someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up (and in typical ADHD fashion, I wanted to be everything).  I remember writing a poem in kindergarten called "The Windbow" and being devastated when it somehow did not win first prize in a contest, despite it being from a 5-year-older.  So, in some ways I am blessed, and I have embraced this connection to my inner child.  It is part of what defines me.

I do not know what it is like for other people with ADHD (well, perhaps my brother).  I have met many, and have heard many stories that are the same, and many that are different.  But this is what it is like for me.  I am ADHD and I will not let that get in the way of my hopes and dreams.  I will instead learn to work with it.

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