Saturday, December 24, 2011

I'm On to You, Claus. . .

So, tomorrow's the big night - you ready?  Well, you should be, you lucky bastard!  You've had all year to get ready!  Heh, heh. . . If you don't mind me saying so, that's a pretty sweet gig you got there; how'd you manage to land a job where you only have to work one night a year? 

I don't mean to minimize.  I know it's a big job; and it's not really "just one night a year" what will all that you must have to do ahead of time.  Supervising all those annoying elves, taking orders, managing your inventory, coaching the reindeer games - making sure the team's in good shape for the big game.  I get it, it's a lot of work.

But, c'mon, Santa, (Is it okay that I call you "Santa"?) you have to admit, it's not exactly a real job.  At least not to those of us who have to work for a living pretty much every day. 

Don't get me wrong.  I love what you do, really.  I could never do it myself.  It takes special people to do special things, and. . .well. . .to say that what you do is "special" doesn't even begin to do it justice.  You're huge!  A real rock star!

So, if you don't mind my asking, how much do they pay you?  Nah, never mind.  It's none o' my beeswax. 

Tell me somethin' though, how did you get into your line of work?  Oh. . . I see . . .you sorta just fell into it?  I can appreciate that.  Trust me.  I know.  It's tough to find a career that fits when you're someone who's. . .well. . .a little hard to fit.  Oh, no, no. . .that wasn't a "fat" joke.  Not at all.  I mean, look at me.  I don't have much room to talk.  But I've always got room for cheesecake! Ha! Ba-dum-ccchhh. . . . Sorry, I crack myself up sometimes.

Well, anywhooo. . .like I was saying, I know how tough it is finding work that works for you when you work. . .oh. . .a little. . .I don't know. . .differently.  What do mean I by that?

Well, for one thing, the way you dress.  You've obviously got your own style, and I'm not saying it doesn't completely work for you.  It's awesome; you're your own guy.  But, for example, you could never wear furry red velvet pants and a matching hat with a puffy ball at the end of it at my office.  I suppose you might be able to pull it off on Casual Day.  But it would be a stretch. 

And like I was saying, a lot of people have to work all the time.  I mean really work.  Seems like you get to take it pretty easy doin' whatever, and then BAM! You have all this energy all of a sudden and you go nuts!  Flying around the whole freakin' world in one night taking toys to like a couple billion kids.  And you don't even bother to use doors because you're so busy racing around, and stuffing cookies and milk in your face!  Wow. . .talk about hyperact. . .!  What?  Oh, nothing. . .I didn't say anything. 

Just seems like you've got an unusual amount of energy once in awhile for someone who . . .I don't know. . .what is it again that you do from December 26 through December 23?  What's that?  You don't pay much attention to dates?  Oh, true, someone does have to test out the video games before the kiddos get them.  I guess that's another thing that would make it pretty tough for you work in my world.  The Man is all about the schedule.  I'll bet your not paying attention much to dates goes over really well with Mrs. Claus on her birthday!  Haha! 

They make calendars that are pretty good, if you're interested.  I'll bet your phone might even have one.  Huh?  Oh. . .naw, I haven't seen your phone.  Sorry.  When was the last time you remember having it?  I'll let you know if I come across it, though. 

So, hey, you should probably hit the sack.  Big day tomorrow.  Oh. . .not tired?  Me neither.  I should have figured you for a night owl.  Most people would probably choose to deliver toys all over the world during first shift.  But, no. . .not you, I guess.  Yeah, I like to stay up late, too.  I guess we have some things in common, you and me.  I like to work at night.  But sometimes I just play dumb games on the Internet.  Other times, I just talk to myself. . .and pretend I'm having meaningful conversation with mythical characters. 

Oh, no. . .I didn't mean you.  Did I say you?  No, I did not.  I didn't say YOU were mythical.  Methinks "somebody" might be getting just a tad oversensitive.  I'd never say that about you.  I was talking about someone else.  You wouldn't know him. 

So. . um . . . not to change the subject, but do you really know whether everyone's been naughty or nice?  Seriously?  That's a pretty crazy talent you've got there.  How do you do that?  It's like you'd have to be paying attention to everybody all at once. . .all the time!  Seriously? You do? And no one ever taught you how to do that? Your brain just picks up on it, whether you want it to or not. That's pretty hilarious.  Your school teachers must have "loved" you! Heh!

Okay, quick! Close your eyes!  What color is the shirt I'm wearing?  Ha ha! Nope, it's green.  No, seriously, it's green.  You can look now.  How did you not know that?  I'm standing right in front of you.  Yeah, okay. . .I guess you've got your mind on other things.  What?  Oh, my god!  I WAS totally naughty that day!  But that was like 35 years ago!  Man, that is just creepy.  How do you even know that, much less remember it 35 years later?  But I'm standing right in front of you, and you have no idea my shirt is green. 

And they actually gave you a license to fly a reindeer-driven magic sleigh, did they?  Well, I'll be sure to stay out of the clouds tomorrow night.  No offense.  Oh, I'm just kidding around with you.  Lighten up.  You're awesome at what you do.  Like I said, I could never do it.  I have all the respect in the world for you.

But now really.  HOW do you manage to pull it off.  Even if it's only one night of actual work (no offense).  That's a pretty intense night. 

Aaaahhhh!  The List!  I forgot about the List.  And you check it not once, but twice!  Right. I remember.  Five times?  Ha!  You really check it five times?  That's hilarious!  I check mine at least that many too. . . But why lie about - why not tell people you check it five times?  Oh. . .it doesn't fit the rhyme scheme of the song.  Sure, I get that.  Naw, don't worry about it.  I won't tell anyone.  Your secret's safe with me. 

Wow, I'm starting to feel a little tired now finally.  We really ought to wrap this up so you can get some rest and get ready to share all those gifts of yours with the world.  The world needs them.

Yeah, thanks,  it was nice talking to you also. 

Backatcha, Santa--you have yourself a happy Christmas, too.  And a good night.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

This is Not Your Typical Holiday Greeting

My cat is a metabolic marvel.  My sweet kitty is nearly 13 years old.  Still playful and young at heart, the old gal is skinnier than she used to be.  She enjoys a healthy appetite, and her domesticated life pretty much revolves around Her Bowl, centered atop a rubber mat that proudly declares "Cats Rule!"  But she doesn't eat excessively.  I feed her no more than recommended for her petite frame, as indicated on the cans and bags.  And this is why I'm amazed by her metabolism.  I simply can't believe how much this cat poops. 

My cat is, in fact, named after her poop.  It wasn't intentional; it just worked out that way.  My precious feline companion was my first real pet.  She was a gift from my husband for my birthday in the first year of our marriage.  When we brought the little kitty home, I had no idea what to call her.  I had a friend who was a Wiccan priestess, and I remembered her telling me once that pets should name themselves.  So I decided that I would let the kitty name herself.  I didn't exactly how or when that would happen; but I figured that since she was the only cat in the house, there should be no basis for identity confusion, and therefore no reason to rush on calling her anything other than "Kitty."

Kitty spent the first 3 days in her new home under my bed.  She was terrified.  I was able to coax her out for short periods of time with one of those feather-on-a-stick toys.  But as soon as she tired of trying to catch the feather, she'd head back under the bed and remain there for hours.  I was worried about her.  Her Bowl was full of food, but she wouldn't touch it.  I had set up for her a brand new litter box, filled with delightfully scented fresh litter.  But she didn't go near it.  As far as I could tell, for the first several days after she moved in, she didn't go at all. 

Like a nervous young mother of a newborn, I became mildly obsessed with her litterbox.  I'd check it hourly to see if she'd used it.  And hour after hour, nothing.  I worried that she had a blockage.  That she was constipated.  That her tummy hurt.  That she would injure herself mortally in a passive-aggressive, anal-retentive act of rebellion over having been adopted by this couple of losers whom she clearly despised. 

My husband assured me that she was just fine - just needing some time to get used to her surroundings.  And of course, as he usually is about things like this, he was right.  By around Day Four, Kitty emerged from her Under-Bed sanctuary, and started exploring our apartment, which included sampling the fare in Her Bowl.  I continued to check her box for deposits, and for another day or so, I continued to walk away disappointed.

Finally, one morning, I checked her box, and to my joy, I discovered one tiny little poop ball.  As I scooped it out, Kitty stood by and watched me.  I wanted to encourage her good excretory behavior, so I praised her enthusiastically, saying in an annoying baby-talkie voice, "What a good little girl you are, Kitty!  You finally left Mama a little nugget!"  Meow.  "Yes! My sweet girl finally dropped us a little nugget!"  Meow, meow.  "You're talking to me!  You must be happy too!  I'll bet your tummy feels better now!  Eat some more so you can give us another nugget."  Meow. 

I was finally starting to relax and have fun with my new kitty friend.  As I prattled on excitedly about her poop nugget, Kitty rubbed her head on me, and meowed.  ". . .nugget."  Meow.  "nugget?"  Meow, meow.  "Oh, I get it!  Nugget!  Your name is Nugget!"  Meow, meow, meowww. . .

And that is how Miss Nugget P. Nuggbert, a.k.a. "Nuggie" came to name herself after feces.  And from that day forward, Nuggie was the productive little metabolizer that she continues to be today. 

In her senior years, Nuggie has become rather curmudgeonly, with lots of opinions, including critical opinions regarding the state of her litter box.  So to prevent her from taking it upon herself to find more appealing facilities among the stored items in the basement, I scoop Nuggie's box multiple times a day, whenever I can.  There is always poop to scoop.

Today, I had an Inattentive Poster Girl morning, the likes of which I had not experienced for months.  It started when my alarm when off, and I didn't know where I was.  Then, I couldn't figure out how to turn off my alarm - the same alarm that blares at me every single morning just before I turn it off.  Somehow I managed to get my kids ready for the school bus in time.  But moments after they left, I wondered why the house was so quiet, and I looked around for my little boy.  Oh, riiiight.  He just got on the school bus. 

It was at that point that I decided to head to the basement for the morning ritual of scooping out the litter boxes, which were no doubt needing some attention by now. (As a good operations manager, I've recently brought in a second box to handle heavy production demands).  I walked down the steps carefully so as not to fall, as I was still feeling a bit out of sorts.  Once at the bottom of the steps, I grabbed a plastic poop bag, glanced around, and . . .

...Ooooh, christmas lights!!

I grabbed the lights from on top of the box sitting next to the steps, and turned to head back upstairs.  As I climbed the steps, I considered options for where I could hang them.  I still had to get my shower in before work, so I was going to have to move quickly on these lights.  For some weird reason, I had a plastic bag in my hand, so I dropped that to free my hands for light hanging, which I would do just as soon as I took a few big gulps of coffee. 

"Look what I found!  Where should I hang them?"  I asked my husband.  "Wherever you want," he replied agreeably.  "You can put them up over here, or up there, or up there across the cabinets."

Like a woman possessed by a low-budget Martha Stewart, I grabbed a kitchen chair and dragged it over to the cupboards so I could stand on it and festoon the cabinets with the long string of pretty twinkly lights.  I couldn't quite reach, even standing on the chair. (FYI, IPG is super short; not as short as Snookie - but short.)  I struggled to reach the top of the cupboards and drape the lights up there.  As soon as I managed to land the lights on the end of the row of cupboards and try to start draping them across, the lights would fall down.  And then I would try again. . .and again, failing to achieve my goal each time.  I saw no reason to. . .oh, I don't know. . .try a different method.  This one was perfect.  I just needed to try. . .ugh. . .ugh. . harder. . .one. . .more. . .time.  Shit. 

With every failed attempt, I became more and more determined.  These lights HAD to go up.  Now.  Before my shower.  Before I could go to work.  I wanted my house to be pretty and festive and illuminated.  I wanted my children to come home from school and experience a joyous surprise of beautiful lights.  I just wanted. . .nope, needed. . .these lights to happen.

In my house, we refer to this sort of thing as my "buffoonery."  I was Lucy and Ethel all rolled into one.  Any casual observer could have pointed out that there was no way in hell those lights were getting up there like that unless I suddenly acquired the wingspan of a California Condor.  Luckily, Inattentive Poster Girl is smart, and she would figure this out. . .eventually.

"Honey! Come help me put these lights up here!" I called to my husband.  He walked into the kitchen chuckling.  He mumbled something about "buffoonery."  I don't know what he was talking about.  In any event, my White Knight - much taller, handier, and more coordinated than me - graciously took the tangled lights from my sweaty tense hands, and like a competent foreman, took over the job, instructing me on my part.  As he reached up and placed the lights, my husband commented, "You know, this really isn't the time to be doing this."  Low-Budget-Martha-Bot turned to him slowly, and replied in monotone, "This is exactly the time to be doing this."

Thanks to my adept husband of normal height, the job was completed within a minute or two after that.  I stood back to admire the lights.  I smiled and started breathing again, inhaling deeply.  Along with much needed oxygen, composure began to flow through me once again. 

It was then that I realized what had just happened.  Inattentive Poster Girl, joined by her identical twin, Hyperactive Poster Girl, and their mutual best friends, Hyperfocusing Chick and Impulsive Lady, just had a raucous party in my head.  A raucous decorating party, to be exact.  And now. . . poof. . .it was over. 

"Jeez," I said, looking at the clock.  "I have to get ready to go to work.  I'm late."  I explained to my husband that I was having a super duper IPG morning.  Now reading news on the Internet, my hubby replied without looking up, "No kidding.  You'd better take your pill."

"Yeah, yeah, I know," I chuckled as I started to head for the upstairs to get ready.  What should I wear?  Oh, I know!  I'll wear. . .

. . . POOOOP!!
The poop!  I forgot all about the poop!  I hurried down to the basement to scoop poop.  Whew!  I'm not too late - the poop is still there. Not only was the poop still there, patiently waiting to be scooped, but my little girl was standing by, waiting for me to get out of the way so she could replace what I just removed.  Good girl.  As my dad used to say, "Everyone needs to have a profession."

By the time I made it into my car to drive to work, I was grinning from ear to ear.  What started off as a horrible morning turned out to be a happy one.  My home became a little brighter; I enjoyed a few laughs, some companionship, and a little sense of accomplishment; and I knew that my joy would pass to my children - even if only for a brief moment - when they saw the beautiful new lights.  I felt refreshed and hopeful, ready to take on the day.

As I drove down the highway, I tried to make sense of my morning.  While I pondered, a verse from the Gospel of Matthew came to mind:  So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. (Mathew 6:34).  I love this passage.  It's one of the few I know and invoke often because it is so relevant to the human experience, in all its facets.

Like now, it kinda reminds me of poop.  As distasteful and unpleasant as it can be, poop is an inevitable byproduct of life.  There's not much point in getting all twisted up about poop. You can scoop and scoop like crazy; but tomorrow will bring its own poop anyway.  And if you have a cat like Nugget, tomorrow is always just a couple of hours away. 

So, why knock yourself out?  Drop the plastic baggie for a little while and put up some Christmas lights.

And, as I continued down the Interstate toward my office, I was further reminded of Advent, the days of waiting and anticipation before Christmas that began a few days ago.  (I'm reminded of lots of random stuff while I drive.) 

In case you haven't noticed, I love a metaphor.  I decided that my morning buffoonery would be my personal metaphor for what the season of Advent is about - focusing our hearts and minds on the Light to come.  Setting aside the darkness of tedium and fear to make room for joy and hope.  To prepare a Manger in which Love is born. 

To all of you, I wish you an abundance of Light this season and always.  I hope your worries and poop will be small and managable.  I hope the Spirit moves you to hang your lights, kindle your menorahs, and share your light with others.  Most of all, I wish you. . .

Peace and Blessings

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Part I: I'm One Juggling Clown You Don't Want at Your Kid's Birthday Party

I remember one afternoon when my family and I were all cluttered in the kitchen, the boys playing at the table, and my husband and I were standing near the sink, chatting.  While we chatted, I was washing dishes, making lunch, putting away groceries, and balancing the checkbook.  As I moved from counter to fridge to sink to other counter to stove to fridge to pantry and back to sink, my husband stared at me with a perplexed look on his face.

"Why don't you finish making lunch before trying to wash the dishes?" he asked me.  "And you're getting the checkbook all wet."  I grinned at him and responded coyly, "I'm multi-tasking!"  "Well, don't do that," Hubby retorted, "You suck at it."

I dismissed him with a chuckle.  I suck at it?  How can you even say that?.  I'm the queen of the multi-task, I thought.  Watch me buzz around, getting stuff done!  Not just some stuff, but ALL the stuff!  All at the same time!  I'm the model of efficiency!  I'm the future of human evolution!  Jealous much??

But as I glanced around the kitchen, I realized that all my bravado was one for my fat "Who You Tryin' to Fool" file.  In reality, I was standing in the middle of a disaster.  I wasn't buzzing around the room so much as I was bumbling.  There were dishes spread out all over the counter, interspersed with cans and boxes - I had no idea which plates were clean and which were dirty.  The checkbook was indeed wet and smeary.  And I noticed the baby sneaking past me, back and forth from the pantry to the table, carrying boxes of crackers, handfuls of chips, cookies, and Sour Patch Kids.  It was taking me so long to fix a simple lunch that the little one had clearly given up all hope of ever being fed, so he smartly took matters into his own hands.  Meanwhile, the older boy sat at the laptop computer whining something about "Mom doesn't even care that we are starving to death!"

In those days, I thought of myself as an expert multi-tasker at the office as well.  One of my specialties was reading and responding to e-mail while I was listening to and writing down my voice mail messages.  I especially dislike both of these tasks, so doing them at the same time--doubling my productivity while cutting my misery in half--made the most logical sense to me.

Only here's the problem with my brilliant logic surrounding this issue:  With my unmedicated ADHD, attending to one conversation often requires Herculean effort on my part.  For me to actually comprehend a person speaking to me through voice mail while I am simultaneously writing e-mail to an entirely different person on an entirely different topic is actually not possible.  It may not be possible for anyone regardless of the state of their executive functioning.  But I, in particular, should have been forbidden by law to even attempt it.  And yet, that's how I handled my messages and morning e-mail for a long time.  This, I now realize, was not actually multi-tasking.  It was buffoonery.

So why did I approach my work this way--both at home and at the office?  Well, I'm busy, for one.  I've got a lot of stuff to do, and not enough time to do it all.  And then there's the ADHD.  One of the primary ways my ADHD manifests is with serious difficulty sticking with one task or activity too long; and by "too long" I could mean two minutes, depending on how much I dislike the task.  I've always felt the urge to rush through things I had to do.  I defined "accomplishment" as getting it over with.   And so my brand of "multi-tasking" seemed to serve the purposes of getting lots of things over with without having to spend much time on anything.  The moment I got antsy or bored, I moved on to something else, and then something else, and then something else. . .

Of course, the downfalls of this approach are obvious: 

  • Working this way, I actually got very little done.  I didn't finish things; I quit them. 
  • What I did complete, I often completed poorly. 
  • It was inefficient.  It actually took much longer to complete tasks than it would have had I just been able to focus on them in the moment. 
  • It was horribly stressful. 
  • It negatively affected other people.  It caused my kitchen to be a disaster area in which my husband couldn't find a spot to set down his soda can, and in which my son slowly starved to death. . .that is until he and his brother found the Slim Jims. 
(Hyperactive Talker Alert!  This post is gigantic. . .please read on in Part II. . .if you're still awake.)

Part II: I'm One Juggling Clown You Don't Want at Your Kid's Birthday Party

So where was I. . .Right. . .Medication has helped me with this.  My focus and attention-span are improved, while my impulse to bounce around like a pinball is better controlled.  As a result, these days I can stick with a task longer than before.  However, I am not "cured," and I still prefer to switch tasks relatively often.

But it's different now, for one very significant reason:  I am able to attend to a task and slow myself down long enough to assess the situation and plan for it.  I now make a point of examining the job ahead of me and establish an action plan.  It's not necessarily a plan for a whole week-long or even day-long project.  It might be a plan for the next hour, or even the next ten minutes.  However long a time period we're talking about, the point is for me to be intentional about what I'm doing.

A critical aspect of being intentional is planning my activity around logical starting and stopping points in a task.  In other words, I may not complete an entire task from beginning to end; but rather than simply drifting off to something else at the first moment I become antsy or bored, I make a concerted effort to carry the task through to a meaningful stopping point.

I have seen this approach to work sometimes referred to as "mini-tasking."  Instead of doing (or trying to do) several things at once, "mini-tasking" involves performing discrete actions, with actual start and end points, through to completion.  Typically, the "mini-task" is actually a defined chunk of a larger task.

For example, in the office, I now apply the practice of "mini-tasking" to answering my voice mails and responding to e-mail.  I used to look at "Listening to My Voice Mails" as one long continuous awful task.  I treated it as an all-or-nothing job.  But now, I'll plan ahead, decide whether to do it all at once, or break up the messages - a couple per hour, for example.  Taking care of the messages a little at a time is much easier for me.  But the key is that I actually have to take care of each one, from start to finish.

Finding the logical end to a mini-task isn't necessarily as obvious as one might think.  At least not to me, and many others who can relate to my story.  For the truly efficient and skilled multi-tasker, what I'm saying here might be a no brainer.  But for a lot of us with attention-deficit issues, being intentional in moving through our work is often one of the greatest challenges we face.  Hyperactivity and impulsivity influence our priorities.  They also influence our perception of time, which directly impacts how long it takes us to do things and how long we can focus on things.  Innattention affects how thoroughly we can manage a task, and even if we can manage it at all.

On the other hand, ADD/ADHDers are individuals just like everyone else.  We vary in our work styles and preferences.  Like all people, I'm very good at some things, and not so good at others.  I enjoy some tasks, while I dread others.  Our preferences influence our work styles.

So, despite my best efforts, I haven't hit upon any single prescription for becoming efficient and productive.  Sorry to have made you read so many words before breaking that bad news.  We all have to figure out--often by trial and error--what works best for us.  Ultimately, I believe it comes down to really thinking about the jobs we have to do.  The good news here for most of us ADD/ADHDers is that we won't have a problem with that.  In fact, a lot of us mistake thinking about work for the actual work itself!  We're often known as people who like to think things to death.   So I suggest we should embrace that gift, and use it to our advantage by following some general steps that I have been trying (not always successfully!) to employ myself:

  • Whether at home or at work, I try to abandon the notion that I can get it "all" done.  No matter what, whether we are students, or working moms, or stay-at-home moms, or volunteers, or hobbyists, there aren't enough hours in the day to do it all.  When I accept that, I am more likely to set realistic expectations for myself, which in turn allows me to be more relaxed about what lies ahead. 
  • I try to make prioritizing a priority.  Rather than just diving in aimlessly to whatever job is right in front of me (as there are always so many to choose from), I'm making more of an effort to slow down and consider what's most important in the moment.   "Most important" might be based on deadlines, time sensitivity, or urgency. 
  • I've recognized that state of mind is an important consideration in the analysis.  Sometimes ADHD interferes with my ability to assess what my personal needs are.  Am I tired? Hungry? Restless? Bored? Motivated? Annoyed?  All of the above? It is important to pause and figure that out because my state of mind at a given time may be quite counterproductive for a particular kind of work.  On the flip side, I might be in the perfect mood to do something now that I might have avoided at a different time.  Being in tune with ourselves helps us to make choices that enhance our productivity. 
  • Once I've decided upon the task or tasks to undertake, again, rather than diving in headfirst, I find it good to have a plan.  Even if the task has only three short steps that should require only a total of ten minutes, consciously reminding myself of those steps at the outset improves my efficiency and accuracy.  
  • Planning allows me to define the logical stopping points in a job in the event that I choose to "mini-task" it, or if I'm interrupted. 
  • A tool that is extremely helpful for defining the logical break points in a task is the checklist.  I've recently started relying on detailed checklists at work and home.  Creating and following checklists requires its own level of attention.  But when I can do this effectively, the checklist is a godsend. 
  • If I am interrupted mid task, I make a concerted effort to not drop what I'm doing without thought.  Obviously, if the house is on fire, I would abandon in mid sentence the e-mail I'm drafting.  But unless I have to run for my life. . .or catch a plane, whatever the interruption, it can wait until I can at least finish my thought and take note of where I left off. 
  • I'm learning to calmly and coolly say the words, "Hold on a moment, I'll be right with you," and "Let me finish what I'm doing, and I'll give you a call in an hour."  These, I'm discovering, are magic words when the trick is task management. 
  • Lastly, I like to keep a list of what I've accomplished in a day.  As someone working hard to emerge from the synaptic storm of ADHD, nothing feels quite as good as being able to check completed items off of a to-do list.  Each time I can do it, it gives me strength and confidence that I can keep going.  That I will keep going.

And that is what I must do now.  I'll consider this a logical stopping point and move on to other pressing matters of the day.  If you're an ADD/ADHDer who has also struggled with time and task management, and you'd like to share some tips that have worked well for you, please leave a comment - I'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Now, where the heck did I put that reminder?? A book review. . .

Among my personal mental files, perhaps the fattest folder in the bunch is the "Tell Me Something I Don't Know" file.  I file it under "D" for "Duh!"  In this file is decades worth of advice from well-meaning individuals--friends and family, as well as authors whom I know only through the pages of their self-help books--who have tried to help me manage my life over the years.  It's filled with gems including, but not limited to:

  • Keep a calendar
  • Make a list
  • Wear a watch
  • Write it down
  • Just remember
  • Don't forget
  • Get organized
  • Put it back in its proper place
  • Concentrate
  • Just do X, Y, or Z. . .it's easy!
Hmmm. . .yeah, okay.  Without your expert counsel and mentoring, I 'never' would have thought of any of those things.

Yep, Kind Reader, I feel your head nodding knowingly.  If you have ADD/ADHD, you have a file like this too, chock full of recommendations to help you with your day-to-day struggles. 

Only, the trouble is that you were diagnosed with ADD/ADHD - you were not diagnosed with being clinically stupid or uninformed. 

Chances are pretty good that you've heard about the fancy new high-tech device known as "The Shopping List."  You appreciate that it's an extremely helpful tool. . .when you remember to take it with you to the store.  You would love, Love, LOVE, to put things back where they belong.  You just don't know where they belong.  Do they belong in this pile on the counter or that one on top of the washing machine?  You probably have at least seven calandars and day planners in your home. You'd never be late for an appointment in your life. . .if only you could remember to write the appointment down in the day planner. . .which you would do. . .if you could find it.  Perhaps it's on top of the washing machine. 

After I was first diagnosed with ADHD, I was chatting with my therapist, Dr. R., about what I might be looking for in the way of a therapeutic treatment plan going forward.  He suggested a class in organizational skills.  I laughed.  "I could teach a class on organizational skills.  I know all about the priniciples of organization and time management.  I just can't do it."  Dr. R. responsed with a sympathetic chuckle--he's heard this before, no doubt. 

If I had to guess, I'd say that a huge percentage of the royalties that any organizational guru earns from how-to books is generated by sales to folks with ADD/ADHD.  After all, it's our intense frustration with our inability to implement these seemingly simple skills that sends us into the doctor's office in search of a diagnosis, in the first place.

In the first few days after starting medication, I was more determined than ever to organize the chaos of my life.  And now that I was medicated, I had a newfound confidence that I could do it.  So, guess what I did!  I went to the library and checked out about 15 books on how to organize.  They had titles like (now, I'm making these up, but you'll get the idea): The ABCs of Alphabetizing Your Life, Clean Your Disgusting House!, 1,562.3 Simple Organizing Techniques for Simpletons, and Smart Organization for Messy Morons.

At home, I sat down with my books, and leafed through them for all of about six minutes.  Tiny font, yuck.  One of the books had so many numbers and charts and graphs on its 600 pages that I could have mistaken it for my college calculus textbook.  These aren't going to help me, I quickly assessed.  I took them all back to the library.  Three days overdue, of course.

But I hadn't given up my quest just yet.  One day I sat at my laptop and thought wistfully, I wonder if there's a book out there for me - an ADHD-friendly book on how to organize my life.  So I Googled it.  Just then, the sky parted--in that proverbial way that the sky parts whenever something awesome happens--and the angels burst into a rousing and funky chorus of "Celebration," as Google returned the search result for the Holy Grail of organizational books for the ADHDer:  ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life, by Judith Kolberg and Kathleen Nadeau. 

The title pretty much says it all.  It's a book on organization written especially for people with ADD/ADHD.  What makes this book unique is that it doesn't focus on techniques.  It focuses on the particular challenges that people with ADD/ADHD face that make it difficult (and sometimes impossible) to implement or sustain traditional organizational and time-management strategies.  This book is not a detailed "cookbook" that requires the reader to follow prescribed steps or systems.  Rather, Kolberg and Nadeau concentrate on the trouble spots common to people with ADD/ADHD that interfere with our abilities to implement rigid systems.  They offer explanations for our struggles, and offer wonderful suggestions for organizing that involve working with instead of fighting against our tendencies.  They provide examples of strategies that have worked for people they've helped.  They encourage us to devise strategies that feed our craving for fun and stimulation in our work.  And they outline the various ways we can garner support for our efforts from ourselves, friends and family, and if needed, professionals.

Even the format of the book is, as they say, ADD-friendly.  Its exceptionally organized content is displayed in a readable font, with logical bold section headings.  Each chapter is clearly summarized with memorable bullet points.  There's plenty of white space on the pages to encourage even the dreamiest of daydreamers to stick with it through just one more chapter. 

What I enjoy most about this book is that it gives me ideas for developing my own stragegies, which I'm working on little by little, slowly but surely. 

My doctor, Dr. K., told me that, in her extensive experience, she's noticed that after beginning treatment, her clients with ADD/ADHD tend to spend a year or so developing an infrastructure for their lives, where they had chaos before.  That's where I am right now - at the very front end of it.  Chaos continues to breathe menacingly down my neck, but I see organized calm on the journey ahead of me.  I plan to use ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life as one map to help guide me there.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sir, I Like the Way You Think!

On October 5, 2011, the world lost Steve Jobs, the legendary CEO of Apple, Inc.  Mr. Jobs was a visionary and innovator of exceptional creativity and energy.  His inventions, which include the iPad, the iPod, iTunes,and many others, quite literally changed the world in terms of how we work, play, and communicate.

Admittedly, I'm generally 5-7 years behind the rest of the world in terms of jumping on the gadget bandwagon, so I couldn't even fake being an aficionado if I wanted to.  But I do love my iPod Shuffle and my iTunes, and whenever I go to an electronics store, I ogle the iPad on display most covetously.  I recognize very cool stuff when I see it.

What's been very interesting to me since Mr. Jobs's untimely loss is the information coming out about him as a person.  Clearly he was admired and revered as a professional and a creator.  His career is well documented.  His personal life, on the other hand, seems much more mysterious, apparently by his own intent.  Because human beings are a curious breed, there is already a lot of conversation floating around about Steve Jobs the Man, and I suspect we'll be learning a lot about him over the coming years in articles, books, and movies.  And some of the information we will be presented with might even be true!

I'm looking forward to it.  I'm intrigued by Steve Jobs.  Some might call me "nosy."  I prefer to think of myself as a student of the human experience.  Whatever you call it, I'm fascinated by the mundane lives of extremely interesting people; and conversely, I'm fascinated by the extremely interesting lives of mundane people.  Yep, nosy kind of sums it up.  In any event, from the very little bit of information I've come across about Steve Jobs, it sounds as if his personal life might have been kind of. . . well . . .quirky.

Which leads me to wonder whether or not Mr. Jobs might have had a touch of the ADHD.  He was an extraordinary, creative, highly energetic, unconventional thinker with perhaps some "quirks."  ADHDers out there, does any of that sound a little bit familiar?  I'm not the only one asking that question.  I know, because I Googled it. 

I suppose it's possible that Steve Jobs had ADHD.  A lot of things the world knows about him could point to that conclusion.  I'd be more convinced that was an ADHDer if we also knew that he couldn't balance a checkbook for anything, or remember to buy his wife a birthday card until at least three days after her birthday, or if he used to accidentally leave his iPhone in the fridge when grabbing a cold one after a long day at the inventors' table.  But we don't know those things, and it's really none of our business.  It doesn't matter. 

But it's still interesting to think about.  And although I would never be so delusional as to think that I could ever have successfully matched wits with Steve Jobs's shoe laces, much less than with the brilliant man himself, I think the example of this life is a good one to keep in mind for those of us who struggle with the challenges of ADHD:  Great and wondrous things can emerge from an unconventional and unconstrained mind.  If you have ADD/ADHD, you're off to an awesome start! 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Let's Be Friends!

Just a quick post to let you know that I've started a Facebook page entitled, shockingly, "Diary of an Inattentive Poster Girl."  If you're a Facebooker, you can like IPG's page by clicking the link on the right side of this page, click on the link in this post, or search for it on Facebook itself.

It's a fledgling page - just a little content so far, and a few awesome fans.  You can see DIPG's blog posts there, plus my status updates that are just too quick, short, or random to warrant a blog post (or I just haven't had enough time yet to weave all the many, many words into it!). 

I'd love for the FB page to become an interactive forum for whatever interests us:  to share ADHD tips, quips, and blips.  (Hey, that rhymes!  The ability to engage in spontaneous rhyming is another thing I love about having ADHD!)  So if you're on Facebook, become a fan/friend, post, and share.  I'd love to hear from you!

Monday, September 26, 2011

IPG's Top 10 Things I Love about Having ADHD

First, I'd like to give a "shout out" to the wonderful women on the Women with ADHD online community. (Do people still do "shout outs"? As young as I feel, I'm reminded daily by my tweener that I'm woefully unhip.)  If you're a women with ADD/ADHD, or you think you might be one, please check out this supportive community of wise women who can relate and have great advice!

Recently, I've seen a few posts on that forum that either directly or indirectly challenge the definition of ADHD as a "disorder."  There are some writers and experts on the subject who flat-out reject the disorder concept, arguing instead that "ADHD" reflects a brain that simply works differently, but no less effectively, than what mainstream science would consider a "normal" brain.  Others suggest that the excessive stimulation of modern life is really the culprit.  That is, we are not disordered, but rather, modern life is overloading perfectly normal people, pushing us abnormally beyond what nature intended for us.

Personally, I'm apt to accept the mainstream definition of ADHD as a genetic, neurobiologically-based condition.  As someone who has ADHD, who is raising an ADHD child, and who was herself the child of an ADHD parent, I wouldn't argue that I'm hunky dorey just the way I am, at least medically speaking.  (Although before I actually knew what was going on with me, I did, in fact, argue vehemently, and sometimes angrily, that there wasn't a damned thing wrong with me.  But that is a blog post for another day.)  I would, however, argue that the condition is misunderstood by many; and that a lot of the stereotypes and value judgments commonly associated with it can be unfair or patently wrong.

The other thing that I would argue against is that the "symptoms" of ADHD are all bad.  The truth is, that despite having struggled with some self-esteem issues, a number of the things that I like about myself absolutely the most are diagnostic criteria for ADHD, or at least manifestations thereof.  In fact, as I was planning treatment with my doctors, I worried that medication might "cure" me of characteristics that I actually enjoy and value about myself (and presumably that my loved ones like about me also).

Well, I'm happy to report that the medication doesn't work quite that well.  I'm still my looney self.  Medication has helped with the issues that troubled me the most--inattention, hyperactivity that rose to an uncomfortable level, impulsivity, and poor focus.  But, as Dr. K. assured me would be the case, it hasn't "changed" my brain fundamentally.  The way I think and process information remains intact.  I think I just do it better.

So, in the remainder of this post, I shall celebrate my joys of ADHD.  While I am grateful for effective treatment, if I could turn back time to 1960-something and be born again without the condition, I don't know that I would.  And here are my top 10 reasons why, (with 10 being my most favorite, since I couldn't figure out how to edit the html to give me a reverse-ordered list):

  1. ADHD is good for the environment.  I do not unnecessarily fill the landfills with all kinds of garbage paper because I have so much trouble deciding to throw documents away.  Instead, I collect them for a really, really long time.  At the office, I recently cleaned my desk after more than two years of growing my paper piles.  I felt so guilty about all the paper that I had collected, that I took it all to the workroom, cut the sheets down into little squares, and then stapled them into little notepads that I now use as scratch paper and for phone messages.
  2. I am self-confident enough about my appearance, usually.  It makes me sad how often I see beautiful, fashionable women fret about their appearance.  They see all their tiny "flaws," and think the world sees them too.  They stress about the one hair that won't lay the right way, or about their tummy not being perfectly flat.  On the other hand, I'm generally happy when I'm showered and dressed.  Since I'm not likely to even notice that I slopped spaghetti sauce all over myself at lunch, I'm even less likely to take note of whether my red lipstick is a little too "blue," or a little too "yellow."  
  3. I can afford to be a little messy.  I often have a much easier time making sense of things when they are in a chaotic state than when they are well-organized.  If you come up to me at the office and ask me to produce a document on the spur of the moment, I am far more likely to be able to produce it for you immediately if I have sheets and piles strewn all about my desk than if everything is neatly put away in alphabetized files.  Weird, you say?  Yeah, I know.  What can I say - it's a disorder.
  4. I enjoy job security.  I had a boss a number of years ago who was quite up front about his belief that if you have time to clean your desk, you're not working hard enough.  He regarded a neat organized desk as a sign of a poor work ethic.  Was he a projecting slob?  Most definitely!  But using his logic, I should never have to worry about anyone thinking I'm not working hard enough.  In fact, it might just be time to ask for a raise!
  5. I enjoy a bird's-eye view.  A friend of mine recently aptly noted on Facebook, that ADHD doesn't disable people from attending; rather, ADHD causes people to attend to too much.  I agree, essentially.  My attention is spread far and wide, and thus often too thin.  For me, this means I have trouble focusing on fine details; however, when it comes to seeing an overall process and recognizing the interconnectedness of things, I do quite well.  So, for example, I struggled tremendously in my job as an editor.  I couldn't focus well enough on the complex small details of the text I had to work with.  Eventually, however, I became the manager of my division where I get the opportunity to look at the big picture of our operations and our business, and make decisions regarding those things.  And I do that pretty well, if I do say so myself. 
  6. Minimum page requirements are no problem.  One of the characteristics of ADHD is often "verbal hyperactivity."  In lay terms, we are a peoples who talk too much.  "Too much," is a matter of subjective opinion, of course.  Personally, I think I just have a lot to say.  On the other hand, I fully understand that many an insomniac could be cured by simply chatting with me about the weather.  Don't ask me how anyone could possibly get bored only 90 minutes into an empassioned discourse on cumulonimbus cloud formations, but I guess it's not everyone's cup of tea.  In any event, this "symptom" comes in very handy when you are taking a graduate seminar for which you have to write a 40-page paper, from start to finish, by. . .tomorrow morning.  I got an "A," by the way. 
  7. I don't have to spend a lot of money on movies.  Like a lot of people with ADHD, I'm a perseverator.  But it's not all about worrying and fretting.  My mind runs stories--I relive the events of the day; I switch them up in different ways, depending on my mood; I make up events and conversations, funny ones, scary ones, angry ones. . . .  In short, my mind runs colorful scenarios that--because I created them myself--I often find very entertaining.   But it isn't only about "mindful entertainment" (Ha!  See what I did there??), often I'm working.  I "write," calculate, and problem-solve a lot in my head.  I might look like I'm spacing out, but trust me - I'm takin' care of business.  So, two thumbs up to curling up with a big bowl of popcorn and staring off into space for an hour or two!
  8. I'm rarely bored.  I hear a lot of folks complain about Boredom, with a capital "B."  I can't really relate.  I've certainly been bored at times; but for me, boredom is generally extremely temporary.  With all that goes on both inside and outside my head to engage and distract me, I'm pretty stimulated, be it positively or negatively, most of the time.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that I always have fun.  Often what stands between me and being bored is quite stressful.  There are times when I'd welcome a little ennui, if for no other reason than I'd probably get a decent night's sleep for a change.  But, for the most part, I'd rather be over- than understimulated; and so for this reason I enjoy being distractable, shall we say.  As my 9th grade algebra teacher said to me, "It really doesn't take much to amuse you, does it."  I guess not.
  9. I am never without a conversation companion.  One of the main reasons I'm rarely bored is that, no matter where I am, I always have someone to talk to.  Yep, myself.  With the "verbal hyperactivity" sometimes comes "self-talk," as a manifestation.  I'm a self-talker.  Sometimes I  chat out loud; usually, I'm blabbing to myself silently.  The reasons for all the self-talk vary.  Sometimes I'm trying to work through a problem, and problem-solving out loud helps.  At other times, it's just fun.  Then there are other times when I wish that I would just shut the hell up so that I could hear myself think.  But generally speaking, I enjoy the witty banter.
  10. I get jokes and laugh a lot.  There is a theory about humor that says that we find something funny when we perceive and conceptually resolve an incongruity.  It follows, therefore, that to have a good sense of humor and to enjoy humor, one must be able to recognize the interconnectedness of not-obviously-related things.  With a mind that can be all over the place at any given point in time, I connect things, related or not, and see ridiculousness everywhere.  And let me tell you, life--with its infinite incongruities--is hilarious!
So, what do you love about you??  Drop a comment, if you'd like to celebrate with me!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I'll Help You Find Your Keys. . .As Soon as I Find My Car

Just a quick post to let you know that I've added a new "page" to this blog, "IPG's ADHD Tips and Strategies."  If I've done it correctly, you should be able to click to my Tips and Strategies via a cute little tab just above.  If I haven't done it correctly, don't be mad at me.  After all, I studied the liberal arts, and according to my delightful dad "never learned how to do anything."  He wasn't wrong.  But I'm a smart girl, so I think I've got the tab thing worked out.

My plan here is to share with you practical information on coping with ADHD/ADD, such as organizational strategies and life-management tips that I discover work well for me. Each day, I learn a little more about how to navigate the world, armed with newfound knowledge about my condition and a bottle of Adderall. If I come up with something good, I'll pass it on!

As you may have noticed, there really isn't anything on this "page" right now. Truthfully, I'm actually not all that organized yet. But I am an optimist, and I'm working on it. So, if you're working on it too, we'll be working together, and I'll let you know what I learn as we go!

So check back often, or better yet, follow me!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Getting Caught With Your Pants Down, and Other ADHD Fashion "Don'ts"

A few days ago, my son was talking with me and my husband about bullying.  "Mom, were you ever bullied in school?" my boy asked.  "Well, I can remember one girl who used to pick on me sometimes, but I wouldn't say I was 'bullied' really."  Then my husband chimed in with, "Your mom was the bully."  He was joking, of course, but with his dead-pan affect, sometimes it's hard to tell, especially for our 10-year-old son.  So now I had to convince Josh that I was not, in fact, a bully.  "I was a nice kid; I never bullied anyone."  I assured my son.

And that was essentially true.  But this conversation got me thinking about my childhood, trying to remember if there were any times that I was particularly mean to anyone.  Honestly, I couldn't remember any such times.  Sure, I gossipped and sometimes made comments to my friends about other kids.  But I never had any desire to intentionally hurt anyone.  I could think of only one occasion when I directly caused a classmate some embarrassment, but it wasn't mean-spirited, for whatever that was worth.

It was in the fourth grade.  My class was preparing to go to gym.  The protocol was that we all lined up and walked to the restrooms and went into the gender-appropriate one to change into our gym clothes.  Once we were done changing, we lined up in the hall again, and walked single-file to the gym.  On this particular occasion, I had finished changing and was standing in line with a small group of other kids, waiting for the rest of the kids to finish changing.  I happened to be facing the boys' restroom door when one of my classmates, Stevie, walked out of the restroom and headed toward our line.

I was the only one who noticed that Stevie had apparently taken his pants off, but forgot to put his shorts on.  He was walking toward the line with his shorts in his hands, wearing a t-shirt and little-boy briefs. 

All I meant to do was to alert him to his situation, as he was clearly unaware.  I meant to be helpful.  But, of course, I had a bit of an impulse problem - plus, I was only 9 - so instead of discretely whispering to him that he had forgotten something, I abruptly pointed at him and loudly announced, "Oh, my god! You're not wearing any pants!" Stevie looked down, looked up, and made a funny "Mr. Bill" face that I will never forget.  Then he did an about-face and ran back into the restroom.

Of course, the kids all laughed.  Luckily, Stevie was a very good sport about the situation, and didn't seem too upset.  We were friends then, and continued to be friends.  But I know he was embarrassed, and I felt bad about it.  Over the years, I ribbed him a few times about that incident.  Several decades later, I sincerely hope that the damage I had done was minimal.

As I look back on that day now, the saying "There but for the grace of God go I" comes to mind.  Given my attention and organizational problems, and downright scatterbrainedness, it's nothing short of a miracle that I have never shown up to class or at the office pantsless.

On the other hand, I've gone many an entire workday with my shirt inside out.  I've given folks a couple of eye-fulls thanks to a few blouse buttons that I didn't know were undone.  I've given presentations while wearing awful blue polyester high-waters coupled with scuffed brown loafers.  And then there were the food stains.  More times than I care to remember, I'd come home from work, and discover that there was some large obvious stain on the front of my shirt, presumably from something I dropped at lunch without ever noticing. 

In short, I've been a mess.  Not always, but often enough to brutally shatter my dreams of ever winning the trophy in the category of "Best Dressed."

Like any girl - now woman - I've always wanted to be pretty.  If it would have been possible to have someone wave a magic wand over me and transform me into a well-put-together graceful fashionista, I would have welcomed that.  But alas, no fairy godmother has ever shown up to dress me for the ball.  And for whatever reason, the details of my personal appearance have often escaped me.  It wasn't that I didn't care so much, it's just that my ability to attend and focus has always been limited, and my brain has generally chosen to extend those resources outward. 

Low self-esteem probably played a role in that.  Generally speaking, I've always found it more important to take care of others before I take care of myself.  If we were both on a plane and the cabin pressure suddenly dropped, you would want me sitting next to you.  But I'm not altruistic.  It's true that I care deeply for my friends and family, but I think the bigger issue was that I have always been overwhelmed by all the things that require my attention; and somewhere along the line - probably a long, long time ago, for reasons I will soon begin exploring with Dr. R. - I decided that I was less deserving of attention than others, especially when attention was in short supply, like in my own brain.

As a busy working mom with limited financial resources, I've been able to rationalize my inattention to appearance quite nicely.  I'm too busy.  I don't have money to waste on "foolishness" (like clothes from this century).  I'm not - I repeat - NOT "superficial" like other people ("other people," as in people who don't go to work looking like hobos).  Yep, I've worked it out quite satisfactorily in my own mind.

My husband is probably the ONLY man in the world who has to order his wife to go out and buy clothes.  It drives him crazy.  I'd never enjoyed browsing the way so many women do.  If I were to ever commit a violent crime and the judge wanted to throw the book at me and make me really pay for what I've done, she would sentence me to a week-long museum bus tour.  Walking around just looking at stuff has always been torture for me.

I recognize now that my disinterest in shopping, and the like, was entirely ADHD-related.  Browsing and shopping in a clothes store involve attention to detail, focus, self-regulation, and decision making.  And if you happen to be a hyperactive sort who races through life, you don't really have time for such nonsense, when you know you have to get back to the important business of mindless staring and fidgeting.

Happily, as with many of my ADHD-related quirks, medication seems to be helping.  Without really meaning to, I find myself taking  more time getting dressed, making sure that everything that is supposed to be fastened is.  I'm noticing more when clothing items have spots on them, or when they should be loaded aboard a time machine and swiftly sent back to 1987.  I recently went through my closet and either threw out or gave away about 70% of my clothes, making my closet much neater, and reducing the hideousness of my wardrobe by at least 47%. 

But the absolute best part is that I've noticed that I'm starting to actually enjoy the simple pleasure of looking at beautiful things.  Sitting at home with my hubby, browsing for discounted designer clothes on the Internet is actually quite nice.  I'm noticing that I have tastes and subtle preferences.  I pick up on small details that influence whether or not I would consider something pretty.  I'm more willing to take a risk and choose a clothing item that is unconventional, at least for me, just because it's fun!  I'm starting to pay a little attention to myself; yet the world, surprisingly enough, isn't collapsing around me because of it.

So as I reflect upon young Stevie in his little tidy whities, and whether or not I scarred him for life, I am once again full of gratitude.  I am thankful for my husband - a man with curiously good taste and an eye for detail - for not being a tight wad and for making me buy things for myself.  I am thankful for good friends for ever-so-gently pointing out to me the piece of lettuce caught in my hair, the toilet paper stuck to my shoe, and the eyelash-that's-not-actually-an-eyelash on my cheek. 

And I am eternally grateful that I have never experienced the humiliation of having someone in a boardroom stand up, point at me, and shout, "Oh my god!  Your skirt is shoved into the back of your panty hose!"  Thanks to the fine people at DuraMed Pharmaceuticals, the makers of Adderall XR, I hope I never will.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

My Prayer

I sat in church today, on this tenth anniversary of "9/11," listening to profound words of love and peace through prayer and song.  Our church's music director sang a gorgeous haunting piece entitled "Salaam Aleikum," Arabic for "Peace Be With You."  Our pastor invited us to take a moment of silence to consider what "9/11" means to each one of us personally.

I didn't really know, frankly, what it meant to me.  Like much of the rest of our country, I watched it happen.  I remember well the sunny Tuesday morning on which I folded laundry in my living room, cooing at my little baby, watching a morning news program.  I remember the show cutting away from its scheduled programming to go live to the World Trade Center just after the first tower had been hit, when no one yet knew exactly what was happening.  I remember watching in horror - live - when the second tower was hit.  Later that morning at work, huddled with a group of cowokers around a tiny TV set, I watched the tower collapse. 

Like much of the rest of the country, I was horrified, sad, angry, and scared.  But I did not lose any loved ones.  The events of that day happened far away from me, literally and figuratively.  I was moved by the tragedy, but I also moved on, not having been personally affected as so many were. 

So when my pastor implored us to be silent and to ponder this anniversary's meaning to us, I quietly said a prayer for God to grant world peace and healing, much like I would do any Sunday.

This afternoon, I visited an online community for women with ADD/ADHD of which I recently became a member.  A few days ago, I met a woman, also new to the community, and we exchanged a couple of messages - one in which I shared with her a link to this blog.  Today, I received a message from her in which she expressed to me how much it helped her to read my posts.  She told me she cried.  Her words were heartfelt, and I was touched deeply by her thanks, although I felt undeserving of her gratitude.  I didn't do anything.  All I did was invite her to read my story.  Some might call that self-centered of me; but she didn't seem to feel that way, and for that, I am so grateful. 

I didn't do anything special.  All I did was share some information in which another human being a thousand miles away, someone I've never met before, found some commonality - some communion.  I am humbled by this beyond words.  Being verbally hyperactive, I can count on one hand the number of times in my life when I have been rendered speechless, and this was one of them.

I've been thinking about my exchange with this woman, and it has me thinking about how truly profound it is to discover, in this immense world, commonality - even in the most mundane of ways, especially when we feel alone and different and misunderstood. 

I think back to my days of studying cultural anthropology in college and graduate school.  I remember that one of the things that interested and fascinated me most in my studies of people and cultures around the world and through history was that - although we like to focus on the differences among people - in fact as individual human beings, we are all more alike than we are different.  The CEO of a Wall Street corporation feels pain, love, loneliness, jealousy, frustration, boredom, and amusement, just as a hunter living in the Kalahari Desert.

From the catastrophic social and political tragedies of our world, all the way down to our partisan, family, and office sqabbles, our conflicts spawn from our inability and unwillingness to accept and live according to this essential truth.  For whatever reason, it's much easier and more gratifying for us to seek and find the differences among us than it is our commonality.  In saying this, I'm not judging or holier-than-thou.  I'm every bit as guilty of it as the next guy.

Finding commonality calls us to a much higher standard of behavior.  It calls us to set aside our egos and "love our neighbor as ourselves."  It is what is absolutely required of us if we are to ever live in a world with no more "9/11s," Holocausts, wars, discrimination, and exploitation.  Finding communion with each other in our differences is what is required for world peace, that thing I rotely prayed for.  But it is not God's to impose peace upon the world.  It is ours to create.  And I suppose, this is what 9/11 means to me.

So I want to amend my prayer from this morning. 

Heavenly Creator, please open my eyes, ears, mind, and heart to see in each of Your children with whom I cross paths how we are the same, so I may have compassion, empathy, and understanding in our differences.  Help me to remember that we are all created in One image, no matter what name we call You by, or even if we don't call You at all.  Help me remember that each person I encounter - regardless of our origins, beliefs, station, and life circumstances - is more like me than he or she is different from me, so that I might come even a little closer to achieving Your commandment that I love my neighbor as myself.  Help me do my tiny part to usher in the peace that is Your will for the world.  Amen.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

I Hope the Feds Never Catch Up with Me

I confess - I've been running a covert money-laundering operation in my basement for years. 

I've laundered many, many dollar bills, the occasional five spot, and a bunch of loose change.  I laundered a check once, and my debit card a few times.

. . .Then there were the Chapsticks, a handful of cigarrette lighters, several packs of gum, and countless important receipts.  Yep, it's true.  For years, if there was something that I absent-mindedly jammed into my pocket, it probably got laundered. 

Luckily, I never laundered lipstick.  Red schmears all over my husband's white gym socks would have been tough to explain away.  My cover would have been completely blown.

Despite my best efforts to operate clandestinely, my tendency to throw currency and financial records into the machine with my delicates is one of those dirty little ADHD secrets that apparently wasn't much of a secret to The All-Knowing-All-Seeing Eyes-In-The-Back-Of-Her-Head One.  Yes, my mother.

The other day, my 81-year-old mom was visiting me and the kids.  My mom has never used a computer in her life.  Whenever anyone points her to something available on the Internet, my mother - in her best English-As-A-Second-Language - defiantly announces, like a recovering cocaine addict, that she is "NOT on lines."  So when my mom wanted some information about one of her credit accounts, I - like the good daughter that I am - dutifully offered to look it up for her.  All I would need is her credit card.  The look of horror that came across her face was unmistakable.  "You need the card?" she asked.  "Yep, just give me the card so I can get the number off of it."

My mom thought for a moment, then slowly produced the credit card from her purse.  She handed it to me languidly, not taking her eyes off of the card during the transfer.  She looked sad - as though she believed she might never see that piece of plastic again.

I took the card from her and cheerfully turned to the computer.  However, as always happens when I try to do. . .anything, my kids started screaming at me.  The little one needed chocolate milk, a new Spongebob episode, and a left sock with no holes in it. . .all at the same time.  Meanwhile, the 10-year-old had launched into a loud soapbox rant about how mean I am because we won't buy him an iPhone.  My mother, never one to turn down an opportunity to argue passionately with small children, joined the ruckus, contending vehemently on my behalf, that I am "not mean."

As mayhem erupted, it became clear that I would not be able to go online right then to look anything up.  I would not have known how to Google my own name in that chaos.  I would have to do this later.  But I had this credit card that I didn't want to lose track of.  So I  - you guessed it - shoved it into my pants pocket.

In the midst of the melee between the elderly and the prepubescent, I was startled when my mother let out a blood-curdling shriek.  "Noooooooo!!!" 

You would have thought that I was just about to toss a baby out of a window.  Annoyed, I responded, "What, no!" 

"Don't put dat een your pocket!" Mom cried.  "You'll vaaawwsh it!!!"

I'll vaaawwsh it?  No, I won't!  Why do you think that?  That's ridiculous?  Who would do that?! How do you know?  Who told you??  I need names!

"Mom, mom," I chuckled condescendingly.  "Mom, I'm not going to wash it.  I know that it's in my pocket; I'm just putting it here so that I won't lose it until I can get back to business."  Then I laughed, "Y'know, if you folks weren't always yelling and ordering me around, I might actually be able to hear myself think for a minute and keep track of what I'm doing."

And there it is.  I may as well have announced, "I thought I had ADHD, but as it turns out, YOU PEOPLE ARE JUST ANNOYING!!!"

Mom laughed and agreed.  "Okay, okay.  I trust you." 

The truth is, I do have ADHD.  And my mom was right to be concerned.  But it's also true that my mom and my kids - as lovable as they are - are horribly annoying and stressful; and when we are in a group, my brain's CEO hangs out the "Gone Fishin'" sign, and I am often reduced to being a discombobulated idiot. 

Which highlights something very, very important.  I need time to think.  I've never made it a priority to demand time and space to think about what I need and what others need from me.  While I've idled away hundreds - maybe thousands - of hours over many years anxiously perseverating, that is not the same thing as constructive thought.  The kind of thought that allows you to actually remember you have a credit card in your pocket before you throw the whole mess in the wash.  That's one of the pitfalls of ADHD - it's hard to decelerate, turn down the head noise, and just think. 

But that is what I did after I calmed my mother down.  In an unusual move, I grabbed a notebook and escaped my noisy children and went out to the garage.  I stood there for 5 minutes or so, thinking about what I had to do.  I took some notes and jotted down a short shopping list.  I breathed deeply.  Then I returned to the livingroom (which had now become a boxing ring).  I got on the computer and looked up the information my mom needed, and proudly handed back her card.  And then we laughed.

As I recalled these events later in the day, I wondered why it was that my mom was so worried that I would wash her card, of all things.  After all, there are so many ways to lose a credit card.  I know from experience.  I don't think Mom has ever seen me launder non-clothing items.  We've never talked about it. 

And then it hit me.  I was a chatty, annoying, demanding kid.  My dad was a chatty, annoying, demanding husband.  When we were around, my 40-something-year-old mom was running around in seventeen different directions at once.  And I'm guessing, she was running her own money-laundering operation. 

She was trying to save me from myself.  I'm grateful.  I just wish she'd be quieter about it. 

My mom probably doesn't launder money any more, now that she's 81 and my dad is gone, and her kids are grown.  She's got plenty of time and space to think about what's in her pockets, and anything else she might want to think about.  So, I suppose if she wants to follow me around and help me remember to check my pockets, I'll let her; and I'll be grateful for the blessing of having my mom still in my life, and for her still having the clarity of mind to help me not wash her credit card.  Maybe when I'm 81, I'll be able to return the favor for my little inattentive/hyperactive Josh.

Meanwhile, I'll make it a point to take time out for some contemplation and hide in the garage once in awhile.  The feds will never find me there.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

If My Brain Worked on Wall Street, It Would Be a Billionaire

I don't know if you've noticed, but I've got ADHD on the brain these days.  Finding out that I have ADHD of the brain has sparked in me a serious interest in learning what it's all about.  So at the risk of boring all my friends to death, I've been doing a lot of thinking, and reading, and talking about it.  This interest is, in part, what inspired me to start this blog. 

Sometimes I feel a little self conscious about my blog.  I'm not an ego maniac.  To the contrary, people with ADHD often report low-self-esteem issues, and I've certainly battled a few of those myself.  I definitely  don't want to be seen as someone so self-absorbed and indulgent that she believes that there is anything particularly exciting about detailed stories about how messy my desk is at work. 

Yet I continue to ponder, and feel inspired to share messy-desk stories.  I will be the very first to admit that my disasterous, dysfunctional, hell-hole of a desk isn't fascinating.  It's as mundane as all the other messy desks in the world.  What fascinates me is the discovery that the messiness of my desk is the result of a process that is far more intricate and complex than just me simply being lazy or negligent.

In my reading, I've been coming across the term "executive function," quite a bit.  Researchers of ADHD/ADD talk about how the condition impairs "executive function."  My psychiatrist talked about this, also, explaining that my medication will stimulate my "executive functioning," whatever that is.  These same researchers explain executive function in scientific terms too advanced for my pay grade, as they say. 

But what I lack in professional psychiatric training, I make up for in my ability [compulsive urge] to extrapolate, so I think I get it.  The job of a CEO (chief executive officer), for example, is not really to "do" anything specific, but to make sure that others do what they are supposed to do.  Likewise the president of the United States is the chief executive of our country.  We'll hear people discussing politics complain about how a president doesn't  do anything.  Whether or not that's true is a matter of opinion, but as a matter of function, the president's primary job is, in short, to support and oversee others doing things.

Executive function in the brain, is, as far as I can interpret, essentially the same thing.  Executive function in the brain refers to the cognitive processes that regulate and support other cognitive functions that affect actions and decision making.  Executive functioning regulates how the brain applies past experience to a present situation, involving processes such as prioritizing, self-regulation, and various types of memory, for example.

A good example for illustrating this concept is the task of taking and passing an academic test.  In order to do well on a test, it is necessary for a student to know the correct answers to the questions.  But knowing the subject matter is not enough to ace the test. 

In order to pass a test, a student must be able to sustain her attention throughout the test.  She must be able to monitor the time available for the test and regulate her performance against that time to ensure that she answers all the questions before the time runs out.  When she encounters a question to which she's not certain of the answer, she may have to extrapolate the answer from similar situations she's encountered in the past.  If she's stuck on  a multiple choice, she must invoke her decision-making faculties to choose the best answer.  When things get tough, she needs to be able to control her emotions sufficiently so they do not interfere with her ability to concentrate and respond.  If she's called upon to write an essay, she will need to logically organize  and express her thoughts in a manner that clearly conveys to the reader her knowledge and understanding of the subject matter.  In short, when we break it all down, passing a test is far more complicated a task than simply regurgitating some learned information.

According to Dr. Thomas E. Brown of Yale University, research is revealing that ADHD is not simply an attention-related condition, but a developmental impairment of the brain's executive functioning.  In a newsletter article, Dr. Brown offers the illustrative analogy of a musical orchestra without a good conductor.  Separately, the violin and the flute and the tuba can all be performing spectacularly.  But without the executive functioning of a good conductor to bring all the individual musical elements together properly, the ultimate performance won't be very good. 

Well, thank you, Dr. Brown. That explains a lot.  I want to know much more about this, and will check out Brown's book as soon as I can.  But for now, I'll just say that this makes a great deal of sense and explains so much for me.

It explains my messy desk.  Cleaning a desk might sound like a simple task, but if I break it down into its elements, as with the test-taking example, maintaining a clean desk involves priortization, logical organization, memory, self-regulation and motivation, spatial reasoning. . .all sorts of executive functions.  No wonder I have trouble; as it turns out, the CEO of my brain is a bit of an underperformer.

In recent years, there's been a lot of public criticism of ineffective CEOs on Wall Street, who have been awarded with multi-million dollar bonuses as their companies collapsed, contributing to massive economic crisis in our country and througout the world.  Only in this context, it seems, is poor executive functioning rewarded quite so handsomely. 

It's really too bad I didn't take my dad's advice of getting a job in a bank instead of majoring in anthrolopolgy ("What the hell is 'anthropology' anyway?").  With executive functioning like mine, I could be rolling around naked in my undeserved millions right now, paying someone else to clean my desk.