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.