Sunday, February 25, 2007

Me and my ADD

I have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). You might have guessed if you noticed my infrequent postings. Oddly enough, the people who knew me in Canada doubted it. I often received comments like, "We're all like that sometimes."

My ADD hit home for me this weekend. Bear with me, the story starts like a non sequitur. I have a spaceship fighter combat game called Silent Death, released in the late 80s/early 90s. The most recent version is from the mid 90s. In 2000, someone came up with a version for Star Wars — with complete rules — printed in a magazine and now available as a PDF online. I have some old Micromachines Star Wars figures that I collected specifically for Silent Death before these rules were published. Last week I thought Logan would enjoy them. He loves Star Wars, after all. I thought they would make a good introduction to sci-fi spaceship miniature gaming. To that end, I started creating ship record sheets (data on the ships is written down on a "record sheet"). I had already started this process, so I finished it on Friday. Yesterday I copied the file from the laptop to the desktop computer for printing. Windows asked me if I wanted to overwrite the old file. The old file was on our previous desktop computer, and was moved to the new computer. The new file was dated February 23, 2007 at 10:19 p.m. The old file was dated February 23, 2002 at 8:14 pm.

Besides the weird coincidence of the files being almost exactly five years apart was the realization that I had started the project five years ago, and was only now getting around to finishing it. I just stopped and stared at the computer for what must have been a minute...

ADD is poorly understood by ordinary people. I've heard people say, "I must have ADD," when they forget to finish something. There's a widespread belief that it's not real, that it's just stress or an artifact of modern day life. It's also known as Attention Deficit Hyperactivivity Disorder, ADHD. ADD is ADHD without the hyperactivity. I was not hyperactive as a kid. I did take Ritalin, but as an adult. It didn't do much for me, though Dexedrine did.

I was diagnosed with ADD in the late 1990s, but I suspected it for a year or two before I had it diagnosed. I saw an article online and took an online test, and was shocked to find that I scored very high on the test.

ADD is an inability to focus on something that doesn't interest you, or something that falls out of interest. For me it's like a hole in my mind. I can see the hole, I can see the thing thing that does not interest me, but I can't focus on it. I know it's there because I can see the hole. One of the key components of ADD and ADHD is that it does not have adult onset: it's a brain chemical problem, and you have it from birth. The first real memory I have of knowing something was wrong was from grade 4. We were learning about the Wright brothers (a subject that interests me, and would normally interest me then). The teacher wrote a very boring essay on the chalkboard which we were expected to copy down. I remember exactly what I wrote of that essay. I wrote, "1903:". That was it. I didn't think about it again, until it was time for the test. I remember the horror of opening my notebook and seeing that single date... Needless to say, I failed the test and almost failed the subject.

(Aside: I credit this experience with my love of history. Mum made me go to the library and study Social Studies that summer. Not knowing what was on the curriculum, the poor, young librarian found me a book about Marco Polo. I was fascinated by it, though it turned out to not be anything I'd study in grade 5.)

When you have ADD you can't be interested in that something that does not interest you. It's a chemical thing. The brain of someone with ADD is not stimulated in the least by that which does not interest them. This causes problems at work and at school. What if you have a boring duty that you have to do? Well... that's where the problem comes in.

I mentioned to someone on a mailing list last year that I have ADD. They wrote back saying, "I have a learning disability, too." That angered me. I didn't think of myself as having a learning disability. Of course I do. When I look back at school I see a lacklustre student, particularly in high school and university. I went to college after university and performed very well, mostly because everything I took interested me while university was full of stuff that the school thought I needed to learn to be "well rounded". My marks at school should have been much better. With one exception, I got straight A's in computing at university and college.

It's that hole, you see. If you don't find it interesting you have trouble even focusing on it. I can be interested in something and then I start to lose interest. Something else comes up, and I shelve the other thing. It can escape my notice for a while, then it drops back in history as other things capture my attention. It doesn't help that I'm an obsessive personality. (And it's a bit unsettling having a psychologist tell you all this!)

Funny enough, when the pressure is on and the time limit comes down on me, that... interests me. Suddenly I can do what, up until then, I couldn't do. It's one reason I work well under pressure. It's also why I can't seem to get miniature painting projects done unless I have a convention game coming up, or someone who pops up and says, "I really want to play that game!"

Another benefit is my ability to multi-task. I can keep several things going at once. Odd as that might seem, but when multiple things interest me at once I can bounce from one to the other without much trouble.

A side effect of the ADD is an odd phenomenon when I get stuck wanting to do something but I can't decide what to do. It doesn't happen at work, just at home. I get torn between doing on of two things, but can't decide which. It's like a circuit breaker being thrown on and off, back and forth. I end up doing nothing as a result. I had that happen to me today. I haven't had it happen in a while. For some reason it hit today. I think it's the avoidance of this problem that causes me to have so many hobbies, or at least projects, on the go at once.

Medicine can help. Stimulants stimulate the brain, artificially creating the chemicals that should have been created naturally. Unfortunately, the types of medicines that do this are stimulants. Ritalin didn't do much, as I noted, but it apparently doesn't do much in adults anyway. Dexedrine can be addictive. It didn't affect me that way, and it did give me some measure of control, but I didn't like some of the side effects. I've yet to try Concerta. I keep meaning to talk to my doctor about it, but...

So, if you see that I haven't posted in a while you have an inkling why. If I seem fixated on certain things, and rarely mention others, you'll know why. And if this seems out of the blue, well, it's something I've been thinking about for a while and kept meaning to write in the blog. The timing of the game files yesterday made it appropriate. Why didn't I write about it yesterday? I was busy doing something else...

2 comments:

Michael said...

Fascinating. It's almost as if ADD is an amplifier: I have experienced pretty much everything you described at some point or other in my life—but I'm pretty sure never to the extent or the degree that you have.

Your talk of brain chemicals made me think of depression: everyone has the occasional blue day, but someone who's depressed is having a Groundhog Day blue day, because the necessary brain chemicals aren't being produced. And you probably feel the same way that those suffering clinical depression feel when someone tells them "Oh, cheer up..."

Allan Goodall said...

Fascinating. It's almost as if ADD is an amplifier: I have experienced pretty much everything you described at some point or other in my life—but I'm pretty sure never to the extent or the degree that you have.

That's brain chemistry for ya. Everyone gets these feelings once in a while, simply from the ups and downs of brain chemistry. It's the amplitude and the frequency that makes the difference. Oh, and the ability to overcome them when necessary...


Your talk of brain chemicals made me think of depression: everyone has the occasional blue day, but someone who's depressed is having a Groundhog Day blue day, because the necessary brain chemicals aren't being produced. And you probably feel the same way that those suffering clinical depression feel when someone tells them "Oh, cheer up..."

That's one reason I don't talk about it much.

I get depressed, too. The last month, for some reason, I've had several days long bouts of depression. I haven't had it that bad since 2000. Prior to that, it was worse for me in the late 80s and early 90s. After my thyroid condition was diagnosed, it got better. If I miss my meds, I run the risk of a depression later that day.