AD(H)D Is Like nothing else
Okay, that’s a bit of a lazy subhead. Everything is like nothing else on some level. Everything we go through, as individuals, in groups is unique because we’re all different, and even the in repetition, there’s something new. (I have ten or more copies of certain songs by the same band, because each is in some way unique.)
AD(H)D is one of those…well, it’s one of the lesser brain issues I suppose. I mean, it doesn’t mean you can’t function, you don’t hear voices, it doesn’t really fuck up your life in the “living in a box by the river” kind of way. But that’s not the same as it not having a profound effect on your life and how you live it.
Firstly: I’m not a doctor. Of anything. Nothing here is based on research or interviews with doctors or scientists or counselors or experts. It’s based on my experience of an almost half-century living with this issue. What I will say may in fact be scientifically dubious. I hope not blatantly inaccurate, I try to avoid that as a rule. Were my friend Mike writing this, there would be a stack of supporting evidence as big as your skull, with footnotes and endnotes and 8"x10" color glossies with notes on the back.
This is none of that. This is my attempt to kind of…well, not explain, but rather relate what it’s like being me. A guy with AD(H)D.
First, I’m not sure which verision I have. I’m not sure it’s of any particular importance, at least not personally. Also, I’m not sure what it’s like to not have this. I’ve always been this way. So if I seem a tad one-sided, well, I’m also an only child. I can’t tell you what having siblings are like either.
I am sure, that for all the…well…shade (it’s as good a word as any) thrown at AD(H)D, that it’s not bullshit. I mean, I can see why it seems that way, especially given how many people use it as an excuse. “Oh, he has AD(H)D.”
You know, if y’all could stop doing that, I wouldn’t complain. It’s kind of annoying, using AD(H)D to get out of whatever it is you’re getting yourself or someone else out of. Because it’s not cool, it’s not fun. AD(H)D can be handy as hell, but not in that way.
I was born in 1967. I had no idea what AD(H)D even was until a TIME magazine article that happened to lay out every weird aspect of my mental world. In the mid 90s. So for almost 30 years, I thought I was, well, kind of a bubblehead.
AD(H)D is different for everyone. I suppose that’s true of any brain condition. For me…well, imagine being able to remember bizarre trivial details of shit that happened once, but literally forgetting that a gallon of milk exists. Not as a concept I mean, milk and jugs still exist, but that specific jug you just put down. You had it in your hand, you were pouring a glass of milk with it, you put it down and something distracted you, and now that shit has never existed. It’s gone. That jug has ceased to be. It is an ex-jug.
Even better, it sometimes does this while you are holding it and so your brain goes “well, I’m holding something, it must be an empty glass” and so you put the milk in the cabinet, and you will never know, nor remember doing this. It can get seriously weird sometimes. My son watched me crack six eggs, and very carefully throw the egg in the garbage and put the shell in the bowl because I was talking to him about something, and my brain decided I should go through the motions of making eggs, but hey, shell, egg, it’s the same shit, right?
I’m somewhat paranoid about getting Alzheimer’s, because honestly, I’m not sure anyone would be able to really tell until I was deep into it. Forgetting shit is so normal in my world.
Need someone to remember that 4 years ago, you said you like red hats? Done. Need someone to keep track of 53 things at once? Done. Need someone to sit in front of a log roll from an unhappy server without moving for hours until they put the errors together? Done.
Need someone to remember where the coffee mug they just put on the counter in front of them is? Yeah, that could be a problem.
This is frustrating as an adult. As a child, it’s worse. Back in the 70s, before there were “programs” and the like, no one was a “latchkey kid”. Your parents worked, and you came home and fended for yourself. Unless you forgot where you’d put your keys. Again. Then you hung out front of the apartment or house until your mom got home and gave you the look. That disappointed “maybe my son is actually mildly mentally retarded” look, because he’s now averaging losing a set of keys a week, and his keychains resemble gas station bathroom models.
You want to be trustworthy and reliable, but you forget random shit. Constantly. You have conversations you forget while you are talking. Not the subject, but the conversation as a thing.
It’s hard to talk to you because there’s no such thing as a non-sequiter in your world. That would imply there was some form of sequiter to begin with. There isn’t. One minute you’re talking about motorcycles and the next sentence it’s about genetics. You can talk all day, because you’re never talking about a single topic for any amount of time, you can’t.
Except when you can. Then it’s almost obsessive. To this day, I don’t read as much as I inhale. I’ll start reading and then it’s three hours later and I’ve finished the book and I have no idea why people are angry at me and oh…shit…there was a movie we were supposed to go to?
I’m sure there’s some vast range between SQUIRREL! and hyperfocus. But it’s pretty much a fucking mystery to me, I don’t think I’ve really ever seen it. I just fake it well.
Then there’s the overload. If I’m around too many things going on at once…wait, let me back up. So I have this thing where I track things. In a restaurant, for example, I can, within ten minutes tell you what’s on every screen I can see, which waiter/waitress is running what tables, the color of their shoes, that one is limping probably sprained her ankle, dude, what the fuck is up with your hair, the fourth table over needs to leave before that baby gets really cranky…
I have a friend, Low, who is a curious and awesome combination of strong and tiny. 5'-nothing and 160lbs of muscle. Her view on things is if she can climb it and sit on it, she does. It makes for the best pictures. In my case, if it moves, and I can see it, I’ll keep tabs on it. It’s kind of handy in IT.
But in the right situation, say, a casino…it’s not fun. Kansas City has a number of casinos, and my ex, Jenny, learned that I shouldn’t be on or near the gambling bits for too long, because after…an hour or so of being in a room with that many patterns of blinking lights and flashing and sounds and people and my brain trying to track all of it…well, I’d kind of kernel panic, and I’d have to sit somewhere for a few and stare at a wall, preferably a blank one while I rebooted.
If I’m aware of it, and now I am, I can manage it. But the first few times were a bit odd. “Bunghole, you’re just standing there.” “Yeah. I feel weird, can we find a quiet place to sit down?” After 20 minutes or so, I’d feel the normal draining back in, and then we’d go do whatever. But for a while, it was…not quite being unable to think as much as just not completely sure as to what is going on. You know the basics, but it doesn’t have the same meaning. Once, I was rear-ended on the Mass Pike. Had time to watch it happen. Blonde girl with a phone in one hand and a panicked look on her face standing on her brakes. Boom. For a few seconds, I remember staring, intently at my gearshift (car was a manual) and wonder just what the fuck it was, and how did any of this work. Then all of a sudden CLUTCH! That’s the CLUTCH! and the STICK and I KNOW ALL THE THINGS AGAIN AND HOLY FUCK WAS THAT SCARY.
But while it was happening, it wasn’t. It’s only as you start to recover that you realize shit is weird, yo, and then you get freaked out.
I have to say, I’m grateful as hell for things like email and task managers and calendaring. Because the act of having to enter my life into such things helps move whatever it is I’m entering out of the random overwritten bits of my memory into the bits that actually remember stuff. So things like Anylist help not for the obvious reasons, like remembering 45 things is hard, but for the bizarre reason that hey, I’m actually going to the grocery store and there are things I need to buy and they will be in Anylist.
Yes, I’ve forgotten to go to the store that was the only reason I’d left the house. What? Why? How? Beats me man. See, there was a dude walking down the street behind a woman who Was Not Having His Shit. Both were African-American, she was wearing a light purple, almost mauve top with darker purple pants and flat sandals, her hair had a dark red streak in the front, he was wearing a wifebeater, denim shorts, a black belt, his pants were slung low, he was wearing plaid boxers and hi-tops, and I have no idea why I remember this, or that he was around ten meters behind her, but forgot where I was supposed to go that day. Until I looked at my phone at the light and saw the Anylist notification and yep, going to Publix.
I don’t have some kind of on/off switch on this. I just try to create layers of competency that help me avoid the worst of it. I also have a lot of weird habits that are literally designed to get me through the day.
Again, I was almost 30 before I knew what was going on in terms of AD(H)D. That it was a thing, not just me being an idiot. Well, of course I thought I was some kind of idiot. What else would I think? There was no concept of anything else. Ritalin? What was that?
It wasn’t so much that AD(H)D made it okay. It just gave me something to work with. It made it a thing and not this amorphous, unknown, blob of suck. “Okay, so that’s what my brain does, and sometimes it’s handy, and most of the time it’s a goddamned pain in the ass, but at leat I can manage a thing. I can manage AD(H)D, I can’t manage being an idiot.”
It also has a lot to do with my coffee consumption. Because folks, I drink a shitload of coffee. To the point that it doesn’t make me piss any more than any other liquid would, nor does it wake me up. I mean, it can make me jittery, but that’s like bizarre amounts even for me. In truth, it calms me down, mellows me out, helps me sleep and what the fuck is is up with that?
Well, OH WAIT, before I get into that, it can also fuck with relationships. AD(H)D, not coffee. Like, you know those things they show you where you’re just with someone and you can like, do nothing but be with them? Yeah, see, AD(H)D fucks with that, because if I hug someone for too long, like my wife, or (in the past) girlfriends…I get twitchy. Like LETGOLETGOTHEREISSHITTHATISINFRONTOFMYEYESHOLYFUCKLOOKATTHEMICROWAVEANDTHEBUTTERFLYOUTSIDETHEWINDOW kind of twitchy.
It takes an enormous amount of effort to not always be the first one to end the hug. Kissing’s easier, because I’m doing something and also it tends to short-circuit huge swaths of my brain and I go all dur-hur-this-is-so-cooool. But quiet times are hard. Unless I’m in that fucked up hyperfocus, but then I’m not noticing the world around me, so it’s not technically the same thing.
It can make someone with AD(H)D seem…disinterested in people around them. Because we can’t not look at our phones or the TV screens or what have you. We can try to focus on one person, but if there’s enough going on, it becomes really hard.
That’s kind of frustrating, because there’s no good way to explain to someone you love that no, you are interesting to me. Really. I swear. But so are the ceiling fan’s pertubations or lack thereof. And the grain in the wood. And the way the bolts in the roof beams are set up, or the way the waitress is doing her job, or…shit…yeah, see, and then try to explain it to someone who cannot have any idea what you are talking about because they don’t have your brain chemistry, so you’re explaining a mezzosoprano to Helen Keller only you’ve got no hands. And you’re on the opposite side of the planet.
So anyway, coffee, or more specifically, caffeine.
the astute reader will start to feel this is written in a way to try to convey an understanding of what having AD(H)D feels like. it is a bit. This is why my “best” writing is emotional on some levels. The emotional aspect helps keep me focused. Just sitting down and writing, holy fuck, how does that work? So this is a bit more disjointed than usual. Don’t worry, I did do a couple of edit passes to make sure I didn’t leave out entire paragraphs I could swear I typed. Yeah, that happens.
The data on caffiene as a treatment in the scientific meaning for AD(H)D is at best slim. https://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/caffeine-for-adhd/ has a decent overview. There is one interesting bit from the article though:
In a trial comparing amphetamines to 600mg caffeine daily, plus amphetamines, caffeine was reported to provide incremental benefit, but side effects were noted. That’s not surprising: 600mg is the caffeine in two Starbucks Grande-sized coffees. A double-blind crossover examination of caffeine, methylphenidate, and dextroamphetamine in 29 children concluded that while the two stimulants had meaningful effects, caffeine was indistinguishable from placebo. Overall — no strong signals of efficacy in the evidence.
First, while I’m sure that for Scott Gavura or a child, two Starbuck’s Grandes is a shitload of caffeine, for me, well, that’s…oh, i’m past that by 11am on a normal day. So clearly, I’m talking about a lot more caffeine here. Also, the article is aimed at giving coffee to kids.
I have found over the years that the amount of caffiene i consume does help. Could this be a placebo? Sure. But the one time I did talk to a doc about it, she said that for folks with AD(H)D, my level of coffee consumption was pretty normal. Or perhaps “common” would be the better word, and as long as it wasn’t making me jittery (it doesn’t) or causing me other problems, (nope), then there was no reason to worry. Well, watch the sugar and addons, (no worry there, I only drink it black) as lattes are not low-calorie refreshments.
So rather than Ritalin or Adderall, I do coffee. It seems to work, and there’s no adverse effects, no more than any other form of stimulant might have.
You know how when you look at your watch and you can’t remember what time it says? So you do it again, and you still can’t remember? Imagine that, only all the time with everything, unless you have elaborate things you do to work around it.
I’m surprised AD(H)D and OCD don’t go hand in hand. I’d not be surprised if AD(H)D and depression go hand and hand, especially in my generation, that shit sucks.
It’s really weird when you know you have issues with procrastination, but not because you don’t want to do something. But because you start to do the thing and then you need to reference Wikipedia and it’s nine hours later but you know a lot about brain chemistry. And Serial Killers. Because Wikipedia is a maze of twisty passages…
The iPhone has had a definite affect on things. I’m still not sure good or bad, probably depends on the situation. Melissa (my wife) would be happy if I were better at not having it out. Having a career where I have to be a bit obsessive about email and similar doesn’t help. Also, it’s a device that can feed me multiple streams of ever-changing information. So it does kind of fit my brain well. A bit too well at times.
One thing though, and I really am only speaking for myself here: what I never want is people working around it. This isn’t like those fucking introvert lists (GOD no), or whatever where it’s a list of instructions on how to treat me or anyone with AD(H)D special. Fuck that. Because here’s the thing: if you let me win, what have I won?
When my son was…ten or so, we were playing “Pokemon Stadium” on our N64, and given I’d been playing videogames longer, better understanding of strategy & tactics, I won pretty easily. He was kind of upset at that, and intimated that I should let him win, since he was just a kid. I said “Nope. Look, you’re right, it’s unfair for you right now. But, you can get better. You can raise your game, you can improve your skills, so one day, when, not if, but when you beat me, you’ll know you actually beat me. I didn’t let you win. I was doing my best to wax you, and you waxed my ass instead. It’ll be an honest, clean victory, and you won’t get enough of those in life as it is. I’m not going to cheat you out of even a minor one.
Unsuprisingly, he did just that: he got better, and one fine day, he wasted me. Wasn’t even close, and folks, I was trying, but the skinny kid was not gonna have it that day. He starts jumping up and down and whooping, and then doing this weird, hilarious butt dance all the while chanting “I wonnnn, I wonnn”. Yeah, maybe it was kind of bad sportsmanship, but fuck that, he’d earned that dance.
At this stage, managing my AD(H)D is easier than it was, but there’s still a lot of surprisingly minor shit (for y’all) that I have to work harder at. And I’m not saying booby-trap the fucking road or anything. But this is my thing. My AD(H)D. It’s been a motherfucker all my life, so when I have some minor victory that you’d not even register, it means something. But if you “let me win” as it were by bending over to smooth all the bumps, what have I won? What have I gotten better at? Did I get better at managing my AD(H)D or did you do that for me? And if you’re going to own those victories, are you going to be around to own the losses? Because if you want one, best be ready for the other.
Also, I will let you do all the work for me. I’m lazy (sysadmins tend to be), and manipulative at times. If I think you’re willing to do all the work and I just have to collect the paycheck? Fuck yeah. More time for sleeping.
Don’t be a jerk, but don’t make things unrealistically easy. Just understand why I say “email me”, that it’s not me being a nerd, it’s just me working around my brain.
Also, Halestorm is awesome.