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Attention Deficit Crippled My Young Adulthood.

Spoiler Alert : It’s Still The Same.

Photo by Mitchell Griest on Unsplash

My biggest fear when I start some task or the other, is knowing that the tsunami is coming.

I know my brain will start rattling away, randomly, at some point or the other. My mind always blows along lateral pathways instead of a focussed, linear one.

And this made me feel so crippled, knowing that my meticulous planning ahead — sometimes just a mere few hours — was going to be a waste of my precious time.

Instead of sticking to simple plans and seeing them through, I loved drawing up elaborate plans that I would never EVER see through. Planning, writing, dreaming, all smushed into one gigantic ball. The roller-coaster journey that my mind went through, every step of the way, made me feel comforted that my life had a purpose that my eyes couldn’t see.

And lateral rattling always opened the doors to another destructive habit — procrastination.

I loved to postpone the smallest obligations. Cleaning the house? Forget it, I can manage for a few extra days. And when it was finally time to start cleaning my room, I had to wear a protective face mask and get ready for the inevitable intergalactic dust-war about to rage within the cooped-up, non-ventilated 20-square-foot space of my bedroom.

If you were to enter into my conscience, you wouldn’t have the space to poke a finger in.

When one thought desperately escapes my death hold, two new thoughts effortlessly enter. Each moment is more packed than the previous one. These weren’t even important thoughts, just random thoughts. And whenever I got to reading something online, I loved pressing one special button over and over and over.

Bookmark. Bookmark. BOOKMARK.

“Bookmark For Later” is my favourite phrase of them all — because I couldn’t help but procrastinate when the uphill journey of intensely focusing on one task felt unachievable.

But writing magically succeeded in doing the exact opposite.

There’s time to collect my thoughts. My mental wavelength is streamlined, and I’m in my element. I hate being interrupted when I’m in the zone when I’m neck deep into any topic. The good thing about writing is that I know in my heart I’ll never be interrupted.

But writing falls sadly short, in being a one-size-fits-all solution for all my focusing problems.

As a healthy intervention, I deleted all my social media accounts. Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest, you name it. I was left with non-interactive RSS readers (like BleacherReport for sports news and Flipboard for news in general), which did exactly what it needed to do — deliver the important news, quietly.

I switched off all unimportant notifications. I made it a habit to always keep the phone lying face-down when I worked. I used a Pomodoro clock to focus in short bursts. I planned less, and aimed to do more. I wrote more on paper, and tried my level best to move away from note-taking on my computer. I tried meditation and mindfulness as a daily practice.

All of this helped me, but it was mostly a crippling struggle.

Because, my thoughts weren’t the only things distracting me. The tiniest sounds or movements distracted me.

Studying at a café was a nightmare, since all I heard were random sounds of people talking and moving. My eyes always drifted off the books, at least once or twice, every few minutes. Everything felt like must-know information when in reality, they weren’t at all. I was just fooling myself, and I knew it. But it didn’t seem to matter to me.

I had to constantly know what was happening around me. And it was such a strain.

I was left to wonder, who was to blame for all of this? Was it just me, or was the world to be blamed?

It had to be the information overload.

Who’s to blame for this information overload?

It’s not just me.

Attention has shifted along the global landscape, and the panorama of growing evidence clearly shows a common trend.

Social media craze and notification fever have reached a brand new high. Information overdose is a real thing. People can’t get enough of updating their newsfeeds, in a hungry craze to feed their ever-expanding egos.

A 2018 study of news reports showed that between October 2011 to November 2017, there were 259 selfie deaths in 137 incidents reported globally, with the highest occurrences in India followed by Russia, United States, and Pakistan. The mean age was 22.94 years old with male deaths outnumbering female about three to one.

And selfie-fever stems from a common root —egocentric behaviour. This behaviour is continuously fed by information overload and notification fever. Which in turn, theoretically speaking, leads to attention deficit.

Because paying attention to ‘boring’ tasks — like reading a book or meditating — doesn’t feel as important as gulping down the next few notifications lighting up our screens.

But is this trend evidence of adult onset ADHD?

Although conventional wisdom and the latest research on ADHD heads in another direction altogether, I can’t help but wonder whether research is doing justice to what seems to be a rising epidemic of attention deficit amongst adults.

And research seems to be catching up with the rising tides.

Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder, usually affects children. Symptoms are clear-cut, making the diagnosis almost straightforward and obvious. Parents come to doctors with complaints like “my kid fidgets too much” or “he just doesn’t pay enough attention to anything I say” or he never gets tired of running around”.

Coincidentally, ICD10 Criteria for Diagnosis of ADHD states that the sufferer “often fidgets with hands or feet or squirms on seat”, which couldn’t be a more picturesque representation of the disorder.

But according to the latest research, what seems to be ‘adult’ ADHD, is in reality, childhood ADHD which continues onto adulthood. And this presses a more important question, is ‘adult onset ADHD’ a real thing?

So far, research says no.

But sadly, research doesn’t explain what I’m going through on a daily basis.

My memory seemed to suffer with each passing day. As a university student, I always seemed to cram everything closer towards major exams, something that wasn’t necessarily sustainable. As my workload increased exponentially with each passing year, my attention span was shrinking as well — this was probably the most noticeable symptom.

I knew there was something bothering me beneath the surface.

For my luck, I found the perfect psychiatrist, who started me on a trial run of Methylphenidate, which helped improve my attention span and focusing power, drastically. And the results have been amazing, both in my personal life and in my studies.

In adults, especially, ADHD is under-diagnosed. According to a 2012 study, the diagnosis of the condition becomes tricky due to the false negativity of certain diagnosis criteria. These turn out positive in children with ADHD but give unreliable false negatives when applied to adults.

There has been a debate as to whether the minimum of six criteria for children results in under-diagnosis when applied to adults (Moss et al., 2007). Smith and Johnson (1998), using Rasch analysis, found that four DSM-IV items, including “difficulty waiting in lines” and “interrupting or intruding on others,” were the most sensitive in detecting ADHD in adults.

What does all of this call for?

A newer reform of DSM and ICD diagnostic criteria? More investments for progress research on adult onset ADHD? More emphasis on curtailing social media and information overload in young adults and children?

It’s a topic that requires rigorous debate, because the answers to all these questions are blurry to say the least.

Which brings me to my bold conclusion.

Even though research is visibly lagging behind, the eye-test shows that attention deficit is a BIG thing in modern-day society.