I am blessed with the gift of ADD, and I would not trade my “disorder” for the world. Like most people with ADD, my energy knows no bounds, my enthusiasm is catching, my creativity pays the bills and I am the life of the party.
Most people associate ADD with bratty little boys, not 30 year-old female adults who are professional freelance writers. But I share a common love with those punk kids – stimulation. The ADD brain works best when stimulated. Someone with ADD functions and feels physically better when they are upset or angry than when they are bored. This is not a choice; this is the way the ADD brain functions. The tedium that most people find soothing has the opposite effect on those with an ADD brain.
ADD is NOT a disorder, despite the name. It is not a learning disability, although it can often accompany them. The brains of people with ADD work very differently than most people's brains do, but that does not mean they are disordered – only different.
Just as there are negative characteristics associated with ADD, such as losing things and interrupting people, there are also positive characteristics associated with the ADD brain. People with ADD are usually smart, very imaginative, proactive and have an energy level other humans can only dream about – the type of people who change the world and carve out culture to their liking. While many think that American culture is promoting ADD, I would argue that it is people with ADD who get into the stimulating fields of entertainment, music and arts who then mold the environment to fit their brains.
Many people joke about having ADD (which comes with or without the “H” for hyperactivity, ADHD) whenever they feel restless or distracted, and indeed everyone suffers these symptoms at some point in life. But for those of us whose brains are physically different, ADD is no joke. Have you ever lost your wallet five times in six months? Do you return into your house three times for forgotten items before you can finally drive away to work? Would you rather miss the big show entirely than have to wait in line to get in?
You might think it's odd, but being diagnosed with a “mental disorder” was one of the best things to ever happen to me. Once properly diagnosed, I finally realized that so many of my so-called “failings” had nothing to do with a lack of ability or moral aptitude. People with ADD are like square pegs trying to fit into a world made by round-holers.
ADD has a variety of treatments, with stimulant medication like Ritalin or Adderall being the most popular and effective. These medicines work by keeping the brain stimulated so that it doesn’t have to drift off to find stimulation on its own. The ADD brain NEEDS stimulation to function properly, and it will find it one way or the other – which is why there are so many ADD brains in prison and at rehab.
While I am often berated for taking brain medication by those who don’t “believe” in ADD, Adderall has benefited my life more than anything else in the past decade. ADD medications are not downers that will make you lethargic or dull, but rather medicines that will help you to focus your wacky energy on one thing at a time. Getting diagnosed and being aware of ADD’s symptoms helps you to deal with the negative characteristics and highlight the positive. I know that I will never, ever stop losing my damn sunglasses – but now I know to always pack an extra pair for that inevitable loss. I now know that my brain will seek out stimulation no matter what – so I make sure to grab my snowboard before I reach for a bottle of tequila.
Knowing your weaknesses can be your greatest strength, and this could not be truer for those with ADD who must learn to work with their unique brains instead of fighting to fit into everyone else’s idea of how a brain should work.
While dopamine-enhancing stimulant medication is by far the most effective option for those like me with severe cases of ADD, cutting out unnecessary food additives and pesticides can only help the brain function better. Eating organic, whole foods removes any artificial junk that might be clogging the mind pipes. Sugar also exacerbates symptoms of ADD, although caffeine and nicotine (both dopamine enhancers) can help the ADD brain focus, for a while anyway.
In my opinion, far too many people suffer from “Attention Overload Disorder” (AKA they can’t see the forest for the trees), however this type of personality fits in well to our world of office work and consumer drudgery. For those with ADD however, waiting in line at the post office is a personal hell, as is much of the monotony of daily life. Our brains work best with stimulation – healthy or unhealthy – and much of life just doesn’t fit the bill. We are the ones jumping in the pool at the party, buying another bottle of bubbly for the table or setting sail around the world. I am proud to be ADD, and I only hope that more people who are suffering unnecessarily can get the diagnoses and subsequent help that they need.
We may all find ourselves inattentive and hyperactive now and again these days, but how do you know if you have a normal level of distraction or if it is ADD? While no one but a trained professional can diagnose you, there are many quizzes online to help you determine the severity of your ADD. Here are a few questions to consider:
- Does your brain often feel like twenty TV channels on all at once?
- Do you lose and/or break things a lot?
- Do you fidget and squirm when required to sit still?
- Do you interrupt people quite often, even though you know you shouldn’t?
- Do you prefer loud music, bright lights and in general very stimulating environments that other people might consider “too much”?
- Are you more comfortable moving than sitting still?
- Are you a bad driver (but you love to drive)?
- Do people ever tell you to “slow down”?
- Do you have difficulty completing the final steps of a large project?
- Do you feel like you never get enough done?
- Do you feel like you are driven by a motor, or have a superhuman amount of energy?
- Do you get overly upset at minor annoyances sometimes?
- Are you always on the go?
- Do you HATE waiting in line? Driving in traffic?
- During group activities, do you find it hard to wait your turn and prefer to be first?
- Do you find it hard to stop daydreaming?
If you answered yes to most of these questions, or saw yourself reflected in them, you might have ADD and should talk to a trained therapist with a specialty in ADD. New medicines can help lessen the negative characteristics of the disorder like extreme distractibility, without taking away the energy that makes you who you are.
And, lastly, I cannot possibly recommend this book more: Driven to Distraction by Dr. Hallowell