“My thoughts are like butterflies”, he said. “They’re beautiful. But they fly away.”
It was a lament offered up a little boy, and quoted in the book “Delivered from Distraction”.
I nodded furiously.
Kind of stupid isn’t it? Nodding at something you read in a book. Sort of like clapping at the end of a movie, when you know none of the production folk or actors are there to appreciate it.
All of my life I’ve heard about ADD and the favourite companion topic: Ritalin. Usually, Ritalin is said with a slight hesitation, or in some circles, a gasp. It was the go-to drug for every unruly child (or so the legend goes). It became the excuse drug, the alternative to discipline as an answer to bad behaviour.
ADD has been relegated to the annals of mental illness. A disorder if you will. Something We Don’t Talk About.
Not surprising, then, given its history, that some people get annoyed by the topic.
I was aware of this ambience around ADD all my life. Aware but disinterested, really. I couldn’t have cared less. I know my sisters were on Ritalin for a while, but didn’t know why. I knew they didn’t exhibit bad behaviour. Being a kid myself at the time, I just didn’t pay attention. (Did you know that ADD only affects about 4% of the population, on average? Not quite the catch-all most people have assumed over the years).
I was not an unruly kid either. I mean, well I was at first, before hitting kindergarten. I ran away a lot. Not because I was angry at Mom. It was because, like most little boys, I was curious. Probably a little more curious than most, because I wasn’t really running AWAY so much as running TO – whatever it was that caught my eye. One of the earliest memories was of riding my tricycle down the street and into a construction zone. I remember my Mom being so very angry (read: worried), and I recall getting a spanking out of that deal. The first of many, actually.
They say that ADD is the comedian/actor’s disorder. There’s a reason for that. The same condition that provides a lack of concentration in so many of us actually promotes creativity. It’s not that we can’t focus, it’s that we focus only on bright spots. For many of us (me included) it’s actually a plus, in so many ways. A lot of ADD folk don’t like the idea of taking any kind of meds for it, because they’re worried they won’t get those bright ideas anymore. Rick Green, who is a producer and comedian and an actor – said that the meds actually don’t stifle his creativity at all. It allows him to corral those same ideas and follow them to completion.
Another myth: people who have ADD can never focus. In fact, the opposite is true. We either lose focus easily, or we hyperfocus, to the exclusion of all else. We can be so heavily focused on something that we won’t notice that there’s a fire in the house. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been late for an appointment, or forgot something really important, mostly because I was hyperfocused on something.
There’s another aspect of ADD that you may find to be of interest (and we’ll make this the last one for this blog).
Over the years, both here and on MySpace, I’ve spoken about my various forays into activities that turned out to be suspiciously addictive.
The other day, when I sold my doctor on the idea of buying an iPad (mentioned in the last blog), I asked for a refill of a narcotic prescription to alleviate migraines.
She said (as she tends to say every time this prescription is refilled): “when’s the last time I gave you this? Don’t want you getting addicted to them again.”
Every time she says this, it irritates me. She makes it sound like I could so easily become addicted and need to go into rehab or something. So, this time I addressed it.
“Doctor, I wonder if we could spend a few minutes talking about addictions and ADD?”
She leaned back, and peered at me over her glasses. “Sure.”
“Years ago, I developed a dependency on this medication….”
She interrupted with “yes you did.”
I continued. “But I weaned myself off of it, gradually.” I wanted her to know that back then, that *I* took control of the addictive behaviour and did something about it. That the change in behaviour wasn’t forced on me; it was something I chose to do, on my own.
“I then got into drinking wine, actually quite a bit. So much that it scared me, so I stopped drinking it at all for quite a while, just to make sure I wasn’t an alcoholic.”
She gave me her rapt attention, and I could tell she was actually listening.
“I got into pot, with the same results, and with the same concerns, and took myself off of it, just to make sure I didn’t actually need it. And I’ve done the same with fatty foods and chocolate.”
“So” I said “I’m aware that people with ADD have a tendency towards addictions and addictive behaviour….”
“That’s right” she said. “And it’s good that you’re able to recognize it and do something about it.”
I nodded, satisfied that I’d made my point, and so we sat there, silent for a while.
“Doc I really don’t know what I’m asking, here.” In truth, I wasn’t asking anything. I just wanted her to acknowledge that I’m fully aware of all the dangers of narcotic medicines and am therefore armed against abusing them.
She said “maybe you’re wondering about the science of it all?”
“Well, people with ADD are lacking stimulation, so they tend to self-medicate where possible. That’s what that’s all about.”
She was silent for a moment. “In fact,” she said “for all the talk about alcoholism and drug addictions being an illness, I don’t buy it at all. If it was truly an illness, you wouldn’t be able to control yourself.”
I agreed with her. “Yes, even when I was heavily into wine, I can tell you that I wouldn’t have sat in front of my boss with a bottle in my hand. So there has to be some measure of control.”
She nodded, and we finished the appointment.
The bottom line is that addictive behaviour, while not in itself indicative of ADD, it is one of the many factors. In fact, when a person displays any of the individual factors, it doesn’t necessarily mean that person has ADD. It’s the combination of those factors in overwhelming numbers that may indicate it.
And it’s not always a bad thing. In fact, with a bit of control (read: cognitive therapy and meds), ADD can be the best thing in the world. I certainly see it that way and am looking forward to exercising some of my creative ideas to completion.
I mean – I really like the shiny butterflies, and would rather see them stick around a little longer than they typically do.