Fickle Butterflies

Posted: June 28, 2010 in ADHD, Life
Tags: , , ,

“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?”

I nodded.

“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.

  1. Just Me says:

    What do I take out of this whole thing? Hmmmmmmm, mostly that I really need to get a better doctor! Everybody seems to have a good one but me, haha. I swear I was paying attention though!


    • That’s a common problem, actually – the lack of doctors who have sufficient knowledge (or interest) in ADHD. The TOTALLYADD.COM website has a lot of info on how to shop around for one.


  2. Abe's Blog says:

    My impression of ADD and ADHD was that they became the “thing” that all rambunctious kids were diagnosed with while my oldest son was a child. Now it appears to be Autism (which my youngest has been labeled with by the school system.) Unfortunately, I think that the over-use of these terms has caused many to become desensitized to those who truly suffer from these disorders. It is great that you are able to understand what is happening with yourself and that you can work with the issues. But it sounds like it is quite the struggle. I hope that soon you will find the balance that you seek.


    • The thing is: I struggled with this all of my life but had no idea all of this wasn’t “normal” (or rather, “the usual”) until someone pointed it out to me. I just thought I just wasn’t trying hard enough. Or that I was stupid or lazy.

      As I read the list of symptoms and behaviors it was like someone had flipped a light switch.

      It’s a relief to know that doctors are getting a handle on it too. Hence the finding that only 4% of the population has it. I know, at least in my case, i’m not in danger of encountering the trend of the day.

      The flip side: this thing has been the impetus for a lot of creativity, which I think is great!

      Hope everything turns out well for your child, Abe. And here’s hoping that there’s a valid medical diagnosis involved.


      • Abe's Blog says:

        Thank you! In our case, he doesn’t quite fit the mold for a medical diagnosis. We believe it is something that happened in vitro. But it is actually very helpful to view his thought processes through the lense of “autism”. As you say, it switches on a light. It helps to understand that there are physiological reasons for the way that he thinks and acts. It gives me more patience, especially with the morons that we encounter daily :)

        You definitely are experiencing the creative side of this, and as you say, it’s great!


  3. Sounds to me you a good handle on ADD as well as any addictive behavior that crops up.

    Writing about them seems to be the first step in acknowledging ’em and keeping them in check.

    michael j


  4. Fickle Butterflies…

    I found your entry interesting do I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…


  5. Roger says:

    The world needs all the shiny butterflies if can find.

    I enjoy the one’s you share with us.

    Thank you, Wolf.


  6. JustKate says:

    Like Abe said, ADD/ADHD have been way over-diagnosed to the point where the acronyms immediately bring to mind mental images of badly behaved children. It’s a lot easier to say your kid has a disorder than it is to actually parent with thought and care, but that’s another subject.

    I work carefully with the acknowledged expert on ADD/ADHD in our state and have for years, so I well know that ADD/ADHD are NOT synonymous with badly behaved children. My daughter who has one of the most severe cases of ADD that the doctor has ever seen and she’s anything but badly behaved. If anything, she’s overly polite and considerate. That being said, she is the most easily distracted person I have ever met.

    Yesterday she went into the barn, forgot what she was doing there, went out, left the feed room door open, and failed to notice the pony had walked in, flipped the lid off the grain bin, and was happily munching away. I mean, it was RIGHT. IN. FRONT. OF. HER. FACE. Well, she was overly-focused on the next thing that caught her attention – a pretty rock she discovered in the midst of the barn road gravel, and simply didn’t register the pony who could easily have foundered and died… I was LIVID until I took a deep breath and realized, once again, it’s the way she’s wired.

    She is a great performer, by the way. She NEVER forgets her lines and she never spaces out when she’s on stage. She’s ON. In day-to-day life she often walks around in a fog, failing to notice what’s happening around her and she’s socially awkward because her busy mind all too frequently misses social cues and clues. She’s always thinking about something, but it’s not productive thought and she often can’t remember what she was thinking about when she snaps out of it.

    Unfortunately, medication and therapy have had zero impact and we’ve tried everything including trial medications… nothing. And since it’s not likely that she’ll make a living on stage, we have a problem. While ADD/ADHD *can* be perceived as a blessing, it can also be a horrible curse. It’s a very individual thing. Our daughter, for instance, can’t drive. It’s that bad. Not an issue if you live in Toronto or New York City, maybe, but here in rural Oregon it’s a big problem.

    There’s a huge percentage of people with ADD/ADHD that don’t respond well to stimulant medication. Methylphenidate (Ritalin) is not always effective. Widely available drugs like Adderall and Strattera are good options, too, but, again, not everyone responds to them either.

    My daughter’s biological mother, also diagnosed with ADD, is a drug addict. She started when she was 12-years old. Prescription medication never worked for her either, so she self medicates. Guess what? Her biological mother is rowing the same boat – at least three generations of ADD there. My husband and I worry for our daughter and pray that some day soon, scientists will come up with other options to treat what can be an utterly disabling disorder.

    If you’re diagnosed with ADD/ADHD (you’re self-diagnosed at this point, right?), you may find that there are effective treatments that turn it into a cool thing for you. Some people are lucky like that. That being said, it’s not fun for everyone nor is it always a blessing. “They” say that Einstein had ADD. Who knows? The diagnosis didn’t exist in his lifetime. I’m more inclined to think that he was simply brilliant, that’s it. His IQ made him abnormal, plain and simple. Not every person with ADD/ADHD is an Einstein. I think it’s unfortunate that doctors tend to paint it that way. There’s simple brilliance, there’s bad behavior, there’s ADD/ADHD, etc. There shouldn’t be a “catch all” – we’re more complex than that and sometimes people are just DIFFERENT they’re not disordered.

    So, maybe you’re ADD. I dunno. Maybe medications will help you find the focus you want without losing the creativity you value.

    ANYWAY, it’s a long comment and one I hesitated to leave. I don’t like talking about ADD/ADHD in this forum because it’s so limited and I see ADD/ADHD as being a very complex issue. However, I am happy that you seem to be finding answers that satisfy you and leave you feeling excited and hopeful.


    • I feel for your daughter. Does she have a keen understanding of where she’s at, and the whole nine yards about her diagnosis? How is she handling it, emotionally? (If you don’t mind sharing)

      Yes, so far I’m self-diagnosed so I have a ways to go yet. I’m more interested in the treatment at this point, than in validation. So many things line up, as per the psychiatrist at the workshops I’ve been at, for it *not* to be ADD.

      Your story about your daughter and the pony brought back a memory about my son, who exhibited similar behaviour that frustrated the hell out of my wife. Particularly your comment about the issue being RIGHT. IN. FRONT. OF. HER. FACE. He gets lost so easily, which doesn’t help with his work life or social life for that matter. He hasn’t been diagnosed though. He just has that behaviour.

      I agree with you that the subject is far from simple. In my case, it’s a matter of so many life inconsistencies and departures from “the norm” finally making a bit of sense.


  7. JustKate says:

    The fact that you’re self-diagnosed is something I brought up in the context of treatment because you can’t get treatment without a diagnosis, at least that’s how it works here in the U.S.A. Even if you’re independently wealthy and can pursue therapies on your own, medications always require a doctor’s prescription. In other words, validation is essential for treatment.

    I won’t even try to discuss my daughter further here. I just read back what I wrote about her situation and winced. It’s like trying to paint a rainbow in shades of gray…


    • Your comment reinforces the fact that I need to be clearer with my words. :)

      I didn’t mean to say that I’m not going for medical validation. I meant to say I’m not as concerned about it as I am in treatment.

      It’s the same here in Canada: you need a diagnosis before treatment can begin.


      • JustKate says:

        No, I got that. I’m trying to figure out what you thought I meant. *scratches head*

        My point in my second comment is that I was just being linear when I said, “If you’re diagnosed with ADD/ADHD (you’re self-diagnosed at this point, right?), you may find that there are effective treatments that turn it into a cool thing for you,” and again when I said, “So, maybe you’re ADD. I dunno. Maybe medications will help you find the focus you want without losing the creativity you value.”

        I get that you feel sure that you’ll be diagnosed ADD when you manage to get into the doctor for evaluation. Inconsiderate bastard died, right? ;)

        Seriously, Doug, I’ve been sick for two weeks and my brain’s half cooked. Pass me a drink?


        • I have a feeling we’d have a blast, having a real life face to face conversation! :D Wouldn’t that be just the cat’s pyjamas? (A phrase my mom used to use, which I’ve adopted, only because it makes my daughter giggle her face off).

          No worries now. We understand each other. That’s all that matters. And your feeling is right. I’d be surprised – very surprised – if I wasn’t diagnosed with it. It just seems too obvious – like, slap-in-the-face-obvious- to me. We’ll see. At the very least I expect to have an interesting time with the doc.

          You need a drink? *checks cupboards and fridge* Ok. I’ve got various types of Chardonnay wine. I recommend Wolf Blass though. Would you like some? (Oh wait. I also have a bottle of Absinthe. I’m scared to try that one. Worried about the green fairies flitting about my face. And I don’t mean the gay guy downstairs either.)


  8. carmenlezeth says:

    Hi Wolfie — I read this and then re-read it and just had to think about it.

    I think it’s great you’re able to handle (monitor) your addictive behaviors. Honestly, the way you’ve written about your moments of possible addiction and being able to stop (just to make sure you’re not addicted) don’t sound any different than what I’ve done or many other people are able to do. So maybe that’s not so much about ADD? Maybe that’s the part of you that has either learned from a bad experience in the past, or, like myself, has a little control factor or voice in your head that always questions if you’re doing the right thing or not? I don’t know… Hmmm.



    • Hi Carm. Your observation is bang-on. If it were just that one thing – addictive behaviour – then no, it doesn’t necessarily indicate that a person has ADD. In fact, people in general display all of the ADD behaviours at one time or another. Most of us will lose focus or get bored or have problems with what could be addictions.

      It’s the combination of a majority of the behaviours that show that someone might have ADD. Which is why it takes a thorough medical analysis before one can be certain. The website has a test that people can take to see if they should see a professional for evaluation. It’s not a test to confirm or deny that someone has ADD – it provides a suggestion. Sort of a “you MAY have it, but you should see a doctor to find out for sure” thing.

      I’ve got an appointment set up for myself. We’ll see what happens. :)


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