Something I learned recently that has kind of radically changed the way I think of my mind and how it functions is as follows: ADHD isn’t really a deficit of attention; it’s an excess of attention. That’s, well, fucking brilliant. It explains so many things and really makes me feel better about the stupid shit I do. For example, I can be writing the world’s most profound blog post (unlikely) while also checking Twitter and flipping back and forth between the 2010 Allstate BCS National Championship (boo, I’m a faux (feaux?) Tiger) and the Nuggets game wherein they’re getting blown out by the Hornets (?) (also even the Nuggets mascot, Rocky, who is awesome, is wearing a goddamn Tebow jersey tonight; make it stop) or going to town editing the hell out of an article while also talking shit and browsing meaningful children’s literature on the internet. In addition to doing whatever I’m really doing, I’m probably also picking my cuticles, realizing I need to use lotion even more often because good lord I have the hands of an 80-year-old all winter, messing with my bangs, taking my shoes off or putting them on, and doing other fidgety shit.
I used to think it was bad that I couldn’t just focus all my attention on writing a blog post or editing an article. It was always somehow disappointing to me that I had to have all this other shit going on at the same time. I always wondered why I couldn’t give 100% of my attention to one thing, ever.
Well, it turns out that I have more than 100% attention to give. I really am giving 100% of my attention to writing a blog post or editing an article. I just have an extra, say, 33% of attention. That extra attention has to go somewhere. Because I didn’t used to know this extra attention exists, it would bounce around in my head and pretty much do its own thing, like make me check a message board 100 times a day or write half-assed lists of glorious things I kind of wanted to do but never actually would.
I was diagnosed with ADHD when I was in my 30s. While we’re on the subject, here’s how I came to be diagnosed with ADHD when I was in my 30s. The first thing that happened was that one time at a party this dude had Adderall and I took some. That night as I was lying in bed, I realized that for the first time, like, ever, my mind was quiet. I felt calm and peaceful. It was amazing.
I didn’t think much about it again until I was in school. Having pretty much given up my allegedly meaningful career as an attorney and moving across the country to some random place for no reason and, as a result, being woefully underemployed for quite a while, I went back to school so I could become a teacher (preferably high school English, although I turned out to be quite fond of middle schoolers with behavioral issues). One of the first classes I took was the one where you learn about special education stuff or, as I guess they’re calling it these days, exceptional learners. It turns out I’m an exceptional learner. The ADHD chapter was like my life story. I called my mom to read her the list of ADHD symptoms and even she, who normally rolls her eyes and wonders where she went wrong when I give her my latest hypochondriac report, was like, “Were they actually writing about you?!”
So I went to the psychiatrist and he diagnosed me with ADHD and we discussed medication and I figured that Adderall was a good idea because I’d had it before and it seemed to do what you’d want ADHD medication to do. So I went on Adderall. It eliminated that extra 33% of attention, leaving me with a normal 100%. It was glorious. Until it wasn’t, which, as I am wont to say, is a story for another day.1
I haven’t tried any other medication, in part because in general I don’t have good luck with medication and in part because although it can be annoying at times, I don’t find living with ADHD all that bad. Modern technology helps (before I had an iPhone and the Accounts app, I never kept track of my checking account balance), as do calendars (when I use them) and practical, realistic to-do lists.
The other thing that helps is occupying that extra attention. This has taken several forms over the years, some less harmful than others. My extra attention usually doesn’t want to do anything constructive. It wants to kind of float around checking out stuff that might be interesting but that doesn’t take too much thought, because too much thought is the province of the regular 100% attention.
I’ve read and participated in internet message boards. I’ve planned elaborate vacations I’ll never take. I’ve identified and, to the best of my ability, implemented a style icon. I’ve embarked on many hobbies and activities, at least to the extent of reading about them, purchasing the required supplies and/or equipment, stashing said supplies and/or equipment somewhere in my house, and then forgetting about them entirely. I’ve obsessively checked and re-checked Twitter. I’ve spent a shit-ton of money buying crap I don’t need on the internet. (Catalog and internet shopping, I shit you not, got me through my extensive studying during law school.)
My latest thing, now that I’m really trying to put the kibosh on my internet shopping, is playing Pet Hotel on my iPhone. This is embarrassing, but Pet Hotel is pretty much the perfect thing for excess attention. It also doesn’t require you to do annoying spammy shit on Facebook. It’s cute. And free, unless you pay a few real bucks here or there because you really want a bunny.
It’s good for me because it’s easy and it takes forever. I’ve been working on this shit for days. I can check in when I need a break or the Nuggets game is boring or whatever, and it’s not necessarily a hugely constructive use of my time but at least I’m not buying $40 headwraps from Nordstrom. Also did you know a bat can use a treadmill?
1. Let’s just say eventually it made me hot — physically hot — so hot that I was always sitting around the house in tank tops and trying to set the heat on 64 and, especially when I drank beer, my face and ears and even the tops of my hands would turn so bright red it was embarrassing (I still have a tendency toward redface but it’s not even close to what happened on Adderall). You never hear about this as a side effect. I also became a little edgy, if by “edgy” I mean “on edge and prone to explode” rather than the kind of edgy that makes you wear, like, a tiara and combat boots and not give a fuck. When the Adderall wore off in the evening, especially if we had plans to do shit that night, I would often have a total meltdown that would result in sobbing on the couch. Eventually Ben was like, dude, you kind of suck, and I was like hey you’re right I think it’s the Adderall. So I stopped taking it and now here we are and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t hate me.