November 21, 2003

The Truth About ADD

You know how your brain will sometimes stop working right, and you sit at the computer and stare at things for about 4 hours, and then you just play random drum cadences on your leg for a few minutes, then check your email a few dozen times...actually, you probably don't know what that's like.

I think I've mentioned once before on SIT that I have ADD (abbreviations, anyone?), and that may have had something to do with it. It's a great disorder, let me tell you. I'm actually going to write something about it here, and then I've got something else that I've been meaning to post all day.

Some of you may have read Mrs. Du Toit's essay about special education and disciplinary methods and things, and the topic of medication and behavioral disorders came up. Of course, there was disagreement over whether or not things like Ritalin are necessary, and some people think it's wrong to "put kids on drugs," and that type of thing.

I don't know why I haven't blogged about this before, but as an ADD sufferer, I want to clear up a few things about the disorder. Therefore, I'm going to write an "ADD rant" off the top of my head and see what happens. If you don't want to read it, fine, but the aforementioned essay and a discussion about medications that came up in my sociology class today have inspired me to finally write about this subject. This may end up being longer than I originally intended, and I'll probably end up telling you way too much, but it has to be done.

Let me say it once more if you missed it: I have ADD. Attention Deficit Disorder. Also known to some narrow-minded people as "hyperactivity." It's generally pigeonholed into this category. The stereotypical ADD sufferer is some kid whose parents feed him too much sugar and don't teach him to sit down and shut up, and that's that.

Let me tell you right now: that stereotype is UTTER BULLCRAP. If ADD were that simple, we could be rid of it, but that's not all it is. Another stereotype is that only children have ADD, and they grow out of it by the time they reach adulthood. Again, BULLCRAP. It only seems like they grow out of it because they learn to control the more visible symptoms, but they still have the disorder.

It's a brain malfunction. It's not psychosomatic or socially influenced, and it doesn't simply go away at a certain age. It's a condition that lasts a lifetime, but a lot of the better known symptoms simply become less noticeable as people learn to control themselves and enter the "adult" world.

However, ADD isn't simply a lack of self control or an overexpressive personality. Because I've lived with this condition for almost 19 years now, I'm going to tell you what ADD really is. Pay close attention (if I can do it, so can you).

First of all, the stereotype is true to a point. ADD does tend to make you hyperactive. However, it's not as simple as that. I've heard all the normal arguments. "They don't have a problem, they just don't want to listen to authority." "Their parents aren't bringing them up properly." "They're just trying to get attention." "Kids are energetic. You can't expect them to sit still for a long time."

Here are some fun facts: I often do want to listen to authority, but I can't remember what they said. My parents did the best job any parents could conceivably do, so that can't be it. If I was trying to get attention, I wouldn't get it by fidgeting and daydreaming. Of course, they usually use the last excuse to write off ADD.

It's true that normal kids are going to have a certain amount of energy, but realistically, you should expect them to sit still for a while. However, people with ADD are slightly different. There's a loss of control and a lot of involuntary factors that go far beyond youthful exuberance.

Most people don't know this, but ADD shares several characteristics with the more serious abbreviated behavioral disorder, OCD. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I'm not a neurology expert, but from what I understand, the disorders are caused by problems in brain wiring. The signals don't go where they're supposed to. For example, in normal people, an impulse goes from one part of the brain to the appropriate receptor.

Unfortunately, in people with these disorders, the impulses and signals can't follow the right connections. When a person with ADD can't pay attention, it's because a signal tried to follow a path that leads to a dead end. If someone has to perform a repetitive action, it's because the signal took a u-turn and bounced right back to where it started.

Again, ADD has a lot more in common with OCD than you might think. ADD is just a slightly less serious version. However, in both cases, the associated problems are caused by signals not connecting properly. This means that when a child with the disorder can't sit still, it's because the impulse to not move somehow followed the path of an impulse to move, and it became that impulse (this is commonly known as a "tic," or random fidgeting-type motion).

I can tell you from personal experience that resisting tics leads to EXTREME discomfort. I personally get a bizarre feeling of panic, I can't focus on anything other than controlling the impulse, and I often get a headache when I try especially hard to control it. Usually, all I have to do in order to relieve this tension is start tapping my foot or grinding my teeth or some other activity. For example, I'm tapping my left foot against the wall as I write this. If I stop, I'll have to move something else or I'll feel like I'm suffocating.

I've had several other tics over the years. For a few months in elementary school, I had to open my mouth every ten seconds and make a yawning expression. I currently deal with fun tics like rapid, uncontrollable blinking (usually triggered by an uncomfortable social situation) and moving my eyes to the extreme left or right at random (a habit I picked up in 2nd grade and still have not totally overcome).

That's why kids with the disorder can't sit still. They may want to, but they can't handle the tension that results from resisting the impulse. ADD is a lot like being addicted to tics. You want to stop, but when you try, the result is worse than the tics themselves. When I have one of my hyperblinking attacks, I usually get a throbbing headache, but when I try to stop blinking, my eyes water and I usually get a headache anyway.

You can't honestly say that kids with this condition are just doing it to get attention. I'll tell you right now, we don't like doing these things, but they're incredibly hard to control, and I doubt elementary-age kids can handle the willpower it would take to stop.

The disorder also causes impulsiveness, which is related to what I just talked about. Occasionally, the signal to do something will reach its receptor before the corresponding signal to actually THINK about the action. This leads to embarrassing verbal slips and other fun antisocial behaviors.

A good example would be when I posted a message on SIT that said "F**K TED F***ING RALL" in huge bold letters. I should've thought about that a bit longer, but I didn't, so I had to delete it later after people had seen it.

The impulsiveness, again, is what makes children with the disorder seem so unruly. They don't have time to think about their actions until after they've done something stupid, and they're usually labelled as troublemakers and punished as if they meant every bit of what they did (although not everyone is simply a "victim"). The main point I'm trying to make here is that ADD causes things that are beyond a child's control. I'm 18, and still learning to deal with the tics and impulsive behavior. I had to see a psychologist for a few months to learn how to talk to people without blurting out whatever's on my mind at the moment.

Speaking of things like that, did you know that ADD also impairs your social skills? Not many people know that. Most people's understanding of the disorder only goes as far as the things I've explained already, but I'm going to fill in the rest of the details and tell you, from personal experience, all the other fun things you get to deal with when you have ADD.

Like I said, it impairs your social skills. I'm not sure why it does this, but it's a common factor in a lot of cases, so it must just affect the part of the brain that controls socialization. The impulsive verbal stuff makes it hard enough to talk to people, but for some reason, it's hard just to have a simple conversation anyway. Eye contact is difficult, for one thing, and I still get watery eyes when I'm around a lot of people (when I'm not blinking, at least).

Also, the tension associated with ADD causes mental panic, and it's impossible to come up with anything to talk about or form intelligent responses. I tend to stutter a lot when I talk to people despite the fact that I have no actual speech impediments. I just have to concentrate so much on not saying something idiotic that I can't pay attention to what my mouth is doing.

This, coupled with the fact that ADD causes me to talk really really fast when I'm nervous, has made it hard to have normal conversations. Also, I was literally afraid of people for a while, but I'm getting over that now.

Overall, ADD also makes it hard to pick up on social cues, like body language and voice inflection. You just don't notice subtleties like that. It may not surprise you, therefore, to know that I have few close friends and have never had a girlfriend. I just don't know how one goes about getting them.

Amazingly, that's still not the end. Getting back to tics and things, did you know that ADD also causes MENTAL tics? I don't know how many others have this problem, but I get things stuck in my head all the time. Have you ever had a song stuck in your head? Probably. Have you ever had it stuck in your head for 3 months? I don't know, but I have.

Here's the real fun part: I get actual words and sentences stuck in my head. A lot of times, they're random quotes from TV shows or things I've heard people say, and sometimes they're just things my mind invents, but I have a constant string of disconnected English running through my head 24/7. It's the first thing I hear when I wake up (besides my alarm), and the last thing I hear before I fall asleep. Sometimes, it's even in my dreams.

The worst part is that I often have to concentrate on the words and arrange them into logical sentences. This can be very distracting and has led to some rather awkward moments which I won't go into here. There's also the constant fear of accidentally saying one of the phrases, although I occasionally develop a mental block where I'm physically unable to say the things in my head.

Speaking of which, do you know why I don't use profanity? It's because I can't. I have somehow made it physically impossible to swear. I'm not joking. In high school, people would try for extended periods of time to get me to swear ("Come on! Just say f**k one time!"), and they usually got a laugh out of my refusal to do so, but I couldn't have complied even if I wanted to. It's physically impossible.

I already mentioned that ADD and OCD are related, but it may surprise you to know that ADD even shares some of the characteristics of that, at least in my case. I don't randomly count things, as the OCD stereotype does, but when I count something, I usually have to do it several times. Also, when I take a test, I usually check at least 3 times to make sure all the answers are filled in.

I also have a bit of the classic fear of being "dirty," although it's not very serious. I don't have to wash my hands every time I touch something, but occasionally I do HAVE to wash them. It's very strange. There are other instances of this as well, but most people don't even know they exist.

Here's one more aspect of the disorder for you: complete lack of organizational and time managing skills. For some reason, ADD makes organization impossible. I have a hard time throwing things away, hanging clothes up, keeping notebooks organized, making my bed, and keeping track of various supplies. Doing work is also fun, because it's impossible to organize things. I usually write assignments off the top of my head at the last minute (like I'm doing now) because I can't think ahead.

This is related to procrastination, another great effect of ADD. I know most people deal with this, but there is actually a physiological aspect of it with the disorder. I can't accurately describe it, but the brain pretty much shuts down and doesn't let you think if there's any time at all to do something else. This is another aspect of the "attention deficit" part of the disorder. This invariably leads to "hyperfocusing," where you concentrate so hard on one thing that you totally lose track of time. I usually end up hyperfocusing on the task at hand at some point, but this is only after days and days of putting it off. Headaches can result from this as well.

I could talk about more, but I've used way too much space already, and I have work to do that I've been putting off by writing this essay (see above paragraph), so I think I need to wrap it up. Before I stop, I want to give my take on medication. I take it. I take Concerta in the morning, which is basically 12 hour Ritalin, and then I take short-term generic stuff at night if I still need it.

It. Really. Does. Work. It doesn't help with everything, as some people think, but it works. It's not a magical "no more ADD" pill, since it basically just increases your ability to focus, but it makes a difference. I actually remember my mom's description of the first time I took Ritalin as a kid. She said that I was sitting there saying, "I can think now! I can think now!" Probably because I could. You do not know how much of a difference the medicine makes if you haven't personally experienced it.

The problem is that doctors and teachers are so quick to prescribe it to kids who don't show all the signs of ADD, and many of them don't need it. However, when you have the disorder, you need it. I disagree with people who say that you're "drugging children" and it should be a "last resort." Once again, BULL. Until they can physically repair the brain impairments that cause this condition, medication is all we've got.

People are afraid because they're "drugs," but they're also "medicines." There's a difference between Ritalin and crack, if you didn't know that already. Also, people who say that the brain can't tell the difference between those two forget that Ritalin only has stimulant effects in people with normal brains. In people with ADD, Ritalin stimulates the part of the brain that the disorder shuts down. It's more of an equalizer than anything else. Also, it won't turn you into a zombie. It makes you feel different, but you're still who you are, and as you get older, it has less of an effect.

I actually plan to stop taking pills for my ADD when I get out of college, but until then, I don't trust myself to pay attention and get work done, so I'm going to take the necessary precautions. I'll say it once again: if we can't give medication to people with mental disabilities, we've got no business giving wheelchairs to people with physical disabilities. Use the right tool for the right job in the right situation (sorry, I've been studying Aristotle), and you can solve the problem.

So, that's my ADD rant. I think it's the longest thing I've written so far, but I've been meaning to do something like this for a long time. There's a ton of information I left out, and I may come back to it another time, but that's the stuff you really need to know. ADD is not a figment of society's imagination, it's not the result of bad parenting, and it sometimes needs to be treated with pills. The key is figuring out who actually has it and who really is a bad kid.

If you've read all the way through this, I really appreciate it. I usually don't reveal the fact that I have ADD (although I told a couple people in my dorm that I have "an organizational disorder" so they would stop bugging me to clean my room), but I had to speak from personal experience to adequately make my case. I think I may hold off on my other planned post for today. It's also kinda long. Thanks again for reading, and use your knowledge wisely.

Posted by CD on November 21, 2003 10:47 PM
Semi-Intelligent Comments

Interesting post and in my opinion it's fairly typical of adults with ADD.
I predict that if you go off medication - you won't do it for long. It's sort of like a car I used to have that had a switch for "premium sound" - like I'm ever going to want to listen to crappy sound?
It's a biological problem and given the choice between "thinking straight" w/o a whole lot of effort and constantly drifting away on impulsive tangents I think you'll pick the first choice every time - by going back on the medication.

By the way, there are a whole bunch of newer medications that are superior to Ritalin in many ways including, Strattera and Concerta. Ritalin has a pretty short half-life and when it stops working it generally drops you like a ton of bricks.

Posted by: JD Mays at February 16, 2004 12:53 PM

I'm actually on Concerta right now. It's a lot more effective than the short-term stuff. I still don't know if I want to stay on the meds after college though. I want to be a screenwriter, and I tend to be more creative when I let my mind wander. Maybe I'll just take the medicine after I've come up with a plot.

Posted by: CD at February 16, 2004 01:16 PM

Well, I suppose it's a matter of finding the right balance. Sometimes it ends up being a choice between being more creative and having the attention span necessary to actually write anything substantial. Stop by anytime you want to commiserate on this topic - been there, done that.

Posted by: JD Mays at February 16, 2004 08:50 PM

The truth about ADHD or ADD
I just wanted to say thank you for your personal testimony on the subject of this illiness. My daughter suffers from this medical disorder, she has most of the symptons you have just mentioned and it's has been most difficult trying to find the right combinations of meds to help keep her on track. She takes Ritalin right now but, like you mentioned in your article that, doesn't seemed to be working for her anymore so we might try some other form of meds, like Concerta the one you mentioned.
What type of short-term generic are you taking maybe that's something else we need to look into.

thank you

Posted by: Bev Fisher at April 28, 2004 08:33 AM

Thank you for writing this. I am 20 years old and I have just been diagnosed with ADD. I'm going to print your essay so that my parents can read it and maybe they will better be able to understand why I wont clean my room or why I am a brillant C student. Thank you for sharing your story because finally I feel like I relate to someone.

Posted by: Cortni at May 26, 2004 03:43 PM

I think the last post is a good example of the ADD/ADHD "illness". He/She wants an excuse to give his parents for why he won't clean his room or why he's doing bad in school. ADHD is fraudulent--a creation of the psychiatric-pharmaceutical cartel, without which they would have nothing to prescribe their dangerous, addictive, Schedule II, stimulants for--namely, Ritalin (methylphenindate), Dexedrine (dextro-amphetamine), Adderall (mixed dextro- and levo-amphetamine) and, Gradumet, and Desoxyn (both of which are methamphetamine, 'speed,' 'ice'). Twenty five years of research, not deserving of the term 'research.,' has failed to validate ADD/ADHD as a disease. Tragically--the "epidemic" having grown from 500 thousand in 1985 to between 5 and 7 million today--this remains the state of the 'science' of ADHD." If you truly care about your children you should take the time to learn about the fraud of ADD. After all if it is a real "illness" all you'll do is verify that fact for yourself. this site would be a good start...

Posted by: Concerned at October 5, 2004 02:26 PM

This is by far the most expressive email that I've read on the subject of Adult ADD. As I was reading it, it almost felt as if you were inside of me and I'd finally become effective in communicating what I feel. Currently, I'm not on any medications, but for the first time in my life, I am seriously considering talking to my doctor about Strattera. I have self-diagnosed myself with Adult ADD. It is because I have self diagnosed that I haven't taken any medications. It won't surprise me one bit when my doctor explains that my diagnosis is correct. I've observed, researched and studied quite a bit about this disorder and my personal self. I am one of the very few who wanted to believe that I don't have this disorder. I wanted to believe that I just needed to make some simple behavioral changes in my life. But after reading your essay, I am further convinced that I definately have this disorder. WOW! I am still dumbfounded that somebody was able to accurately articulate what I feel. I just printed your essay and decided that I can confidently visit my doctor and say, "read this. This is what's going on with me and this is how I feel". Initially, I didn't know how to approach my doctor with this and sell him on the fact that based on my research, I unquestionably have Adult ADD. Thank you a million times over. I wish you luck and hope that you'll wish me the same.


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