ADD illustrated pretty much perfectly.

I’m ADD, but didn’t know about it until my 30’s. Every now and then someone will ask me what it’s like and I usually say that it’s like having a television remote control with a stuck channel changer button. That’s not a great analogy.

This is a much better one:

XKCD cartoon on ADD>

Via the always great XKCD.

If you could take a drug that made you smarter, would you?

I found myself pondering this question after reading Johann Hari’s article titled My Experiment With Smart Drugs in which he tries out a drug called Provigil normally prescribed to narcoleptics, but which has been described by non-narcoleptics taking it as “Viagra for the brain.” Check it:

A week later, the little white pills arrived in the post. I sat down and took one 200mg tablet with a glass of water. It didn’t seem odd: for years, I took an anti-depressant. Then I pottered about the flat for an hour, listening to music and tidying up, before sitting down on the settee. I picked up a book about quantum physics and super-string theory I have been meaning to read for ages, for a column I’m thinking of writing. It had been hanging over me, daring me to read it. Five hours later, I realised I had hit the last page. I looked up. It was getting dark outside. I was hungry. I hadn’t noticed anything, except the words I was reading, and they came in cool, clear passages; I didn’t stop or stumble once.

Perplexed, I got up, made a sandwich – and I was overcome with the urge to write an article that had been kicking around my subconscious for months. It rushed out of me in a few hours, and it was better than usual. My mood wasn’t any different; I wasn’t high. My heart wasn’t beating any faster. I was just able to glide into a state of concentration – deep, cool, effortless concentration. It was like I had opened a window in my brain and all the stuffy air had seeped out, to be replaced by a calm breeze.

Once that article was finished, I wanted to do more. I wrote another article, all of it springing out of my mind effortlessly. Then I go to dinner with a few friends, and I decide not to tell them, to see if they notice anything. At the end of the dinner, my mate Jess turns to me and says, “You seem very thoughtful tonight.”

It seems the drug has become very popular on college campuses and has stirred up some debate on whether or not using it constitutes cheating in the same way steroid use by athletes is considering cheating. The drug isn’t a stimulant or an amphetamine and it doesn’t make you high or wired and it has only one known side effect in that it causes weight loss.

To many that may make it sound like the perfect drug. It makes you smarter and thinner? How could that possibly be bad? Hari seemed to be enjoying it:

The next morning I woke up and felt immediately alert. Normally it takes a coffee and an hour to kick-start my brain; today I’m ready to go from the second I rise. And so it continues like this, for five days: I inhale books and exhale articles effortlessly. My friends all say I seem more contemplative, less rushed – which is odd, because I’m doing more than normal. One sixty-something journalist friend says she remembers taking Benzadrine in the sixties to get through marathon articles, but she’d collapse after four or five says and need a long, long sleep. I don’t feel like that. I keep waiting for an exhausted crash, and it doesn’t seem to come.

[…] It’s hard to explain Provigil’s effects beyond that. Normally, one day out of seven I have a day when I’m working at my best – I’ve slept really well, and everything comes easily and fast. Provigil makes every day into that kind of day. It’s like I have been upgraded to a new operating system: Johann 3.0. On discussion boards, I talk to American student doctors taking the drug, who say they feel exactly the same way. “I keep thinking – where’s the catch?” one says. It turns out it is being given to US soldiers too.

It was then that I noticed: I just wasn’t very hungry. I am normally porcine; my ex once seriously considered having a trough made for me. But on Provigil, I was filled up by a bowl of soup and a piece of bread. I would feel stuffed half-way through my normal meals, and push the food away unfinished. One of my friends howled: “Who are you, and what have you done with the real Johann?”

The author goes on to note that we still don’t know what the long-term effects of the drug are. Who knows what toll will be exacted on healthy people using it when they don’t really need to? There’s also some concern that it could be addictive so Hari decides to quit for three days to see what happens:

It was easy. I painlessly sagged back to my former somewhat-depleted state, as though the Provigil had never happened. I worked in my usual stop-start bursts. I ate my usual portions-and-a-half. I stared sadly at the pack of Provigil, and every time I hit a mental stumbling block, I had to discipline myself not to crack out a Provigil.

It sounds like it might be psychologically addictive more so than chemically addictive, but that’s still an addiction. It’s at this point that Hari reflects on the ethics of the drug:

As soon as my three days were up and I started again, my brain revved back into super-speed and my stomach began to shrivel. But this time I began to worry about the ethics of it all. If this drug had been available during my A-Levels or finals, I would have been the first to guzzle it down. But isn’t that cheating? What’s the difference between Provigil for students and steroids for athletes? And if this drug becomes as popular as, say, anti-depressants or Ritalin, won’t there be a social pressure for workers to take it? Many parents feel intensely pressured by schools today to drug away their child’s disobedience; will they feel pressured by their bosses to drug away their natural fatigue?

Professor Anjan Chatterjee says, “This age of cosmetic neurology is coming, and we need to know it’s coming.” The use of Provigil and its progeny will be mainstream and mainlined in just a few years, he argues, and this made me feel excited by the prospect – and anxious. But all this raced through my brain as I worked faster (and ate less) than I ever have: it was hard to dwell on the drawbacks in those circumstances. As the end of my final five days approached, I had to decide what to do. Do I order another pack? Do I try to think all my thoughts at a faster pace from here on in with the power of Provigil?

You’ll have to go read the rest yourself to find out what Hari decided. I found I could relate to his experience quite a bit because I’ve had similar thoughts about my time on prescription drugs to offset my ADD.

I haven’t used ADD drugs since I was laid off the first time in 2005 because I no longer had the insurance to cover the cost. Since starting the current job I could probably afford to get back on them, but I’m not sure I want to. Again the long-term effects of using drugs like Adderall to treat ADD aren’t well known and using the drugs isn’t really a cure for ADD, it just helps a bit. That said the difference in my ability to concentrate while on the drugs and when off them was noticeable and there are days when ADD is really impacting me that using the drugs would be very tempting, but they also changed my personality and made it harder to sleep at times. There’s all sorts of things I’ve been meaning to do that I haven’t done that I probably would have done had I been on the medication.

The idea of a drug that would open up my creativity and productivity with weight loss as a “side-effect” is quite tempting. Think of not only all the work I could accomplish at my job, but all the blog posts I could write! Then I think about how Hari got so caught up in reading a book that he didn’t notice the passage of time. I already do that without the aid of a drug. Books, TV, and particularly video games have all drawn me in to the point that I look up and see it’s 2:30AM and I need to get up for work in the morning. I can only imagine what might happen if I were taking Provigil.

Then there’s also the realization that I’m not sure if I want to be more productive. I will probably never be rich because I goof off too much, but at the same time my stress levels are much lower than a lot of other people I know and that’s probably because I goof off too much. I go into work, do my 40 hours, come home and forget about the fact that I have a job until Monday morning. I put in a solid effort when I’m at work, but I also try to avoid busting my ass anymore than is absolutely necessary. I work because I have to, not because I want to. If I ever manage to win the lotto with an amount that would ensure that I’d never have to work again then chances are I’d never work again. There are enough places in the world I’d enjoy visiting and things I’d enjoy doing that I don’t think I’d ever get to a point where work would seem attractive.

In general I’m pretty happy with who I am. There’s a few details I wouldn’t mind improving, and I’m working on those things, but overall I don’t have a problem with myself that taking a drug that could potentially make me into a different person seems necessary.  Of course the idea that taking the drug might make me productive enough to develop enough wealth that I wouldn’t have to work anymore and, by extension, not take the drug is somewhat attractive, but it’s also a gamble as there’s no guarantee that being more productive wouldn’t mean I’d just put out more crap nobody would really want.

At this point in time I have no desire to go back on my ADD drugs so I’d be unlikely to consider Provigil either. But could I rule it out completely? I’m torn on the idea myself. How about you?

Must be spring. I forgot my lunch.

Being ADD I tend to rely on set routines to get me through parts of the day and when I disrupt those routines I almost always end up forgetting something. Because the weather was particularly pleasant this morning and is expected to be so throughout the day I decided to leave my coat at home. This meant I needed to add a new step to my routine to make sure I grabbed my car keys from the coat pocket where I usually keep them before leaving. This ended up squeezing out the part of my routine where I remember to grab my lunch from the fridge. As a result I just realized a few moments ago that I don’t have a lunch with me and will need to eat out. This also means I’ll need to be aware of the possibility that my wife, who went through the trouble of asking me specifically last night if I wanted her to make me a lunch and then made me one when I said yes, may be a bit irritated with me when I get home today.

All this because spring is finally here. Not much of a sign, but it’ll do.

Debate over drug safety makes some take another look at ADHD.

Good article in today’s New York Times (registration required) on how the growing debate about the safety of drugs used to offset the effects of ADHD are causing some folks to reconsider exactly what the problem is. Among a lot of counselors and psychologists who specialize in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder there’s a growing consensus that calling it a “disorder” may not be an accurate label:

The term attention-deficit disorder turns out to be a misnomer. Most people who have it actually have remarkably good attention spans as long as they are doing activities that they enjoy or find stimulating. As Martha B. Denckla of the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore has noted, we should probably be calling the condition something like “intention-inhibition disorder,” because it is a condition in which one’s best intentions — say, reading 50 pages in a dense textbook or writing a 10-page paper in a timely fashion — go awry.

Essentially, A.D.H.D. is a problem dealing with the menial work of daily life, the tedium involved in many school situations and 9-to-5 jobs.

Another hallmark, impulsivity, or its more positive variant, spontaneity, appears to be a vestige from lower animals forced to survive in the wild. Wild animals cannot survive without an extraordinary ability to react. If predators lurk, they need to act quickly.

This vestige underscores the fact that human genetic variability, the fact that we are not all simply clones of one another, has allowed us to survive as a species for 150,000 years in a variety of contexts and environments.

In essence, attention-deficit disorder is context driven. In many situations of hands-on activities or activities that reward spontaneity, A.D.H.D. is not a disorder.

Given my own personal experiences with being ADHD and all that I’ve read about it since finding out that I was ADHD I must say that I’m glad to see this viewpoint gaining wider consideration. There’s nothing wrong with me, I’m literally just wired differently than a lot of other folks are and that difference has as many advantages as it does disadvantages. I’ve managed to build a career as a respected Computer Technician in spite of having little formal training in them simply because I’ve been able to focus so much attention on them thanks to having an interest and being ADHD. I’m certain I wouldn’t be half as good at my job if I weren’t ADHD. Less important from a making-a-living standpoint, but important to me as a form of recreation is how good at video games being ADHD makes me.

Once I learned about ADHD and how it impacts my life I was able to recognize when it was being a disadvantage and make adjustments to my behavior to compensate. Since I was laid off last year I’ve not been on the prescription of Adderall I was using during my time at Ford and I can definitely tell the difference, but I’m not sure if I want to go back to using it or not once I’m back in a position where I’ve got medical benefits to cover it with. It certainly makes aspects of my life easier to be on the medication as fitting in with the rest of society is sometimes difficult when your brain is wired differently, but me on Adderall isn’t the real me in some respects. The growing concern over possible health effects of long-term use of that and other drugs commonly used to treat ADHD is another point to consider. Which brings me to my daughter, Courtney, who is also ADHD. Her grades at school were affected by having to stop using Adderall as she had been during my time at Ford. She’s had to work a lot harder to try and keep up with things and she’s not doing as well as she was with the help of the drugs. She, like I, has days when she wishes she could go back on the prescription and then other days when she doesn’t really want to. I know that I come home at the end of the day mentally exhausted from trying to stay focused during the day and Courtney is in a similar state, but the medication can also contribute to sleepless nights on occasion because it is a stimulant.

It comes down to a couple of heavy questions: I’m big on the idea of accepting myself for who and what I am so is it a betrayal of who I am to take a drug that makes me more like everyone else? More importantly, is it right for me to impose that change on my daughter for the sake of her getting good grades?

For the moment it’s a moot point as I don’t have medical benefits at this time and I can’t afford to pay for the prescriptions myself, but I’m hoping that won’t always be the case. Still I’m very happy to see that ADHD is being recognized as a “context-driven disorder” because that’s exactly what it is. Depending on the context it can be an advantage or a disadvantage. There is no cure, we’re just different that way.

Truth be told, I wouldn’t want to be cured of it even if it were possible. It’s part of who I am and I’ve accepted that.

On the positive aspects of ADHD.

Usually when you hear about ADHD all you hear about is the negative aspects of life for those of us who have the condition. So it’s refreshing to read a short, but good article titled The Upside of ADHD over at MSN’s Health & Fitness site that gives an overview of the positives that are rarely mentioned.

JetBlue Airways CEO and founder David Neeleman is famously frank about his ADHD. He was diagnosed in 2001, seven years after he realized he had it. By then, he’d already founded and then sold Morris Air. He had done so well in his own eccentric way that he felt he was doing fine without medication. Still, Neeleman says he’s not anti-meds: “I have talked to a lot of people who swear by the medication.”

Neeleman credits ADHD with his creativity and “out-of-the-box thinking”—it led him to invent e-tickets while at Morris, for example. “One of the weird things about the type of [ADHD] I have is, if you have something you are really, really passionate about, then you are really, really good about focusing on that thing. It’s kind of bizarre that you can’t pay the bills and do mundane tasks, but you can do your hyper-focus area.” He spends “all my waking hours” obsessing about JetBlue. The rest of his life, Neeleman says, would be a “disaster” if not for his wife, who manages their home and children; his accountant, who pays the bills and tracks his finances; and his personal assistant, who sends him his schedule every day and steers him from appointment to appointment, keeping him on track.

As frustrating as being ADHD can be there’s no way I’d get rid of it if it were possible. I’ve grown to rely on the positive aspects it provides. I have no doubts that I wouldn’t be the professional geek that I am if not for my ADHD and I do seem to have an unusual ability to be able to work with just about anyone. Plus it helps to make me awesome at video games much to the annoyance of the thirteen olds whose asses I kick regularly in Call of Duty. Being ADHD easily has as many positives to it as it does negatives and it’s nice to see some of those good aspects being highlighted.

Unemployment update.

Well, there’s isn’t much to update everyone on at the moment. I continue to send out resumes en masse and the phone continues to remain silent except for calls from the occasional telemarketer or a relative checking in to see how we’re holding up. I’ve probably got around 30 resumes out there right now and someone must be looking at them because the Monster.com folks at least keep track of how many times your resume is looked at when you post it on their site.

Being both ADD and unemployed has resulted in posting to the blog suffering dramatically and for this I apologize. One of the ways that people with ADD come to grips with their condition is to develop daily routines. Back when I was working I’d get up at 6AM as soon as the alarm rang and head straight for the bathroom where I’d hop into the shower. After the shower I’d get dressed and then get some breakfast where I’d watch the morning news for about a half hour. From there I’d login to check my email and perhaps get a short entry up before leaving for work. At the top of the stairs after putting on my coat I’d do my pat-down. That’s where you pat your pockets and coat to make sure you’ve got everything you need for the day: wallet, money, ID badge, beeper, and car keys. If any part of this routine was missed or had to be rushed I was certain to forget something and the rest of the day would be a total fuck up.

Being unemployed is a lot like being on vacation only not as relaxing. My morning routine is shot to hell, which has been surprisingly hard on the cat as well. The first week he was very troubled because that was also the week that Courtney had her winter break from school so no one was getting up early and he just didn’t understand what the hell had gone wrong. It’s clear that he’s grown most attached to me, however, as Courtney reports that he doesn’t get up with her in the mornings anymore preferring to sleep in until I get up so I can watch him eat. For not being much of a lap cat he doesn’t like to be alone. He’s currently laying on my bed behind not far from Anne and he’ll probably stay there until one of us goes out to the living room. So as far as the cat is concerned my being unemployed is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to him.

For the blog, though, it’s probably the worst thing to happen. I haven’t watched the news in two weeks and I don’t tend to read the newspaper so I’m completely out of touch with anything important that’s happened since I lost my job. I used to check the news websites out between meetings at work when there wasn’t a lot of time to do other things and I’d spent part of my lunch composing entries based on whatever I read earlier. You’d think that with all this free time I’d have plenty of time to do this stuff now, but I’m without a routine and so it throws my cognitive abilities out of whack. When I haven’t been surfing the job postings and sending out resumes I’ve tried to squeeze in some of the things I keep meaning to do, but never got around to previously like get the car in so the brakes and tires could be replaced. More about that later as it’s a story unto itself. When I’m not doing those things then I’m either gaming on the games I don’t usually have time for or I’m watching umpteen documentaries I recorded on the DVR that I’ve not had the chance to watch previously. Each day has been somewhat haphazard and I’m left with not a lot to write about. Except, possibly, reviews of games and movies which I’ve started a few entries on and need to finish up.

So I apologize for the dearth of activity around here. It’s the result of a bunch of factors not the least of which is my ADD. I think it shows that if I ever win the lottery the blog may be in serious trouble. I’m slowly starting to develop an unemployment routine, though, and I plan on working writing back into the equation sometime soon so please bear with me for a bit longer.

ADD and life with constant medication.

I’ve mentioned before that I am an adult who has the condition commonly referred to as ADD and that I’m currently taking medication to off-set the effects of that condition. The problem with relying on medication for something like this is that you have to take it every day for the rest of your life if you want to continue to receive the benefits from it. Being a difference in how the brain is hardwired makes ADD something that can’t be “cured” even if I wanted to, which I don’t because it brings with it as many advantages as it does disadvantages.

Still, it can be tricky at times to recognize just how the medication is helping me to focus my attention and get through the day. That is until I run out, like I have recently. I’ve been off my prescription for the past week due to the fact that the counselor I see having moved from one clinic to another. As a counselor he’s unable to prescribe the medication so I have to see the new clinic’s psychiatrist before my prescription can be renewed and that hasn’t happened yet. As a result I’ve run out.

I managed to survive 30 years without being aware of my ADD, let alone having any medication to help me deal with it, so I didn’t think missing a few days would be that big of a deal. The fact that it can be difficult to tell when the meds are working doesn’t help. Even with medication ADD still affects my life because the meds only help to reduce my distractability, it doesn’t eliminate it. There are bad days when my ADD comes shining through despite being on medication for it and on those days I find it difficult to accomplish anything. Without the meds my distractability has returned to where it was before and I’m coming home from work mentally exhausted. You can see the change right here in my blog as well. The number of entries for the past few days has been unusually light in part because I can’t keep my attention focused long enough to formulate what I consider to be a decent entry. I haven’t paid as much attention to the news either so some of the stuff I’d normally be ranting about has escaped my attention. I’ve been gaming quite a bit more lately and even that is having a hard time holding my attention and I’ve been feeling restless and creatively frustrated. There’s at least three web designs I’ve been working on that aren’t going anywhere at the moment because I can’t get my ideas out of my head and into the computer.

It’s amazing how much one little pill a day can make a difference in your life. I’m not fond of the idea of having to take this pill every day just so I can focus my attention a little better. It’s too much like relying on a crutch when I should be able to just do what needs to be done, but after the past few days I can’t deny that it is a big help. My caffeine intake has gone up considerably as a form of compensation. Many people with ADD are caffeine junkies as form of unaware self-medication. I can’t wait to get my prescription refilled.

Even as I sit here typing this I’m going over it in my head and trying to decide if it makes any sense or is even worth posting. I’m not entirely sure what my point was supposed to be outside of “having ADD can suck” or something along those lines. I suppose I felt the need to explain my lack of updates as of late. Or maybe I just wanted to show folks how ADD can affect your life. Or maybe I’m just being whiny. I’m not sure.

Weekend writer’s block.

Sat down at the PC three or four times over the weekend with the intent of making a new entry or two, but just couldn’t seem to come up with anything to say. Not for lack of topics, just lack of ability to put it into words or getting up the motivation to think through what I wanted to say. Always frustrating, but usually short lived. Will try to be a little more productive this week.

It’s all true! Really!

Was surfing around the website for ADDitude magazine and came across this page that listed 50 (or so) Great Things about ADD. I laughed out loud at least three times at things that were so definitely me.

Somedays the ADHD comes shining through.

That’s what my counselor likes to tell me, though he’s usually referring to Courtney when he mentions it. I had a day yesterday where my own ADHD came shining through and made life a bit of a struggle. In my case it was with my impulsivity. In the past I tended to be a lot less careful with my spending habits. If I saw something I wanted really badly and I had the money to buy it on hand, I did. Sometimes neglecting a bill or other obligation I might have had. I tend to get really excited about various video games, anime videos, collectibles, and gadgets and the more excited I am about something the harder it becomes to resist the impulse to snatch it up as soon as I see it. In the past I’ve rationalized this to myself with thoughts such as “Well, I can go with just eating Macaroni and Cheese for a couple of days.”

Can’t do that anymore because I have a family now. I’m not just affecting myself when I get impulsive and reminding myself of that usually keeps me in check. Recently I mentioned on here that Neverwinter Nights has gone gold. This game has been in development for over five years and I’ve been following it pretty closely the whole time. It’s easy to say that I’ve not been this excited about a particular video game in a long, long time. It’s supposed to hit store shelves sometime next week, but there was a rumor floating around yesterday that some Best Buy stores had gotten it in early.

Oooooooooo! The thought of getting a game that I and my buddies have been waiting five years for before anyone else suddenly flooded my head. How much fun would I have annoying my buddy Bill who had pre-ordered his copy on-line and probably wouldn’t see it until the end of next week if I could call him up and tell him how I was sharpening up my vorpal sword for a session in NWN. More so than the pure joy harassing a good friend, though, was the overwhelming desire to play this game I’ve dreamed about for five years. I wanted this game, badly. Those of you who are not gamers are thinking to yourselves, “Sheesh, get a life buddy! It’s just a GAME!” To which all I can say is: Everyone has their passions that they do stupid things for.

I stayed late at work and started calling stores. Best Buy in Dearborn, Best Buy in Westland, Best Buy in Novi, Best Buy in Ann Arbor. All the stores I could think of within a reasonable driving distance between work and home. Just this act of calling around raised my pulse and quickened my breath as my excitement continued to grow. The Novi store said they showed they had 18 of them in stock, but no one could locate where they were in the store. That was all I needed. I left work and started home heading straight to the Dearborn BB to stop and check it out. Half the clerks I spoke to had never even heard of the game so there was a chance they overlooked it on the display rack. I stopped at the Dearborn Best Buy, Dearborn CompUSA, Dearborn GameStop (which turned out to only sell console games), Stopped at the Westland Best Buy and the Westland Software Etc. All I could find was some promo boxes on display in the BB stores that you could take up front to pay $10 and pre-order the game. I finally concluded it was those boxes the Novi store was registering in their computer, not the actual game itself.

No one had it and weren’t likely to until Monday or Tuesday at the absolute earliest. It was crazy wishful thinking on my part to even bother calling the stores, let alone drive to them on the way home. It took me an hour and a half to get home from work as I went from place to place chasing a dream. And it is, after all, just a video game. I had settled down by the time I made it home and was able to reflect on how it’s been a long time since I last got that nuts about something. It’s a good thing no one had it because if the first couple of stores I stopped at actually did have it, I probably would’ve bought it even though I can’t really afford to at the moment. We’re getting Courtney ready to go to camp next week and as such money is tight, the game would’ve pushed us into the red. Usually when I slip into my gotta-have-it-now mode I can talk my way out of buying it before I get to the checkout line by reminding myself of my obligations. That wouldn’t have worked this time, it’s been too long a period of anticipation. It’s my ADHD shining through big time. To the point where it almost blinds me. Even now, the phone is within easy reach. That little voice is going “You never know, they could have it in stock today…