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Monday, March 07, 2005

ADD & Depression

Depression after success. Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't it? For me, this is almost the most annoying aspect of ADD, second only to my kids and I are really enjoying American Idol this year. We're big Carrie Underwood fans. And yes, I changed the subject on purpose. ;) This time it was controlled and exaggerated, but most of the time ADD takes me for a ride and I don't realize I've boarded the train until long after I've left whatever I was supposed to be doing far behind me. That aspect of ADD is annoying and disruptive enough, but getting sad because I did well!?! What is up with that?

There are better descriptions of the phenomenon in Edward M. Hallowell's and John J. Ratey's book, Driven to Distraction, but here's a my simple explanation. With ADD, focus is always an issue. When I manage to get myself engrossed with a project, I enter a new zone of focus — of hyperfocus. Finally, I have clarity. Finally, I have purpose. Finally, I am getting somewhere with my project. However, when this hyperfocus stage comes to an end at the project's completion there is a period of chaos. The object of my focus has faded away, and with it went my focus. Without focus I flounder and slip into depression, back into the fog in my mind and moving nowhere.

Sounds dreadful, doesn't it? And you might think I feel sorry for myself, but you wouldn't know me very well. When I realize this has happened I become furious. In the past, my fury would translate into self-flagellation which wasn't very good for my self-esteem. “What a waste of time,” I would think. “What a distraction. How dumb of me. What a loser.”

Discovering I had become depressed after success was like discovering I had been walking around church with my pants down. I found it very embarrassing because I expected a certain level of productivity from myself. I won't accept excuses. So once I learned what was happening I began to work on eliminating it from my life. I shortened months of downtime into weeks. Then I took weeks of downtime and shortened them into one or two. I accomplished this by closing the gap between the time I entered the depression and the time I realized I was in depression. It has taken me many years of training, but I am confident I can reduce this annoyance even further. The trick, of course, is learning how to recognize it before you lose too much time. Ideally, I'd be prepared for it in the future and head it off at the pass.

I bring this up because I didn't do so well heading it off at the pass in February. I had a set back. Or maybe I'm not as in control as I like to believe I am. At any rate, now that I've shaken off the deep funk and fog I am thinking I need to prepare better next time to not be caught unawares. According to “Driven to Distraction”, I should “(e)xpect depression after success. People with ADD commonly complain of feeling depressed, paradoxically, after a big success. This is because the high stimulus of the chase or the challenge or the preparation is over. The deed is done. Win or lose, the adult with ADD misses the conflict, the high stimulus, and feels depressed.” This is more or less what I stated above, though I wouldn't say I miss it. It is more like I was able to tune out the commotion around me before, but once the engrossing task is over it is hard for my mind to shout focus out over the din. Notice, too, that there is no advice on how to prevent this from happening in their description. Just advice to accept it. Well, I don't want to accept it. Depression after success is a pain in the pants and I'd rather not experience it, thank you very much. Logic dictates that if I know there's a cliff coming up on the road ahead I should be able to stop in time or find a detour and avoid the cliff entirely.

So if these processes occur without my volition, what can I do to prevent this depression in the future? I don't know if I can prevent it entirely, but I might be able to minimize its effects, or maybe trick myself into picking up a new task before letting down from the current one.

    Preventing Depression After Success
  • Remember when I begin the project that I'll probably be depressed when the project is over whether I want to be or not

  • As the project starts to wind down try to line up my next project without getting distracted by it

  • When the project is completed, quickly begin the next project

  • If switching projects proves to be difficult, be mindful that depression is likely and find other things to do that lift your spirits

  • If depression sets in despite my efforts, try to realize where it comes from and shake it off


If you, or somebody you know, suffers with ADD maybe they're suffering from depression after success as well. It is fairly common in adults with ADD. As bizarre as this behavior is, remind them that they are in good company. For our group this is normal, but giving into the depression is destructive. If you can help them, you can help them not beat themselves up about this. They've got to do everything they can to shake it off and keep moving. That's what I'll try once my Utah Costumer's Guild assignment comes to a close. I have so many other projects I need to attend to I can't afford to lose any time to absentminded moping.
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