Tuesday, December 06, 2005

ADHD: Art Desks of DOOM!

The number three symptom in Hallowell and Ratey's Diagnostic Criteria for Attention Deficit Disorder in Adults is procrastination.

3. Chronic procrastination or trouble getting started.
Adults with ADD associate so much anxiety with beginning a task, due to their fears that they won't do it right, that they put it off, and off, which, of course, only adds to the anxiety around the task.

As I reread that snippet I found myself laughing. Surely *I* wasn't afraid of any projects. Wasn't it often another ADHD trait, fear of boredom, that steered me away from the things I was supposed to be doing? Wasn't easy distractibility usually the main culprit? Or perhaps fixation was at fault?

ADHD people tend to get fixated. So instead of rushing to repair the roof before it rains we're more likely to spend the afternoon indexing our 20 gigabyte MP3 collection with ID3 tags, researching model decal application techniques, or participating in intellectually stimulating but meaningless internet forums. Then the rain comes and we look foolish. We're not really afraid of the roof, we're just having a hard time putting down what we were doing to get up there to fix it.

So I agreed that Hallowell and Ratey's main criteria were hallmarks of the ADHD adult, but I disagreed with the explanation they offered. Then I remembered my art desk and I felt FEAR. The kind that makes your heart and breath stop even for a moment. I was terrified of my art desk.

I wish I could relate to you a humorous anecdote of the time my art desk leaped out at me one night and scared me silly, but my art desk has never so much as moved an inch at me. I, on the other hand, have tried to leap, fly, and soar with my skills before I could do the proverbial walk and took on projects that were beyond my reach. They didn't so much stretch me as they strained and distorted me, leaving me rather sore and sour. I could have grown from those experiences if it hadn't been for my luck that year. Some business partners stole my art and sicked lawyers on me, I had a violent reaction to medication meant to treat ADHD (giving me Chronic Motor Tic Disorder - my major disability) and my wife balked at spending money on a con I wanted to send art to. That last act was the final straw for my stretched out mind. Moodiness became full blown depression, I was certain the world didn't like me anymore, and I didn't enter my studio again for nine months. I buried myself inside the binary world of my Amiga 500 instead.

When I came out of my funk I had an aversion to art desks. For example, to get into my local art store these days I have to pass a gauntlet of glaring white desks. I get the shakes and go weak in the knees. The ladies in the store rush up to me and ask "Can I help you?" and I know they wouldn't just ask anybody that. They KNOW. They see the fear. Just when I'm certain they are going to ask "Can I interest you in a shiny new art desk with sharp edges and violent white spaces?" I bolt and run.

Where was I again? Oh, right. Procrastination via fear. I don't fear many projects. I still take on more than I can chew, but even if I draw I still fear that art desk. Somewhere I began to associate personal failure with art and I've been fighting it ever since.

I believe that distractibility, the inability to switch gears, and a near pathological fear of boredom are the main aspects of ADHD procrastination. We do struggle with procrastination more so than most people who I would consider normal and successful. However, I disagree with the doctors that fear of failure should be used when describing the criteria that help people define ADD in adults. Don't we all fear failure at one point or another? Isn't there something inside all of us that stops us from spreading out our wings and flying? Perhaps people with ADHD have a more intense fear, which wouldn't surprise me, but I am fairly fearless about many things in my life. There is much I do not worry about whether I will succeed or not. I am too compelled. This column is a perfect example. Who reads it? There are maybe 40 people a day who come by and look it over for apparently 5 seconds or less. And still I write. Failure? Fear? They have no hold on this compulsion to express myself. I know that many other people with ADHD can relate with me. I know I am not alone. We burn brightly and follow our own paths. Unfortunately, we have a tendency to light everything else around us on fire.

Interestingly, there is not much I can do about distractibility and fixation, but I can do something about fear. I can face it and conquer it. So here's what I propose. Let's make a goal and keep it this week. I will sit down and draw two critters this week and post them by Friday and I'll finish a new illustration by Christmas if it kills me. Can you face your fears?