Tuesday, March 07, 2006

ADHD: Bored of Boredom - Five Ways to Bear It. One Way to Beat It.

(cc) Douglas CooteyLast week's column didn't strike a chord in as many people as others I've written. I can only think that is a good thing. There is hope for the survival of the species. We can't all live like maniacs at the far edge, dangling off cliffs, betting the house on a football game, juggling machetes, etc...but would you be surprised to learn that all that high stimulation activity is a subset of something you probably CAN relate to?

The seventh symptom in Hallowell and Ratey's Diagnostic Criteria for Attention Deficit Disorder in Adults is:

7. An intolerance of boredom.
A corollary of number 6. Actually, the person with ADD seldom feels bored. This is because the millisecond he senses boredom, he swings into action and finds something new; he changes the channel.

If there is one aspect of AD/HD I wish people who don't have it could fully understand it is the intolerance of boredom. One of the loudest complaints I have heard from people who don't have AD/HD is that everybody gets bored. "Everybody has a hard time focusing when it's noisy or boring," they say. "Everybody has a hard time finishing boring tasks. AD/HD people aren't special. Get over it you mewling, mealy mouthed, misfit!" OK, maybe they're not that bad, but dang, they're close.

Where was I again? Oh, intolerance.

Certainly people who don't have attention deficit disorder cannot relate with this intolerance for boredom. They wonder why we can't do what they do all day long: grin and bear it. After all, isn't that part of growing up? Well, here's the secret even the hallowed Hallowell and Ratey didn't quite express. When they stated that the millisecond we sense boredom we change the channel, they forgot to mention that it isn't actually a choice we make. This is what makes us different. The millisecond we encounter boredom our brain races, leaps, bounds, or flies in a totally new direction. Sometimes it tries to do all of them at once. It pursues any event it can seize upon that sparks interest and staves off boredom.

We want to focus. We need to focus. But our brain is constantly trying to stay entertained. It's as if our brain is coated with boredom repellant teflon. I disagree with Hallowell and Ratey. I am constantly bored, even when surrounded by things that I love to do, but it is worst in public. For me, trying to pay attention when I am bored is physically uncomfortable. My brain feels like it's trying to escape out my ear.

What can we do about it?

There are two aspects to this problem that have two different solutions: 1) Paying attention when you're supposed to and 2) avoiding boredom in a constructive way.

From what I've been told, paying attention has some serious benefits. No, really! Like when you're driving you can avoid accidents. Or when your girl is expressing her heartfelt feelings you don't suddenly ask, "Hey, wanna catch a movie?" I also hear paying attention is great for on the job performance. I think I may try that sometime.

Usually medications are prescribed to aid people with ADHD to deal with this problem. I'll leave that for you to discuss with your therapist, doctor, or aromatherapy practitioner. The medication solution has a few detriments that aren't always obvious: They're expensive. Your body acclimates to the medications resulting in increased dosages or cycling regimens. Medications can have varied and diverse side-effects which are adverse to your health and mental well-being. And lastly, you may simply forget to take them.

Here are five suggestions you can try to keep yourself on track when you feel boredom mugging your attention span.

  1. Get comfortable, or, if boredom is lulling you to sleep, get uncomfortable.
  2. Make sure you've eaten, visited the rest room, adjusted your clothes, etc. Minimizing distractions will help you stay the distance.
  3. Mentally prepare yourself. Even a little positive attitude can empower you. I'll say things to myself like "You can do this!" and "It's just for 30 minutes." Without the pep talk I just suffer.
  4. Take notes. Keeps you physically and mentally engaged. At worst, you could always doodle.
  5. Develop your will power. You have it. Use it. It won't be easy at first because your mind has ideas of its own about curing boredom.

Of course, all this assumes that absolute attention is mandatory. Sometimes, you just don't want to be bored or waste time. I used to find myself staying home because I knew I would be bored and dreaded that happening. I was becoming a hermit. Fortunately for my social life I created my Boredom Emergency Kit.

Over the years I have filled a satchel with every possible activity I could imagine to stave off episodes of crippling boredom. Now there is no last minute hesitation about leaving or even scurrying about finding something to bring along just in case I get bored.I just grab my satchel and go. It is filled with notebooks, sketchbooks, art supplies, and even musical instruments from time to time. I have an iBook to throw in there as well. I never have an excuse to feel bored. Even knowing it is at hand helps me tolerate boring activities. Now I never have to just grin and bear it.

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finnish girl said...

Ok... this is downright spookey!!! I mean, you just described pretty much how I think/act...

I think I don't have to take any tests or see a specialist to confirm that I DO have AD/HD. There's no question about it anymore. It's because this intolerance of boredom is yet another trait in me that I really CAN relate to.

I just cannot stand being bored. I just freak out. And - what do you know - have also made myself that "1st aid kid" to prevent the boredom from happening... and it's something I can take with me... like for example if I visit my parents on the week-ends.

Are we on a twiglight zone here? Eh...

If someone would see the notes that I had written while sitting in class, they would laugh out loud. I mean, every chapter is written with a different colour pen, then there's doodlings that frame the original text... I did the doodlings while listening to what the teacher was saying. I had to doodle or I could not have comprehended what was being said. And if I chose to sit put and not to doodle, I completely forgot what was being taught. Or, I started to pay attention to the eye-glasses that the teacher kept taking off and putting back on and didn't hear a word he/she said...

Anonymous said...


I just wanted to say thanks. I have only been reading a few months, but I have learned a lot about the behavior of a few close friends. I had previously concluded that I am not ADD, and your posts confirm that diagnosis. (Not all good news there - my mind sometimes does strange things, but they are not typically included in ADD or ADHD symptoms.)

Anyway, please keep up the good work. You are helping folks out there.

- Dave

Melissa said...

I'm so glad you talked about boredom being painful! My whole body aches and I feel nauseous when I am bored!!! Great job again Doug!!!

Douglas Cootey said...

finnish girl ~ I came across an old college notebook the other week and got a big laugh out of it. I'm afraid there were more doodles than notes. My one saving grace was that they were all design classes so, um, I was supposed to be doodling. Yeah, that's it. ;)

Dave ~ Thanks for being a regular reader - especially since you don't have ADD yourself. Helping people understand AD/HD better is one of my goals here so I'm really glad you said something.

Melissa ~ I'm so glad I'm not the only one. I don't get nauseous, but I do get squirmy and restless. Almost panicky. That's why my Boredom Emergency Kit is such a live saver for me. ;) Keeps my mind busy when I'm trapped somewhere unpleasant.


Sylvana said...

You are absolutely right, this does strike a chord with me. I am perpetually late because of my fear of being bored. It can irritate people (I usually brush that off by labeling them "time nazis"). I also take on way too much because of my fear of boredom. I have left a wake of unfinished projects throughout my life. Again, this can irritate people.
BUT, I have found that I get far more done than the average person BECAUSE I use all those spare minutes (causing me to be late) and take on all those projects (even if some never get completed). So all in all, I would say that it's is a good thing (any resemblance to Martha Stewart is purely coincidental).

But that paying attention thing, now that sounds interesting. Maybe someday I will work on that.

Douglas Cootey said...

Sylvana ~ That's too funny. I usually call them "Time Fascists", but I reserve that label for people who treat punctuality like the 11th commandment. You know, the one Moses brought down from the mount but broke? These guys treat punctuality as a virtue that supersedes all other virtues. If you don't have it, you're not worth the flesh you walk around in...even if you keep all ten commandments, pay your taxes, AND are fun at parties. The funny thing is I don't really have much use for them either. :)

Hey, do you folks think comments are down because I've turned on full feeds in my RSS feed? I'm thinking of switching back to short feeds...


Susanne said...

Fortunately I never feel bored.
I would hate that feeling!
Oh yes, I know boredom from the past - but that's over.
I myself know great extremes in my feelings between dark sadness and joyful ecstasy, and all facettes between...
...and I enjoy all feelings, believe it or not :-)

Many interesting informations in your text!

Heidi the Hick said...

Douglas! Boredom repellant teflon!!! The brain trying to escape out the ear!!! Boredom Emergency Kit! To quote Homer Simpson: It's funny. Because it's true!!!

oh, laugh and cry. So true.

I don't know what RSS feeds are, but if they'r adult you should fee them shorter since they're not growing anymore. (?) My comments are low too. It's springy-feeling here and everybody's outside? Also, can I link this blog to mine? Would you be okay with that?

ScarletSphinx said...

I'm reminded of the saying, "Only boring people get bored." True or not, I am rarely bored...too many wheels and sprockets tinkering in my head.

Tetris Ling said...

Cute, although what you said about medications isn't entirely true. For most people, there is no cyclical dosing (unless you count when you forget to take it) or increase in dosage, at least once you find the right dose. I'm not saying "medication is peachy and a cure" or anything. But if you're lucky enough to find a medication that works, it actually stays pretty consistant.

No argument about the cost though.

codenazi said...

I think you just summed up why I took so well to the internet (and BBSs/FIDONet/etc before it). It's nigh-impossible to be bored with that! So much great information out there for the mind to leap to!

Douglas Cootey said...

Susanne ~ I can do without the darkly sad extremes. Depression and boredom go hand in hand for me, so I'm constantly keeping myself busy to fend off both of them.

Heidi ~ You're sprightly today. :) Go ahead and link my blog. Thx.

ScarletSphinx ~ Are you saying I'm boring? I must not be doing enough projects. I'll have to work on that. :p

Douglas Cootey said...

Tetris Ling ~ Are you speaking from personal experience? From my experience, both personal and first hand with others, people are constantly acclimating to their meds. That's why kids on Ritalin, for example, need to have "Ritalin vacations". Also, considering that Ritalin can cause stunted growth, insomnia, decreased appetite and even tics, nevermind irregular heartbeats and liver damage, I feel that I should recommend caution be taken before partaking.

The reason I began searching for other meds 15 years ago was because Ritalin had stopped working for me. My experience wasn't an unusual one I was assured. You're experience seems to be the unusual one. I don't know anybody who is still taking the same meds or dosage they were taking five years ago. Not where psychotropics are involved.

I do, however, recognize that these stimulants do work for some people, but I'm not being dishonest when I advise caution and suggest that for some people, such as myself, meds are fickle at best, dangerous at worst.

Thanks for your comments. Interesting discussion.


Douglas Cootey said...

codenazi ~ Curse Fidonet and BBSs! They set me up for serious internet addiction. LOL My problem now is not being bored, but in stepping away from this very interesting constant source of new information to get anything else done in my life. :) Thanks for commenting.

Anonymous said...

It's not *all* about boredom...

Jeez...don't get so carried away. What you've described is indeed true, but it's not the whole story. An aspect of ADD is that we suddenly focus on meaningless things that we wouldn't even consider interesting.

For example, I was discussing a concept with my teacher after class (because my mind kept wandering during the lecture no matter how desperately I tried to reorient my focus). I become very emotional when I don't understand something that everyone else does. So as my teacher explains this concept to me, I'm putting in 150% effort, aided by this desperateness, to focus and understand. And yet...one of the computers in the room (a computer lab), suddenly switches to a screen saver and makes that electric static noise. My brain immediately becomes intensely (and i mean *intensely*) aware of *only that noise* for a few seconds. Then suddenly I realize I wasn't listening to my teacher anymore, and I snap back in desperation to what he was saying. In other words, I wasn't really *bored* with him or his lecture. And I didn't find that stupid computer monitor static sound "interesting". My mind simply decided on its own what to focus on.

This article uses the word "boredom," but it's obvious the meaning is different from our everday use of "bored". You need to be careful to understand that.

Sandra said...

In addition to having my own, I have taught the habit of carrying a "Boredom Emergency Kit" to my kids. For me, it's more as a way to make use of down time, not to fight boredom. I do not have ADHD, nor do I think that everyone gets bored. I think that SOME people get bored. Everyone does have to deal with so called "boring moments" but we don't all feel bored during them. I do sometimes feel trapped though. These times it is more about being held back from something that I would rather do (which is where the Boredom Emergency Kit becomes critical for me). I think that you have a wonderfully creative mind. I can't imagine you ever being bored regardless of ADHD. Having such free flow of ideas as you do is a constant companion. I really enjoy your entries. Love the Wiki link to the bag of holding. Sent it to my RPG loving kids.
Thanks for your comment on my blog. I still have yours linked there, but I am still very new to this so not much traffic.

Douglas Cootey said...

Anonymous ~ Thanks for commenting.

Be careful about jumping to conclusions. You might hurt yourself when you miss. ;) This article was about boredom. It's not the limit of my understanding of AD/HD. I just keep each article limited to one topic. I've covered easy distractibility before here and here for example. I'll be discussing it again this Tuesday, in fact.

As for getting carried away, it's a humor column. You know satire, sarcasm, even exaggerated hyperbole? I thought the "juggling machetes" comment was a dead give away.

Still, I think I used the proper definition of boredom: the state of being bored. Doesn't that mean being flat, wooden, and rather stiff?

Anyway, that's a great example of ADD at work that you shared. Obviously, boredom wasn't a factor in that incident, but that doesn't mean that boredom isn't ever a factor. By breaking the various aspects of ADD down and cheekily discussing them I aim to help people either understand themselves or their friends and loved ones better. So have a little faith in me and stick around. I cover a lot more territory than you realize.

Douglas Cootey said...

Sandra ~ Thanks for your interesting comment. My Boredom Emergency Kit is meant to also help me combat down time. Maybe because I have ADHD and have lost track of so much time, I now detest wasting time. I get very cross with myself when I catch myself spinning in place. So although the kit helps me stave off waves of boredom it also helps me keep busy. But I'm afraid I am constantly bored. It takes tremendous effort to stay focused and work on one project so I can have the satisfaction of completion.

Kind words. Thank you. Traffic will come. It takes time, networking, and finding a good niche. I've been at this for a year and am only now seeing regular readers. If only I was writing about current stuff. You know, buzzwordy posts filled with pop culture goodness. Then I'd be linked up the whazoo.


Paris Hilton hates Windows.

"I don't DO windows," claims the financially endowed starlet. "Macs are hot. But I don't know how to delete anything. I hire servants to take out my trash."

When asked if she felt Macs would have helped Bush with his Dubai port deal, she claimed that transparent government would be really sweet because Dashboard is hot and all her friends dig open source.

"Tiger is sexy"

Paris didn't think much of Microsoft's Origami project.

"The screen stopped working when I tried to fold it. I don't get it."

With apologies to Miss Hilton... I will laugh if that shows up in Google searches.

Dang. I got distracted again... ;)

Kim said...

I had to laugh out loud at the Boredom Kit. I've done that for YEARS even though I've only recently been diagnosed with ADD. I used to have a 1.5-hour bus commute to my university and I would have mini panic attacks if I didn't have something to study (or to tell myself I was going to study), a fun book to read (instead of studying!), a craft project of some kind, my day planner (then PDA when I got one), several snacks, coffee, and so on. Then I'd end up staring out the window the whole time anyway!

Oddly, I never included a music player in that collection, perhaps because I am primarily visual and have never really responded to auditory stimuli. I do have an iPod now but it mostly lies forgotten in my pockets.

I love your approach to life - I'm going to show your blog to my sweetie, who has ADHD and depression, and is having a lot of trouble with side effects of meds. Maybe seeing that someone else has come through that, even if not exactly unscathed, will help him.

Douglas Cootey said...

Kim ~ Dang! You just described my commutes to art school back in the day. I would have EVERYTHING I could ever possibly need and then stare out the window and daydream. And yet, the idea of NOT bringing the boredom kit filled me with actual anxiety. I'm not so bad now (ahem cough cough) but your comment gave me a chuckle.

I hope your husband enjoys the columns I've posted here. I really believe that a positive outlook made a world of difference in my day to day living. Please post here again and keep us updated on how he's doing. If he's too depressed my message may not reach him. We can be so sad that we cannot conceive of being unsad. I remember what that was like, but was able to crawl my way out of that way of thinking over time. Good luck.


Kim said...

Hi Douglas,
Well, I think I may have to read some of the excerpts to him... he's WAAAY farther over on the hyperactive end of the scale than I am, and I suspect he may also have dyslexia, so actual reading? Not so much his strength. But I really think your experiences may resonate. Another prescription hit the trash last night after the side effects came to a head...

"We can be so sad that we cannot conceive of being unsad. I remember what that was like, but was able to crawl my way out of that way of thinking over time."

I know exactly what you mean; I too have been in that place. Cognitive behavioural therapy helped a great deal and I'm working on that with The Boy. (Not my husband - yet... ) It's really hard to keep that balance between helping/supporting a loved one without falling into a codependent /enabling trap, or becoming too clinical. He says I'm helping, so I hope that's true.

(Oh, and my bag today contains a book and an iPod, despite the fact I now commute by bike... not sure where in there I will actually get bored... heh)

Douglas Cootey said...

Kim ~ Great comments. Thanks for the update and good luck with everything.

I'm glad that CBT works for you. Some people have posted here that it hasn't worked for them. I think they fail to implement the changes in their lives that make CBT sessions productive. Otherwise, it's no different than any old therapy. As for your bike boredom, surely there's time to read WHILE you ride? I see drivers do it all the time. ;)

Big D said...

this is what I try to explain to people. Take my job for instance, I work at a call center. I have to, no other job would pay me half this mush, but i cant handle it. Imagine if your job was to stare at the same screen 8 hrs a day, and call people, leaving the same messages over and over and over...

It's not right...ADD people need jobs that are varied and give instant gratification. It helps if your passionate about it. Thats why we all end up going to college or starting our own business, we all realize we cant handle the crap jobs out there, we need something fulfilling!

Douglas Cootey said...

Big D ~ Finding the right job for a person with AD/HD is an art. Unfortunately it requires a lot of trial and error. If there are people close to you whose opinions you trust, you might want to try sitting down and making a list of your strengths and weaknesses with them. Also list your worst jobs and why they were so bad. Try to make a profile you can take into a job center and see what it out there that pays well but also accommodates those strengths and weaknesses. Assuming you haven't done that already...

It stinks doesn't it? Everybody has trouble finding a good job, but AD/HD people have to find good jobs that pay well, have great benefits, and won't drive them insane or get them fired within the first 3 months. ;)

Anonymous said...

Boredom has been the bane of my existence my whole life! Just diagnosed with ADD at 42, I am so grateful to find other people who understand that to me boredom is PHYSICALLY PAINFUL. I don't know how many things I have avoided/messed up over my life because they were too boring to bear. And this includes my career and my marriage :(

- Brian

Douglas Cootey said...

Physically painful boredom is one aspect of AD/HD I haven't been able to get the muggles to understand, to be honest. If I could just stay focused on the dull but necessary paperwork of life I'm sure I would be a lot more successful. Sorry to hear that your marriage was affected by this aspect of AD/HD. Hopefully you are still married?

Anonymous said...

hello...at 64, adhd and recently retired, I am feeling something I have never felt before. The feeling comes when I am in my apartment. It is an overwhelming feeling akin to anxiety and sometimes NOTHING changes it. It especially closes in on weekends, but it comes and goes eventhough nothing else changes. I've worked 2 jobs most my life, now I feel like a fish out of water. When I'm with my grandkids, I feel just great and back to my normal happy self, but they can't always be with me. Any advice on where this brain chemical could be coming from would be greatly appreciated. I am not taking any medications nor do I imbide in any addictive behavior.

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