Wednesday, May 10, 2006

AD/HD: Feeling Smart for a Change

Boy, do I feel like a dope. I'm sitting here stuck offline for the nineteenth day without internet because I forgot to schedule fiber optic internet before I canceled my cable internet service. Oh, sure. It's not my fault the fiber guys forgot to inform me I needed landlord permission signed in triplicate and date stamped by a passing unicorn before they could proceed but that does nothing to soften the sting right now. Even my daughters aren't happy with me. It's hard to be the "Cool Dad" when you cut your kids off from their email access.

All is not lost, however. Today I read something interesting. According to Hallowell and Ratey's Diagnostic Criteria for Attention Deficit Disorder in Adults people with AD/HD are sharp cookies even if they've left out the eggs and flour before baking.

9. Often creative, intuitive, highly intelligent.
Not a symptom, but a trait deserving of mention. Adults with ADD often have unusually creative minds. In the midst of their disorganization and distractibility, they show flashes of brilliance. Capturing this "special something" is one of the goals of treatment.

Let's see. Unusually creative minds. Flashes of brilliance. A certain "special something". I can't tell if this is a list of attributes or if the authors are stretching to make a compliment. "Unusually creative" still leaves us unusual. "Flashes of brilliance" means the brilliance is over just as quickly as it arrived, and that "special something" sounds suspiciously sappy. Perhaps I'm just a wee bit cynical when reading this Mary Sunshine stuff. It's difficult to feel "highly intelligent" when one focuses only on one's list of failures, and therein lies the problem. I still feel like a loser with a capital Z because I'm living in the thick of my own failures. There may be neurological reasons I messed up our internet connection, but I was still responsible for making sure the transition between ISPs went smoothly. "Reasons why" sound like excuses when one can't rely on oneself. So negativity rules the day and alters one's outlook.

However, I've noticed that my list of methods to deal with depression drew out the same type of response in many people. Many were so deep into their depression that they couldn't conceive of using something as simple as attitude to push the darkness away, even if I and others like me were successfully doing it. Am I doing the same with my AD/HD? Am I discounting a cheery tree because I can only see the bitter forest?

Well, far be it from me to pass up an opportunity to brag about how intelligent I am - dare I say, even highly intelligent? The problem I am having, however, is that I can't talk about myself as a highly intelligent being without laughing. Maybe I should discuss my friend instead. He has AD/HD and from what I've heard he drove his physics teacher barmy back in highschool simply because he never included calculations on his test papers. One day when asked by the teacher how he arrived at the answer, he recited every step correctly. The teacher then asked why he worked out the process on another paper instead of on the test paper. My friend replied that he hadn't written it down anywhere. He worked it all out in his head.

What I find interesting about this story is that my friend was both brilliant and foolish. The teacher needed to see the process written out. What a simple thing to do to comply but so simple that the process was redundant and boring. This boredom of the routine causes AD/HD people to act in ways that seem erratic - even stupid - to the outside viewer. My friend was fortunate. He could recite the process he used to obtain his results. I've known other people with AD/HD who weren't so fortunate. They could not recite the process because they either intuitively came upon the answer, they forgot how they got there, or they were unable to access those parts verbally.

I had a problem with that last bit. I could solve the Rubik's Cube in around a minute but couldn't answer questions in class. Guess which of those two I based my self-esteem around? So, how do I correct this? How do you?

Well, consider this. People attribute AD/HD to Leonardo da Vinci, Alexander Graham Bell, and Albert Einstein, not characters like Dumb and Dumber. We are in good company and that is something to take inspiration from. If for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction then perhaps intelligence and intuition are the forces that balance our AD/HD minds - the opposite side of the coin. We need only to rein in the negative aspects of AD/HD in order to enjoy the positive aspects. This is a tall order when our lives are in continual chaos, but for myself I chip away at the chaos every day. I simply cannot accept a future where I am as miserable then as I am today. This is what keeps me going forwards even when I feel my direction is backwards.

Feeling stupid comes easy when you have AD/HD. We need to work harder on feeling smart. In all honesty, this is advice we all should follow regardless of AD/HD, but I'll especially keep this in mind next time I switch service providers.

A lot of people with AD/HD need to hear this message. They've been told they are broken far too many times. Please use the email link to share this column with them.