Monday, April 04, 2005

ADD: You've Just Got to Laugh

For the past month I've focused on my bad luck and the difficulties those with neurological disabilities have in getting understanding from others. Since I have no ready solution to make bad luck or "insensitive clods" go away, let's ignore them for the moment. Something much more entertaining happened to me the other week that I wanted to focus on instead.

From time to time I get myself into trouble when talking to people and it's never something specific I could stop doing. It's not like I had a habit of punching people in the nose whenever I asked them a question or squawking like a parrot whenever they tried to speak . Those would be simple problems to correct, usually with duct tape applied to the appropriate body parts. This was a problem beyond the normal scope of talking with people who weren't quite listening, or who were too full of their own opinions to make good conversation. This was a problem that was quirky and hard to identify in that annoying way that most ADD traits are. This problem undermined some people's respect for me. It was something I was doing that I was oblivious to. I had a nasty suspicion that ADD was at fault, but that sounded so feeble to me. I spent a great many years in denial about my obstacles. However, there's a world of difference between identifying a problem and just making excuses. Still, the conversations would follow a certain pattern. I would talk to people, ask them a question, they'd look at me like I was insane, and then they would stop respecting me. "How very rude," I would think. In the past, this type of situation would really upset me, but it would happen again and again and I couldn't resolve it.

ADD is a barrel of laughs

When discussing ADD it is important to keep in mind that Attention Deficit Disorder is an umbrella term that covers a wide variety of symptoms. I haven't met anybody with ADD who is exactly like me though we shared many symptoms in common. However, this diversity in symptoms has contributed to the rough time psychologists have had in labeling the disorder. Some argue that it's a subset of bipolor manic depression. Some argue that it's not a disorder but an attribute. Some argue that people with ADD are just lazy good-for-nuthin's who don't have the decency to know when the world wants them to simply go away. For me, however, I see ADD as a barrel of laughs. Hey, c'mon! How many disorders do you know help people take the wrong bus to work, put the milk away in the cereal cupboard, and forget their friend of ten years' name - all in the same day? I've even forgot the name of somebody I personally dialed up right at the moment they answered the phone. THAT was a fun conversation.
"Hello, um, errr..." I said.
"Dave?" offered a very unimpressed Dave.
"Yeah! Hey, Dave! How are you doing?"
See? Nothing but giggles and guffaws. Most of my friends just laugh at me when my mind skips a beat. It's a small price to pay for endearing friendships that have lasted for many, many years. After all, I did forget each and every one of their names at some point or another. Having them find me entertaining instead of offensive is the secret to our friendships' success. But not everyone is so understanding1. Which brings us back to the problem at hand.

Is it too much to ask?

This trouble I encounter in relationships usually happens with people who aren't my friend and who aren't familiar with how I communicate. Even more specifically, this problem seems to occur when I ask questions. For a very long time I have wondered why I, an otherwise intelligent human being, am ofttimes mistaken for a gibbering Cro-Magnon by many of these people. What could I be doing wrong? I use an impressive lexicon of words. (Wasn't that impressive?) I've stepped onto a college campus once or twice in my life. Surely these aspects qualify me as a member of society's intelligencia. And yet many times when I ask questions, the listener suddenly assumes I have the intelligence of a rock. Now, I'm not referring to calls to tech support. That's their job to make everyone feel stupid. No, this problem has irritated me at many jobs I've worked at, and many social situations I've been involved in. The problem occurs too frequently to be everybody else's fault as much as I would wish it to be otherwise.

How fortunate for me that I finally found an answer to this mystery and I wasn't even compared to sedimentary mineral deposits compressed over time. Not to my face at any rate. The answer came soon after I decided to get an iPod the other week. I got it in my head that I was going to buy the 2GB model. You see, I did my homework, compared the models, and decided that since the 1GB iPod Shuffle wasn't available locally, the first gen 2GB iPod minis my local Apple retailer was clearancing were a great buy, especially since they came with all the cables that the newer 4GB models didn't include. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that my 2GB iPod mini was actually a 4GB model. The box said 4GB. The docs said 4GB. The price, however, was only $179, which was the 2GB price. At first I thought, "Score!", and even called a friend to brag about my good fortune, but then I began to worry about doing the right thing. I really agonized over it. I liked that Apple dealership. I didn't want to screw them. So I called them the next day and inquired about the sale and informed them they had sold me the wrong unit for the 2GB price. That's when the salesman informed me that there WAS no 2GB iPod mini. Insert sound of record scratch here.

The moment of truth

This is classic ADD. We plow full steam ahead with the wrong information. It's a little thing, really. Anybody can get wrong information. ADD guys just seem to do it with style. I had read about 2GB iPod minis a year ago when iPod minis were just a rumor. The other iPods had multiple configurations. Obviously I made an incorrect assumption despite the fact that I knew even the week before that iPod minis came in 4GB versions only. Still, no big deal. The salesman took it in stride, and I just laughed. It was even funnier to me knowing that I agonized over this highly "moral" dilemma. This set the stage for me to gain that epiphany I've been going on and on about.

Later that day I was researching my last blog entry. I closed a web page and returned to my writing when I suddenly realized I had seen something shocking on the Psychology Today website: THE RAPISTS. I loaded the page back up and stared in disbelief. THE RAPISTS. THE RAPISTS! There was even a place for them to log in. "Why on Earth," I asked myself, "would Psychology Today want rapists to log in? What the?" And then it hit me. I was reading it wrong. If you haven't picked up on it already the word was "THERAPISTS", not "THE RAPISTS". Now, I realize this is an easy mistake to make, especially if you've ever spent time on the couch, but two goofy mistakes in one day of such monumental stupidity shocked me into a greater sense of awareness. I had reached that Zen moment when the Universe quiets and all becomes clear. I suddenly understood that mystery that had eluded me for years.

The breakdown on the breakdown

There was a breakdown in my mind between the moment of perception and understanding. The step between perceiving and understanding was done too hastily. I had misperceived what the word was and no matter how many times I reread it I perceived it as the wrong word. Soon, understanding shifted in - an affect not unlike that moment when the optometrist drops the correct lenses into place when testing your eyes. I read the word correctly and began to laugh. This breakdown, the very soul of ADD, is what set me up for the fall all those times in the past. Normally intelligent Douglas would slip a gear and suddenly ask the dopiest question - a question whose answer is so self-evident that only a complete moron would ask it. Well, that's how the judgmental ones would treat it. Most of my friends would just look at me funny and cue me to rethink what I had just asked2, then snicker at me as we all laughed at the silliness of the moment. Laughing at it instead of being ashamed of it makes a very big difference.3

Knowing when my mind misfires (between perception and understanding) equips me with the tools I need to keep this quirk at bay. I will have my 2GB iPod moments in the future, but now I can stop myself from public embarrassment. I will add an extra layer of thought before opening my mouth and asking a silly misthought question. And if I fail to keep my mouth from embarrassing me, I will be able to more readily identify where the problem occurred. In fact, I believe now that instead of standing there mystified as I have done, I will be able to pinpoint the problem speedily and readdress the question while making light of the mistake. I can't do anything about judgmental bosses and co-workers, but I can minimize the damage. Is there anything more we really can expect to do? ADD happens and then you deal with it.

Coping Strategies

1) Pick friends that don't find your ADD idiosyncrasies offensive. I have been very fortunate in finding the friends I have now, but I had to terminate relationships with many friends over the years who were bad for me. Not only would those relationships sour over time, but they would stain me with recrimination and guilt which would lower my self-esteem. Good relationships didn't do that do me - even though my behavior remained humorously constant.

2) Train yourself to slow down before asking questions. Don't be so hasty to "jump to conclusions." In the case of ADD, these hasty conclusions can go beyond Faulty and move into the realm of the Ludicrous, at least in my case. Some people rely on medication to help them slow down, but if you are sensitive to meds as I am you will need to train yourself to do it. Expect lots of nicks and bruises in the process. I will tackle this misfire in perception by making sure I have rethought my questions before asking strangers or hostiles. Just as one might make sure their shirt is tucked in and hair and tie in place before making a business contact, so must I now make sure my thoughts are "tucked in" and not springing out wildly as they have a tendency to do. I was not aware that I was doing this before. Now that I am I can expect it and compensate for it. So can you.

3) Learn to laugh at yourself. This isn't the same as laughing along with people who mock and deride you. You are a good person. You don't deserve to be beaten up over something as humor laden as these silly situations. Next time you go to put the juice pitcher in with the cups take a moment to smile about it. It IS a rather funny thing to do. Learning to laugh at myself instead of crucifying myself has saved me from developing a complex. Let me save you from one, too. Life is too short to spend time beating yourself up over ADD goofs. Laugh at them. Correct them. Then move on.

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