Wednesday, July 17, 2013

ADHD Irritability and the Story of My Hair

I want to tell you a story about my hair. It's been on my mind a lot lately. Why am I so fixated with it? Why do I make such a big deal about it? Who really cares? Could it be that the story about my hair is really a story about ADHD?

When I was 18–19 I loved long, tall hair. Hey, it was the 80s. I would dye it with mousse (metallic copper was my favorite) and then hang out at new wave nightclubs. I could easily spend 30 minutes on my hair. I didn't think much of it. If you wanted a certain look you had to put in the work is how I saw it. And boy, did I work at it. With an Aiwa portable tape player at my side, and headphones on my ears, my life was a late night MTV video.

Then I discovered I had other things I liked to do. Things like illustration & writing began to capture my attention. Then there was school and freelance work. Short hair cuts with a little flair only took five minutes tops to get ready. Who had time for anything more?

That attitude served me well through the next few decades. My hair was still my one vanity, but I refused to spend a lot of time on it. I was busy with important things. I actually prided myself on having great hair that didn't take any time to style. I had found the perfect balance for my ADHD. I had hair that defied boredom without being boring to do. If any of this seems silly to you, believe me, it seems silly to me, too.

I have found that ofttimes I like to have BIG CARROTS to kick my ADHD hyperfocus mode into gear. Set the stakes high, be public about it, and I'll usually respond with intense productivity. Since I was dying on my book on depression, I knew I needed to raise the stakes. I got a bad haircut at a barber shop last March, so instead of getting it fixed at my regular stylists after a month I declared I would not cut my hair until I finished my book. Then I would reward myself with a trip to my regular stylist. It was my Scarlet O’Hara moment, complete with burned dreams around me and a soundtrack. It was also probably the stupidest thing I've subjected myself to in a long while.

Unlike Samson, I am not stronger the longer my hair get; I'm just more annoyed. I've got fine English hair with Italian thickness, so it takes 10–15 minutes to dry it all, never mind style it. I am so bored with the routine, but if I don't do it I look like I've been sleeping under a hedge.

All this writing about hair feels vain, but vanity doesn't explain why I was getting so irritated. I mean, if I was in love with my hair, then having more of it would make me happy, right? Perhaps not, but my promise—drawn out by an unexpected car accident and recovery—had an unexpected consequence: it created a constant distraction and irritation.

People with ADHD sometimes have issues with background noise. The pencil tapper in the test hall who keeps you reading the same test question over and over again… The kids' sudden argument that makes it difficult to remember who you just dialed on the phone… The conversation behind you that prevents you from hearing the conversation in front of you… As silly as this seems, my hair became a homegrown distraction that was driving me bath salt crazy.

I have to push it out of the way; keep it out of my eyes; tame it in the back; make it look presentable. I have to follow behind myself with a broom—the hairs are everywhere. Meanwhile, I'm living in a desert state during a heat wave with more hair than I've had in years. If I had known I would be growing my very own ADHD irritant, I would have opted for a different carrot to motivate myself. Maybe no Dunkin Donuts would have been better. Or holding my breath. I would have found it less intrusive.

This little tale isn't about hair as much as it is about the impact ADHD intolerance for boredom and ADHD lack of impulse control have on our daily lives. After all, I'm the one keeping myself from the shears, and truthfully, there are bigger mops of hair out here. However, ADHD tends to exaggerate things in our minds, especially the things that irritate. On any day of this hot July I am acting like I've got tons of hair on my head. I'd swear I had more hair than Rapunzel. My reactions have grown out of proportion because ADHD irritation is at play, and all because of an impulsive promise that has taken longer to keep than I had intended.

Little things have big consequences when ADHD is involved. The important thing is to have a good attitude—maybe even laugh about it as I'm doing with my hair. At the very least ADHD makes sure our lives are never boring.

Got any tales of your own where goofy ADHD impulses set you up for trouble? Share them below.