Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Day With AD/HD

A friend said "I don't think of you that way, I think of you as wonderful and talented, so you shouldn't bring it up all the time." It seems obvious that she buys into the last D of the acronym, which is "disorder". But the truth is that I DO 'have' AD/HD. It is something that I deal with every day and every night, all day, all night. In a world where everyone was like this, it might not be an issue, but a world where 90 to 95%* of the people are NOT like this means that schedules and social norms are not optimal for me.
It starts most days at 4:00 a.m. when I wake up with my brain in a state where thoughts are racing. "What woke me up, was it one of the kids? Are they okay? Is it the house? Is there a fire? The plumbing? A break-in? Is something wrong? What could it be? Listen, is it TOO quiet?" If I try go to back to sleep, I am haunted by worries and concerns and every thought turns to a dozen others exploring possible worse scenarios. I have learned to just get up and put a stop to the cycle of thoughts. Sometimes it doesn't take much. Read email, look at a project, write down a couple ideas, read a bit of a book, fold a little laundry. Alone at Mineral Point, I can go down to the studio and actually work on a project, but if there are family members or visitors present, I have to sneak around so as not to disturb them. After getting the brain reset, I can usually get in a few more hours of sleep.
But when I am up to stay, options open up. It is my understanding that 'normal' people operate in sort of a routine at that point, but I do not habituate easily. Patterns of doing the exact same thing at the exact same time or in the exact same situation do not settle into my brain as easily, so I need to think what to do next. Shower or have some breakfast or do a little of something in my jammies? When I do hit the shower, I often look at the array of bottle and have to think "Which shampoo am I using these days?" The pattern of tooth brushing and shampooing and soaping and hair conditioning is not automatic. Some days, I forget the conditioner and wonder why my hair is so hard to comb, if I remember to comb it. Other days, I get the conditioner on and forget to rinse it. It is unpleasant to be out in public and discover that your hair is not drying because it is full of conditioner, and the number of times I have rinsed it in a restroom sink and tried to dry it on paper towels is embarrassing indeed. Once dressed and ready for the day, well, the good news, is that the day is open to a million possibilities. I can see before me a dozen things that all seem equally attractive and useful and necessary. The bad news is that I must decide and each decision is cluttered with an enormous amount of data that should go it the decision. Sometimes, my brain finds it easy to choose and sometimes, the monumentalness of the task of choosing is paralysing, leaving to accomplish nothing at all. So I have found that lists are good. Lists narrow down the choices to some things that I thought were important in a time of clearer thinking and if the list was prioritized in that time of clearer thinking, I can just pick the top thing on it. I have lists that go for weeks, as things are added and things crossed off and sub-things fit in between things.
If the thing that needs doing is interesting to me, I can pop my brain into hyper-focus and devote myself totally and completely to that task without stopping for hours and hours. While I am working, my thoughts are racing of course, but they are racing in a focused way about ways to make the project work, about related designs I want to try, so sometimes, I have to stop and sketch out some idea, or sometimes I can replay conversations from the past or rehearse conversations of the future or compose something that I need to write, but that might require stopping to make a note now and then too. But I can zone into hyper-focus for hours until extreme hunger or exhaustion or some muscle pain sets in and brings me back to the real world. Often I have skipped a meal or missed an appointment, and certainly I have failed to do the breakfast dishes or to move the laundry from the washer to the dryer.
Laundry is especially problematic for me, as it requires that sequence of steps so far apart from each other and sometimes laundry sits wet until it gets musty and has to be rewashed or sits in the dryer until I NEED it to wear next and well, that wrinkle-release spray has saved me from my neglect of dried laundry on many occasions. Meals are an ongoing issue. Sometimes, I am hungry on schedule with the rest of the world, but more often, if I am hyper-focused, by the time I am hungry for lunch, it is 2:00 or 3:00 p.m. so by the time I am hungry for dinner it is 8:00 or 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. and if I have failed to plan ahead by stocking food in my kitchen, there are now no restaurants open and well, such a schedule does not jive with that of a family or friends, so I skip that lunch and overeat at dinner. AD/HD can make writing easy, as the ideas just flow. My racing thoughts are always a few steps ahead of my pencil or my typing fingers and can have the next thoughts organized and ready by the time my fingers ready to put them to words, but sometimes, if things are moving too fast, there are too many options presented to me and I can see where each paragraph could lead in any number of directions and I see too many options. It is then that my writing become run-on and disjointed and flies in too many directions. If I know I have to produce a piece of writing, I will try to write an outline in what I know to be a more balanced state so that when I am in a hyper-productive mode, I can translate that outline to words and resist all the attractive and interesting tangents and subtplots that rush into my brain during the production writing.
Now, if the work I need to do is not interesting to me, that is when AD/HD is its most torturous. When I have to add up the long columns of numbers two different ways to get the numbers to match in order to do my books in order to pay my state sales tax and write checks to my artists, I am pained. It is all I can do to force myself to sit down to it and go through the steps. Since I do not habituate well, and only do it once a quarter, first I have to study it and remember the steps and why they are the way they are. Then I can begin to painfully laboriously tediously boringly ploddingly mind-numbingly crunch the monotonous repetitive wearisome dull numbers. A thousand things tempt me away. It is a constant process of attempting to resist them. So many important other more interesting things demand my attention and try to call me away from my boring task. It truly is an awful chore to stick to task at this point. Only fear of the faceless formless nameless Wisconsin tax "man" and concern for my artists keep me at it. It seems to take forever and each step is a new horrible tedious painful boring chore. It is worse than these words can describe. Cleaning, doing dishes, sorting papers or closets or laundry all approach the same level of tedium and the same taunting tempting teasing siren call of distraction to a thousand other more interesting fabulously fascinating things. A picture must be hung, a broken thing must be glued, a phone call must be made to someone, a run to the store for supplies must be undertaken, a snack must be had, a different pile in a different room suddenly seems more important than this one, or as the t-shirt says "Oh, look, a squirrel . . . " "Maybe I should go for a walk" . . . and take the camera along and get some pictures and come home and down load them and post them on Facebook and well, you can see where the cleaning or organizing project went, can't you?
Bedtime? What is that? I might be exhausted at 8:00 or I might be zooming in hyperfocus making design notes or writing a lecture or carving a block print or reading a magazine at 2:00 a.m. and still not sleepy. If left to my own scheduling, I would work feverishly for about 6 hours, take an hour nap, work for another 6 hours, take another nap, work for maybe 4 more hours, then take a big sleep for 6 hours. Add some meals and a morning shower and just a tiny chore or two to that and we are up to about a 26 or 27 hour day, which is very hard to compress into the 24 that we are given. If living alone and working on projects, I kinda tent to live on my own schedule like that, pushing my long sleep period around the clock over time. That does not work very will when I am expected to keep store hours or meet people for appointments or dine with people. So I try my best to comply to the real world with a more 'normal' schedule.
And so you can see, AD/HD keeps my days interesting and it represents a challenge, not only for the management that it requires to get the right things done, but also for the added challenge of fitting into a 'normal' time schedule and to interact with 'normal' people and comply to 'normal' priority schemes, and I must admit that I do not always do a stellar job at it. Sometimes, I forget to even try!
*Thom Hartmann says that if a population has 5-10% of a 'type' of people, it cannot be a defect manifesting itself as a disorder, but that it has to be of benefit to the overall population somehow, just like the population needs very strong people but if they were all very strong, they might have trouble keeping themselves fed. He sees it as a variant that has benefit to the society, for example, to keep the society flexible, creative, spontaneous when it needs to be. I wish society saw it that way and valued us.


XSarenkaX said...

Your habits actually seem normal to me. I've managed to do some of my best creative work while avoiding some other, more daunting and more unpleasant task.

"So many important other more interesting things demand my attention and try to call me away from my boring task."

This is the only reason I am able to read any of the bazillion blogs I subscribed to. I'm 300+ posts behind at the moment.

Chuckles said...

Pat got on me for not telling her that our son had sent us an email a few days ago. Hurt feelings all around. After reading the post at the end of this comment, I understand better and there may even be a way to improve. I need to develop that ol' MPC!

"...these people tend to spend little time thinking about themselves and other people, but a lot of time thinking about strategy, data, and systems. As a result, the circuits involved in thinking about oneself and other people, the medial prefrontal cortex, tend to be not too well developed."

I also like the discussion of "narrative" and "direct experience" circuits. I'm not sure exactly how this relates to AD/HD, but my gut tells me there got to be something there somewhere. Anyway, can't hurt to be more "mindful", can it?