I have medically diagnosed “Adult ADHD.” But I can tell you pretty definitively it’s really just plain ADHD, and I’ve had it all my life. As a quick note, medically speaking, there is no more ADD – just ADHD (I have no idea why they did away with the differentiation) – even though I’m hardly hyperactive. Let’s say that the “H,” in some way that makes no sense, stands for “Shiny Object.” I have Attention Deficit and Shiny Object Disorder.
This is my story.
Lemme try to explain this to you…
I spend most of my day in my head. It is an odd place indeed. It’s filled to the brim with tens of thousands of often unrelated thoughts ranging from the truth of consciousness to why it is that I’m attracted to coffee mugs as if they were grand works of architecture. I also think about architecture.
These thoughts speed through my head at an outrageous rate. They’re more often fleeting than not, but they can at the same time be crippling, debilitating, and completely freeze me in my tracks. The thoughts worth further consideration often don’t get the time they deserve, and are pushed out by new, incongruous, or tangental ideas.
It’s a noisy place to say the least. Worse still is that my brain often gives equal weight to the seeming randomness of the voices in my head to the real-world outside stimulus that should probably carry more weight. As quickly as “that building looks top-heavy with the odd window arrangement on the top floor” passes out of my head, so too can the letter sitting next to me on my desk that needs to be mailed. Placed there mere moments before by my wife for me to mail, the next time I think of it will be when I happen upon it tomorrow. There’s no “on no!” moment in between, there’s no nagging thought of something I’ve forgotten. The place the letter occupied in my short-term memory has been requisitioned for other needs – like wow I need new jeans.
I’ll take you on a quick tour of how my brain works. Let’s go with the coffee mug example. What is it that my wife is washing so intently, I just washed the dishes? I don’t like the yellow color on this brochure. Wait, I’m writing a blog post.
Sorry, coffee mugs. This is approximately how the coffee mug thought played out when I first typed it up above.
I oddly like coffee mugs. I like the shape of the mug that Life Is Good makes. It looks best in white. It’s heavy, feels good in the hand. I wonder if that makes it keep coffee warmer? My coffee or tea always cools off too much when I’m drinking it. I need a hot plate. Double-walled glasses help. I have a double-walled coffee mug. It was cheap. Parker wanted the link. It was on Amazon. I just bought a heater from Amazon. It’s amazing how little their design has changed over time. I wonder what Bezos spends his money on? Books? Space heaters? He always looks nerdy. I was a total nerd. Wait still am. My knuckles need cracking. The sink just turned on. That’s right, Jen’s here. She’s making a roast. I need water. Wait, did she just call me? Now she’s mad I didn’t respond. Damn that was too long of a time to respond. How did I forget she called me? I wonder if her voice travels better than mine? I hear I have a low timber. I should listen to a recording of my voice. I have a program that does that on my Mac. Wait, I’m typing an article. I should mention coffee cups. Wait, I forgot something. Answer Jen.
That my friends, took about 3 seconds of my time. It’s like that almost my entire waking life.
There are three absolutely broken parts of my brain engine that I can declaratively state contribute to the odd hobbling forward of my daily life.
- My thought queue is massively volatile, prone to catastrophic failure. A single sound, a passing wind, a glint of light, a new stimulus – any of these things can completely and totally wipe both the queue of thoughts ahead of me, and the short-term memory bucket of previously processed thoughts now behind me. It’s a killing field, only it’s less like napalm, leaving the charred remains of the decimated masses behind it, and more like the epicenter of a nuclear explosion, where instant vaporization is almost guaranteed. I will say there are, many times, the shadows of those thoughts, temporarily ghosted in to my brain like a plasma TV placed on pause for too long, but they’re often too faded to make heads or tails of.
- I can only process a single thought at once. Oh how I envy the multi-taskers. Able to watch a TV show, cook, and check Facebook all at the same time. I can’t come close. If you were talking to me – right to my face – and someone dropped a spoon on the ground from somewhere out of sight, I would struggle massively to remember what you were talking about while trying to process what you were still saying. It’s worse when I’m talking. Sentences take way too long to escape my pie-hole, and mid-way through a sentence, I’m 3 thoughts further down the road – probably admiring someone’s new coffee mug. I’ll eventually realize I’ve stopped talking mid-sentence, and yet – what was it I was talking about? I literally can’t remember. I feel embarrassment at what is obviously an awkward silence that I try to fill with a meaningful “um…” as if searching for a word. It’s like being Spider Man trying to stop the speeding train. Making it stop is hard enough, then reversing it to back-track to what I am in the middle of saying – it’s damn near impossible. I can eventually get my thought back, but doing so is actually physically strenuous, and has an unfortunate side effect. See #A.
- I have a massively underwhelming prioritization engine. This letter – the one I was asked to mail – should be much more important than the fact that I have two of the same identical Apple keyboards, and yet this one seems to almost have more traction on the keys than my other one. Although this one feels smoother than before. I wonder if I wear the keys down – or maybe my hands are sweaty or greasy. My head certainly gets greasy by the end of the day. I don’t mind “greasy Italian” jokes, they make me laugh…
<br/ >But it’s not.
There’s one other thing I forgot to mention. There are times that a thought will get stuck, and so completely block the single processor my brain possesses that even someone kicking me in the shin will have little chance of breaking me of its crippling grasp. This is often manifested outwardly as depression, distraction, detachment, and even rudeness. It’s as though I’ve entered a dream within a dream. Thoughts continue to stream in, but they are solely focused on this singular topic. My brain and body have been hijacked by this one topic. This can last anywhere from a few seconds to hours and hours.
I do struggle with the situations my brain often gets me in. Every day I ponder how it is that my head operates this way. Sometimes, especially after forgetting something as simple as mailing that letter, or what it was my friend just said to me, that the pondering becomes one of these blocking thoughts described in the paragraph above. I feel intense remorse, embarrassment, and disappointment in myself.
I struggle with it throughout the day. I have responsibilities – to my family, to my clients, even to myself. I have to force myself constantly to remember, to stay focused, to complete even the simplest of tasks. I have to make a concerted effort to remember that I just put a pot of water on the stove, and I cannot, cannot put on my headphones. If I did, I wouldn’t hear the whistle of the pot, and there is absolutely no chance of me remembering I put the pot on the stove – it’ll be gone in seconds. Only if by chance my brain were to pass the thought “It’s cold in here, I should make some tea” that I could be jolted back to the reality that 15 minutes have passed by, and my dear God I left the kettle on the stove. Digging in my heals is the only thing that allows me to look at the headphones and remember no – I’m not allowed to put them on. Ah, the pot on the stove. Right.
I struggle the most with my beautiful wife, Jen. She suffers me, especially in the most frustrating of times when my mind seems to be elsewhere, leaving her behind, as if I didn’t care enough to give her my full attention. She is more understanding about it than I care to think about. She forgives me this shortcoming, constantly. She doesn’t have to tell me, I can see her. I’m incredibly lucky.
Living with it
In many ways, though, I should note that I deal with my head, and have come to peace with it. It’s a lot easier for me to laugh off my brain’s odd methodology than it was 10 years ago. It also helps that I’ve taken a few steps to help mitigate my own issues.
- Calendars. Like, crazy calendars. I have several calendars with different basic purposes, and subscribe to other calendars (like my office’s calendar). I centralize them all in my Google account, which has a push-synchronization set up with my iPhone, and is synced to my computer’s iCal calendar. Every single thing I put on the calendar is put on there with at least one (if not multiple) reminders. If something is going to happen at a specific date or time, I get an alert on my computer, an SMS, and an email about it.
- GTD with Things. I use the “Things” software on my iPhone and Mac and am struggling to get in line with the GTD methodology of appropriating tasks and things to do. The main point I like is that you’re meant to be able to have a thought, record it, and FORGET ABOUT IT. The forgetting part is inevitable. The more I use GTD, the more I get done, so I hope to make it a more permanent part of my life over the next weeks and months. It does require discipline, but man it makes my life easier.
There’s one more thing.
I can drown out the voices.
I discovered something I still don’t entirely understand. I can drown out the voices in my head, keeping my brain clear of all but a single task. It’s what I assume normal brain processing is like – quiet, focused. How do I do it?
Music has always held an almost mystical like power over me, but if I put on headphones, removing distraction, and play music through them, I am placed in to an almost meditative state. It’s how I get things done. It’s often the only way I get things done. I wish I knew why it worked. Maybe I could be more meditative more often.
It turns out I can also drown out my thoughts with most media – TV, movies, art, etc., – but they don’t let me get work done at the same time.
Still here? A conclusion then.
I doubt many will read this. But writing this was more for me, really. I have friends who look at me bizarrely if I have a “brain fart,” those that suffer my odd way of processing thoughts kindly, even if I can tell they’re annoyed. Maybe this is for them a little too – a small look inside my head.
My charge continues. Every day I struggle, it helps me set up ways of dealing with it. The more comfortable I get with myself, the more safeguards I put in place, the more I can alleviate myself of negativity I feel towards this condition and embrace the brain that God, nature, evolution, chaos, order, or any combination therein have given me, the more at peace I am.
The teapot is whistling. I gotta get that.