- Mental Health
The Life and Times of the Attention Deficit Disaster
Anecdotes and musings on life as an adult with ADD.
Take one 30 year old man.
Remove attention span.
Add just enough brain damage for an easily overloaded short term memory that plays tricks on him all the time.
Release into the wild.
The author, whilst only recently diagnosed as having ADD, has battled with it for over 30 years. He also suffered slight hypoxic brain damage some nine years ago. His is a slightly bewildering world with hidden pitfalls at every turn. This has lead to countless unsavoury (but occasionally funny) incidents.
Feel free to comment, share, critique, do whatever.
I used to be a soldier.
Rather, I had spent five days short of a year in the British Army's toughest infantry regiment - the Parachute Regiment- before being discovered as flat-footed and medically discharged. I doubt the Reg has ever had a weaker recruit. Towards the end of training, I was struggling to complete a 2 mile run such was the pain from my inflamed plantar fascia and lower back. That year was so gruelling, so painful and so full of daily trauma that I could not bring myself to consider exercising for most of the 10 years since I left. Scarred for life.
Or so I thought.
Last week, I found myself with so little to do, being jobless and not inclined to write for free everyday, that I dug out my old mountain bike and took up cycling again. The "I can't exercise, I'm injured" mantra has finally found its match: boredom. Turns out that cycling is the ideal exercise for me- mentally engaging, low impact and no gym or pool membership required - ideal for someone with my conditions and no budget.
I thought I'd ease myself into it, so for the first day I planned to go for a brief 2.5km route; I ended up chalking up 6km and hardly broke a sweat. Yesterday I aimed for 5km and on returning found, to my utter disbelief, that I had actually cycled over 10.5km in less than 40min. Quite proud of that; file under "demons beaten".
Two lessons learned:
It really does clear the mind and puts you in a good mood. Set your initial goals low and you will surprise yourself.
2. Don't fight your abilities.
I have been pushing myself all my life; I would never take "no" for an answer and I certainly wasn't going to let people tell me I can't do something without proving them wrong.
If I was aware that I was weak at something, I would battle against it until I finally overcame it. Nobody in the family speaks German, but everyone knows French? I choose German. Not good at maths? I'll take it at A-Level then. Unfit? Join the toughest regiment in the world (well, almost join). Brain damaged? Go for a memory-intensive professional qualification. And so I struggled and achieved the impossible, against all odds blah blah.
Fat lot of good it's done me - yes I got what I wanted, I proved that I can set a tough goal and beat it, but it didn't help me in the long run. I'm now unemployed, trying to figure out what I'm going to do with my life having all the right skills for the wrong jobs.
Looking back, I realise that I have been setting myself up for failure all along. Sure, you can take the road less traveled and succeed at things you don't naturally excel at, but that success will likely be short-lived. Unfortunately, getting to the top of the hill is only part of the battle - you then have to keep up a sustained struggle against the hordes of enemy trying to knock you off your hill or retreat ignominiously. For the rest of your working life. Great.
The clue is "naturally excel at". Using the previous analogy, choose a battlefield suited to your equipment and training and you can keep up the fight with minimal effort. Call me slow, but this has only just sunk in for me now, aged 30. So gifted, me.
So there it is, the days of my fighting impossible odds are over. I have proved what I needed to prove to myself. I know my boundaries and my strengths. I have found an activity that does not cause me to have a meltdown after 2-3 months. Something I actually enjoy doing. I have resolved to write for a living - and live without fear of performance appraisals and courtroom embarrassment. It seems so simple, almost self-evident, in hindsight.
Choose your battles
Humanity needs your bright ideas - (don't let them disappear - write them down in this uber cool notebook)
Wow! So style. Much like!
Very buy pls.
Day in the life
Yawn. Stretch. Rub sleep from ey..remove cat from face. Rub sleep from eyes.
Right, things to do today:
Come on brain. Come on. Work with me here.
Check mobile calendar/organiser.
Check paper diary.
Task 3! That's it. Exchellentay.
Leap out of bed with sense of purpose and direction. Remove cat from ankles.
Walk to kitchen.
Remove cat from ankles by feeding.
0615 hrs Coffee
Bring kettle to the boil.
Open mug cupboard. Close.
Open correct mug cupboard, not the storage cupboard.
Put mug and spoon near kettle.
Open hot beverage cupboard.
Open correct hot beverage cupboard, not the condiment cupboard.
Open fridge. Offer silent prayer of thanks that there is only one fridge.
Extract milk carton from fridge. Almost empty.
Jokingly ask cat whether she's been at the fridge again.
Justify fact that you are talking to a cat. She is a lovely cat, after all.
Decide to replace milk carton.
Open storage cupboard for no reason.
Walk to pantry and pick up spare milk. Make mental note to write reminder to buy more milk.
Know that brain will erase this mental note as soon as you look the other way.
PILLS! Yikes, nearly forgot!
Go to ensuite bathroom's medicine cabinet.
No medicine cabinet in ensuite bathroom.
Go to main bathroom.
Open medicine cabinet and extract pill organiser.
Bless that woman, she's prepared all the week's pills for me. Definitely a keeper.
Pre-house exit checklist complete- window shutters closed, electrical devices off, briefcase packed. Cat looks happy.
Look at cat, enviously. Miaow back.
Triple confirm keys, mobile and wallet in allocated pockets.
Open front door
Sense disturbance in the Force.
Confirm today is not recycling bag day.
Pick up garbage bag.
Cross threshold with garbage bag.
Close front door and lock.
Wonder whether pills are in briefcase. Convince self they are and that it is too late to go back in. Plus you have spare pill stash in office drawer, just in case.
Where did I put it?
Discard first two memories as false. It is not still in the car park at work. Neither is it up a tree. Tricksy brain, you no fool me!
Decide on logical search pattern: garage, corner one, corner two.
Think positive thoughts. Imagine your car is in the garage, feel it.
Open garage expectantly.
Is that a cockroach? Mental note to douse the garage with insecticide later.
Walk around for ten minutes pressing key fob behind cranium as you had read somewhere that this dramatically increases the range.
Ignore curious onlookers.
Find car halfway down road from corner two.
Wonder whether you had locked the front door. Yes you had. Well done.
“Ignition sequence start. 6...5...” Chuckle inwardly at this, despite its lameness.
Dread what you'll find at work- knowing that invariably you will have screwed something up through inattention.
Dread the stupid driving you are about to encounter on the road. Resolve not to let it make you too mad.
War face on. Face the day.
"You need to be more organised! I have trouble remembering stuff too, but I have a system now. I write things down."
Every time I am told that (and I have been told that a lot) I have resist the urge to slap the person telling me.
Why thank you for your considered contribution, Captain Obvious. That idea has never crossed my mind in my years at university/decade of adult working experience. Hurry along now, the Sherlockmobile is waiting to take you back to the Castle of Self-Evidence.
Namaste. Think of calming meadows and placid oceans. Nod and thank them for their insight. They are trying to help, just not very hard. Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is that I can no more organise my thoughts than you can physically handle Dark Matter.
That doesn't mean I haven't or don't try to - I can file away information and documents like a pro and I try to use a systemic approach to my work, but the internal chaos of false memories, doubts, counter doubts, fragmented recollections makes recalling them a significant challenge.
At the very least, they will slow me down. At worst, it all becomes guesswork.
I avoid guesswork as much as possible, but when you have been bombarded with information all morning without the time and space necessary for your brain to process them, instant recall is an impossibility. Add to this the stress of your Boss/Lecturing Professor/Opposing counsel standing in front of you, asking you and expecting (reasonably or otherwise) to give a confident, instant answer and we have meltdown. Adrenaline, tunnel vision, cold sweat, raised heartbeat-the works.
That is when I start taking chances and guessing.
Let's just say that given my track record when put in this situation, a career as a professional gambler might not be for me.
the cycle begins again
1300 hrs, Friday afternoon. The Director calls and asks me to step into in her office.
Ok don’t panic- this is probably a continuation of the performance review update you requested, nothing to be worried about-you did good yesterday, not a single screw up for once.
Hey, maybe it’s to give you a pat on the back or discuss the table of progress on pending registrations you sent her this morning to demonstrate your initiative. Three times. Two of which you noticed were not the version you intended to send and had to hastily recall. Damn. Mind you, she seemed quite unfazed by that for once, maybe she’s getting used to the way I roll- i.e. slightly haphazardly.
But wait, she’s been calling everyone except me into her office for the past couple of days, never a good sign says the notional paranoid rabbit on my shoulder. Most people have birds or celestial creatures. I have a rabbit, and a pretty damn paranoid one at that. You don’t get to choose these things, unfortunately.
She asks me how I’m doing and I give the standard sidestep answer along the lines of “learning and consolidating what I’ve been trained in, a bit more everyday”. I’ve been there just short of two months. I pass a self-deprecating joke about the table of progress debacle hoping to clear the air and show her that I am aware that I haven’t been performing to expectations and hopefully preempt a lecture.
She talks. The usual daze begins. I start to fidget and take in unnecessary details - she’s quite pretty for a mother of 3, I’m guessing early forties. Missed a bit of eyeliner there honey. Why the lowish-cut top? Oi! For goodness sake, are you mad? She’s your boss you fool, look away from the cleavage. AWAY. Remember intermittent eye contact. Nod. Mind your body language. Adjust your position to imply attentiveness like those corporate body language videos you saw on Youtube. Vocally agree intermittently and repeat a modified version of the last sentence she said to show understanding.
Shit. I can’t even remember where this conversation started. What precise bit of my performance are we talking about again? No need, I can gather from her tone and body language that she’s not happy, let’s tune in again to get the finer details. Good, she’s noticed that I’m really making an effort...but.
Those three letters have so much to answer for. So many exams failed, so many negative appraisals, so many jobs, years of effort lost. Back to the boss-I seem to have misunderstood the given instructions and carried them out wrong, repeatedly.
I pick up the vibe that I was being rated as "enthusiastic, but a bit simple". The impression I get is that to them, I must look a bit like a lovable, loyal, but thick dog sent to fetch a thrown stick and who comes back with a screaming infant in its mouth. “Here master! I exceed your expectations! Waggity waggity tail time!” “BAD DOG” *smack*
I apparently can’t keep track of multiple threads of events well. Indeed I don’t. Well spotted. I sent you that spreadsheet this morning - I only had time to make it today, but it’ll definitely help me if only I am given enough time to work out the kinks. I didn’t say the last bit, because the direction this conversation was heading was quite clear.
My progress is far behind schedule. She seems particularly shocked at my memory - I am told things and then, when asked about them later I behave as if its the first time I’ve heard them. That is not entirely correct, I just need to hear a familiar link-word that will open the memory locker for that particular issue. If I don’t hear it, I will need time to run a mental search of related keywords - but yes, this does not make for instant answering. Sorry. It pisses me off too. She finds it scary and bewildering. I completely understand.
Coup de grace - I’m a really great guy, hard worker and team player and got along well with everyone but part of her job is to manage risk and I am a risk to the image of the company. She doesn’t have the manpower to supervise me and I am in a high profile position that shouldn’t need supervision any way. I can choose to resign or have my probation terminated.
Nonononono. Not again. For the love of all things holy not again.
Please don’t tell me I am being fired for my ADD again. I left a high-paid job to join this company. I’m getting married next year, we’ve put deposits on everything - this is a disaster.
Fight the tears you idiot. You child.
I mention I have recently been diagnosed with ADD (aged 30) and ask if there is some kind of government incentives to businesses who employ people with a disability that could maybe help keep me there? ADD is legally recognised as a disability, after all. I have nothing to lose now, so I’ll clutch at any straw. I’m not putting these 2 months down on my CV so it will all have been a colossal waste of time, effort and opportunity.
“But you’re not disabled! You’re so smart- you’re a qualified lawyer, you can’t be disabled - this just isn’t the line for you. Don’t be so hard on yourself.”
I am done fighting this. I resign, writing a letter selling myself short as unsuitable for the role, but leaving them space for them to rehire me if a vacancy “more suited to my abilities and qualifications” arises.
She appears genuinely concerned and helpfully offers to see what she can do. I know I will never work there again-can’t begin to imagine the awkwardness. God no. Nor, likely in the shipping industry - Malta is a small island and everyone knows everyone else’s business (or knows someone who does).
Another industry off the list then. First the military, then Law, then MARSEC and now Ship Registration.
Two weeks to figure out another life plan and put it into action. After that, its time to eat into the savings.
Jog on, son. Jog on.