The Last D is for Disorder
It’s not something I tell people about. Maybe I should disclose that information to my professors within the first week of semesters, but I don’t. They’d treat me different. I don’t want to be different with their special accommodations. I can’t help it. It is incurable.
I think sometimes people notice. The most obvious sign is probably the tics I experience ever so often. They might notice that I stare off a lot, or that I break the stride of conversation with a “random” thought. I don’t have the best memory. There’s only so much it can do. There’s only so much I want it to do.
The side effects hardly even bother me anymore. Well, they do, but they don’t seem like side effects anymore. The vertigo, sweating, upset stomach, occasional insomnia, decreased appetite, however I do worry about my heart sometimes (it’s always racing!). Luckily I’ve only experienced hallucinations once and that was a special occasion. I’m so used to the dry mouth now that I actually drool a bit on liber days if I’m not careful.
Liber is the word I’ve chosen to denote the days where I’m drug-free. It used to be every weekend, but I think that unbalances my body a bit. It’s Latin for freedom, and it’s a bit like that, but more intense. I only do it when I know nothing will be expected of me. My days off are a lot more boring than Beuller’s with the majority of the time probably spent looking around and scratching myself. But there’s a feeling of liberation there, a short-lived one. I’ll sleep an unhealthy portion of the day away and spend a lot of time doing nothing in particular. What time I do end up engaged in something never feels satisfactory, since my sense of time is reduced in my liber state. It is living in the present to the fullest extent imaginable. It’s like becoming a child again. So many things are fascinating again; the details leap out and consume you. I really enjoy the respite from the constant inching. Formication is the most unpleasant sensation short of physical pain.
I first recognized that feeling, that sensation, junior year of high school. The health teacher was talking about cocaine addicts, the side effects mostly. She said they often described feeling like there were countless beetles under their skin, impossible to remove. Sometimes I worry that people will think I have head lice they way I scratch my head. I can’t help that it itches and the itching won’t stop. Physical activity that makes me sweat makes me itch more. Luckily, I can maintain my slender figure without such exertion.
I will never be fat, not necessarily exempt from cardiovascular problems, but never overweight. It’s a stimulant, you see. It lasts up to 13 hours, and from there I’ll drink Mountain Dew (“Satan’s Nectar” if you ask my sisters) until a few hours before bedtime. The caffeine is pretty weak comparatively, but it tastes good, and it’s rebellious. It’s always struck me as ironic that they give the hyperactive kids stimulants to calm them down.
“It’s 6:30; I got off early. They’re waxing the stairs.” I was surprised to see him there, clipping his toenails. I prefer to wake up slowly, over the course of several hours, starting with a soft blend of NPR that diffuses into my dreams. It makes me feel informed.
I could only grunt at him, it is the fullest extend of my still sleeping facilities. I take my medication in this groggy state each morning, as it takes a bit more than an hour for it to take affect and taking it later can cause insomnia. I thought, “Which ones? I’ll be sure to avoid them,” with the intent to ask, but it never reached my lips.
“I’ve been meaning to ask, what’s the medication for?”
“Adult Attention deficit disorder.” I’ve seen a few of the infomercials that try to raise awareness for the condition in adulthood, because it is so often associated with rambunctious kids in elementary schools. The adult made it sound more grown up, and I am an adult now. I always neglect to mention the hyperactivity aspect. I think it has the strongest connotation. A kid that does poorly in school is just dumb, not inattentive, but a kid that is sassy to a teacher, medicate him. People don’t think of me as dumb, I guess that’s why they often are surprised if I tell them I have been medicated since age 8.
“Oh, I’d never heard it’s full name before.”
“Yeah…” Most people haven’t, I wanted to say, but I just fell back into bed. If he ever asks again, I’ll assert that the Mountain Dew I take it with is beneficial. I drink a lot of Mountain Dew when I’m working on projects. It helps me concentrate. I don’t think I would have made it into Oregon’s All-State Jazz Band without having its extra stimulant boost at the end of a very long day waiting to record. It’s my spinach really.
People blame sugar, video games, television, severe head trauma, parenting failures and inadequate teachers, genetics. Some probably just blame themselves. I try not to be one of those people. Blame doesn’t help anything. I like to imagine it as being sort of like a race, or secret society, or something. Not an incurable disease, it’s part of who I am. I’ve read some writings that prefer to think of it as a personality type. I like that.
A lot of people think they have it, but haven’t had it diagnosed. Some claim they have it, as if it were an excuse in public domain. I know the symptoms well enough; I can pick out the traits in classmates in high school. There’s debate over how severe it needs to be to count. There’s a lot of debate on everything. People think you need to act a certain way to have it, or that you aren’t smart if you have it, or…I hate those people. I don’t tell people about myself because of those people. I worry about those that ruin it for the rest of us: The parents that doctor shop to dope their kids into better grades, the teenagers who abuse it (is it apathy, disbelief or rebellion?). Grades have never been an issue for me like they were for my sisters, not that grades meant anything in elementary school, when I was diagnosed and medicated. I was disruptive. I was unruly.
I don’t like to read about it. I find it depressing, accurate, and simultaneously comforting and unsettling at times. I don’t like the word “disorder”. I don’t want to be broken. I’ve been struggling to come to terms with myselves, some sort of inner balance.
I like to think of myself as a relic; we’re too common to be a throwback. The numbers float somewhere around 4% of the total population, there’s no way to do a census of us. A race society forgot, never knew in its race for efficiency. I like to think I have adaptations to an archaic way of life. I could, I think, be a good hunter, or soldier, if I had to. That’s what I’m adapted for, I think/hope, at least according to the Hunter vs. Farmer theory. We’ve forgotten Nature, that’s why I struggle. Other reasons are insufferable.
It makes sense to me: A downsized genetic niche, phased out by the more successful farming mind that has shaped our society. Saying I was developed to hunt is so much more glamorous than having a simple learning disorder caused by the random chance of choice alleles. I tried taking Calcium supplements for a few weeks after I read that a calcium deficiency has similar symptoms. I wanted to be sure.
I’m primarily inattentive. My sister Amanda is primarily hyperactive. I don’t suppose it really matters since the treatment is the same for all three versions (the last being some combination of the two), but I resent the hyperactive part of the name; I never use it when I describe myself. I like to think of myself as a calm and rational individual. But I am not non-hyperactive. I don’t like to think about that. I don’t like to think about how I can easily be worked into a frenzy, by excitement or frustration. It took years to cage hyperactivity. Somewhere there exists a video of me running through the kitchen in tighty-whities with passion and friends can recall instances of my logomania. My favorite things let him free. I try to designate time for my favorite things.
I’m sitting in a car, driving from Boise International with my mother. She doesn’t feel she gave me a proper send off before. Her guilt has compelled her to help me move in. It’s a long drive; we talk about a lot of things. My favorite topic is politics, but she likes to avoid it. I think she’s ashamed that I became a democrat. We talk about our family’s greatest struggle: ADHD.
You can read all about the controversy (where it comes from, what it is, if it is), but I will tell you that I think it’s at least partially influenced by heredity. My entire immediate family is ADHD or ADD, and a few uncles on each side display symptoms. My father and youngest brother it has not been enough of an issue to warrant diagnosis or treatment. They only diagnose it if it’s an interference with daily life; the way fears only become phobias if they are beyond control. It’s a good thing my dad is his Union’s shop steward or he would doubtlessly been fired for his hot headedness. We once discussed the insults he would throw at his boss the next time he would get into a fight with him… we discussed this over dinner.
Chelsey’s grades tank whenever she doesn’t take her pill. Amanda just doesn’t care about her grades. Mom’s had the same fight with all of us. I maintain that I am the better child for minimizing the conflict, but really the baby born during my adolescence was what really stole the thunder that was meant for my coming of age.
I tell my mother that I really wish that Dad would seek help for it, just because it would make him a better father. Maybe he would spend less time playing video games, that is what we have most in common, and I am ashamed to admit he can beat me at Halo (but only on the PC). Maybe he would be more patient; things wouldn’t have to always be on his schedule just because. He won’t have any of it; he’s used the term ADHD as a put-down. I’ve never been that close with Chelsey, but we all can see the difference in her from it. I don’t know if she can. I think Amanda knows its importance, but I am unsure. I think our family would be better if we all realized the importance of treatments.
Certainly others would disagree when I say importance. Perhaps it was because I was inoculated at such a young age, I’ve grown dependent upon it. I can feel it take affect, and when it dissipates. Seventy minutes after I take it, my stomach will begin to hurt if I haven’t eaten. With my variable awakening each morning, I’ve forgotten when it wears off, but it’s about 10 hours later. My hunger is more intense and I can sleep hours longer without it. I am groggy throughout any period without. Afternoon church can easily be slept through. I told a bishop that I would try to cull my dependence upon it so I wouldn’t sleep through meetings if I lapsed over weekends. I never did.
I’ve ended the cycle of physical dependence several times over my life, but the psychological dependence and my self-confidence is tied to it unfortunately. I was liber for some time after that semester ended, but it was not a beneficial situation for anyone.
I read Girl, Interrupted on a train in Germany. It was a great book, creative nonfiction, really. The way the nurses in the mental hospital treated the patients, I really empathized with that. Tonguing the medication you really don’t want to take, clinical drugs as a threatened sedative. My parents still use it as a threat against my sisters when they don’t do their chores. No wonder Chelsey hates taking it. It’s a punishment, a declaration that she can’t perform without it. Her natural self is not good enough for them. Isn’t that always the way with parents?
My third grade teacher told my mother of how astonished he was that day I lapsed on my treatment and ate perhaps thrice my usual portion for lunch. I’ve always been underweight, probably always will be. People always tell me to eat more, that I’m too thin. I know that, my biology textbook tells me this. But I don’t get that hungry--it suppresses my appetite. And I only eat until I’m not hungry; I don’t like being “full.” It’s really not that pleasant. I often get stomachaches, which makes me want to eat less. In seventh grade I overheard my father describe me as a “ninety-pound weakling,” I cried.
It’s a hard thing to describe, what it’s like to experience, and I can only imagine what it’s like on the other side as well. Edward M. Hallowell has describes the condition quite insightfully with the passage:
“...It's like being super-charged all the time. You get one idea and you have to act on it, and then, what do you know, but you've got another idea before you've finished up with the first one, and so you go for that one, but of course a third idea intercepts the second, and you just have to follow that one, and pretty soon people are calling you disorganized and impulsive and all sorts of impolite words that miss the point completely. Because you're trying really hard. It's just that you have all these invisible vectors pulling you this way and that, which makes it really hard to stay on task.”
But is only part of the experience, an experience that for me often changes through the day and is primarily an issue of expectations and social constraints; finding the balance between.
I don’t watch movies or listen to music much. Music distracts me entirely. If I try writing with a song in the background, I end up transcribing lyrics. I can go to the movies with someone, as an event. There’s no problem there, but when the movie comes to me, I put it off or start it and leave. I require a firm narrative hook. I feel like a loser going to the movies by myself or watching them alone.
I don’t think I hear the same hymn in church as everyone else. Every consonant clashes, S’s are the most fun and F’s don’t carry well at all. It’s too quiet to study in the library; I need some ambient noise to lift the crushing hush. I’ll often get caught up listening how people are saying, instead of what they are saying. Certain people, like Bob Ross, have a way of talking that lull me to sleep. I think it’s the happy little trees.
Conversations can be awkward for me. I’ll speak without thinking and change topics without warning, talk to myself without excuse…it’s quite embarrassing! My sister breathes through her skin, like a frog, as she doesn’t find time to inhale between words. I didn’t know I could also do this until a father-son camping trip where I talked the duration of the commute, most likely about warplanes or something else my father had minimal interest in. My brother does that very thing now and is much less shy than I ever was. But they named him after a furniture store, so there you go.
I always need more input, my eyes are always darting. Floor tiles, carpet, the grooves in brick, all are elegant in their asymmetry; such harmony is their cacophony, fractals beautiful in their incongruence. I fall into them, sometimes into my own reflection. Sometimes I stare quite a bit and for long periods, sometimes at nothing in particular. My eyes are always darting. The World Wide Web traps me. I chase hyperlinks through Wikipedia, seeing how everything is connected. It is dangerous to me, to learn in this fashion, I don’t want to stop, but it’s not what I should be learning about… Not very productive. Most people will procrastinate to some extent. I procrastinate things out of existence. I’ll spend hours reading on Wikipedia, and then try to justify it as being educational. Those hyperlinks, those portals to knowledge, I love how they connect ideas, theories, fantasies. I get lost in those. I often read the articles on television shows so I can stay current with a show that I don’t like so I’ll be able to talk to people about it. I spark-noted Harry Potter, my family loves the series but it looks like too much of a commitment to me. There’s a theory that every article in Wikipedia can be connected to another through a chain of 6 other articles. I think most of those connections are through The Simpsons. When I start talking about something I learned on Wikipedia, my girlfriend just smiles and nods. It’s not boring to me.
I used to take Ritalin, now my mom takes it. It’s become such a prevalent drug, that Microsoft Word even knows to capitalize it. I take Adderall now; I guess it’s pretty popular among tweakers. People only really know about Ritalin, it became the catchall for the drugs, the way Kleenex is for tissues. I hated Ritalin. It tasted awful. I had to take it with juice really fast so you didn’t get the bitter taste from it. I once bit one of the pills in defiance, one of the most awful experiences of my life. But the worst part was that the dosage was such that I had to go to the nurse’s office every day after lunch, before I could go to recess. It was like that even through junior high. If you forget to go, they send you a note. The teacher gives it to you in front of everyone. Everyone whispers about the note as you take it. You have to walk to the office like you’re in trouble, just because you forgot, the hallmark of the disorder. They made it out like you were going to die if you forgot. Maybe they found some comfort in being certain that the wild and crazy kids were drugged out, like a mental hospital. ADHD doesn’t kill people. I just forgot.
Sometimes I wouldn’t realize what the note was for. I’d be puzzled when I heard my name called. They keep the drugs locked away. I never was sure why. Often I had to wait for the nurse to show up or stop attending to the kid that feels sick or the bleeding knee. I always worried about catching whatever the sicko’s there were coming down with. I knew I was perfectly capable of finding and taking the pills by myself, I think the nurses knew it too, but it was protocol. I’ve never liked protocol.
On field trips, I’d smuggle the drugs myself. The stigma of walking to the office was inferior to that of the teacher tracking you down to administer the globule. They put the troubled kids together with a teacher or chaperone, and never one of the cool ones. I’ve been in that group, to make it easier for the teacher to find me and administer the globule. Eventually I removed myself from the system. Honestly, I think the two smaller doses are more effective than the one longer lasting pill, but it’s not worth feeling like an ass when that note comes, and it’s oh so easy to forget the changing of the guards.
Auburn hair. I’ve never been great with colors. I only wear about 6 colors, it’s simply easier to match. I don’t know what color auburn is (a type of reddish-brown-orange?). I had to pull out a Crayola, the answer didn’t satisfy me, and none probably ever will. I can’t remember a lot of that psychology paper, the one my mother wrote while she was finishing her associates’ degree at a community college. I was in first grade when it was written, probably second, but I only remember a babysitter in the first two grades. The topic of the paper was Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. She must have written it after I was diagnosed, to better understand me…or whatever… I found it when I was in high school, freshman year: the most volatile of the four. She wrote that children with ADHD often have auburn colored hair. I cried a lot that night. I don’t think I was ever supposed to find it, tucked away in an unmarked white binder, full of notes and catalogues on the condition, deep in the bottom shelf of our library--the bottom shelf, right next to the photo albums. She got an A on the paper.
I didn’t start acting out until second grade. Being disruptive in class, that’s usually when they start medicating, before that it’s not necessary and it should usually be considered a last resort. My sister Amanda and I had the same teacher for that grade, a teacher who was amazed when she first saw Amanda raise her hand and wait to be called on to give the answer. There must have been a change in me too. I once sat at the girls’ lunch table, waiting the entire half-hour just to tell her that the world spins at a thousand miles an hour. That doesn’t even make sense; it’s too perfect of a number. That couldn’t have been that same kid who let everyone know if he didn’t want to be in school. That one that banged his head against the divider between the classrooms when finally forced into the classroom he hated. I recall these events particularly; they had to call my parents to escort me. I don’t like to think about it. I had a temper. The pains of puberty taught me pretty well how suppress that demon.
I hated school. At some point that feeling stopped. It must have been in second grade. How dare Ritalin rob me of my hate! I feel cheated by it. I told my mother once that I didn’t like taking it, it made me “be good” and it wasn’t a choice. This was before Cub Scout camp. The other boys didn’t have to take drugs, they got to run and be free. But my mother was also the Den Mother; I had to behave. After working at that same camp years later, I saw both of my two selves. I think I could deal with those kids a lot better for it. After all, we have the same attention span.
She asked me once, she was sitting on the porch, when I stopped being a good boy, I used to be so good, she said. I didn’t have an answer. I just stuck my hands in my pockets and did the little dance that children do when they feel uncomfortable, pretending their jacket is a pair of wings.
I like those chairs that spin. I can’t remember having a doctor without a spinning stool. It made it all very informal with him on his stool, and much more enjoyable up until he arrived (which always took so very, very long). My mother has always remarked that Dr. Meyers seems so knowledgeable in the areas of ADD and ADHD, like he had personal experience with it. She thinks his son has it. He has always referred to them as separate entities, though the distinction is not as official in the DSM-IV. But hyperfocus isn’t included in the DSM-IV and I have experienced that.
Hyperfocus is an amazing ability. I don’t quite understand it, and the Wikipedia article doesn’t cite its sources. It is awesome; I wish I knew how to trigger it. Time ceases to exist; nothing exists except the task at hand. I have spent hours engineering robots from the Lego robotics sets. I built a crude walking one once; it was really more of an ambling shuffle, but still an achievement in my mind. My sister does it a lot; she draws for hours. The ability to act so single-mindedly on a task for hours without break can be a great benefit, but it can just as easily be used for video games as homework, perhaps more so. And it is very, very difficult to change heading. The gearbox for ADHD doesn’t have a clutch; it’s an on-off switch. Driving stick took me a couple years to master.
When I was little, my mother tried to give me heroes who had ADHD to look up to. The ability to hyperfocus has usually been their most redeeming qualities and since ADHD is a new condition, its diagnosis is purely speculative in the retrospect. I think she said that Franklin had it, which I question; the man was very well organized, but was it an adaptive behavior? I can’t be certain. President Jefferson was. He meets all the criteria: strokes of brilliance, problems structuring his personal affairs, extremely passionate and stubborn. Other lists I’ve seen include Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison, which makes sense from what I know of him. But there’s no way of knowing. And it’s not like making decisions quickly is a bad thing or being stubborn and whatnot. It’s just different.
I’ve adapted my lifestyle to better suite a college lifestyle. To-do lists were very important last year. I updated one daily on my computer, but now I keep it more on my cell phone. I use the countdown and alarm features constantly. I also rely more on other people for reminders. If I feed everyone the same information, times and dates, one of them is bound to regurgitate it at some point to me. It’s a constant struggle to not get distracted; procrastination is so very easy. Breaks are important, if I can tell I’m about to lose my concentration, I’ll take a break to refocus, have another glass of Mountain Dew. It’s easy to offend when you’ll blurt things, so I try to keep quiet when meeting new people the first few times until I know what topics I should avoid. I’ve stopped carrying cash to avoid impulse buying.
I don’t like to think of it as a disorder. The name, Attention-Deficit Hyper-activity Disorder, is very focused, very concise, the opposite of what it describes in a way. It seems so negative. There is a word, “neurodiversity.” The basic premise is that just because a brain is wired differently, it doesn’t make it broken or diseased. Opponents of “curing” autism coined the term, as it would be equivalent to supplanting people’s personalities. The more I think about it now, the last D represents just another characteristic of the condition: a deficit of attention, hyperactivity, disorder. I’m all right with being disorderly. As I try to find myself between myselves, the Dr. Jekyll and the Mr. Hyde, my girlfriend reminds me, “don’t get me wrong. I like both you’s.” I think I’m O.K. with that.