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Public Service Announcement: What ADHD feels like to me

September 18, 2014
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When a lot of people think of ADHD, I’m willing to bet that they picture this little guy.

That’s Dug the Dog from the excellent Pixar film UP and here’s  Jon Stewart on the Daily Show using the joke in this clip from 2011.

Now I’ll admit, I use that joke all the time myself. That part doesn’t bother me all that much. But it does bother me that that joke might be the full extent of your understanding of the condition. It doesn’t always make for a snappy punchline or a whimsical part in an madcap adventure. It sucks. Which is why we take medicine that makes us nauseous (in my case), or dizzy or irritable to treat it and visit the shrink to talk about it and thank Zod every day that we do those things because without them we would be WORSE. So with the caveats that everybody’s syndrome is unique to them, here’s what ADHD is like for me, with medication (dial this all up to 11 without it).

  • Before I started treatment I would constantly leave all of the drawers and cabinets in my kitchen wide open when I was cooking. I would seriously not even notice the situation until someone pointed it out. Or I walked into one of them. Now I only have a Three Stooges Moment like that maybe once a month.
  • If I needed a pen or pencil for school or work I guarantee you I would lose it. I mean I swear I would have it in my hand one minute and it would be GONE the next. Now I’m sure that happens to most people every once in awhile and it’s frustrating.  I feel like that all the fucking time.
  • I’ll lose track of important conversations while I am having them, face to face, with my wife, who Dark Lord bless her has the patience of a saint. Imagine that scene from UP, except its the love of your life you are talking to  and they are visibly exasperated with you and there is really nothing you can do about it. 
  • Did I take my medication this morning? Or did I just turn off the medication reminder app on my phone and then immediately go off to do something else.
  • Can you sit still and concentrate on important work? In the 45 minutes I have been working on this piece I have had to get up and move six times. Sometimes it happens so suddenly that I’m out of my chair and in the next room pacing without even noticing.
  • Do you ever walk into a room and wonder “Why am I in here?”. If you are my age I’m sure that happens a little more frequently as we all slip into “middle” age. I’ve been having that happen fairly regularly for my entire life.

Much of mental illness is an exaggeration of otherwise normal behaviors to the point where they interfere with your life. Everybody gets absent minded from time to time. Everybody gets jumpy from time to time. We all get distracted by bright shiny objects. And sometimes those exaggerations work in our favor. Noticing novel arrangements of light, form and subject are essential to my style of photography. Noticing novel arrangements of words and concepts is useful for a writer of semi-humorous material. Even the hyperactivity can be put to good use if you can focus that energy on a task, or find a activity that sets it free. But its not a superpower. Never pretend we’re Daredevil. Having this problem sucks. It can lead to depression and exacerbate anxiety (more on that some other time). So there’s nothing wrong with a joke, just remember where the joke ends and real life struggles begin.

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