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Some disabilities are hard to see.  Some are so hard to see that even the person living with one doesn't know it.  I didn't know about mine until I was nearly 40, after years of failure and frustration so overwhelming I fell into a deep depression, convinced that I was fatally flawed and wondering what point there was to my living.  ADD and ADHD are insidious.  You can approach life with the greatest enthusiasm and the best intentions, but even with every advantage, your own mind will sabotage you at every turn.

KosAbility is a community diary series posted at 5 PM ET every Sunday and Wednesday by volunteer diarists. This is a gathering place for people who are living with disabilities, who love someone with a disability, or who want to know more about the issues surrounding this topic.  There are two parts to each diary.  First, a volunteer diarist will offer their specific knowledge and insight about a topic they know intimately. Then, readers are invited to comment on what they've read and or ask general questions about disabilities, share something they've learned, tell bad jokes, post photos, or rage about the unfairness of their situation. Our only rule is to be kind; trolls will be spayed or neutered.

Update: Many thanks for your kind recommendations.  It's coming up on 7pm in the East and I have to step away for a while, but will return to answer any questions I can.

By now, the existence of Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is well known in children.  (I'll now call both conditions ADD for convenience.)  Less well known is the fact that one-half or more of children with ADD will suffer the disorder in adulthood.  The problems extend beyond simple distractability, invading every area of your life, from school to work to family and romantic relationships.  

The particular symptoms of ADD vary from person to person; the following list, from Dr. Edward M. Hallowell, a widely recognized expert on the disorder and co-author of one of the best books on ADD in print, Driven to Distraction, lays them out comprehensively:

•A sense of underachievement, of not meeting one’s goals (regardless of how much one has actually accomplished).
•Difficulty getting organized.
•Chronic procrastination or trouble getting started.
•Many projects going simultaneously; trouble with follow through.
•A tendency to say what comes to mind without necessarily considering the timing or appropriateness of the remark.
•A frequent search for high stimulation.
•An intolerance of boredom.
•Easy distractibility; trouble focusing attention, tendency to tune out or drift away in the middle of a page or conversation, often coupled with an inability to focus at times.
•Often creative, intuitive, highly intelligent
•Trouble in going through established channels and following "proper" procedure.
•Impatient; low tolerance of frustration.
•Impulsive, either verbally or in action, as an impulsive spending of money.
•Changing plans, enacting new schemes or career plans and the like; hot-tempered.
•A tendency to worry needlessly, endlessly; a tendency to scan the horizon looking for something to worry about, alternating with attention to or disregard for actual dangers.
•A sense of insecurity.
•Mood swings, mood lability, especially when disengaged from a person or a project.
•Physical or cognitive restlessness.
•A tendency toward addictive behavior.
•Chronic problems with self-esteem.
•Inaccurate self-observation.
•Family history of AD/HD or manic depressive illness or depression or substance abuse or other disorders of impulse control or mood.

Doesn't that sound like fun?  Let me sum it up in more personal terms: anything that isn't interesting is tedious, so tedious as to be almost physically painful.  Meetings.  Lectures.  Conversations.  Lines.  If you don't actively want to be there, you want to squirm out of your skin.  

Your mind swirls with thoughts interrupting and crashing into one another.  You try to focus on one of them, but it's like listening to a radio that can't quite tune to the station you want, and when you can tune in, the signal is riddled with static.  You try as hard as you can to concentrate, but there is never any rest from intrusion.  Imagine you are reading a book, and just when you focus your attention on the text, someone calls your name.  You focus again, someone bumps your chair.  You focus still again, and the cat jumps into your lap.  

Again and again and again.  Try as hard as you can, but it's no good.  Everything around you is happening all at once, everything interrupting everything else.  The term "Attention Deficit" is really a misnomer.  It's really a huge surplus of attention--except for the one thing you really want to attend to.

And that's just one part of the experience of ADD.  I could tell you about the strains on personal relationships that come from lack of focus and the inability to tolerate boredom, or the alarming compulsive behaviors that break out when environmental stimulation becomes critically low.

I could tell you about depression.  A lot, in fact.  Depression is a common companion of adult ADD.  

Remember what I said about having ADD and not knowing it until I was an adult?  Looking back, it was present when I was a child, but in the 60's and 70's, there was nowhere near the awareness of the condition there is today.  Even if knowledge about ADD had been widespread when I was a boy, my parents wouldn't have known I had it.  My grades were excellent and I was always well spoken and presentable and I wasn't typically hyperactive.  There were only hints that got clearer as I got older.

I got A's on my papers, but always turned them in at the last minute.  I got A's on tests, but never studied seriously until the night before.  I pushed deadlines all the time, seriously exasperating my parents, but I got stuff in.  Besides, who was going to criticise a polite, good natured kid, a popular athlete with good grades who was never in trouble?  In fact, it was everyone's opinion that I would be a great success whatever I turned my hand to.  A doctor, a judge, a Senator, anything...the sky was the limit.  I believed it too.  I had no idea what was about to hit me.

As a college student, I was challenged for the first time in my life.  Worse, the school was in New York, possibly the world's ultimate distraction.  Still, I had everthing I needed to succeed, good health, a good brain, enough time, and more than enough money.  This was in the years before Manhattan became a shopping mall for billionaires; there was something new and exciting around every corner, most especially for a young gay man from the provinces.  Hard as I tried, ignoring the late 70's Manhattan carnival in favor of French verb conjugations or an afternoon in the chemistry lab was just too much.  Things fell apart.  Four years after I started, I left school and left New York to travel the world.  I had only about two years academic credit under my belt.

Almost two decades later, on the the cusp of middle age, I found myself with no money, no career, and no idea why all my early promise had turned to dust.  True, I had returned to school a few years after the first go-round and made up my deficiencies (and then some!), I think by sheer willpower.  I left school with great hope, but the years afterward were a maze of promising starts where, after initial success, I simply couldn't keep my focus or enthusiasm.  Things that began with feelings of joyful discovery came to feel like ropes closing around my neck.  After so many tries at life, I accepted that, whatever gifts life had handed me, my character was simply too flawed to make use of them, and that I would spend the rest of my life a disappointed and depressed failure.

One day a few years after I had given up, a sensitive co-worker told me straight up, "You have ADD". It seemed out of the blue, but it wasn't.  An old warhorse of a psych nurse, she'd been observing me since we met.  I dismissed it out of hand, ignorant as I was.  But she persisted, telling me she recognized it because her adult son had it.  She saw her son in me, a son who had taken his own life from depression.  A day later, she pushed a copy of Driven to Distraction into my hands and told me to read.  So I did, and by page 25, with tears of relief falling from my eyes to the pages of the book my friend had given me, I understood.  

Finally, I understood my life.

A week later, I began treatment for ADD.  Anyone hoping I'd avoid the cliché "it changed my life" will be disappointed, because it did, instantly.  For the first time, I understood what "normal" life was like. Seemingly random things happened, like my handwriting and driving improved.  I could sit through a meeting and not want to scream.  I could watch a whole movie or listen to a friend tell a story and resist the urge to say "get to the point!"  I actually wanted to hear people's stories, and I was startled by the feelings of connection and warmth it brought.  People seemed calmer around me, no doubt because I was calmer around them.  Strangely, the world had slowed down, yet had become more interesting.  Simple existence was fulfilling as it had never been.

Since then, life has not become any less of a challenge.  To tell the truth, it's become harder.  Financial ruin has been bad enough; the hardest part has been saying goodbye forever to several family members and close friends.  These have been some tough years.  But I'd rather face hard times with my full consciousness than easy times without the blessing of being able to give my whole self to the world around me.  

That's my story of falling down, it seemed forever, and getting up again.  Thank you for sharing it with me.

Originally posted to MrJayTee on Wed Aug 11, 2010 at 02:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Bright Shiny and KosAbility.

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