Life with ADD: Part I - THE EARLY YEARS

This blog is a continuation of a series of one writer's experience with ADD/ADHD. Part 2 can be found here . Part 3 can be found here. Part 4 can be found here. Part 5 can be found here

A lot of things come to mind when people say they have ADD. For the great majority of the population (based entirely on my own anecdata) ADD brings to mind a hyperactive kid, or someone who is a bit disorganized and goes LAWL, I HAVE ADD. 

But what does someone with ADD/ADHD look like?

Let's see what the CDC and the DSM-5 say:

DSM-5 Criteria for ADHD

People with ADHD show a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development:

  1. Inattention: Six or more symptoms of inattention for children up to age 16, or five or more for adolescents 17 and older and adults; symptoms of inattention have been present for at least 6 months, and they are inappropriate for developmental level:
    • Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or with other activities.
    • Often has trouble holding attention on tasks or play activities.
    • Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly.
    • Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (e.g., loses focus, side-tracked).
    • Often has trouble organizing tasks and activities.
    • Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to do tasks that require mental effort over a long period of time (such as schoolwork or homework).
    • Often loses things necessary for tasks and activities (e.g. school materials, pencils, books, tools, wallets, keys, paperwork, eyeglasses, mobile telephones).
    • Is often easily distracted
    • Is often forgetful in daily activities.
  2. Hyperactivity and Impulsivity: Six or more symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity for children up to age 16, or five or more for adolescents 17 and older and adults; symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity have been present for at least 6 months to an extent that is disruptive and inappropriate for the person’s developmental level:
    • Often fidgets with or taps hands or feet, or squirms in seat.
    • Often leaves seat in situations when remaining seated is expected.
    • Often runs about or climbs in situations where it is not appropriate (adolescents or adults may be limited to feeling restless).
    • Often unable to play or take part in leisure activities quietly.
    • Is often "on the go" acting as if "driven by a motor".
    • Often talks excessively.
    • Often blurts out an answer before a question has been completed.
    • Often has trouble waiting his/her turn.
    • Often interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations or games)

In addition, the following conditions must be met:

  • Several inattentive or hyperactive-impulsive symptoms were present before age 12 years.
  • Several symptoms are present in two or more setting, (such as at home, school or work; with friends or relatives; in other activities).
  • There is clear evidence that the symptoms interfere with, or reduce the quality of, social, school, or work functioning.
  • The symptoms are not better explained by another mental disorder (such as a mood disorder, anxiety disorder, dissociative disorder, or a personality disorder). The symptoms do not happen only during the course of schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder.

Based on the types of symptoms, three kinds (presentations) of ADHD can occur:

Combined Presentation: if enough symptoms of both criteria inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity were present for the past 6 months

Predominantly Inattentive Presentation: if enough symptoms of inattention, but not hyperactivity-impulsivity, were present for the past six months

Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation: if enough symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity but not inattention were present for the past six months.

Anyone that's met me could run through the list and go, "oh yeah, that's you." 

And I don't mind. I've come to embrace my ADD in the way that someone can embrace a metaphor that is not coming to me at right this time. As a former classmate put it, it's like you have a special ability. I remember that conversation, back in 2011, outside the parking lot of my old apartment complex in the Heights.

"Like, it's a type of special ability."
"OH! Like I have superpowers!"
"No, like, you're born with it and you have to deal with it and do the best you can with that ability."
"OOOOH! Like the X-men!"
"<sigh> no, not like the-"
"X-MEN X-MEN X-MEN X-MEN"

And although I was being childish, there was certain truth to my wanting to relate to the X-men. Most mutants with an ability could do a lot of good, but sometimes it would come at a cost. Rogue couldn't touch anyone. Jean Gray was an immensely powerful psychic and could never truly lead a normal life knowing what's inside people's heads at all times. Nightcrawler and Beast both look like...well, beast-men. 

So, I'll use the X-men to take you back to elementary school, which is when I first had the inkling of my brain chemistry being different. I didn't understand why. I didn't understand how. But my mom will tell you I was reading at the age of two and very impatient with my classmates. My connection to the X-men stems from my collection of those X-men "metal" trading cards. I don't know what happened to that collection but I miss it.

Up/downside to ADD/ADHD: Hyper-awareness

Up/downside to ADD/ADHD: Hyper-awareness

I mean, you could just ignore the rest of the post and just focus on the image. That was my life whenever I was in a classroom.

Let’s go back to the DSM-V and the ones that applied to me the most:

  • Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or with other activities.
  • Often has trouble holding attention on tasks or play activities.
  • Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties
  • Often has trouble organizing tasks and activities.
  • Often loses things necessary for tasks and activities (e.g. school materials, pencils, books, tools, wallets, keys, paperwork, eyeglasses, mobile telephones).
  • Is often easily distracted
  • Is often forgetful in daily activities.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that I had ADD because I hated to do homework. What kid doesn’t hate homework? (Sit the hell down, Oscar.) But I struggled with just remembering to do homework.

I don’t think I ever had a “serious” extended study session until law school, at which point my brain realized how atrophied my study muscles had become after 20 years of inactivity. But in elementary, middle, and high school, I aced tests like they were nothing. I could even handle math tests because my cousin tutored me. But the reason why I was never top of my class was because I forgot to do things. I forgot questions on tests. I forgot homework. I forgot essays. I forgot to pack my book. I forgot to pack my notebook. I forgot to pack my binder. I forgot to organize these notes. I forgot to organize my binders. I forgot to sort them. I forgot my PE shorts. I forgot I forgot I forgot I forgot.

One could easily blame the distractions. I mean, come on 90s kid? DRAGONBALL? Ranma ½, Mikami la Cazafantasmas (SS Mikami), Supercampeones (Captain Tsubasa), Nintendomania, Las Aventuras de Fly (Dragon Quest), Samurai Pizza Gatos, Beast Wars: Transformers, Wacky Races, SWAT Kats, Thundercats, etc.

But even if I didn’t have my books or if I didn’t have a TV (and later, a computer with a 28.8 modem) I’d have found something else to distract myself with. Then I’d lose my glasses. Or I’d lose my wallet. Or I’d lose my lunch money. I lost a lot of things. In fact, I’m pretty sure I could make a down payment on a house with all the loose change I’ve collected over the years. I could supply Office Depot with all the pens and paper I lost over the years. I could supply Sam Goody with…you get the drift.

(Speaking of Sam Goody, TIL that it closed down on 2006, which is when I graduated high school and my hopes were crushed. Haha, kidding. Sort of. Winkyface.)

I think I am lucky I was inattentive instead of hyperactive. It kept the raging storm of thoughts inside my head. When I was able to direct it, I did well. Tests? No biggie. Being able to keep an engaging conversation for hours on end? Easy.

When I couldn’t? It was crippling, and the thing about storms is that while a field might need the rain, a particularly bad storm could destroy it. The only AP class I took in high school was AP US History. Why? Because my parents had signed off on me going to AP English…but then I lost the slip. Missed the deadline and didn’t find it until like three weeks later. I guess it didn’t matter in the long run because I’m so far the only writer in my class and I believe the only writer from that school since James Carlos Blake and Rudy Ruiz. So yeah, take that, AP points.

But, all in all, I did struggle. I’m not the type to hold regrets, but the one thing I do regret is never being able to make the honor roll at any point. I hated when my teachers looked at me with disappointment because I couldn’t help forgetting things. Or because I’d religiously highlight and detail our assigned school binders…for three weeks before burying the planner in my locker next to a lunchbox that held a sandwich so moldy that I think by the time I threw it out the fungus had developed sentience. There are two articles I’d like to share today

I came across a Buzzfeed list today and there was one story that stood out to me

"As a kid, I always struggled with paying attention in class or even keeping my desk in order. Teachers were always calling my parents into conferences about my ‘behavior’ and would try to move me to lower-level classes because they thought I was slow or lazy or both. Once I got to high school, I realized that my zoning out and way of talking (jumping from one seemingly related story to another at the speed of light) made it harder to make friends or connect with people, so I would stress out about focusing all the time. Reading was the hardest of all, because I would read a sentence and then drift off and then realize I read 20 pages without actually processing anything because I was in my own thoughts. With age, it’s gotten so much easier, and sometimes I think of ADD as a weird blessing creatively because I’m always working on something — I’m never just stuck on one project and I end up accomplishing more that way. So many artistic people have ADD and have simply learned to channel it into something very positive.” —Julia Pugachevsky

 The other link is the following. It’s basically the same as the first, but with more pictures.

So, as graduation new nearer, I had to wonder, what was awaiting the storm in my brain?

 Tune in next week!