Much Ado About ADD

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I am so totally ADD.

No, for real. I’m totally scatterbrained, procrastinate like whoa (just ask Corinne and Kody about how long it took them to get this post from me), and in general have so many wee little thoughts buzzing around me noggin’ that it’s next to impossible to focus on any single one of them long enough to accomplish even the simplest of tasks.

It’s been that way since high school. I had an Enforcer Mom, one of those stern taskmaster types who used her superpowers of Hyper-Vigilance to ensure I dedicated myself to excelling in all things in life at all times (for my own good, natch). She would make me sit at the kitchen table before every exam and study within eyesight so she could make sure I wasn’t goofing off as I was wont to do, and even with all that, I still couldn’t make myself study. I would sit at the kitchen table and flip through textbooks with a look of intense concentration on my face, while internally I was busy kicking ass on level eight of Super Mario Bros. 3, and then the Shadow Man level of Megaman 3 and then trying to figure out how to beat that damn boss from Streets of Rage 2 and so on ad nauseam. I literally had nothing better to do; I was practically super-glued to my chair under supervision with my textbook and notes in hand, and yet still I had an allergic reaction to actually doing anything productive with my time.

Yeah. I was that  awesome.

This pattern repeated itself in college (where I dropped out), in most 9-5 jobs I tried (all of which I quit or was fired from) and my attempts to write a book and kickstart a writing career. (Which progressed from taking two years of stops and starts before finishing one 50K book, to then writing a 50K book every couple months and then doing absolutely nothing with those drafts because OMG you guys revisions are hard.)

And here’s the thing. I totally knew I had ADD. Wasn’t angsting about it either, like oh noes, I have a messed up brain, I am a Super-Freak, if only there was some toxic ooze to mix with my synaptic misfires and elevate me to full on supervillain status, whut whut. Nah. It was my go-to apology, my self-deprecating trademark shtick for when my usual procrastination pushed me from loveably anti-punctual to just completely obnoxiously LATE.

“Ugh, I am SO sorry dude/dudette. I can’t believe I took so long getting this to you, I am so ADD, what is my brain I can’t even.”

Said with a smile and a laugh, but the thing was, I wasn’t even joking, I totally knew I had ADD, I just … didn’t think it was a big deal. I mean, it was just ADD. I’d been this way my whole life, and bad habits aside I still paid my bills and fed and clothed myself and kept a roof over my head without ever actually resorting to a life of crime. (Except for that one time, but that doesn’t count. I was coerced, long story, shush, I had a point here.)

Because here’s the thing about ADD awareness as a teen, the first impression garnered from books and shows and movies. It tends to cater to one of two extremes.

The first is, OMG you have ADD but it’s okay, it’s okay baby, just take your magic pills and it’ll all be okay. (Said while stroking a child’s hair as though said child is a wild animal that will bolt if not properly soothed.)

These are the books, shows and movies that are so consumed with making sure people are absolutely clear that ADD is no big deal and you are totally okay and normal and no, Mommy’s not crying, she was just chopping onions that in actuality it comes across like you’ve been diagnosed with a terminal illness and everyone’s trying to be strong for you.

Which umm … not the best impression you want to give to a child, seriously.

So then you get the second extreme which attempts to normalize ADD by treating it so hyper-casually that it in essence becomes a punchline. Oh it’s just ADD. Practically every other person has it, it’s no big deal, so you’re a little flighty, a little flaky, whatevs, it is allllll good. You’re just ADD.

And then shocker of shockers, you end up with a bunch of attention deficit dudes like me who look at said two extremes and are like, well, I definitely don’t feel like I’m dying so I’m gonna go with Door Number 2 and treat it like it’s barely worth mentioning. It’s just a little personality quirk, pay it no more mind than that. And time passes and I’m working, I’m a semi-productive member of society, I get by. So what’s the problem, right?

Except, you know … I’m still ADD. And it doesn’t quite work like that.

I finally got diagnosed last year when things came to such a head that I was kinda just like screw it, I might as well look into this whole ADD thing and see if there’s something I should be doing differently. And sure enough, they gave me my shiny diagnosis, and they gave me my magic pills to take in the morning so everything calms down upstairs and I can focus on one damn thing at a time, and I’m still treating it like a punchline. Because partly that’s just who I am, and if someone’s not dying, everything is a punchline to me, but also partly it’s residual embarrassment like, why is everyone making such a big deal, it’s just ADD. It’s so ingrained in me that I attempt to treat it like it’s inconsequential even now that I know better.

Because here’s the truth about ADD, the impression I would like to see more kids like me get early on so they can ask the right questions and get the right answers:

ADD isn’t an end of the world big deal. It’s really really not. But it is a deal, it’s a thing. It’s a disability. It puts you on a different default setting. Getting an official diagnosis and medication to help you handle ADD isn’t confirming your super-freak status or accepting that there’s something wrong with you. It just gives you another set of tools. That’s all.

I mean, we’re all just a bunch of hyper-evolved monkeys at the end of the day. Ask any scientist, the only thing that differentiates us from our feces-flinging cousins is our critical thinking and tool-using capacity. Yeah, sure, that’s probably not how they’d put it, but point is, we all use tools. It’s what makes us human instead of just your average primate. So it really is no big deal if some humans just happen to use a different set of tools than others. The important part is just making sure everyone knows what those tools are, and where to find them if they need them.



About Author

Kalen O'Donnell

Writer, actor and occasional print model. Trained in the fine art of Lying Creative Truths, studied at the Institution of Making Things Up, and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in the field of Convincing People to Give Him Money in Exchange for the Performance of Ridiculous Labors. Significant moments in his career training have involved falling out of windows, driving other people’s expensive cars without crashing or obeying traffic laws, and kissing pretty boys and girls because the nice man in the director’s chair assured him it was a legitimate acting gig. His last recorded full night’s sleep was in the late nineties, and he would really appreciate it if you’d pass him some more coffee.

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4 Comments

  1. This is a great post. I sympathize with a lot of what you said. I was diagnosed in college and that diagnosis didn’t come until i could no longer cope with the world around me and focus on my studies. But looking back there were signs early on that my teachers even pointed out but went unnoticed toward getting a diagnosis. And no ADD doesn’t make you a freak, it just means you deal with the world differently and you have to do different things in your life to adjust the millions of thoughts and distractions flying around your head.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. Sadly many people think either that a) since ADD is overdiagnosed, there is no way it can also be underdiagnosed b) it’s just a fad made up by pharmaceutical companies to sell more drugs. A friend (who actually works as a substitute teacher for teens!) was convinced “kids just make it up so they have an easier time in school”. Because having ADD makes things so easy in school… Sigh.

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  4. I think this is one of the best posts I read about ADD. People always sees ADD like what’s the big deal, is not like you will die from it, but they just don’t understand, having so many thoughts going around your head all at the same time, needing to do them all and end up doing nothing. I literally have half an hour writing this comment while I read a book, trying to remember the name of a movie I saw yesterday, thinking many outcomes for the book I’m currently reading and write a freaking story that has been running around my head for months

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