Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Ugly Bag of Mostly Water Re-evaluates

Not so long ago, I discovered that I'm ADHD. My wife hates it when I say that. She says I should say I have ADHD; that it's not what I am. I'm not so sure. I think maybe it is.

ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and what it means is that I get lots of parking tickets because remembering that two hours have elapsed and that it's again time to plug the meter is a feat that's pretty much beyond my abilities.

As is: reliably adhering to social convention, remembering names, following complex oral trains of thought, adequately masking my boredom with most people, places, and things, basic self-care, and remembering what I was doing just now.

I'm too easily bored by details to really get it on a technical level, but basically, my brain craves lots of external stimulation to get it firing just the way I like. It's a dopamine issue.

It means I'm a better writer when I'm listening to Iggy and the Stooges, and that I'm really good in a crisis. Adrenaline is my friend.

All of which conspires to make me a bit of an asshole. But I can be a charming, creative, confident, and capable asshole, and this has, for the most part, gotten me by.

Most of this, actually, is recent news to me, which has been interesting.

I've always been drawn to those plot lines where suddenly the protagonist discovers that everything he knows is wrong, and the truth that has always stared him in the face is now too overwhelming to miss. Oedipus suddenly realizing he's been boning his mom. Ajax coming to his senses amidst the stench of cattle gore. Agave recognizing that she holds her son's head in her hands. That sort of thing.

I think we see these ideas again and again in ancient literature because most of us walk around without knowing all that much about ourselves, and when we get a sudden glimmer of insight, finally seeing what should have been obvious all along, the news can be devastating.

This is something to which we can all relate.

As often happens with those who make this discovery later in life, my whole history has become opened to reinterpretation. The failures in school despite being obviously bright, the early attraction to high stimulation (drugs) and my clear preference for pot and pinball over high school. The impulsivity that used to get me into so much trouble. The sense of, as I would often put it, "being a round peg guy in a square hole world."

So it's a bit of a kick in the pants to realize that being ADHD is at once the reason for my failures and the secret to my success.

When I was building homeless people's organizations in Boston in the late 80s and early 90s, a good friend once said I was "the Evil Knievel of organizing." He didn't know how apt that actually was.

Now, having obtained this insight, a diagnosis, and a lifetime prescription to the amphetamines that paradoxically offer focus to my beleaguered brain, I no longer need to place myself in adrenaline producing situations to feel like I'm "on." My little pink pill helps me feel that way pretty much all the time.

Which is nice.

It is humbling, however, to reevaluate one's life achievements, or lack thereof, in light of this information. My organizer/entrepreneur/journalist/priest career path was basically the product of biology.

We are, in the memorable words of the microbrains, "ugly bags of mostly water," a collection of chemical reactions and electrical currents that somehow determine who we are and what we do with our lives.

I know that's terribly reductive, and I know it's neither that simple nor bleak. Maybe, on some level, it's like retelling myth. The bones are always there. It's what you do with them that matters.


Dr. Wes Browning said...

You don't have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder; you're the Poster Child for Adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Syndrome. You're a Syndrome. Syndromes aren't disorders, they're alternate ways of being, dig? You got to evolve your consciousness, man. Crawl out of that wet muddy plane you're in, grow little consciousness stumps and wriggle out onto your brand new bright and sunny dry plane.

zip said...

ADHD is symptomatic of postmodern over-stimulation. This is the etiology of hyperactivity.

In a 24 hour world, people break down without the aid of two administrative assistants and a blackberry.

The use of neurotransmitter receptor drugs that invoke dopamine uptake allow one to "keep up" in the hyperkinetic society. ADHD drugs are speed and salts. Nothing more, nothing less.

I mean who wouldn't rather be playing HALO than doing their bills or homework? The intellectual and chemical stimulation is much higher in the former than the latter (and a lot more fun).

Proof of point, studies of ADHD have shown little prevalence in the third world, specifically those people outside the modern spheres of living.

A study by Department of Community Health, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia concluded that "that age and residence in urban areas are significant correlates of behavioural disorders in children".(PUBMED 12862128).