Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Little White Pill

When I read ADHD sites, I see a lot of concern from parents about whether or not it's right to "drug" their kids. I think there's a perception that, since ADHD medications calm children down, it must be similar to giving a kid a dose of valium - the new Mother's Little Helper, only this time we apply it directly to the source of the problem.

This isn't valium.

I can only offer my experience with this medication and with this condition, but, if you are a parent and you are wondering about whether or not medication is ever right (I can't speak for always right, but I can say something about ever right), I do want to offer that experience and that perception. I'd like to try to give you an insight into what ADHD is like - what I suspect it's only possible to understand it's like when you have lived with it untreated and then had it treated.

These drugs aren't even remotely like valium.

Being on them isn't a dulling down. It isn't doping. It isn't drugging oneself into quietude.

Having untreated ADHD is like having your body embedded with a thousand fishhooks, with lines pulling you in every direction at once.

It's being unable, physically unable, desperately, despairingly, hatefully unable to stop watching a television. No matter how much you want to stop watching the television. No matter how hard you are trying to stop watching the television. No matter what price you are paying for watching the television. No matter what abuse you are pouring on yourself for continuing to watch the goddamn television. And then you get the drugs and you don't have to beg someone else anymore to please turn off the television and set you free.

Having ADHD is having the feeling that desserts were amputated from your mouth. You can go for weeks being acutely and persistently aware of the absence of a turtle brownie sundae from your tongue. You work on increasing your self-discipline. You try to deal with it as an emotional problem (maybe the sundae reminds you of something you want to experience again, like a childhood pet! a day at an amusement park! a beloved grandparent! your first date! a simpler time!) but the reality is that the food isn't about love and it isn't about security and it isn't about sex. That food is about carbohydrates and their ability to trigger the rush of dopamine that your brain is starved for (even if your body isn't) and all the self-discipline and therapy and weight watchers in the world aren't going to get you that dopamine, and the longer you put off getting it, the more and more trouble you're going to have functioning without it. You can get the dopamine pumping as needed by exercising yourself to a "runner's high" every two to three hours, but your body isn't going to take that kind of treatment indefinitely, you can get it by eating the sundae, which is an entirely different kind of way to mess up your body, or you can take the drug.

Having a kid with ADHD is exhausting. Having ADHD is even more exhausting. Until the diagnosis, until the drugs, I thought that the barrage of impulses and craving for stimulation that I experience was normal. If life on these drugs is what life is like for non-ADHD people - and the neurologists certainly seem to indicate that that is the case - then I'm at a loss for why the normals haven't solved all the world's problems by now, because life on these meds is life on easy mode. I used to berate myself for having poor self-discipline and poor impulse control, but that's hardly a fair assessment when the impulses and the cravings just never stop. With ADHD, you're catching yourself and pulling your attention back on track and knocking the distraction or the stimulation out of your hand not once an hour or even once every five minutes - you're chasing yourself down and rapping your own knuckles two or three times a second, every second of every day. The truth is, I'm amazingly self-disciplined and I deny myself about 99.9% of my impulses, but 0.1% of a staggeringly large number is a pretty substantial number in its own right. From the outside, it can look like I'm out of control; on the inside, I'm Nurse Ratchet.

This is not valium. This is a break, a step outside of a torrent of impulses and demands for attention, a sudden relief from the merciless, punishing pressure that, until you get the drugs, you didn't know life doesn't have to be like.

We are all captives of our own experience. Just as it is impossible for someone who does not have ADHD to truly understand the experience of having it and what they struggle with, it is impossible for someone whose ADHD has gone untreated to understand that, while their failures of restraint are visible, their almost infinite successes, unseen and uncounted, may dwarf those of the giants around them. I have never before understood the experience of people who found it natural to behave themselves. I have marveled at people who achieve success by "just doing the work." I have stood in awe of people who simply pay their bills on time every month, who rake their leaves as soon as they fall, who mail birthday presents on time and who don't feel a sense of overpowering need when confronted by a bowl of tortilla chips. I could not compare experiences, only results, and I could not understand how others managed to perform what are to me herculean feats as a matter of course. I was constantly berating myself for failing to live up to the examples set by my friends and colleagues, who made it all look so easy, because I could not understand that for them, it almost certainly is as easy as they make it look. To me, not having experienced the regulation that their brains naturally produce, it seemed like I was just a careless, irresponsible, thoughtless slob. Until the drugs allowed me to experience what life is like with a brain that is well regulated, I could neither produce visible achievements at the same level as my peers nor even give myself credit for my invisible success.

This is not valium. This is not a way to pep up or check out. It does not stupefy. It does not make you mellow (although being set free from the anxiety that comes with having to constantly police one's attention is a very relaxing thing). It doesn't turn you into a zombie or a drone. It only sets you free.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Drug of Choice

Usually I do 5mg of Ritalin at 11:00, when the munchies hit. It takes the edge off the compulsion to eat, but lately it doesn't feel like it really does much beyond that. So today, at 9 am, I took one of B's 10mg Adderall. Feeling a little bit foggy and kind of loose in my shoulders, but as far as ability to focus goes... my god, this is life with an easy button. I feel like I can just decide to work on something... that's it. I can just decide to do it, and then do it. I won't be watching myself constantly to make sure I don't wander off onto something else. I don't have to spend my day chastising myself for getting distracted.

It's just, hey, I think I'll write this program I've been sluggish about. Okay, that's done. I want to blog about this now, but first, I'm cold, I should feed the fire, and at first I stop and feel the fear and anxiety, if I stop to do that, will I get distracted and not come back to what I really want to do? But then, feeling so calm on this drug and I think, I can do that first and it will be all right, I can just stop and take care of something and I think, I'm pretty sure, I think I can come back to this first thing without wandering off onto something else.

It's when I'm on these drugs and they work that I realize how much of the finite pool of effort I have to use on everything in my life goes into just making sure I don't drift aimlessly all. the. time. I read studies about decision fatigue and, it finally makes sense why I just want to curl up in a ball and play a video game after finishing a tedious chore - nearly every productive minute of my day I'm alternating between cheering and castigating myself, keeping a running Tiger Mom chatter in my head - and sometimes out loud - to keep working. I repeat the name of the task like a mantra, give myself status reports, note milestones, but also chide myself for every temptation to pause and threaten myself with exaggerated consequences for failure. What I have to do, to put myself through, just to get the normal work of life done, it's horrible.

I used to have this recurring nightmare - it would be slightly different settings, but the principal was always the same - my personal favorite expression of it was that I was a kindergarten teacher leading a field trip through the paddocks of Jurassic Park. I'd try to keep the kids together, but I couldn't keep them all in sight all the time, as soon as one of them needed attention, another one would see something interesting, wander off just a little bit, and as soon as it was out of my reach, crack! a velociraptor would appear out of nowhere and snap the kiddo up. The raptors were always dashing in from the treeline to snag any children that separated themselves from the herd. Somehow, the supply of kindergarteners in my charge never dwindled (and oddly enough, the raptors never tried to get at the core group, but the point isn't ever that the raptors are after the core - it's the T-Rex that's coming for the core - it's that wherever the kids go, I have to vector after them. In other variants of this dream, there was an actual protective field or bubble around me, so in the space dream there was oxygen and livable conditions around me, but there were all the pretty stars that you could just barely see if you were right next to me, but that got brighter and clearer and spectacular if you moved just a little bit away... and then I'd move out, trying to keep up with you, but you'd keep moving and drift out into space and die horribly of asphyxiation and cold, and I'd get pulled this way and that and I couldn't protect you and I couldn't stay on course, I could only fail over and over again and watch you float away forever, stiff and frozen, with all the pretty, pretty stars).
yes, that Patrick Warburton

So I'm running through Jurassic Park with these extremely mobile toddlers who never seem to understand that they have to stay close or they will die. There are velociraptors that will get these children if I don't keep them all pointed in the right direction, and the T-Rex that chases us as I try to get us all safe to the base, and then, suddenly, blessedly, at the top of the next hill, there's Patrick Warburton, decked out like Rambo. He doesn't come down to us because that would be too easy, I have to run the kids up to him, but when we get there, he says "Don't worry, little lady. I've got you covered now. I'll watch the treeline for raptors, all you have to do is hold onto the kids and run for the base."

It is difficult to express how much, in the dream, my anxiety lifts. I no longer feel like giving up, sitting down, crying, just accepting that it is inevitable that we will not make it back, that we will all be eaten, that continuing on is simply self-punishment and insanity. Patrick Warburton, in all his burly, ammo-decked manliness, is here to put an end to the madness. All things are possible again. This can be done. I am in a state of pure and glorious relief, and then the T-Rex materializes behind my new hero and eats him in one bite, and the field trip and I are off and running again.

And that's pretty much what my experience of life with ADHD is like. Some days I don't worry about it, I let the kids check out the park and the stars and just kind of figure this is a "crunch all you want, we'll make more" kind of situation. The kids pull me with them, and we aren't going to get back to the base, but the T-Rex isn't bearing down on us right now, so what the hell, it's okay. And some other days, the base is in sight and it's so cool, the kids all run toward that on their own, and those are just the best days, ever. But most days I'm riding herd on suicidal toddlers with a T-Rex somewhere behind me.

Only now, at the top of the hill, Patrick Warburton is wearing a labcoat, and he's holding a bottle of Adderall. Hunky, hunky Adderall.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Reverting to Type

Met the new meds provider today - a psychiatric nurse practitioner who lists ADHD as a specialty - and I already feel like things are looking up. I think that with her we're going to find the right meds that will help me without taking things that matter away. I told her that being able to drop into "the zone" is very important to me, that I don't want that to go away, but (at least on days when the zone is elusive anyway) I want something that will curb the compulsiveness and impulsiveness and difficulty tolerating boredom, especially in the afternoons. For now, she's put me on a short-acting Ritalin. Next month, when the Strattera is good and gone from my system, we'll go ahead and start looking at Wellbutrin, Intuniv and Kapvay.

But here's the really cool part - to figure out what meds I'm most likely to respond well to, we did a cheek swab to send off for DNA typing! Apparently, somebody's figured out the markers for different enzyme productions (or just done this with predictive analytics) and from my cheek swab they're going to be able to generate a report that recommends which meds I have the enzymes to break down. Which is uber, uber cool!

In other excellent, excellent news, I found the zone again yesterday. It wasn't for very long - I had a timer set for an appointment I had to get to and that interrupted it - but it was the real thing. It had been far too long and finding it again was a tremendous relief.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Back in the Saddle Again

It has now been a week since my last Strattera, and it's almost cleared out of my system. It's now unusual for my heart to feel like it's been replaced with a jackhammer, and my head isn't always a mass of clouds and pain. I got out today and spread some mulch for a while - there's no way I could have done that on the drug. There are many things that are getting better.

But there are things that are coming back that I was glad that the drug had done away with. A Bored Jennie is once again a Dangerous Jennie. No more placidly sitting through a dull meeting for me, we're back to wanting to stab myself in the leg with a ballpoint pen, just to make things interesting. And the compulsive eating is back (oooh! dopamine! my favorite!) I don't know if there's a right drug out there, something that lets me think and flow but which keeps the food cravings to a minimum and which lets me sit next to Ted from Airplane! without doing anybody harm.

If the answer was simply a matter of finding a great cheerleader though, the problem would already be solved. B has his shortcomings, but he keeps me reaching for my best. On Thursday, I participated in the Richmond Corporate 4-mile Race and he was there to be part of my company's cheering section. All I wanted in this race was not to finish last, and if I'd known beforehand how near a thing that would be, chances are I'd have skipped it entirely. For the last two miles, B walked with me and together, we were just ahead of only one other couple, and behind them, the police escort that marked the last of the "runners." I had my sunglasses pulled down and hoped that nobody could see me crying - it was utterly humiliating, and if B hadn't been there with me, I would have quit (which, incidentally, is what quite a few people behind us had already done, but that didn't make it any easier). I was beyond embarrassed, it was torture knowing that my co-workers were there to witness this, it was just awful when one of them was running back and forth between me and the finish line screaming "wooo!" it was an act of willpower to smile and look encouraged when all the "encouragement" did was make me feel even more pathetic, but the absolute worst, the hands-down, I-want-to-crawl-into-a-hole-and-never-come-out-again, just-get-me-a-muu-muu-and-we'll-call-it-a-life moment was when I did cross the finish line and the announcer called out my name and company over the loudspeaker, and then, a few seconds later, said "and that's all the runners!"

Yes, I suck. Thanks for noticing.

B and I walked back to the car together afterward. My legs were screaming at me. I was sobbing behind my glasses. I'd stopped caring if anybody saw. I was grateful I didn't run into anybody I knew, I couldn't have stood it anymore.

And then, B was perfect.

He told me, not that I'd tried my best or that at least I hadn't quit or that everything has a beginning. He told me that he was impressed. He reminded me that I'd been off the drug for only three days, that it had kept me from being able to do any training, any exercise at all really, for almost ten weeks, that before I'd been on the Strattera I'd have been able to knock that race out without a problem, and at a pace approaching four miles an hour instead of the two-point-something that I actually managed. He pointed out that when I had tried to exercise on the Strattera, I'd had to call for help because the elevated heart rate made my vision blur and made me feel like I was going to pass out. He said that only four days before, I'd tried to get a walk to prepare for the race and had to call him after only one mile, that that was a 400% improvement in only four days, and that that was extraordinary. He told me that I keep getting better all the time, and that's because I don't let setbacks keep me set back.

Saturday, I got out and walked again. Today, I spread a couple cubic yards of mulch around the yard.

So B's a keeper. But the Strattera is definitely out.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Having Lasted the Night

I have decided not to keep taking the Strattera. I've got an appointment with a new doc 10 days from now to do some new medication management, and we'll see what she says. But for now, still in the "just skipped a dose" range of getting off the stuff (but, ah, my foes, and, oh, my friends!) dear Lord, what it was doing to my body. This morning, I am exploring new territory in crushingly tired.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Can't Fight This Feeling

Humans pattern match - honestly, we overmatch, and why should that surprise us? There's a lot bigger evolutionary penalty for not recognizing that the way the bushes over there are moving means that there's a predator in them than there is for seeing predators everywhere. We pattern match ourselves into everything - not just anthropomorphism, but the tendency to see our own personal selves in vague descriptions, and the vaguer the better. Throw in too many details and what's described becomes unavoidably other (one of the best demonstrations of this I've ever seen is in Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, an intriguing read on many levels).

Having said that, boy has this article (Adult ADHD: Devastated by Disapproval) about a fun little aspect of ADHD called "rejection-sensitive dysphoria" got my number:

In the long term, there are two personality outcomes. The person with ADHD becomes a people pleaser, always making sure that friends, acquaintances, and family approve of him. After years of constant vigilance, the ADHD person becomes a chameleon who has lost track of what she wants for her own life. Others find that the pain of failure is so bad that they refuse to try anything unless they are assured of a quick, easy, and complete success. Taking a chance is too big an emotional risk. Their lives remain stunted and limited.

For those of you who don't know us personally, the people pleaser would be me. B is the paralytic.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Baby, Can I Sleep While You Drive?

The ADHD therapist that B and I were seeing uses the metaphor of a Porsche engine with a Volkswagen clutch to describe ADHD. B describes it as having spent his life "feathering" the throttle on icy pavement, and with the meds the tires are finally gripping the road and he can go. And he really can go with the meds, he really can.

For me, it's different. For me the clutch was broken, leaving me permanently in fifth gear. Fifth gear is a perfectly nice gear to live in if you can get the car moving fast enough to use the gas and not stall out, and if you can keep it moving and keep the car fed you can stay in it for quite some time and be terribly, terribly happy. Not to say that there isn't a downside to it, what with having to find good hills to use to jump start the car and all, and that's about the limit of my abilities when it comes to automotive metaphors, but you get the idea.

On the meds I have all the gears, but I can't seem to stay in any of them for very long. I pop into gear and then pop right back out again. It doesn't help that the heartbeat is making my head feel like all of this summer's hurricanes are forming in it at once. I can't think anymore, not the way I used to be able to. I can't exercise much anymore either, again because the heartbeat is crushing me. Last night, climbing the stairs was enough to make me feel lightheaded to the point of passing out.

What I do think is that I can safely say at this point that the best part of the ADHD is gone and not coming back, at least not as long as I'm on these meds. I have a task that is high challenge, high ability and very intriguing, and I can barely get started on it. I should be champing at the bit to get on with this coding, it's challenging enough to justify writing up an article about it afterward and entirely within the field of my expertise, but I can't drop in.

(When I tell you that the drug at the higher dose also had a sexual side effect that was flat out intolerable and that, given the choice, I'd stay frigid and get the hyperfocus/flow back instead, I hope you'll understand how great a loss this is.)

What can I do now that I couldn't before? What makes all this worth it? I'm glad you asked. I can now sit through a meeting, listen quietly and pay attention without either talking or doodling. And I've lost 25 pounds in six weeks.

I miss fifth gear. I miss being able to think. I miss knowing who I am and what I can do. Before, I had to work myself up into a state of anxiety to push myself into doing dull tasks ("if you don't stay on top of your status reports you will fail, fail, fail at this and then you'll be fired and your house will be foreclosed on and everybody will ask how somebody so smart could mess up so badly and they will keep asking that over and over again for the rest of your life if you don't make sure to record that you spent two hours today creating a report and three hours fixing the indexes on this database" is representative). Now the anxiety has given way to listlessness and apathy. If before, with the untreated ADHD, I was trouble but worth it, now I am less trouble but of far less value. I can finally pour, but the syrup's gone sour.

But at least I'll be thin.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Unchained Melody

Ned Hallowell has an article up at Additude Magazine titled "A Sound Strategy for Focus" that reviews a service called Focus@Will. Focus@Will is a music service, much like spotify or pandora in that you get to listen to tunes, but very different from either of those in that the tunes you listen to on either of those services are probably not these. Like Dr. Hallowell, I've known for years that music aids me in concentration - for me the key to the music is its familiarity, the more the playlist all sounds alike (and the longer I've been listening to an unaltered playlist, the better). I have been known to put certain songs on an endless loop (notably "Non Nobis, Domine" from Branagh's Henry V, until even my most patient father complained about the repetitiveness).

focus@will would like to help you drop into a focused state with some other, carefully selected, tunes. The science behind what they're doing looks intriguing, and the music isn't bad. Actually, I don't really know what most of the music sounds like because, although I've been playing it almost constantly for two days now, it doesn't really register. Which is kind of the point.

I haven't noticed any dramatic changes in my productivity yet, but that might be because to activate the music I have to open a web browser. And while I have that open (instead of the window with, you know, work in it) I might as well check facebook. And Order of the Stick might have updated since I was last here, I could take a look at that. Plus I need to check on my IRA, and since I've dropped a dress size since going on the Strattera and needed to replace my used-to-be-white t-shirts anyway, I should head over to the clothes website I got the old ones from and place an order.

The truth is, I spent most of the day playing 2048.

Still can't find flow. It might be because I haven't had any tasks in a while that have the high complexity / high skill combo that is required to get to a flow state, but I doubt it. This medication lowers the bar for switching gears considerably (which can be a good thing because it allows me more control over where my attention goes, but is a bad thing because my concentration is nowhere near as intense as it used to be) and it does that by keeping my brain stewing in norepenephrine, the chemical that gets released when our senses report a potential threat. I suspect it's going to be quite a while before I get that "drop out of awareness of environment/self and become fully immersed in a task" thing.

Friday, April 25, 2014

If She Can Take It, I Can

HT to Goldilocks:

ADHD on meds is like taking your 45rpm brain and running it at 33rpm instead. The result can be surprisingly good.

(On these meds, the heart rate makes up the difference and runs at 60rpm day and night. It basically turns life into a 24/7 cardio workout.)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Crash & Yearn

It really isn't easy to get used to new meds, especially when the new meds make your heart pound all the time, keep you from sleeping, make things taste weird, have you relearning how to tell if you want food at all, send your blood sugar plummeting, give you painful indigestion and then there are the headaches. The constant, constant, unrelenting, unyielding, merciless headaches.

Apart from that, this stuff is great. I'd recommend it to a frenemy.

Actually this makes me feel deliberate, capable, powerful, and quiet. Impulsivity and anxiety are at an all-time low. Focus isn't great (because I'm exhaustedly tired and headachy and periodically dizzy from the blood sugar thing) and because of that it's actually easier now to do the wretched, dull tasks than it is to do the exciting, challenging tasks. Trying to stick to things that don't require a lot of, you know, thought, but that isn't a terribly viable option today.

It's been so long since I had a good hyperfocus, I'm worrying that I won't get one ever again. But I don't worry like I used to, and the fact that I'm not worrying like I used to doesn't worry me (which it would have, it really would). So not really terribly concerned, but to give you an idea of what I'm missing, this is how I described it two months ago:

All I can say is, there’s the rest of life, and then there’s the zone. And the best analogy I could come up with is luge. When you get into the track and launch, you have some control, you go fast and free and it’s some serious badass achievement that you can pull off, but what you cannot do is stop. What you cannot do is get out of the track before it’s finished with you. And when someone else pulls you out of the track, it’s like they pulled you out of life, and yet, if you had them killed, you’d be the one who went to jail.

I could really go for some of that feeling alive thing right now. That and some serious sleep.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

I Underslept a Little

Vyvanse murders sleep. Strattera just kinda slugs sleep in the jaw and then promises that it can change, baby, just give it another chance.

Apart from that, it's not too bad, and I think it may be starting to have an effect.

Just finished re-reading Lord Jim. Is it possible to have a tragic glory? It's hard to think that Jim's tragic flaw was his willingness to forgive the faults in others that he saw in himself, and Jim's vulnerability really was that his romanticism and heroic ideals caused the appearance of those faults in another to blind him to that other's more serious character flaws. But without that romanticism and those ideals, Jim would have simply been a casualty of fortune, someone who, Conrad makes clear, was not terribly different from his brother-men, but who had the bad luck to have been put to a test that those brothers would also have failed as well. As the evidence of their own vulnerability, Jim had to be put outside his community, but Jim's greatness was that his romanticism bred an inability to accept life on the outskirts of fellowship.

Which has nothing to do with ADHD except, hey! Seems I've found my hyperfocus for the day!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

I Think You Ought to Know I'm Feeling Very Depressed

Less than two weeks to go now before I become the Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything. B is organizing a shindig. He keeps asking me what I want it to be and my answer continues to be that what I really want is not to have to plan my own birthday party. But we have settled on a theme: Infinitely Improbable. So please come as whatever it is least likely for you to be, especially if the unlikeliest thing for you to be is present. We will be supplying the bowl of petunias and a Squishable Whale (to go home with a darling neice).

But I am truthfully mired in the mean reds today, and have been for several days now. Not sure why. Wish I knew.

I was away from home, traveling for work this week, and that was pretty good, but by the time I got home I was so down that, when B told me that he'd tried one of my Adderall and it worked - it really, really worked for him, he was expecting me to be thrilled, but instead I broke down crying. In a restaurant, no less. The way he was describing it, suddenly everything was so easy to do. When I came home, I discovered he'd done an immense amount of work cleaning the house, and it was different than when B usually cleans, it was more complete, more thorough. He'd gone through all the mail, months' worth that had collected in odd places, here and there, wherever had been the most convenient to drop it, and opened and dealt with it all. This is something that, before, had been a simply monumental task for either of us to deal with. These meds work for him and they don't for me.

Back to the doctor, armed with research that says that, for my type of ADHD, the best treatment is usually a specific type of antidepressant. Started a new drug today. Strattera, a non-stimulant SNRI, takes a month or so to start kicking in properly.

Meanwhile, B's experience with the Adderall has been enough to get him determined to go to the doc to get his own prescription. I am looking up at the prospect of B being able to deal with life.

I should be beyond happy about this. Just not feelin' it.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Mirror, Mirror

This week, I got to meet with a new client who is having trouble with database maintenance and performance. One of the things the client had mentioned was that database objects were disappearing on a fairly regular basis and nobody quite knew why. This client has two Database Administrators (hereafter referred to as Walter and Gladys) who weren't quite sure what was going on.

Gladys I didn't get to meet. She works from home for health reasons. She's a quiet, passive sort of creature, really quite harmless, but utterly unable to counterbalance Walter. Walter, I was warned, is a thing to behold.

Walter talks too fast, and too strongly. He's difficult to budge off a subject and difficult to engage. He dominates conversations with nothing in particular to say. He doesn't know what he's doing and as a result, the system he's charged with keeping running smoothly careens from crisis to crisis. During one of those crises, his boss appeared in his cube to ask how the remedy for said crisis was progressing and found Walter watching cartoons on his iPad.

I met Walter and felt sorry for him. I like people with crazy energy levels, and I have an easier time masking my energy than Walter does. I tend to get excited when explaining a technology or a solution, and I believe the general impression this gives is that I am "enthusiastic," even "passionate" about my work. And I am. I couldn't do this if I didn't find it intriguing. I wouldn't be able to stick with slogging it out to learn this if I didn't find it genuinely pleasurable to tinker with databases. So Walter's oddness, his rambling, his energy, they didn't seem that strange to me.

When he was taking my history, my therapist asked me if I have any physical twitches or tics. I showed him how I fold my hands into each other, fingers curled with each other like a greek key, to conceal the movement. "You feel you have to hide this?" he asked.

And I thought of all the times a co-worker has grabbed my drumming hand, stopped my bouncing knee, taken away my pen, hit me in the shoulder to warn me not to talk, the evaluations that have mentioned my doodling while I listen and my doodling while I talk, and one-on-ones with a boss who has tried to explain to me that I'm passionate and that's a good thing, but... Before having a name to put to this, it was hard to explain even to myself why it was so necessary to me to behave in ways that were so clearly not helpful to me.

Looking around the conference table, I could see how strange Walter's behaviors appeared to everyone else. I could see that his boss found it difficult to tolerate Walter's presence. I could see that my colleagues found it difficult to be tactful about his "input."

Sometime early that afternoon, Walter gave an instruction to interrupt a process that refreshed database objects on the public-facing production server. Soon after that came the first notice that a table was missing. The first commandment of Database Administration is "first, lose no data." The next 99 commandments are variations on the first. It is the cardinal, absolute, unvarying taboo of database administration to allow data to disappear, and the absence of that table meant that the public website would no longer be functional. Walter got the notice as he was leaving the building, and decided that it did not constitute enough of an emergency to interrupt his afternoon plans.

At 3:00, completely unrelated to the database problems, smoke had been detected on our floor and the fire department requested that we vacate. At that point, we didn't know anything was going wrong with the databases and settled in to the benches in the light rail station to wait for early trains out to the suburbs.

At 5:00, I had just gotten to my hotel. I checked in, grabbed some delivery menus, took a good hot shower and was getting ready to settle in for a night spent with an order of Shrimp with Mixed Veg and Lord Jim when my phone buzzed. Walter's boss had decided to open his checkbook and get the consultants on the phone to help get things back online.

The next seven hours were pretty goddamned awful.

Walter wouldn't follow directions. He wouldn't wait for directions. He said things like "do you think I should press this key? I pressed it." He was confounding, obstructive and utterly dominant. Nobody else could get a word in. My colleague was listening intently, as was Walter's boss, trying to intervene to offer what correction they could. It was fortunate that they were, because after the first time I offered the instructions on how to solve the problem and having supplied a script to do the job, I was not listening to the call with more than half an ear. I spent those hours "multitasking" - working intently enough on scripting other work for the client that I was almost entirely unaware of the content of the conversation. I was fortunate that, in this case, this was seen as a good thing. I could just as easily have been called to task and asked to pay close attention without actively participating, and that would have been almost impossibly difficult for me.

At 1:17, it looked like things were back up and running again. We agreed to reconvene at 4:30am to check on the site and make sure it was working before the rush hour traffic hit. At 4:26, Walter sent an email saying that everything looked good and he was going back to bed. At 4:31, my colleague and I had confirmed that the database was still not functional and had last gotten data input shortly after 1:00 the previous afternoon. We reassembled without Walter and had restored the database properly in about 15 minutes.

I got to hear the next day my colleagues venting freely about Walter. I got to hear them speculating about whether he would still have a job by the end of the day. I understood that - Walter had committed a series of cardinal sins and wasted a great deal of time and money in the process. "I had to tell him over and over again," my colleague said "to wait and not do the latest fool thing he'd decided to do. We'd sent him a script and he screwed it up because he wouldn't follow it. And then," and here he gave a carnivorous grin, "when it finally looked like it was working, he wanted to fiddle with it, and Jennifer just about came through the phone at him, telling him that that's exactly how to screw it up." I blushed and realized that I had been impulsive, fast-talking, dominating. Fortunately, I had spent most of the previous hours with my line on mute; also, fortunately, my statement and manner of delivering it was in that case accepted as justifiable.

I don't mean to suggest that I am as dysfunctional as Walter. I have a keener sense of triangulating to my strengths than he does (for one thing, I wouldn't ever take a job whose primary function is maintenance, as he has done, because I know that my temperament isn't suited to it). But I sat there the next day, listening to the office outrage about his incompetency, smiling, saying little, with my fingers curled together, like a greek key.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Dr. Jonesing

OK, the meds were awful, terrible, no good, depressing, miserable and did I mention awful? They were awful. But now that I'm not taking them, I want nachos and beer even though I'm not hungry. Also, B bought cheese puffs at the grocery store this afternoon because, let's be honest, he's a sadistic schmuck.

God, I could really go for an Adderall right about now.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Programming Attention

I am fortunate to work in a field that has been talking about its own neuro-atypicality for... well, we just obsess about it really.

  • Software Developers and Asperger's Syndrome
  • The Geek Syndrome
  • Programming with ADD/ADHD
  • Struggling with ADHD as a Programmer
  • These are all anecdotes and hunting them down is getting boring. There's bundles on Asperger's, the ADHD stuff primarily shows up on message boards. Bored now, google it yourself.
  • But then again, isn't that what you'd expect?

    Not just the part about me getting bored, the stuff about nerds being, well, nerdy. We think differently. We have to, actually, because it turns out that computer programming is either something that you can just do or it isn't. A couple of guys from Middlesex University, Saeed Dehnadi and Richard Bornat, wrote an exceedingly amusing paper, The Camel has Two Humps on the subject, noting in the abstract that "programming teaching is useless for those who are bound to fail and pointless for those who are certain to succeed." What they found was that they could test students before the students had ever been exposed to programming languages or techniques and accurately predict which ones would be able to grasp programming concepts based on the way the test takers approached a series of problems. Regardless of whether the students chose the correct intended meaning of a symbol (a meaning, incidentally, that is different in the language being used in this test than it is in non-programming mathematics) what was critical was whether the students applied that meaning consistently across all problems. They had to understand that symbols have meaning within the programming language that is consistent within the language but independent of the meaning outside the language, or as they put it:

    Formal logical proofs, and therefore programs – formal logical proofs that particular computations are possible, expressed in a formal system called a programming language – are utterly meaningless. To write a computer program you have to come to terms with this, to accept that whatever you might want the program to mean, the machine will blindly follow its meaningless rules and come to some meaningless conclusion. In the test the consistent group showed a pre-acceptance of this fact: they are capable of seeing mathematical calculation problems in terms of rules, and can follow those rules wheresoever they may lead.

    Does ADHD help you make this logical jump? I have no idea. But if you are an ADHD-er who can make the jump, that means that programming isn't something that you have to slog through lots of boring classes to learn; it's something that you can pick up easily, intuitively, and for someone with ADHD, that is very attractive.

    How prevalent exactly is ADHD in this field? I can't find anything that suggests that anybody has tried to quantify that. But from my own anecdotal experience... I'm far from the only one who has sat down in the afternoon to work on a particularly intriguing piece of coding, and then looked up again what seemed only minutes later to discover that the office is empty, dark and locked, that it is 8:30 at night, my phone shows several missed calls from the spousal unit, I'm hungry, really need a bathroom, and (this one blows me away every time) I have removed my shoes without realizing it... again.

    Thursday, March 20, 2014

    Out of Sight, Out of Mind, Still in Heart

    The therapist I'm working with likes to say that ADHD has two times: Now and Not Now.

    (I say "the therapist" and my Now wants to stop right there for a while and tell you all about him, and why I like him and how I watch myself interact with him. But that is not what this is about. Not Now)

    I hyperfocus. I get lost in One Thing. Sometimes it means that I drop into a state called "flow" where I become unaware of my environment, my friends, my clients, myself.

    (I want to tell you about all the funny things I do when I'm flowing, and how it feels, and how I crave it. But that is something for another post. Not Now)

    Not all of the hyperfocus gets me all the way to flow though. Most often, it means that there is one thing on my mind, and everything else must be tolerated (not always graciously) until I can return to thinking about that one thing. Imagine having one question you're trying to work out as a physical thing, a floor to ceiling pole in your head with a stiff rubber band around it. Thinking about anything other than the One Thing stretches that band and causes stress. Life becomes about clearing those other things out as quickly and painlessly as possible so that I can return to the One Thing and take the tension off the rubber band.

    (Obsession follows obsession, constantly demanding the Now, crowding out everything else. Not Now)

    It's hard to connect to people when they aren't part of the Now. It's hard to stay connected to them. There is being part of the Now or being part of the Not Now. Physical proximity creates little instances of Now. Without it, my greatest loves cannot compete with my most minor obsessions.

    (In my head, unless you are either the object of or the conduit for my current obsession, I don't have anything I want to communicate to you. However much I might respect, adore, value you, you are not part of my natural Now. You are real, you are lovely, when you call and push in to my awareness I feel real and lovely and loved. The only thing I want more than to connect with you is to return to thinking about the same damned stupid thing I've spent every moment I could beg, borrow or steal in the last month thinking about. Not Now)

    This is not an excuse, it is merely something that I am still only beginning to learn. It is certainly not a comedy, but it is far less tragedy than it is history. I have understood about myself for thirty years that people, even people very dear to me, drop out of mind when they drop out of sight. Until I started to understand this as a quirk of neurological wiring, I'd thought of it as a deep character flaw. I didn't understand how I could let a year go by without making a point of visiting a friend or relative, but I do exactly that. I did not know how to process it that, a week after my father moved across the country, he had almost disappeared from my day-to-day consciousness. When my brothers moved three hours away I felt that they were becoming completely lost to me. It only takes me two days away from my husband before his absence stops being part of my Now. What is not present becomes fixed in time, part of my eternal Not Now: absence as preservative. When we meet again, if the interval was an hour, a day or a dozen years, for me, all is what it was when we last met. This is not offered as an excuse, but as a confession. I am beginning to understand the keys to forcing the relationships that matter to me into the Now, so that they do not get lost, but that is a puzzle that has, until now, been insoluble for me.

    (I have on occasion spent hours and days and weeks trying to work out why I don't make more of an effort to stay in touch with people, at no point of which did I actually pick up a phone and call those people. I could very easily slip into wondering and working out why it's more important to me to understand why I don't call than to call, and after that ends, I could ask why understanding why I need to understand why is crowding out other questions Not Now)

    I am learning this about myself too late to pick up a phone and call my Aunt Marilyn, whom we always called Mully, who passed away on Tuesday, March 18, at about 5:15 in the evening. In the thirty years previous to her death I had seen her maybe half a dozen times, and not spoken to her much more than that. She was a beautiful woman with a beautiful soul. When my younger brother and I were very young, Aunt Mully and Aunt Patty took us to Walt Disney World for a few days. We stayed in the Polynesian hotel and went to the luau and tried out all the rides. I think I spent as much time with Aunt Mully on that trip as I did in the thirty years since then combined. And there she is for me, Now and Not Now, caught in amber: in her late twenties, stunningly beautiful, beautifully kind.


    Sunday, March 16, 2014

    Guts and Glitter

    First, some housekeeping. The response to these posts about the ADHD has been marvelously gratifying. Several people have encouraged me to keep journaling this, at least one has asked me to keep sharing. I've added a hashtag to my FaceBook posts and I'm moving to a blog, in case I want to share with someone who doesn't do the FaceBook thing (or, more likely, who doesn't want to see the extraneous stuff and nonsense I use to fill up FaceBook's servers). And I promise that these won't always be emo.

    One of the advantages of not being on the medications is that my hyperfocus is back, and it's thinking almost entirely about the medications and the experience of them. With distance (and one doozy of a crash as the amphetamines clear out) I am becoming less sure of the value of the medications... but I suspect that's because... I have no idea. True to myself again, I started that sentence with an idea fully formed, had moved on to something else before I'd finished typing it, and when I come back, have completely lost what I had been thinking at the time.

    But then, that's me. I am what I am. I've been like this for almost forty-two years now and, until I recognized myself in a description of this disorder, I was pretty okay with most of it, most of the time. Yes, there are some things that are difficult, even impossible for me like this, that will be much easier when I get the meds worked out, but I am what I am. In many ways, without being able to put a name to it, I came out of the ADHD closet years ago. Life was a series of deals and accommodations, in relationships and employment, in housekeeping and finances. I'm going to be a horrible correspondent, but when I write, it will be funny and interesting. When I move away, I won't forget you, but I won't remember to call, either. And I will move away, I always do. I don't send greeting cards for birthdays or anniversaries and don't quite know what to do with the ones I receive. I have acquired enough Christmas cards to send one to everyone on my list for the next twelve years (when we rounded them all up and put them away this year, Brian had to make me count them before I would agree not to buy anymore in after Christmas sales); every year I make the list up new because I can't find the one I made the previous December. I have a place set aside in my closet for the gifts I bought and forgot to send, and found months too late. I am what I am, and I've learned to use my best self to its best advantage, and when I fall, to walk away and whistle. I am what I am.

    At work, I can be extremely productive, but I have to be kept busy, and if I'm not kept busy I can start "showing initiative" and may forget entirely to communicate about what I'm doing. I can be abrasive and domineering without meaning to (hi Susan, sorry Susan). I will be every week on the list of people who have to be reminded to turn in a timesheet, and also topping the list of people you want to throw the most challenging puzzles to. I am far from perfect, I make no excuses, I am what I am.

    On the whole, I've thought of myself as worth the trade-offs. I still do. Even so, I am now planning on taking a pill so that I can stop having to ask people to accept them.

    The concept of life without trade-offs is incomprehensible to me. These medications will slow me down, but, I am promised, they will not take away the "good parts" of me or of ADHD. They will not (when they are properly balanced) make me any less able to think or think creatively. They will make me better able to connect with people. I will find that my thoughts, when I can express them more slowly, are better received and more respected. On Friday, the medication was definitely not right, but I felt already the raw power of it, of what I could be and do and accomplish without the Rampaging Stim-Monster driving me through life. I can be Ginger Rogers when she stops dancing backwards and in heels, and starts showing us everything she can really do.

    It may be possible, with these medications, to move to a place where I can offer friends, employers, husband, lenders, everyone I touch, a version of me that asks for fewer compromises, fewer accommodations. When I can do that, I do believe, wholeheartedly, that I will find those relationships and jobs more rewarding; as my needs and shortcomings become more normal and therefore comprehensible to others, I believe I will find those people more accommodating even than they are now. What they cannot do is let me say anymore that I am what I am. That is the price.


    Saturday, March 15, 2014

    Cold Molasses

    Last night I didn't sleep. At all. But, just to make sure I didn't get too bored with lying in bed, I did get to experience the nausea/abdominal whatnot side effect, which combination has put an end to any plans to stick with the meds today. It's back to the doctor on Monday to get the prescription changed, and back to "normal," which is decidedly not normal, though I never realized how much so until I was on the med yesterday.

    And my big takeaway from that was: if that was really what neurotypicality is like, so many things make sense now that never did before, it's startling that I've even been walking around on the same planet as everybody else all this time. For instance, I *get it* now about why people look at my weight and think, there must be something wrong emotionally, or with self-discipline, or with *something* because, if my brain chemistry was "normally" like it was on that drug, being thin would be easy. For people who have that chemistry, I understand now how you do it. And the difference between that and my "normal"... I might as well be trying to fly by flapping my arms as to maintain a healthy weight. I understand now why I fail, why every pound that has ever come off has been such a desperate achievement, why every one that went back on was completely out of control. Yesterday I experienced the absence of the Rampaging Stim-Monster in my head, the thing that NEEDED ALL THE FOOD, that could not see food without absolutely fixating on it, even food I don't especially like, and that could hold onto that obsessive need for weeks at a time, until it was satisfied, at which point it would immediately want more. The RSM could occupy every stray moment and dominate every spare thought, it is a relentless onslaught of desperate impulses, and I have spent half my appointed years alternately fighting and appeasing it, but I had never realized just how loud it was until it was gone. Living with that and not getting fat would be an achievement on par with living under a waterfall and not getting wet.

    Gertrude Stein once said of someone hardly anybody today has heard of that "he had the syrup, but it wouldn't pour." I think that's the best way of describing this way of moving through life. It is living in broken loops, where the handle and the spout are on the same side of the bottle. One of the questions I have been trying to answer to my own satisfaction has been where and how the bar gets set on "typical". If I am different, is that difference really so maladaptive that it has to be corrected? Is the answer really to medicate me, or would there not be more value in expanding our ideas about how we value abilities and differences? Yesterday answered many of those questions. We cannot remember the man who never wrote a novel, no matter what Gertrude Stein said about him. The syrup must pour to be of value.

    I had a cousin, Shari, who very sadly passed away when she was just eighteen of an overdose from a treatment for her juvenile arthritis. She was only seven months my senior and we were in the same grade, and, for one year, in the same school. Shari moved slowly, deliberately, carefully - I don't suppose anyone reading this has seen what juvenile arthritis can do, and to me, because Shari had it, it was fairly normal. It is only when I look back on it now, I see the tragedy and the pain of it. But when we were both sixteen, I envied Shari. I envied her the deliberateness of her motion, the way every step she took was placed correctly and with care. I envied her the civilization of her manner. Shari raised finches and turned work in on time and, very unlike me, was on the Honor Roll. Also unlike me, Shari graduated from high school with college acceptance letters in hand. She was going to be a medical researcher and spend her life looking for a cure for the disease which had crippled her and which I had envied her, because it seemed then to be one of the secret keys to being careful, and deliberate, and to containing the wild energy I could not harness.

    There is not a doubt in my mind that Shari, had she lived, would have moved - slowly, carefully, and without a step wrong - through academia and into medicine, and that she would have made solid, valuable contributions to the advancement of human health and happiness. Instead, twenty four years ago, in January, Shari died.

    I do not demand that there be a rational order to the universe; I do not question the value of infinite possibilities even though many of those possibilities, like the loss of Shari and all she might have been and done, are rotten wastes. Over and again, for the last twenty-four years, I have thought of her, and of my life since she has been gone, and I have felt the same sick feeling of rotten waste about my life as I do about her death.

    I have the syrup; it will not pour.