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.