Recently, I’ve been pitching forward, full-steam trying to find out what’s wrong with me and maybe fix it. Barring that, maybe I can slap on some duct tape, tweak some valves, and send me down the road with a hilly-billy tune-up. One of the most recent ideas sent my way by a professional is that I might be suffering from Adult Attention Deficit Disorder, and to investigate this possibility, I’ve been given a homework assignment: Read Driven to Distraction by Edward M. Hallowell.
Now, if you know me at all, you know that asking me to do a homework assignment is the same as asking me to show up to class the next day unprepared and anxious. I chose not to pursue graduate school because I was sick of reading. But I’m desperate, so I bought the book and have made a sizeable dent in it. The verdict? I’m skeptical.
There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical. For one, reading a book and deciding that this is the answer is not a reliable way to identify the answer. This is not why I’m skeptical. The reason I’m skeptical is that there have never been answers to who I am and why I can’t seem to function. Do I have a psychiatric disorder, or am I lazy? Do I have problems sleeping because I’m depressed, or because I like coffee? Is there something wrong with my brain or is there something wrong with me? I’ve spent well over a decade trying to figure this out. Why should this book change anything?
When you’re driving your car, and you get stopped by a police officer, sheriff’s deputy, or state trooper, he routinely asks, “Do you know why I pulled you over?” Chances are, regardless of how virtuous a person you are, there is a moment between that question and your answer when you’re thinking, Well, I know what I did wrong, but not what you think I did wrong. In that moment, whether you just went a few miles over the speed limit, or you drove through a red light that you didn’t notice because you were searching on the floor for the crack pipe you dropped while restraining the hostage carrying the duffel bag of money you just stole from the bank; you still think you just might get away with it while being utterly terrified that the full fury of blind justice will descend upon you and throw you in prison for the rest of your life.
It’s Schrödinger’s guilt, and I feel it every moment I’m awake: waiting for a teacher to realize I don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about; waiting for my employer to fire me; for the person with whom I share a bed to dump me; for my friends to tell me to go fuck myself. As a result, I’ve wandered through these thirty-plus years in a bit of a fugue, alternating between detachment and desperate clinginess. Nothing can change my mind about this feeling: not good grades; not above-average performance reviews; not declarations of everlasting love; not an abundance of friendships. What sticks with me instead is the D-minus, the layoff, the bitter breakup, and the friend who told me to fuck myself. Does this feeling make me unique? Of course not. Is it any way to live? Of course not. I want to find a way out, and this is why I’m skeptical.
The author of this book frequently (to his credit) reminds the reader that only a psychiatric professional is qualified to diagnose Attention Deficit Disorder. Still, the correlations between ADD and certain expressions of hyperactivity, anxiety, depression, learning disabilities, substance abuse, and creativity all hit too close to home for me. Also, for a neurological condition, ADD is surprisingly cut and dried. Testing is straightforward, treatment involves setting achievable goals, and the 85 percent of people who respond to medication report almost instantaneous improvement. It’s not easy, and there’s no cure, but it’s quantifiable. I’m a little desperate for something quantifiable, and because of that, I’m skeptical.
So until I can get answers, all I can do is keep holding my breath.