10 Reasons You Can Be Happy You Have ADD

AD:HD Highway to white black

  1. You notice things – lots of things, many of which others miss. And your friends are tickled when you point out the eccentric guy walking down the street with the perfect symbol for peace and harmony: a dog balancing a cat on its back who is balancing a rat on its back (that really happens – or used to anyway – in Bisbee, Arizona).
  2. Alternately, you have the ability to hyperfocus – spending many undistracted hours working on a problem or project often without taking a break to eat or sleep. Maybe Attention Deficit Disorder is a misnomer. I think we should rename it Attention Difference Disorder, or as my mosaic-artist friend Lisa Lord calls it, Attention-to-Detail Disorder.
  3. Speaking of details … some people with ADHD are nothing if not detail-oriented — known for relentless curiosity and vision, meticulous work and seemingly boundless energy. Just don’t get caught up in the endless, mind-numbing pursuit of perfection. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t exist.
  4. You can be ultra-sensitive to sound, aroma, touch, pain, flavors and emotions. But noting fine detail is fodder for great descriptive writing and inspiration for a variety of creative pursuits.
  5. Similarly, many of you feel deeply – OK, so maybe being a drama queen isn’t your thing. BUT, how about being able to read people’s emotions and feel compassion? As a writer and reporter, this trait enables me to get people to speak honestly about difficult personal things. Or to get typically close-mouthed sources (can you say sheriff’s deputies in northern Maine?) to give up information they may not otherwise share. People trust people who exhibit compassion.
  6. Your passion and enthusiasm can be contagious. This can go both ways, of course, but I prefer to think of this as part of our charm. People react to and appreciate the enthusiasm you exhibit for things you are passionate about. This makes you a persuasive influencer and an inspiring motivator.
  7. Creativity is your muse. You may see solutions to problems others miss. You astound bosses, coworkers and others with your ability to think beyond the obvious.
  8. You aren’t necessarily organized, but with the right tools, you can be. Learning how to use time wisely, setting up reminders and organizing your life doesn’t necessarily feel like a chore – that perfectionist in you loves structure and structure keeps you on task. You just have to get there (this is a subject for another day – but I’ll get to it, promise).
  9. For some, drinking caffeinated drinks makes them sleepy, happy or more focused. So, go ahead, have that late-night cappuccino (just don’t go overboard).
  10. You are more apt to take risks, are stimulated by adventure and are typically more resilient when things don’t work out. According to Psychology Today, people with ADHD are 300% more likely to start their own business. So, hey, you are in amazingly successful company including Sir Richard Branson, Michael Phelps, Jim Carrey, Justin Timberlake, Jamie Oliver, Howie Mandel, Charles Schwab, Terry Bradshaw, Pete Rose, Simone Biles, Ed Hallowell (one of my favorite people with the so-called disorder), Greg LeMond, David Neeleman and Paul Orfalea. (Check out the links for inspiration).

And if perfectionism weren’t one of my issues, I’d have finished this post a week ago … just saying.

 

Dopamine — making us dopey?

 

“The more pleasure you seek, the more unhappy you get.”

— Dr. Robert Lustig

I’ve kicked the habit. I have resisted doing puzzles online for nearly two weeks now and this time I think it’s going to stick. It was an embarrassing habit wrought sometimes of boredom, but most frequently of fear and procrastination.

It happened after attending a Kopriva Science Seminar at Montana State University a couple of weeks ago. The speaker was Dr. Robert Lustig, author of “The Hacking of the American Mind: The Science Behind the Corporate Takeover of Our Bodies and Brains” and New York Times bestseller, “Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease.” 

Though Lustig’s talk focused on our eating habits and how they affect our brain function, he touched on the damage we experience as a result of computer use.

He posed this question: What’s the difference between pleasure and happiness? Have you ever considered this? It’s simple really: pleasure is short-lived, happiness is longterm.

So why is this important and how does this distinction affect brain function?

Imagine you’re eating your favorite food — mint chocolate chip ice cream, for example. Your brain gets happy because it’s being satisfied with sugar and fat and all the stuff that we’ve been trained to enjoy (yes, trained, but that’s another post about Lustig). That happiness you feel is short-term — once the ice cream is gone, the pleasure dissipates.

Let’s consider that same dopamine triggered by, say, cocaine. Lustig (and many others) say longterm dopamine surges damage, even destroy, the neuropathways that enable us to feel pleasure creating a tolerance to the triggers that make us feel good. Our solution? We use more, eat more, gamble more, do more puzzles. See where I’m going with this?

flying_brain_by_pixelnase

“The more pleasure you seek, the more unhappy you get,” Lustig says.

Dopamine affects executive functioning or decision-making and perception, so we need a certain level of it. But too much dopamine and an addicted pleasure-seeking brain is unable to decide to “just stop using” because sensory information isn’t getting to other parts of the brain. When those neuropathways are damaged, it leads to deficits in memory, attention and problem-solving. Dopamine deficiency is also thought to cause Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, depression, bipolar disorders, binge eating, addiction, gambling, schizophrenia and ADHD (right?), according to Psychology Today.

And there are studies indicating that online gaming, even simple computer use, produces that pleasure-producing neurotransmitter dopamine (and has other negative brain-altering consequences).

Yikes! Am I right?

I have enough trouble with my executive functioning … scared straight, I was.

The ADDled Brain and Anxiety

I never thought of myself as an anxious person. Maybe I wasn’t when I was younger. Truth be told, though, I suspect I’ve had anxiety issues most of my life and was never treated for it.

It’s common for people with ADHD also to have issues with anxiety and depression. I mean, who wouldn’t be depressed when our brain differences aren’t recognized or accepted in a world that is becoming increasingly hyperactive and overwhelming?

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, about 4 percent of American adults (or about 8 million people) have ADHD, half of whom also have an anxiety disorder.

I had a 50-50 shot at NOT having anxiety — my luck, I guess. And speaking of luck …

A 2017 study of 423 adults selected on the basis of gambling habits or impulsivity (impulse-control being one of the issues associated with ADHD — see my post about puzzle obsession) found that 20 percent had symptoms of ADHD. However, only 7.3 percent had received a formal diagnosis and, ostensibly, treatment for it.

“ADHD symptoms were associated with significantly lower quality of life, lower self-esteem, higher emotional dysregulation, higher impulsivity-compulsivity questionnaire scores, more problematic internet use, greater occurrence of psychiatric disorders, and impaired stop-signal reaction times,” the study’s authors wrote.

So it’s not surprising anxiety plays a role in my life. Now that I’m older, I’m learning how to handle it better. I mean, my anxiety isn’t severe — I hadn’t even considered I had it, for goodness sakes. But now I realize, it does get in the way — particularly with sleep, decision-making and impulsivity (read: puzzles).

My curiosity was piqued a few weeks ago when I heard a story on NPR about a study that found specific brain cells in mice that seem to control anxiety levels. Although Mazen Kheirbek, assistant professor at University of California, San Francisco and lead author of the study, says the research is preliminary, it could lead to better treatment for anxiety.

Avoidance is a typical and healthy response to threat, the authors write in the introduction to the study published in the journal Neuron. But people with anxiety can overestimate threat leading to excessive avoidance behavior.

Can you say procrastination?

The hippocampus region of the brain is thought to be involved in mood and anxiety disorders. But little is known about how or why some people’s brains cause them to worry excessively.
scared mouse

Using highly technical methods I won’t go into, researchers discovered a specific neural pathway in the hippocampus of mice that appears to generate avoidance behavior in stressful situations.

Of course, and Kheirbek was clear about this when speaking with NPR, research conducted on lab animals doesn’t always translate to humans.

Still, it gives me hope.

It all ADDed up — Part I

You’d think I’d have been upset. But a few years ago, when a psychiatrist told me I had Attention Deficit Disorder,* it was a relief.

That diagnosis — one I’d always suspected — didn’t exist during my childhood. But it explained a lot about my life. Why I experienced so much failure in school, jobs, relationships. Why I’d made so many less-than-ideal decisions. It also confirmed that, like many with ADD, I have dyslexia  my brain sees things differently than so-called normal brains so I had trouble reading and writing.

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So here’s the ugly truth: I struggled in school though I did well enough. My teachers and parents seemed to know I was intelligent but didn’t know how to help me focus. I had to work hard to get good grades.

Particularly in my first few years in college.

You see, I thought I wanted to be a biomedical engineer and the thought still appeals to me. I love the idea of conceptualizing and creating things to help people live better lives. And although I did well in science and math in high school, unlike my college cohorts, I did not take advanced placement courses. Remember bell-curve grading?

So there I was at a midwestern university with more than 100 students in an un-air-conditioned lecture hall. The temperature and humidity were nearly identical at about 100. The chemistry class was taught by an assistant whose command of the English language left something to be desired. Not exactly the best learning environment for even the most conventional of learners.

By the end of the first week of my third semester at this university, I was throwing my shoes at my dorm room door in frustration. I decided something had to give.

Needless to say, I never did get a degree in engineering. Was that a failure? I sure saw it that way at the time.

Skip forward several years. After transferring to Goucher College — a small, liberal arts college that was women-only at the time, I found a new world. More nurturing than the university where a dean told me my SAT scores were the lowest in my class (they were in the top 80 percentile or better nationally). The only reason I got into the school of engineering was because I was a women, he added.

Yes, that really happened. But that was 1979. Although I was aware of gender discrimination, it didn’t occur to me that’s what this was. In reverse. But not really. By accepting a student who didn’t fit the criteria of the school, weren’t they merely setting me up for failure? Probably.

But I don’t blame anyone. It’s just how things were then. And besides, that’s not the point.

After four and a half years of college, several changes in majors and a parental bribe to pay for off-campus dance classes in exchange for not changing my major once again (this time to dance therapy), I graduated with a degree in elementary education. Big whoop. (Apologies to education majors everywhere — a very noble and under-appreciated profession). But before I had finished school, I realized teaching was not for me – not in the traditional sense anyway.

I hate to admit it, but I probably read only half of what I was assigned in college and still managed to graduate with decent grades. I just didn’t have the ability to focus enough to read that much. And I needed more focus than most given the dyslexia.

According to Roberto Olivardia, Ph.D., “About 50 to 60 percent of people with ADHD* also have a learning disability,” he wrote in ADDitude magazine. “The most common of these is dyslexia, a language-based learning disability that affects reading. Eight to 17 percent of the population is affected by dyslexia, and it is vastly misunderstood.”

As a very young child, when I learned to write my name, it would often come out Joby (the legal spelling of my name is Jody, but I changed it because I didn’t like the aesthetics of the J and Y). Turning that ‘d’ around should have been a clue that I had this so-called disability. But again, we’re products of our time.

Although it was 1877 when German neurologist Adolf Kussmaul coined the term word blindness to describe people with reading difficulties, there is still not much known about dyslexia. In fact, it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that scientists started investigating the underlying causes of the condition.

All this to say, children growing up in the mid-20th century were not diagnosed with and therefore not taught how to overcome the challenges associated with dyslexia and ADD. We just learned to cope. Or we didn’t. And we failed. Occasionally.

* I use ADD and ADHD interchangeably.

Guilty pleasures?

Is it wrong?

I’m researching Amazon birds while drinking coffee — coffee being one of many crops destroying these gorgeous creatures’ habitat.

But I am at Cold Smoke Coffeehouse drinking Papua New Guinea, grown nowhere near the Amazon rainforest, though I’m sure there’s destruction going on there as well. But anyway, some of the proceeds from the coffee sold at Cold Smoke goes to supporting El Porvenir, a small nonprofit providing clean water and sanitation to Nicaraguans. I always thought Cold Smoke’s slogan was simply a punny comment about what happens when one drinks too much coffee: “Drink Coffee. Give Water.”

Photo on 8-19-16 at 1.27 PM

So is that supposed to make me feel less guilty? It doesn’t.

Guilty as charged, your honor!

But I’m supposed to be avoiding caffeine as it may exacerbate hot flashes, according to renowned women’s health expert Dr. Christiane Northrup.

So what’s a guilty, aging, coffee-loving girl to do?