“Many people have lived with ADD all of their lives, and they accept it as part of who they are. They have no idea that the pattern of problems they have may be related to a treatable disorder.” – Dr. Calvin Sumner, senior clinical research physician for Eli Lilly, maker of Ritalin
“The symptoms of ADD can look just like the symptoms of modern life. I would speculate that 55% of the population has what I call pseudo-ADD, sort of a severe case of modern life. They’re going so fast, they’re doing so much, they’re so saturated with information overload that they look distracted, impulsive and restless.” – Dr. Edward Hallowell, Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder from Childhood through Adulthood
“Over the past thirty years, attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has emerged from the relative obscurity of cognitive psychologists’ research laboratories to become the “disease du jour” of America’s schoolchildren. Accompanying this popularity has been a virtually complete acceptance of the validity of this “disorder” by scientists, physicians, psychologists, educators, parents, and others. Upon closer critical scrutiny, however, there is much to be troubled about concerning ADD/ADHD as a real medical diagnosis.” Thomas Armstrong, http://www.thomasarmstrong.com/myth_add_adhd.htm
This may be a stretch for you, but work with me here. You’re so used to looking at ADD in a negative light. You’ve been told that Attention Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder will ruin your children’s lives because they won’t do well in school and won’t be productive adults. In our anxiety to help our children succeed, we follow doctor’s instructions and zap our kids with daily doses of speed to make them sit still. Current news stories and pharmaceutical ads tell us that we adults suffer from ADD as well, and to avoid failing our potential at work, we’re willing to add another drug to our regimin.
But why is it a disorder? How come we’re trying to suppress it? What if it’s a healthy response? Why does inattention and the prospect of not fitting in fill us with such fear? Why do we overlook the dangers of giving kids controlled substances in favor of having them behave? Don’t we remember: “Speed kills”?
Does everyone think it’s bad not to concentrate on one thing, to be impulsive, to want to push all the elevator buttons? Are you really supposed to be stable, reliable, a little bovine, and so accustomed to your rut you could find your way home in a fog? Would people who won’t sit still and who don’t listen or follow instructions really cause the downfall of society if they were allowed to be the way they are? It is really being on-task and focusing and giving 110% that makes us productive? Is productivity the highest measure of value? (R U ADD? See p_.)
The way we understand ADD and ADHD, it’s a disorder, something we need to correct so that the sufferer can rejoin normal society and be a productive, happy citizen. But this line of reasoning gives me the creeps, and a whole bunch of Twilight Zone episodes flash in front of me. (See p_, To serve man.) I also hear the insane laugh of a mad scientist, see droids in the hold of a starship, watch a pacified and drugged populace chanting slogans of mindless hatred beneath sinister flags. Maybe I am ADD. But somehow I’d rather blame society than think there’s something I need to be taking drugs for. I figure the way I am is just fine, and if there’s a problem, it’s probably the fucked-up world we live in.
Half of our ADD symptoms are the same as those associated with stress and overwork. And not being able to sit still and pay attention is partially a side effect of all the sugar and junk food we eat. Personally, I start to hum and sizzle after too much coffee. Our food is loaded with chemicals, artificial flavorings, MSG, and food dyes which really do a number on your body or your head – try chinese food with beer and a ritalin to see what I mean. Reading ingredient labels and avoiding artificial colors and ingredients you don’t know or can’t pronounce goes a long way toward eliminating food toxins. Many times, hyperactive and out-of-control behavior ceases when processed and adulterated foods are removed from the diet. (See p_, The lazy kitchen.)
Ritalin is bad
2.6 million children a year are diagnosed with a disorder, and are given 30 infinity doses of Ritalin and other drugs in a psychoactive battle against what the American Psychiatric Association calls Attention Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder. Boys are diagnosed three times more often than girls, and white boys are diagnosed more often than boys from other ethnic groups. There’s a positive correlation between parents with health insurance and a diagnosis of ADD in their children. And there’s a similar correlation between a misdiagnosis of ADD and an IQ over 140.
The major drug in this battle is Ritalin, otherwise known as speed. It is just as addictive as coke or heroin, and is a growing source of drug abuse in our schools. Some kids palm their dose, and sell it to other kids, who powder it and snort it, or cook it up and mainline it. Classified as a Schedule 2 controlled substance under Federal law, right up there with cocaine, opium and morphine, the government’s National Toxicology Program has found that it causes liver cancer in cute little lab mice. And here we are giving it to children as young as two years old to keep them under control.
There are tons of side effects which can be difficult to cope with:
Headaches and dizziness
Blood pressure changes
Ritalin withdrawal is a nasty process, causing depression, fatigue, paranoia, even suicide. In a gateway drug effect, Ritalin use can lead to further prescription drug use, as kids get hooked on sedatives to counteract the amphetamine buzz, become strung out on antidepressants to counteract the downers, and eventually labeled bipolar, which qualifies them for such potent personality-mushers as lithium and antipsychotic drugs. Researchers are also beginning to see Ritalin and other ADD medications as precursers to nonprescription and illegal drug use, including tobacco and cocaine.
Prior to the late 1990s, I’d never heard of ADD, but I knew right away that it was something I’d be interested in. If it’s something they’re trying to stamp out in kids, then it’s certainly cool, and probably revolutionary. However, speed is not my drug of choice, so instead of getting in line to score a legal psychoactive drug and thinking no more about it, I took a sideways look at who benefits from this new disorder. When you call something a deficiency disorder, the automatic assumption is that you need to make up for it or you’ll weaken and die. But we’re talking about attention. When did not paying attention become a disorder, a dangerous disease with disastrous consequences?
Not the kids; they’re drugged into a compliant state, like mental patients. They don’t act spontaneously, they don’t cut up in class, they sit still and apply themselves diligently to their work. They no longer seem to have shit-detectors, and compliantly accept mediocre amusements and insufficient explanations. (See Southpark episode #404: Timmy!, featuring Ritalout to the rescue.)
The teachers and the school system are obvious beneficiaries, because a doped up class is much less trouble, and teachers can get thru the curriculum undisturbed. If the primary purpose of education is to create good citizens and workers, then student passivity is of obvious benefit to the schools. However, it’s not like kids need to pay all that much attention to what they’re learning in school. I’ve seen the textbooks they’re given, and experienced the ‘once-over lightly’ method of teaching. Rather than being taught how to learn, our kids are stocked with unimportant and easily-forgotten information. How much of what you were taught do you remember? What’s the formula for a sphere’s volume, eh? Where’s Benin? What’s the chief natural resource of Idaho?
The drug companies are another beneficiary of the rising diagnosis of ADD. They’ve seen sales of ADD drugs soar to $1.7 billion in 2002, and they’re growing at 50% a year. That’s over 25 million prescriptions a month. By the time second graders graduate into the work force, they’ve been doped with amphetamine and methamphetamine for years, and it’s so addictive that they’ll be controlling symptoms until they’re senile. The primary adult market has only begun to be tapped, but it’s estimated that 20% of American adults are on ADD/ADHD meds. It almost makes me want to buy stock in Eli Lilly. But no – if you support drug pushers, you’re supporting terrorism.
The largest beneficiary of the rising tide of ADD is Big Behemoth, Inc. and its millions of subsidiaries throughout the world. When graduates join the firm, they’ve already had much of what it means to be a young human stripped from their lives, and are unable to cut through the fog long enough to notice that they’re chained to their desks. Thru the marvel of science they’ve been molded into normal, ordinary people who fit quite well into corporate life. They can sit still for long periods of time, concentrate on boring, repetitive tasks, do what they’re told without question, seem to be happy even tho their situation is clearly absurd and demoralizing, and never look to escape. Corporations love these kinds of people, and want everyone to be just like that – as incapable of rebellion and independent thought as a gerbil on an exercise wheel.
What kids are really like
I worked as a substitute teacher in an elementary school for a few months, so I can speak with some authority about our public education system. And before the hate mail starts, let me make it clear that I have nothing but charitable things to say about the poor overworked teachers and staff, to most of whom I recommend they quit their day jobs.
Either as a battlefield baptism, or because the teachers I subbed for needed more sick days than regular teachers, I got called in to teach the “special” classes. In my school system, there was one class per grade level where the students with behavior problems are cordoned off from the others and watched over by a single teacher and one stalwart parapro. Whenever I was called in to sub, the other teachers treated me with pity, as if I had been chosen to mind a room full of incipient criminals and crazies.
But they were great kids. Highly intelligent, intuitive, inspired, creative kids, with a great sense of humor and plenty of energy. It immediately occurred to me that the reason the vast majority of these kids were in the specials class was that they were too damned smart for the normal kids, and because the educational system didn’t respond to their needs for stimulation, attention, and fun stuff to do. They were flailing and twisting and hitting walls in their attempts to grow toward their visions. Attention deficit, in these kids, meant that they weren’t getting enough attention. One of the worst punishments you can inflict on someone is to ignore them and treat them as if they’re deficient, which is the message they get from the schools, the teachers, and the other kids.
In order to motivate them, I gave them fun things to do. When kids have something they’re interested in, you don’t see them fidget or disrupt the class. They focus intently on their work, soaking up the information they’re given. Do kids fidget and interrupt when they’re watching a movie or working on the computer? There you go. I let the kids ask questions and talk over the assignments with other kids, and generally tolerated a higher noise and activity level than the parapro was comfortable with. I even let them tell jokes, and we played spelling-word hangman in the few minutes before lunch.
Whenever they finished their work before the allotted time, I’d whip out a piece of construction paper and give them a drawing assignment. Soon half the class had finished their tasks to draw pictures of other kids and classroom objects, and by the end of the day, each one had a great piece of art to take home. I didn’t have a single behavior problem with any of the “behavior problems” in the specials class, and you’ll realize how extraordinary this is when you remember how it went whenever you had a substitute in your class – even the good kids acted out when there was a sub.
The parapro hated the art breaks. She told me, with the harsh voice of authority, that we must stick to the curriculum, that we don’t practice rewarding the students for doing what’s expected of them, and that I was creating entirely too much chaos. I looked around at kids being themselves, getting along, doing work, and told her that I wasn’t rewarding them, I was exercising their skills and fitting in more things to learn, because they were capable of learning more. Next morning, the principal stopped me on my way to the classroom and told me not to let the children draw any more. “We want none of that in the classroom,” she said sternly. “It’s too disruptive. The students are here to learn what’s on the curriculum, and we’re here to teach that, and only that.”
I remember this in some detail, because it made absolutely no sense to me. Why wouldn’t she want them doing art in their spare moments? Why wouldn’t she want them talking to each other, or having fun while they worked? Why was it good to limit their learning to the boiled-down basics in their books? People learn by fitting things into context, not just rote memorization, and even kids can handle a bigger picture than what’s presented in textbooks. Perhaps there was something wrong with letting them draw?
These kids were starved for fun and meaning, full of questions, with inquiring minds and insatiable curiosity. They were completely normal kids doing what kids do. They were naturally more active than other kids because other kids were dimmer bulbs. And because they couldn’t sit still in class, but were always jumping up and down with the answers to questions I hadn’t even finished asking, they were regarded as hyperactive and disruptive, and put in a special class, and given drugs to turn them into dull copies of the normal kids. I thought it was a crime. I felt like a prison guard after that, and soon lost my taste for teaching in the public schools.
Genius is ADD
School, work, what they expect of us, really is boring and tedious, and it’s right and proper that the intelligent and independent among us should act up about it. Somebody’s got to. Let’s look at it this way. Albert Einstein didn’t talk until he was four, and couldn’t read until he was seven. At school they classified him as antisocial, a slow learner, and a dreamer. His behavior was so inappropriate that he was kicked out of school, and had such bad grades that he couldn’t get into college.
If he’d been a kid today, his school and social services would have the power to tear him from his parents and stick him into a foster home if they wouldn’t agree to put him on Ritalin. Albert Einstein would end up working at Wal-Mart.
Thomas Edison was unruly and a mediocre student. George Washington was caught in the act of destruction with a deadly weapon, and then like a true ADDer, confessed without thinking and landed himself in even more trouble. Have you seen Amadeus, the biopic of Mozart? Well, there’s a hyperactive kid whose teachers would have strangled him were he in school now. Leonardo DaVinci? Socrates? Beethoven? Abraham Lincoln? Eleanor Roosevelt? Prince Charles? Their parents would have all gotten letters from school that said “Not living up to potential.”
And what do you think today’s pharmaceutical school system would do to Steven Spielberg, Whoopi Goldberg, Bill Cosby, Jim Carey?
Geniuses and hugely creative people don’t just grow on trees, you know. They really work at standing out from the crowd. They don’t fit in. They’re not supposed to fit in. They get kicked out of school, they get into trouble with the authorities, they run away, they have attitudes, they’ve got anger management problems. And that’s okay. They’re kids. They’re humans. They’ve got unique destinies that require them to break molds and turn their backs on what society holds sacred. This is good. It promotes growth and change, fosters innovation and development.
ADD doesn’t ruin our children’s future, it guarantees a brighter future for the entire world. These dropouts and reprobates, these hyperactive kids, go on to become something wonderful as adults. They spend a few years as juvenile delinquents, rebels, revolutionaries, inventors, filmmakers, visionaries, artists. At best, they make a living changing the world in their own unique ways. At worst, they live thru their wild years, get married, settle down, and have kids and mortgages, just like the rest of us.
So there’s really no need to zombify them unless you just plain don’t like the wonderful works of art they produce, are afraid of the world changing, or you really really dig the idea of soulless corporations turning us all into clones.
ADD is way cool
I’m here to argue that what they’re calling a disorder is a blessing. Having a variable focus, being right-brained and creative, having a naturally active mind and plenty of vibrant energy, being able to split your concentration into several fruitful directions at once – why do they call it a disorder again?
A disorder is what they call it when your shit annoys others. When you’re so disorganized that bills go unpaid and you can’t find vital papers, when your desire to watch the scenery while you’re driving winds you up in an accident, then you’ve got a problem. If you’ve got a compulsion or an obsession or an addiction, it’s a problem when it gets bad enough to affect others. Until then, it’s just a predilection, so enjoy it.
There’s no call for making a lack of attention into a disorder and dosing people with psychiatric drugs. Even when it gets to where you sit around your place with stuff piled high all about you, watching the tube all day because your life is too fucked up to deal with, what you really need is not a legal addiction, but a few tricks for coping in a world that’s entirely too rational.
I question the negative connotations of the label Attention Deficit Disorder. I’ll let slide the idea that paying attention is necessarily good, for now. But deficit means a lack of something you need, and a disorder is something wrong with you that needs to be corrected, never mind whether you want it corrected or not.
Droids or humans?
What rings alarm bells for me is the image of a world of chemically blissed-out droids calmly accepting tasks and not being interested in questioning the issues. The qualities being attacked by hordes of helpful pharmaceuticals are the ones that make us fit awkwardly, uniquely into place, jostling and moving into a position we’re happy with rather than resigning ourselves to the place we’re assigned.
Typical ADD adolescents are the class clowns, the dreamers, the kids who draw cartoons, the girl who writes notes to her friends, instead of paying attention to the boring, shallow, outdated, irrelevant course material. Are we really drugging our future comedians, inventors, filmmakers, and politicians out of existence? Is fitting into a society where we all work for Big Behemoth, Inc. really what it’s all about? The hell with that.
If you look at it in a positive light, as if we’re the way we are for a reason, then there are lots of good things about being ADD. If you’re ADD, then you can be:
• Extremely intelligent, adaptable, energetic, athletic
• Visionary, insightful, open-minded, humorous
• Humble, compassionate, trusting
• Resilient, passionate, hardworking
• Visual, artistic, imaginative, sensitive
• Verbally advanced, mechanically inclined
• Creative, fun-loving, and optimistic
I need my ADD
Who wants to concentrate on one task at a time when you can multitask? Why drive down a green tunnel to work, like my ex, when you can cruise thru an endlessly varied and interesting landscape instead? And is there such a thing as too much energy and drive, too much enthusiasm and inner motivation? The more energy I have, the more I get done, and if left to my own devices, I am a whirlwind of activity and accomplishment, a never slowing dynamo of ideas and schemes, insight and investigation. I never stop thinking. I never stop moving. I never dull out or lose my edge, except for when I do exactly that on purpose. (See p_, Meditation tricks for the hyperactive.)
I take advantage of having a broad attention stream – I work on four or five paintings at a time, and you can see how I’ve written this book. I deal with attention-to-detail lapses by developing tricks, something my tremendously active imagination is very good at doing, because it takes a wicked lot of hard work to arrange a lazy life. I daydream and think almost all the time, and my dreams are laboratories of a different kind of consciousness. If I’m not paying attention to something, I don’t question whether I’m at fault or deficient in some way. I question why I should be paying attention to it at all. I question what’s wrong with whatever I’m being asked to pay attention to.
I spend whole afternoons bouncing from one topic to another, afternoons spent in ruminations, inspired cellphone calls to people, and scribbled notes in the back of a composition book, all bits and pieces of a train of deeply productive thought. If I thought in an orderly, rational way, I wouldn’t be capable of the breadth of understanding I can reach, never mind finding the time to just sit and think and let the thoughts develop.
I do things on impulse, because impulsive works for me. It’s part of my personality, what makes me so uniquely wild and crazy. It’s where my inspiration comes from. If I’m driving along and think of something wonderful, and I don’t scribble it down on a piece of paper, it’s gone for good. When I get the impulse to call someone, I invariably find that they’ve been thinking of me, or there’s something important to share or a contact to pass on. Whenever I turn down a different street on impulse, I usually run into a friend I haven’t seen in six months, and we go off to a pub and talk about everything until they kick us out. Impulsive is good. It’s not good if you like your day job. But I don’t care about that, because fitting in so you can hold down a day job robs you of the chance to make your real contribution to the universe, and therefore I’m against it.
Mr friendDave is a perfect case in point. As a work-study student, he was assigned the simple task of reordering a thousand or so student files in his college’s administrative offices. Just alphabetizing it, the task he was asssigned, would have been deadly boring and overly simple, and Dave can’t just do something the easy way, he’s always searching for the best way. While looking thru the folders, he was thinking about what really needed to happen in this situation, what unique thing he could add to make everything work a little better. Suddenly he flashed on the whole thing computerized and accessible throughout the system, and went to work on it, talking about the idea to anyone who would listen. By the time he had the guys in charge behind it, the ladies in the office were already using it.
And so Dave, because he’s too ADD to sit still and just do as he’s told, is responsible for a major change in the way they do things, something the ladies there greatly appreciate, and something that didn’t cost anything and didn’t involve consultants, engineers, or the bureaucracy.
People are like they are for a reason. All these qualities aren’t faults or things to overcome or suppress. They’re gifts. It’s these qualities of ADD – impulsiveness, inability to sit still, a short attention span, nonconformity – that are the very ingredients of creativity. Without these individual traits, you fit nicely into your cubicle and enjoy your work even tho it’s mindless and absurd. Without these quirks and idiosyncrasies, without a strong sense of individuality that won’t let you tolerate being a droid, you’re at the mercy of Big Behemoth, Inc. and its advertising subsidiaries to tell you how to live. And you can see every single day how much that sucks.