“I’d like to make an appointment to get myself evaluated for ADD.”
This is easily one of the hardest phone calls I’ve had to make in a long time, and I never thought I’d actually ever be making it. I’ve always been kind of all over the place, and a constant multitasker, but the thought of actually having ADD never occurred to me. I mean, hell, I was going to school in the 80s and 90s, back when it seemed like everyone was getting diagnosed for ADD, so why now? I’ve gotten by this way for 35 years, so how is it possible that I’ve managed for so long with something like this, and not even known that it was going on?
About two months ago, my wife and I were at the pediatric neurologist with one of the twins. We’d suspected that she might have ADD after her older sister was diagnosed a few months ago, and even though we don’t plan to intervene with medication at this point, it’s still good to know both for us and the school so we can recognize the ADD behavior and not hold it against her. As we sat in the neurologist’s office, though, and listened to him enumerate the behavior that contributed to her diagnosis, it started to dawn on me that I could see a lot of the same types of actions in myself. Add in that I’d just had two daughters diagnosed with ADD within three months, and it led to me starting to examine if it was something I’d been passing on to them.
What’s funny (or maybe sad) is that I’ve joked about having ADD for as long as I can remember. One of the jokes I’ve made at work was that I suffer at times from “externally imposed ADD”, where I don’t have time to finish a task because I’m constantly being interrupted by other tasks that need attention. Even when I recognized my lack of focus, there were a million different explanations for it: Stress (not unheard of with a demanding job and two autistic children), not enough sleep (thank you, 5 AM wake-up), at times I’ve blamed it on my sleep apnea, or just the normal demands of being an adult.
When I started really looking at where I am, though, it’s incredibly obvious how much my lack of attention span is affecting my quality of life. For starters, I can’t remember the last time I read a printed book; I’ve started listening to audiobooks in the car where I’m a captive audience, but even those are only sinking in about half the time. I have to actively think about maintaining eye contact during a conversation, which usually leaves me unable to listen to what’s actually being said. My now infamous “hatred” of movies is probably at least in part that I find the idea of focusing on a screen for two (or, perish the thought, three) hours thoroughly exhausting instead of something to enjoy. I fidget constantly and can’t have a phone conversation without pacing all over the place.
And even when playing video games, which I love and have always loved, I’m finding that even there, where they’re accused of causing ADD or at least catering to it, I’m not enjoying them as much as I used to. Just thinking about how many games we’ve discussed on Isometric that I’ve dismissed with the phrase, “I don’t have the attention span for that” is saddening. I used to spend hours upon hours playing the Civilization games, but I’ve never been able to stick with Civ V long enough for it to grab me, despite it being just as addictive as its predecessors, by my co-hosts’ account. Even the games that I have enjoyed lately are very clearly feeding into my need for constant and frequent payoff: Diablo 3 is basically a virtual slot machine with fireballs when you think about it; any of the roguelike games that I’ve spent time with (Rogue Legacy, FTL, Crypt of the Necrodancer) are short with quick resolution that I can drop out of easily if I get bored; and my recent obsessions with Desert Golfing and Crossy Road fit that same cycle. So I’m enjoying fewer and fewer games because there are a ton of games I should enjoy “in theory” given my tastes, but my attention span cuts that off at the knees when I actually sit down to play them.
But worst of all, this has affected my relationship with my family in ways I’m just starting to comprehend. For as long as my wife and I have been together I’ve forgotten things because of distractions that were important to her and inadvertently sent the message that they aren’t also important to me, even though they *are*, but I can’t keep focus on them through the noise. And even just when spending time together, I fiddle with my phone constantly, refreshing Twitter every fifteen seconds even though I know logically that nothing’s changed (and even if it has it can’t possibly be important); knowing that *something is happening* and needing to know about it is such a powerful distraction that I can’t stop myself even when we’re walking through a store together and she’s just stopped to look at something for half a minute. It keeps me from enjoying my family because there’s always something else stealing my focus.
That’s the worst part of this process: It’s like watching The Sixth Sense and discovering that Bruce Willis was dead all along (sorry, spoiler alert) and then going back and rewatching every scene in that movie to understand what it really meant knowing that. Except it’s not a two hour movie that I spend my time analyzing, but every potential opportunity in my life that ADD had a part in torpedoing, or at least making more difficult. I could have gotten a full scholarship to college if I’d been able to focus on schoolwork instead of doing all my homework in a panic during the period before it was due. I could have been a better worker and be making more money now. I could have been a better father and a more attentive husband. It’s impossible to not start looking at all these moments that led up to where I am today and wonder how many of them could have had a different outcome if I’d known that I had this and were managing it appropriately.
That’s not healthy, of course. I’m extremely lucky to be where I am today, with three awesome kids and a wife who is honestly way more amazing and supportive than I deserve, a stable, well paying job that I enjoy, and a successful podcast. The glass half full perspective is that I’ve achieved everything I have despite the ADD, not that I’ve achieved less than my full potential because of it, and that’s what I try to remind myself when I go to that dark place. That I really should be proud of accomplishing everything I have with one hand tied behind my back, as it were. And I am, truly. But the process of coming to grips with my new reality is not a smooth one, and it involves fighting against the darker voices in my head that call me stupid for taking so long to realize this and do something about it.
The good news, though, is that I *am* doing something about it. Today. I’m accepting my new reality and starting to take steps to manage it. As much as I may regret things I’ve missed out on because of ADD, that stops now. It’s cliché, but I really do feel like today is the first day of the rest of my life. I’m excited to not feel like this anymore. I’m excited to be a better husband and father. Knowing what I’ve been able to do up to now, I’m excited to see what I can accomplish with nothing holding me back.
Well, after I recover from my impending devastating Civ V addiction, that is. It’s been a long time coming, after all.