jerith (jerith) wrote,

Broken brains and me

Some of you good people may have noticed that I haven't been quite myself these last two weeks. This post serves as an explanation.

WARNING: Some of what follows is pretty personal. If I wasn't OK with it being public it wouldn't be here, but if you're uncomfortable with that kind of thing (or perhaps just don't know me well enough to care) you may want to skip this post.

At the end of October, certain things about me were brought to my attention in a way I could not ignore. These were things that I kind-of knew all along, but not really. The biggest was that I'm not really very good at getting things done or following through on my grand ideas. I also have an abysmal short-term memory.

This impetus finally got me to do something I should have done years ago: see a psychiatrist and figure out if there's a medical problem that can be dealt with or if I'm just lazy and inattentive. I think, given the title of the post, that you can figure out which it was.

I have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, which is both medically and psychologically treatable. There is, however, a lot of controversy and misinformation about ADD. I won't attempt to clear all of that up here (there are better resources for that than this blog), but I will describe my particular flavour and how it differs from the popular image.

Hyperactivity is very common, especially in children with ADD. So much so, in fact, that the symptom is right there in the new name, ADHD. Since my version lacks this entirely, I'm sticking to the term ADD.

So, on to what I do have. I am very distractible. In fact, while writing this post, I have spent at least half the amount of time since I started wikidiving (while getting the link above), replacing my mouse pad (because the mouse was a little bit jerky), repeatedly checking my IRC client (no activity) and choosing music (settling on Bach). This is what causes me the most trouble.

Combined with this, I have a frustratingly poor short-term memory. I can literally forget, while spending two seconds switching to another workspace to see if I have email, what I was working on. Combine this with the above, and you start to get a picture of my life.

The flip side is that ADD comes with the ability to "hyperfocus" on occasion. I sometimes (rarely) get stuck into something so completely that an entire day can go by without me noticing. The last time I did this, I was updating the code for my website. (It has yet to be deployed and it doesn't change much on the outside. It's much cleaner and more functional behind the scenes, though.) It's what lets me pick up a new programming language in a day or two, when it happens. Sadly, it doesn't happen as often as I'd like.

Over time, I have developed some tools to deal with a lot of this. I incessantly check that my pockets have the right things in them, which stops me forgetting my wallet, phone or keys. I set alarms and reminders on my phone and tend to leave for things early so that I'm not late.

I mentioned before that ADD is treatable. I'm just starting the process of figuring out the right medication, but I'm already seeing results. I'm currently on Concerta, which is basically 12-hour slow release Ritalin. It makes a huge difference, in that I'm able to concentrate on something for more than a minute or two at a time.

Methylphenidate hydrochloride, which is the active ingredient, has two major side effects that are hitting me. I knew both of these (and some of the other that I'm not seeing) going in.

The first isn't so much a side effect as a primary effect. Since the drug is a central nervous system stimulant, it affects sleep. I've had a little more than my usual trouble falling asleep since I started, but I've also been awake and alert before 06h00 every morning. While three data points isn't really conclusive, it's enough of a difference from my usual routine that I think it's significant. It's nice to be up and functional early, but it means I'm sleeping less. It hasn't been long enough to tell if this is a problem, but I'm cautious.

The other is appetite suppression. While this strikes me as something of a bonus, since I really could stand to lose a few kilos, it does mean I have to be better about eating a proper breakfast than I usually am. A morning meal is even more important when you're not going to be hungry for most of the rest of the day.

Aside from the drugs, there are a bunch of psychological treatments. These basically consists of structure and external tools to help keep track of things that most most people do automatically. Calendars and reminders are a big one, and Google is very helpful in this regard.

Probably the most successful tool I'm using at the moment is the humble daily todo list. Having tried various computer-based things in the past, I've settled (for work stuff, anyway) on a notepad and a pen. Part of the reason is that it sits on my desk between my keyboard and my tea, so is always visible. The other part is that the physical act of drawing a line through a task I have completed produces a surprisingly strong endorphin release.

An important thing to realise (and I like to think I'm less guilty of this than many) is that a reason is not the same as an excuse. I now know why I'm so horrible at getting things done, but it doesn't absolve me of the responsibility to actually get things done. It does, however, give me the understanding necessary to build the support structures that will help me deal with it more effectively.

That's about all I have brainspace for at the moment, and this post is certainly long enough already. It hasn't been an easy couple of weeks, but it has been necessary and long overdue. The future is looking better than it has in quite some time, but the short term adjustment period is likely to be fairly rocky.

I shall leave you with an amusing analogy I keep attributing to the wrong person (it was about him, not by him): The ADD Stove.
Tags: add, personal, saga
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