Thriving with ADD

I developed “failure syndrome” at a fairly young age, only, I didn’t know what it was, nor did my teachers. According to an ERIC digest published in 1998, it is a clearly defined pattern of behavior based entirely on lack of confidence. At the time, they treated children like me as lazy, especially when evaluating the results of frequently applied intelligence tests. I was tested three times before I was twenty-four. Each test revealed that I was more than capable of learning. In fact, I had exceptional processing speed and problem-solving skills. So, why couldn’t I learn like the other children in my class? Why were my parents consistently frustrated with my performance in school and worse yet, why was I descending into profound depression as early as eight years old?

Fast forward forty-plus years and one day, the lightbulb, nay, the nuclear explosion glowed brightly above my head. I was sitting in my son’s teacher conference when it happened. I was so surprised by the revelation that I actually began to cry, not just because I was experiencing the cathartic understanding of my life as a student, but more because at the same time, listening to the teacher describe my child’s classroom behavior, I felt the gripping fear that he too would struggle the way that I had. It had already begun, his turn at “failure syndrome.” Everything the teacher told me was a replay of my own school experience. Why was I afraid – actually, terrified? Because my child had been happy, social and confident until his eighth year, just as I had. In third grade, a major developmental period for children, he began to say the exact same things I had. “Why am I so stupid? Why can’t I remember? Why do I make so many mistakes?” The big difference is that he has a mother and teachers who understand him and who will fight for his success.

remember feeling complete despair at fifteen. It wasn’t until I was twenty-four, and had failed at college, that I was diagnosed as depressed, even after having been in some kind of counseling on and off for six years. At one point, I’d sought counseling through the college. As a matter of course, they tested my intelligence and processing skills, as well. They reported back to me what I already knew, but still could not transcend. The more I tried to learn like everyone else, the more I despaired. It just didn’t make sense. No one had ever suggested that I had a learning “disability.” In fact, quite the opposite, they couldn’t understand it either. They marveled that I spoke about my brain as though it were a separate entity, with a great weight tied around it. They’d even say, “you are capable” repeatedly, as though those words were going to magically turn on the part of my brain that can sit in a classroom and follow the industrial revolution’s idea of standardized education.

As if the ADD component wasn’t enough, the depression that followed added a new wrinkle to the problem. While ADD is an inability to control certain brain waves (theta), depression adds a layer of seismic disturbance akin to snow in the television. With that much random brain activity, it is hard to focus on one single thing and as the anxiety increases, as it inevitably does, as students, my son and I stare at a page and watch as it actually begins to expand visually. Suddenly, twenty math problems is Kilimanjaro and we’re without cams.

After the meeting with the teachers, I began to read about how to help him and in the process, I learned how to help myself. I had always seen my mind as a handicap, a perception that really solidified when my son (and as a matter of understanding, I) was “diagnosed.” The more I read, the more I realized that ADD is not really a handicap as much as it is a type. We don’t learn poorly; we learn differently. The industrial revolution abandoned apprenticeships for classrooms, and in the process, immersive learning was abandoned for text books. For 150 years, we’ve been torturing highly-creative, kinesthetic learners, turning them into anxiety-ridden, insecure adults by forcing round pegs into a square holes.

The more I read, the more I realized that my brain is uniquely suited to the systems work into which I stumbled. My capacity to follow multiple threads means I can have several processes running on several computers in different rooms and not only remember each process, but switch between them quickly. My brain is not damaged; it is different, and that is a beautiful thing. I had, over much time and struggling, developed coping skills to get me successfully through my days. They were adequate, but often not perfect. I had already started applying those coping skills to managing my child’s learning, setting an example for him to someday manage it on his own. The more I read, the more I realized that my coping skills were among the items listed as best practices for brains like ours. It was hugely satisfying to learn that I developed coping skills that are documented as effective for my learning “type.” It was also an enormous relief to find confirmation that my understanding of how we package ideas is quite accurate, and the way in which I assimilate information is a teachable method.

So, if you have a child with ADD, consider yourself lucky. He or she is probably empathic. She has a mind that will spring into action to solve a problem before anyone else recognizes one exists. He will pinch a bleeding artery in an emergency situation. She will invent the lightbulb of the future or solve world hunger. Each is a free spirit and truly amazing.

It should be understood that even with this new understanding that my son and I learn differently, we still face the fear of sitting in a classroom all day. When I need to learn a new product for work, for example, I lock myself in a room with a computer and reverse engineer that product. In that way, I make it a reality by touching it, making mistakes, creating an end product. But on occasion, I HAVE to sit in a classroom, as I will in a few weeks, and despite my knowledge and new skills, I still fear that I will fail miserably. I understand what school looks like for my son. I hope that I can show him, as I venture back into a classroom, that with the right tools, we can adapt the classroom to our needs, instead of trying to adapt to the classroom. I send him to a Montessori school (see why here), which I highly recommend for children like him, but that will only carry him through elementary. He’ll soon have to move on to middle school, where everything changes.

Also of note is that a few weeks ago, I started drinking Bulletproof Coffee. Now, I am not recommending that this is a fix as I am not a health care professional nor a nutritionist. However, I personally have noticed a difference in my memory and most importantly, my motivation. It could certainly be psychosomatic, but I am rarely a victim of “suggestion,” so it’s unlikely.

I will recommend the op-eds Learn More in Less Time and Note Taking Study Skills, and a YouTube channel such as Mariana’s Study Corner. I had already started to develop some of these habits, and they are working for me. I will be incorporating more of them in my future learning. If you have a child that struggles to study, building a routine and materials that are unique to them will keep them interested in the process.

Rants About Ants

Firstly, thank you to my younger sister for brilliantly rhyming my pain.

Now that that is out of the way…

I must admit, I am somewhat Buddhist about the natural world. I will capture a spider and put it outside (although I learned recently that this practice is not exactly good for the spider, who chooses her environment based on her needs). I have saved a harmless snake from destruction by moving it to safer ground, or by staying out of its way if I’m in its territory.

But for two creatures, I am not so inclined to coexist. The first is the roach (except for the little guy in Wall-E, but in fairness, he’s animated). There is no reasonable explanation for the proliferation of the common roach, other than providing protein for the next link in the chain. However, there are no rodents in my home, so roaches need not volunteer for the position of protein-du-jour by crossing my threshold. When such a terrifying sight as a roach presents itself in my household, I scream like a banshee while running from the scene calling the name of the nearest person I know is willing to kill said intruder. Gentlemen, cue the heraldic fanfare as you enter, riding your mighty steed, sword aloft and save the day for the damsel-in-entomological-distress.

The second evil creature is the common sugar ant, an insidious and annoyingly persistent little bastard. I have tried all manner of discouraging the micro-beasts from entering my home as the rains embolden them to find every poorly-caulked baseboard in random rooms. I do not leave food out. I do not coax them with tiny ant treats. Yet, they have maintained a near persistent invasion, led surely by the ant-sized reincarnation of Ramses II himself.

Pharoah ants are the bane of my existence at the moment. I have tried negotiating, natural oil remedies, vinegar, borax and finally ant traps. They are the Borg collective and they are after my soul.

Finally, when they began biting me, I abandoned my Buddhist love of all things living and started smashing them. In any given sitting in my art space, there may be ten little mangled carcasses after I’ve basically exhausted my commitment to natural deterrents. Less than an hour later, I see ten more, drunkenly looking for a safe route around any chemical defenses I’ve laid out on my desk.

As I descend into madness, if you hear only the word “ant” on my lips, know that they’ve won, that I can no longer battle the force that has more fortitude than any other living creature on this planet.

I hate ants.

Update: I finally won! I found a recipe online for the best ant killer EVER. I doctored it a bit to make it more appealing and sure enough, the tiny creatures come in their hundreds to sample the ant-brosia I concocted. They carried it back to the queen and after just a few days they were gone! The recipe called for Borax, sugar, water and syrup. I raised the stakes with true maple syrup and unbleached sugar. Just a spoonful on a plate is enough to draw them out and tweet their little antennae like bugs possessed. And after about a week, no more ants! (PS, make sure that you add enough water that it’s still sticky but won’t harden.)



I check my plants for new growth every day. That is the first indicator that they’re healthy and thriving in their new space, in their new pot. Am I giving them enough? Plants are complicated, but the one thing that is true for all species is that every new leaf means you’re doing it right.

Recently, I met a delightful woman with an artist’s heart and a green thumb. I’m certain that few feel the way I do about receiving the gift of cuttings, because in the back of my wannabe-naturalist’s head, even I can’t quite understand the delight I feel as I run my fingers over the new material, feeling its bumps and textures. I delight further in researching the growth habits, the soil acidity, the amount of light it needs. I’m no botanist, but I understand the mechanics.

So, when after all the leaves have fallen away and after weeks of wondering if I’ve managed it, I see new leaves sprouting and new roots reaching into the soil, I secretly squeal with glee that I’ve done a small thing to perpetuate the green in the world.

I am amazed as well that something as lovely as a frangipani begins as a terrifyingly clawed gather of leaves as it reaches for the sun. People are the same. Something very ugly can eventually become something lovely, but it often takes patience, and encouragement and a bit of instinct.

Always keep an eye out for just the tiniest hint…


YoaHTs: “Thing” #70 – “Buddy Movies”

Ever wonder why we LOVE buddy movies? I didn’t, until today. I mean, I knew that I was one of billions that will rush to see a good buddy movie. I’ve always known that they’re a gold mine for Hollywood. But I never really thought about why they draw the public over and over. However, today, while watching a promo for the new Dwayne Johnson/Kevin Hart film, Central Intelligence, it occurred to me that something important has been lost on us. 

Buddy movies are entirely formulaic, requiring very little intellectual investment. They are predictable, and generally full of sophomoric, slapstick humor. Yet, we go in droves and Holywood keeps churning them out, year after year. Full disclosure: I can’t wait to see this one. 

Obviously, our need for humor is an important factor, but I believe it is more profound than that. In fact, I believe the answer is so deeply rooted in our DNA that we should truly understand it. 

Every day life should be a buddy movie

The core theme in every single buddy movie is that opposites can learn to be friends, and in the face of a challenge, even teammates. It’s that simple. Two people, who approach a problem from completely different perspectives, still have the same goal: to solve the damned problem. In the beginning, they don’t understand one another. Hell, most of the time, they really don’t like each other. But by the end of the film, they have struggled together and that recognition, that common experience, destroys the bar that keeps them apart. 

It seems like such a simple thing, doesn’t it? But the one thing that complicates it is that many don’t seem to recognize what the common goal is. It doesn’t matter where you begin. It matters where you choose to go. 

I was in Dallas last week. From the safety of my hotel room, I watched news casts as the events unfolded. I saw solidarity as the police protected and supported the protestors. I saw people of every race protecting children together. I saw a sudden, innate, collective  reaction to keep people safe in the face of a terrifying experience. 

People became buddies. All of a sudden, people forgot they had differences. They shared the same need to be safe. Hundreds of different people became buddies.

It can be done, but in order to do it, we have to be honest about the problems that have brought us here, to this place in history. Everyone has to be intellectually honest. Neither side of every conflict can remain intractable. Neither can dig their heels in and say “we don’t have to understand,” because that is patently not true. The “other side” means the middle is at arm’s length. If everyone simply reached out, think of how much stronger the bonds could be. 

YoaHTs – Thing #71 – “Summers on the Beach”

I have a love/hate relationship with fireworks. I love the color, the noise, the spectacle of fireworks. But every year, I get more and more annoyed the morning of July 5th when I see the ridiculous mess left behind by amateur pyrotechnicians. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg that is “Summers on the Beach” in Florida. 

I wonder, as I stroll down the long stretch that is Central Florida’s gulf beaches, why people come to the beach year after year. I think about why I enjoy it, and then I look around at the miles and miles dotted by tents and umbrellas and think, no, it’s not the same

Somewhere in my DNA is a chain of chromosomes that are part sea water. According to my genome circles the Mediterranean, island hopping from Sicily to Egypt to Menorca in Spain. I find peace in the waves crashing. I am a human solar panel, recharging my psyche in the sun. To me, the beach has a soul, as do all of Earth’s great designs. 

So, imagine how utterly disgusted I am when, the morning after we celebrate how amazing our country is, I see how little its citizens care about their responsibility to her shores. I cannot fathom why, if you enjoy coming to the beach, you don’t feel compelled to keep it clean and safe. (See Figure 1)

Post-fireworks debris on Reddington Beach

Plastic toys, for example, become brittle over time and break into brightly-colored, sharp shards which the birds mistake for food. Necropsies on birds reveal that plastics fill their bellies, causing the birds to starve. Cigarette butts (my favorite pet peeve) are so numerous, that is gives the appearance that the beach is a giant ashtray. I pick up hundreds of them in a week, and it’s worse every year. Styrofoam from cheap coolers break into a million tiny pieces, which look a great deal like shells. My favorite this morning was a squeezed Bud Light cap which was so sharp, that it would do major damage to soft tissue. (See image 2)

Bud Light bottle cap found on Reddington Beach

The beaches here are highly commercialized, with miles and miles of hotels, and little to no flora and fauna remains. It has been replaced by thousands of people with seemingly little regard for the damage they do. Perhaps it’s ignorance. Maybe they don’t realize how, when those water balloons explode, little tiny blue pieces of latex end up in the sand where turtles and birds used to nest. Or maybe they think that one cigarette butt won’t hurt, ignoring the fact that it’s one of thousands buried by others. 

I hate to be THAT person. I prefer to be cheerful, and complimentary. But the human infection has reached a zenith and fixing it wouldn’t take much. In fact, if every person who visited just took five square feet and scanned the sand for plastic, cigarette butts, and styrofoam, we could easily keep it clean. In fact, get your kids involved. They love to hunt for things. There are organizations that help. IS Foundation (Ian Somerhalder of Vampire Diaries) has leveraged social media to keep kids interested in being good stewards. Just five minutes and five yards. I promise, it won’t hurt, and imagine that five minutes can do. 

YoaHTs: “Thing” 72 – “Sex Pt. 1”

Sex is, above all, entertainment. Yes, it perpetuates a species. Yes, it can be an expression of affection and intimacy, an addiction, a tool, and a weapon. But the bottom line is, after all the fireworks, in a healthy sexual relationship, you’re supposed to feel really, really, ridiculously good.

For reasons I cannot explain, I have discussed sex lately with an amazing variety of people, in entirely unrelated circumstances and from every perspective I could have imagined. I have no professional training in psychology, or sex therapy, but I have no issues discussing sex and, for reasons I’ve stated below, I’m fairly knowledgeable about it, so people tend to feel comfortable talking to me about it. The one thing that stood out – and yes, I am keenly aware of the comedy in that phrase – was that people STILL just don’t know how to talk about it to one another. One would think that such a simple problem is easily solved, but with everyone boiling in their own tea kettle, it’s a problem that seems to require an interpreter in nearly every case. As I listened intently in every conversation, I began to see patterns.*

Continue reading

Year of a Hundred Things – Thing #73 – “Need”

I saw a meme on Facebook today – a lot of my posts seem to be born of that lately – that said “Any women wanting a husband obviously hasn’t had one before.” There are just so many things wrong with that that I felt compelled to really analyze it through the sieve of my personal history, and the experiences of my friends and family.

A couple of years ago, I sat in Central Park and had a conversation with a friend about why we thought political debates were essentially useless, especially within the confines of social media. We agreed readily that the problem was psychology. When one considers a problem, and its solution, one has to first understand the psychology of the affected individuals. One has to understand their “need.” The same logic has to be applied to relationships, and most especially to marriages.

Even the best marriages require work. Both people have to show up every day, and for extended periods, have to put their own need aside. Balance is what makes that process work. Recognition is what gives balance. “Today, I recognize that your need is stronger than mine, so I will show up for you.” Seems rather simple, doesn’t it?

In my analysis, I categorized both the failed and the successful relationships. Over and over, I found that need was the strongest theme and in those that failed, need had become a monstrous, all-consuming organism that stood in the middle of the relationship. It seems obvious to me, and maybe to you, my reader, that a balance of needs is the answer to this conundrum. I thought so, too. 

But it starts long before need becomes a problem that has gone unsatisfied. We humans don’t seem to realize that relationships have seasons, and some relationships can only last for a single season because it was a product of a single need. This is why, I believe, many marriages fail after the children have left the nest. I’ve heard people say “we’ve grown apart” when what actually happened was that while raising their children, they were not fulfilling their individual needs. They let the season pass. 

However, even before that, we fail to recognize the need that fanned the fire of that relationship. I’ve seen many a teenage girl tolerate deplorable behavior from a boy because for the first time in her life, she felt seen and heard. The need is to feel attractive and desired, and biologically, boys are happy to accommodate. I’ve also seen teenage boys tolerate the most entitled, spoiled girls for exactly the same reasons. The needs in those relationships overwhelm the individual’s own power. Those relationships are doomed long before the “I do”s. 

I have determined to teach every young person I love (and maybe those reading this), that successful relationships – and this applies to friendships, too – are based on the individuals’ abilities to recognize their own needs first. It is vital, as well, that we recognize which needs are unreasonable and invest the time in healing those first. THEN we can determine who is the best possible mate for us. It’s cliche to say that two half people can’t sustain a relationship, but it’s true. 

It is not the husband that is the problem. It is picking the wrong husband (or wife, or partner) because he or she fulfills a current need instead of creating a balance of all of them. Figuring this out for oneself requires some profoundly emotional heavy-lifting and some people just don’t want to invest the time. Those people won’t make good mates. People who cannot at least recognize their own needs will never be able to create balance in a relationship. 

So, before you go criticizing the institution of marriage – or simply relationships – look inside yourself and determine if the fault lies in your ability to choose at the time. It took me a long time to discern that I what I was looking for in my previous relationships was far from what I actually needed. I let them proceed past their seasons. It even took me a while to determine what makes the current one work. Keeping my hands on the wheel is now much easier having drawn a map of seas. 

The bottom line is, we have to figure ourselves out first. Then we have to really communicate our needs AND lastly, when those needs are not being met, be honest about whether it is fair to require THAT person in front of you to continue to try. Outside of abuse, we have to ask ourselves; Did you pick the wrong person? Is that person really capable of meeting YOUR individual needs? Is that his or her fault? Does it make him or her a “bad” mate simply because he or she is a bad mate for YOU? Yes, it’s a lot of soul-searching, but in the end, when you wake up every day relatively happy (because there are always bumps), it’s entirely worth the effort.