A lecture, a news feed, an abstract algebra textbook, and a language app: into the wild green yonder of ADHD

(Note: In case this needs saying, I can’t speak for everyone who has ADHD. I can’t even be completely sure that I have it. But it’s the latest hypothesis for what ails me, and this is about my experience with it.)

I wish I could work on something, just about anything, without feeling the need to bounce around from subject to subject or task to task because I lose the thread of why I should care in the first place.

The notion that this is a symptom of depression is, admittedly, understandable. Someone tells you they don’t derive pleasure from activities and lack motivation, and you probably assume there’s some amount of depression. But I doubt that’s the whole story.

I want to do things. I want to read and make things and have an ordered life. But I can’t get through more than a couple of paragraphs in an article or book before I’m rushing off (mentally or physically) to do something else. I have no idea why I’m like this.

I understand consequences. I know that I need to do certain things if I want to increase the chances that other things will happen (or not happen), and I know that it is physically possible for at least some humans to hone in on one thing, see it through, and move on to the next, in that order. I don’t know why I can’t seem to do that.

Could it be that this inability to focus on anything in particular for an extended period of time might be linked to the empty uncertainty as to what I want and what matters to me? It almost doesn’t matter whether the former generates the latter or vice versa, because at this point, they sustain each other.
I need to find a way to cut through the noise and clean up one signal in particular to listen to at a time, rather than getting fragments of crushing noise and different semi-clear info streams at seemingly random intervals and trying to do something coherent with that.My brain feels like topic or thought salad, with my conscious mind ping-ponging around, wildly and out of control, having zero regard for accomplishing anything useful or coherent. It feels like boredom, and it feels like a lack of motivation, but not quite. Sometimes I’m interested and motivated. I get brief glimpses of it. I see something or have a thought about something and go, oh, that’s neat. I manage to follow it for just a little while, at most, and then I lose interest. I want to care but don’t, or at least, I don’t care enough to make myself stay on it.Later, I’ll circle back around and pick up where I left off, minutes or hours or days (or more) later on, and the cycle will repeat. When I was in graduate school, toward the end of things there, I saw a psychologist who “tested” me for learning and other psychological disorders. I say he “tested” me, but the truth is that he had me fill in a scantron with answers to a multiple choice test that took several hours.I had all the hallmarks of ADHD, he said, but they were likely attributable not to ADHD but to my bipolar disorder and eating disorder. I made the case that perhaps he had the cause and effect backward, that the ADHD was causing those symptoms and making my bipolar disorder and eating disorder worse, rather than the bipolar and ED mimicking ADHD.It’s worth noting that, at this stage of my life, I’d been on more than 20 different antidepressant and other psychoactive medications to treat depression, and none had solved the ADHD-style symptoms. They improved and declined from time to time, but only marginally at best. The notion that it might be something other than depression starts to make sense at that point in time, you would think, but that’s not how he saw it.I was 21 and in graduate school for philosophy. There was no way, he said, that I could possibly have any trouble with learning. (Is this malpractice? I feel like it might be malpractice.) Six years later, and my current therapist, without any prompting from me, suggests that I very likely have classic ADHD. My psychiatrist agrees and prescribes Strattera, a non-stimulant so as to reduce the likelihood of triggering a manic episode. Long way around your thumb to get to your elbow. I’m open to being wrong, of course. It could be that I have some other condition entirely, and I’m not fixated at all on the diagnosis ADHD. What I want (such as I want) is to live a better life. This just seems like the best thing to try next.


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