S. Lee Manning: Okay, I admit it. The title is to get your attention – and to do an acknowledgement of the topic of the month even though I’m writing off-topic.
Just in case you ever wondered how we Rogue Women Writers select the topic for the month: we brainstorm ideas and then narrow them down to about eight months worth of topics. Once approved by all of us, dates are attached and an e-mail circulated. The topics are suggestions only. Each of us is free to write something completely different in our individual posts – and we often do. But there’s always the topic of the month to fall back on if we don’t have anything we’d find more interesting. This round was supposed to be about sex. What’s more interesting than sex?
And yet – I decided to write about something else. I decided to write about my brain.
I can even connect it to the topic de la month – because after all, the brain is a sex organ – maybe the most important one. What’s more sexy than intelligence? After all, Mr. Darcy (played by Colin Firth) after diving into the pond looked really fine in his wet clothes, but it was his mind and his spirit,
(okay and maybe his body in those wet clothes), that had me drooling back in the day. But I digress. I tend to do that, which is part of what I’m posting about.
Back to my brain.
About a month ago, I had a chat with my son. He’s an extremely bright young man, who majored in psychology and soon will be starting graduate school. Anyway, he informed me that he had ADHD – and that he thought that I did too.
What I knew about ADHD, or thought I knew, had to do with children, particularly young boys, who had trouble sitting still in school. My son never had that problem. I never had that problem.
Yeah, he said. Really. He pointed out how frequently I will switch from topic to topic, sometimes even in the middle of a sentence.
But…but…I sometimes, focus so intently on my writing – or on something I’m interested in – that bombs could go off.
It’s called hyperfocus, he told me. It’s also a symptom of ADHD.
My son’s a smart guy – and very observant. So I took him seriously and went to the internet.
Here’s what I found:
Along with the hyperactivity that I associate with ADHD, there’s something called inattentive ADHD, which is more common in girls than in boys. Girls with inattentive ADHD in the past have been under diagnosed, and girls with ADHD tend to suffer from low self-esteem and depression.
Low self-esteem and depression as a teenager? Check.
Other symptoms, according to Web MD, include daydreaming, procrastination, disorganization, and careless mistakes. There’s also a failure to follow through on plans. There can be a tendency to not listen to other people – because you’re formulating a response, and a tendency to interrupt other people’s conversation.
Intelligence to some extent can mask it, but smart children with ADHD tend to be classified as underachievers – because while they will hyperfocus on subjects that interest them, they will zone out when they get bored.
I interrupt people all the time. Family hates it. I know the family hates it. Still do it. I sometimes don’t listen to conversation because I’m so busy thinking about what I’m going to say. EVERYONE hates that.
Check on the other symptoms too. Daydream constantly. I’ve gotten better at procrastination, but still do it. Underachiever – that was my nickname. In high school, I had top grades in English and history, Cs and Ds in science and math – maybe in part because I was always at the back of the classes reading novels.
Failure to follow through? Don’t get me started. (Of course, I probably wouldn’t finish once I started, but just saying.) I started so many classes that sounded interesting in college and then just dropped them. After college, the trend continued. Projects. Novels. Hobbies. Started …focused intently for a bit…and dropped.
Things were significantly better in law school. I was really motivated. I was tired of being the smart person who didn’t live up to potential. The motivation paid off. I could read and focus on long texts by making notes in the margins to keep myself from zoning out – and I graduated with honors.
ADHD technique to help focus, my son said.
Sometimes having a smart son can get annoying.
I must say it explains a lot about my son, who’s figured out ways to cope and graduated college at the top of his class. It seems to explain something about me too.
I took the question to my primary care provider. There’s no blood test or physical exam that can detect ADHD. The only test is your history. I filled out forms on my life and on my current self, took them back, and she said, yup, looks like you have ADHD. She also noted that my lifelong addition to coffee may have been my trying to self-medicate – that coffee does some of the same things that medication does for ADHD, just not as well.
So what does it matter?
I’m an adult. I’m no longer practicing law. What does it really matter if I didn’t live up to my potential in school – or in the legal profession?
It does matter, and in important ways.
There’s the issue of self-esteem. I always thought I was lazy. I blamed myself for being disorganized and underachieving. Blamed myself for not accomplishing more than I have – for the novels I’ve started and never finished, for the other projects I’ve abandoned. There’s something rather pleasant about learning after all this time that maybe it wasn’t just laziness. Maybe my brain just works differently – and maybe there are ways to work with my brain.
Then there’s going forward with my life.
I am a writer now, and I plan to continue to write for the next thirty years, give or take a few. When I get into hyperfocus mode, writing is great – and I can pour out the pages. But hyperfocus doesn’t happen all the time.
Sometimes it’s hard to make myself focus. Sometimes, I get distracted – Colin Firth’s wet clothes – or maybe a SQUIRREL. Sometimes, instead of writing, I get into arguments on Facebook or look up
vacation homes in Paris. Then the old I-can’t-get-anything-done-I’m-a-lazy-underachiever kicks in. Except that now I know. I have an ADHD brain, and it’s a question of managing it – and I can stop beating myself up.
That alone is worth a lot.
There’s behavioral techniques. I had already developed some of them without knowing it. Creating routines. Getting up early, drinking my coffee, sitting down at the computer is my writing routine that I’ve discussed in another post. It does help. As does turning off Facebook. But most importantly, knowing that I’m neither lazy nor hopeless because I have an ADHD day when I’m focused on Paris or political fights or squirrels.
Then there’s medication. This morning I took a pill. It’s a stimulant that’s suppose to help the ADHD brain focus. I’m not sure if it’s doing anything – but I do seem more focused, more alert. Maybe it’s the five cups of coffee – or maybe it’s the pill. I kind of like this. I need to give it some time to see how I feel – and, more importantly, how I work. Do note that I just knocked out this post in under three hours – not a bad sign.
I just hope I’m not up all night – possible side effect from taking a stimulant – but if I am, hey, more time to write. It would be the perfect time to write a sex scene. After all, what’s more sexy than a working brain? (Yeah, yeah, Colin Firth, wet shirt, yada yada.)
So a big thank you to my son for clueing me in. It will not change anything about the past, but for all the above reasons – it’s good to know.
Inattentive ADHD may be more prevalent in girls than boys, but comparing the symptoms you mentioned with my own I can say with certainty that it's not limited to girls.
No, you're absolutely correct, inattentive ADHD is not limited to girls. I suppose it's just easier to diagnose the hyperactivity form of ADHD. We with inattentive ADHD brains tend to be quietly sitting in the back daydreaming or watching cars outside the window, being overlooked. Hopefully, that's changing.
What a wonderful post, S. Lee. I learned a lot, and am contemplating my own ADD/ADHD brain. My doctor told me the H in ADHD refers to hyperactivity of the body, hence I have ADD. It's to laugh, since I was told years ago I had ADHD. Whichever it is, learning to work with it can be done, with sterling outcomes. I hope your medication works wonders! Please write a blog about it when you know more. Inquiring minds, etc.!
ADHD. Hell, I try to get into that state by looking at something everyone else is looking at and thinking some other use or outcome. Then I include the outcome and express it widely. So be it!
Don't have ADHD but Colin Firth in wet clothes!!! Well, I digress. Whatever you're doing you must be doing right because writing an entire book, finishing and getting it sold–as you did, is not an activity for those who can't focus. Loved this post!
Will do an update at some point, Gayle. And thanks. It's nice to know that I'm not alone in this.
I had to figure out some way to fit Colin Firth in wet clothes into this post. Anyway, thank you. It's also not that people with ADHD can't focus, it's that our focus is not consistent – and sometimes requires a lot of effort. But I now know why I used to drink 9 cups of coffee a day.
S. Lee, I was diagnosed with ADHD in college. As a shy introvert, I never displayed the typical disruptive signs of an ADHD kid. I, too, find that coffee and early morning writing sessions are helpful. My biggest struggles involves piles. Piles of books, papers, magazines, clothes, hobbies, crafts, half-written cards. When I put things away I completely forget about them, so piles grow all over my house.
Gosh, S Lee, I don't know you, but OH, HONEY! I hear you. Every single word. There is an ocean in my brain that overwhelms me the minute I open my eyes in the morning. I got my diagnosis about a year after my son (then 8) was diagnosed. It explained so much–being a great student until high school, when I had to actually study things I didn't already know. My grades tanked. I couldn't prioritize anything. Research, pah. Self-esteem of a flea–probably less. Couldn't settle on a career. Creative but too distracted to settle on one thing. Too bad my diagnosis didn't come until I was in my 40s. That hyper focus, is, indeed, a godsend for a novelist (I gather we make good writers and architects, too). Good for you for developing routines along the way that give you structure. It's remarkable how adaptable people can be–but that you have made them stick is the really impressive thing. I'm not so good at routines. I tried Adderall for year, and I liked the feeling of control it gave me, but my writing suffered. I found I wasn't able to make the creative jumps that I needed to to make my writing interesting. I think about going back on it sometimes, but worry. You are so right: You are not lazy! Your brain just works differently, and that difference gives you an angle on creativity that no one else has! There really needs to be an ADHD Author Club…