Attention-span issues are not just our imaginations.

Zinnia Jones has a great new post up about her son’s struggles with ADHD:

We waited for as long as possible before looking into medication for our son. We explored every other option that was available to us. He had a specialized plan at school and extra tutoring, and he still does. We worked closely with him every day to help him understand his work, and we gave him extra practice in every subject. And it wasn’t enough.

The moral of the story is that sometimes, counseling, special attention and structure get the job done, but sometimes, you need DRUGS.

I was born in 1980. When I was a kid, ADD/ADHD were not really part of the cultural discourse the way they are now. We children joked about how some kids were “hyper,” but we didn’t recognize it as a brain issue that could be addressed with medication. The idea of attention span issues without hyperactivity never crossed our minds, because the adults around us never brought it up, either. I didn’t even know ADHD was a thing until I was at least 16, and where I first learned about it, I am not joking, was in an X-Men fanfic. By then I was an excellent student, but this fanfic writer was telling me things about learning and behavioral issues that I wasn’t getting from my teachers. I wasn’t aware of ADD (inattentive, rather than hyperactive) until I was closer to 20, but by then, it was more of something that people actually talked about.

I wasn’t nearly as badly off as Zinnia and Heather’s son; for example, I responded well to tutoring and subsequently became an excellent reader, and I didn’t have behavior problems. While hyperactive kids can’t sit still, I was too good at sitting still. I was a chronically daydream-laden space cadet for most of my childhood. (Imagine that: a little girl who was always daydreaming grew up to be a novelist.) I wasn’t labeled with attention deficiency, or inattentiveness. I was called lazy, unmotivated, with lousy work habits.

It’s awfully difficult to stay motivated when focusing on simple tasks requires heroic effort.

I know some people around my age who were actually diagnosed and medicated for attention deficiency issues when they were kids, but since I sat nicely in my seat and did well on tests, my teachers never considered that maybe I found it difficult to focus in ways that most children didn’t.

By my teenage years, I learned how to do a good impression of a focused student, and in my early adulthood, I started thinking that ADD would explain a lot about me. By then, however, I’d finished college at 21 and was living like a responsible, tax-paying adult. It didn’t seem that a diagnosis or medication would help me accomplish anything at that point.

However, when I get depressed, my attention deficit symptoms get especially bad. When I am both inattentive and depressed, I have difficulties that affect the people around me. Sometimes those difficulties accumulate over time and eventually come to a head.

I just turned 32, and I still don’t know how I’d function on ADD meds, but I’m taking an anti-depressant that makes me more alert, so it helps somewhat with the attention issues. When it became obvious that Something Was Definitely Wrong With Me, I didn’t go straight for the meds. I saw a counselor, I tried drinking less, I tried eating healthier, I tried going to bed earlier, and you know what happened? Eating healthy food is a good thing, but it didn’t make me feel happier or more focused. Drinking less, also, made no difference. Sometimes I drink plenty and feel shitty, sometimes I drink very little and feel great, but sometimes I drink very little or not at all and still feel like crap, and sometimes I drink plenty and feel awesome the next day. Seeing the counselor helped some, but she also pointed out that it was almost certain that I had ADD, and she urged me to think very seriously about taking meds.

That much should tell us something: a social worker, who is involved in providing mental health services of a non-pharmacological nature, noticed that my difficulties were in the attention-span area, and advised me to consider medication.

When I visited the doctor’s office for an assessment of my brain-chemistry issues, the nurse practitioner put me on an anti-depressant first. Since I’ve experienced the side effects of beginning the anti-depressant, I can see why starting more than one psychotropic drug at a time would be inadvisable. (In case anyone’s wondering: the side effects were not dangerous, but they made me feel like I was about to develop super-powers that I’d be unable to control. Any further tinkering with my brain chemistry would have been a bad idea.) She also ordered some blood work in case I had any nutritional deficiencies that affected my mood, and so far I haven’t heard back about the blood work, but the medication makes me feel better. It’s not a magic bullet, but it definitely helps. Adjusting my diet, drinking habits and sleep habits didn’t help. The medication is the first thing to have a noticeable effect.

So, if you’re wondering why I haven’t posted Sunday Storytime in several weeks, the answer is very prosaic: I’ve been depressed for months, and so I’ve found it extraordinarily difficult to write anything. I feel somewhat better now, and I’ve written more recently, so things are looking up. Moreover, they’re not looking up because I’m eating more vegetables or abstaining from refined sugar. I’m feeling better because of DRUGS.


1 thought on “Attention-span issues are not just our imaginations.

  1. I definitely relate to you Red Monster and looking back I now see the reason that made me immediately drift off in imagination land from from elementary school to college. Anything to do with calculating was a chore and I immediately wanted to discard one assignment and move on to another and on and on. It bored me to connect the dots, to see an analytical function in anything. I was fortunate to have drive and determination which led to a job in the natural sciences however, I lost the ability forever to explain coherently the power analysis of the data I collect even with the help of Adderal because, much like with learning a new language, the young brain can absorb concepts better. It seems to not matter now but if I used Adderal back then the path to the present may not have been so frustrating and time consuming. I wish you well on your journey.

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