A couple of smart mentors have suggested to me in the past that I have some sort of ADHD, and I read a couple of accounts from other people in my life who’ve been diagnosed. It makes me realize that if ADHD exists, I almost definitely have it. I’ve written three posts in the past that have convinced ADHD folks that I’m one of them:
- not making any life decisions at 18,
- didn’t do well because I didn’t study
- procrastination lighting fires
I’ve been hesitant to take ADHD seriously (that is, the possibility that I actually have it) for a few reasons.
- I have a mental image of ADHD that’s an oversimplistic caricature of an annoying fidgety problematic kid. Although to be fair, I probably fit this description for some people. But I assume that that’s not me.
- I have an oversimplistic self image that’s all “I don’t have any health problems, I don’t need no medication or therapy or nothing.” I’m normal, I’m fine. I’ve been changing my stance on this as I get older.
- I’m used to the idea of mental illness being either cripplingly severe or something you’re probably making up as excuse. I worry that a diagnosis may become a crutch for me.
- I’m suspicious/distrustful of the impulse/instinct to diagnose and medicate people. See Ken Robinson’s talk. I’ve also heard from guys bullshittimg their way into being diagnosed. I think people are more focused on making people adjust to society (at all costs) than in promoting actual development.
While I relate deeply to the experiences described by adults with ADHD, I’m still uncomfortable with the idea of calling it a disorder. What is a disorder anyway? If makes it difficult for you to live a meaningful life, yes, I understand. I’m reminded of the man who mistook his wife for a hat, and the man with intense memory loss. In both cases, those are things that need help, because they impede functioning- regardless of circumstance.
Adhd, however, seems to me to be an adjustment disease. I’m different from others in the sense that I have trouble completing my homework, sticking to my commitments and tasks, etc. But the main source of my anxiety and pain isn’t necessarily that I can’t do those things as well as other people- it’s that I live in a world that asks that of me. I was stressed and frustrated and anxious throughout school not simply because I’m atypical, but because I wasn’t a good fit for that environment. (Churchill was a great wartime leader and a crappy peacetime one. Before diagnosing yourself with depression, check that you aren’t surrounded by assholes.)
It’s not hard to imagine an environment where I might have been happier. Maybe homeschooling. Maybe being a hunter-gatherer.
One of the funny things about job-searching is that it assumes job descriptions. Those are the worst and most boring jobs, in my opinion. The value chain has already been figured out. If your job can be reduced to a bunch of instructions to be followed, then you can easily be replaced. That’s frightening stuff, it’s what school prepares you for, and it’s also incredibly boring. One way around it is to work a job that requires a high amount of expertise that’s hard to replicate, like say, being a cardiologist. But that requires years of intense study and is remarkably limiting. I wouldn’t be able to cope with it. Only do that if you have a huge passion for it (and even then you’d better be careful. Read Paul Graham’s ‘How to do what you Love.’, and Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You.)
Where do jobs come from? They come from rivers of value. They’re compartmentalised, tidied up, ordered task-doing. But how does a job get created? Say you work on building roads. Where does the road come from? Somebody had to need it and be willing to pay for it (govt, whatever). There has to be a need created for that connection. People must be made to want to go there for some reason or another. If you go back far enough, somebody started something. Somebody identified or created a river of value that others can then come along and become a part of. I’m witnessing this right now as an early employee of a growing startup. Everybody can witness it from watching Facebook and Twitter (and reading about Ford and Rockefeller and Carnegie).
Erm, got a little sidetracked there. The point is nobody teaches you about this in school. School itself is too far down the river(s) of value. As Steve Jobs said- the world is built and designed by people no smarter than you. And once you realize that you can live very differently. You don’t actually have to follow orders. You can just make stuff. If it’s good enough, literally almost nothing else matters. We honour and venerate makers, despite all their failings. Makers employ millions of others along their rivers of value.
Ermm… back to ADHD being an adjustment disease. A lot of great makers and thinkers and creators and builders were maladjusted in school and even in their daily and social lives. Many ruined relationships, put their work ahead of families, etc. Even Buddha abandoned his family. So did Jesus, in a way. Everybody wins with Buddha and Jesus choosing to be Buddha and Jesus, but you can imagine their families weren’t too stoked about it.
So anyway- I think ADHD is a problem only because mainstream society deems it so. It’s not a problem for artists and writers and creators who rely upon ‘it’ (it’s really just a different point on a landscape rather than some sort of condition, methinks). It’s all about adjustment. If I had a personal assistant in school, I would’ve done a lot better. But I have to ask, what was school supposed to do for me anyway? My language skills are from reading and writing. I was introduced to some good texts in literature, great. I learnt nothing of interest in geography. Most of the interesting things about science I was already familiar with, or would learn more about outside of school.
When I think about the opportunity cost, it really drives me mad. I should have spent my time reading more. Watching good movies critically. Exercising, getting fit. Writing earlier. Picked up music earlier. All of those things would’ve served me better than the fucking drudgery of school, which is just so outdated and obsolete for anybody with a curious, roving mind.
I used to have an analogy about the ENTP’s extraverted intuition as a chaingun mind, and the INTJ’s introverted intuition as a sniper rifle mind. Both of these are heavy cognitive weapons. They correspond vaguely to ADHD and ADD respectively. They’re both incredibly powerful. The chaingun gives you Infinite Jest, The Importance Of Being Earnest. The sniper rifle gives you e=mc^2. But school isn’t equipped to handle kids with such machinery, and these machines and heavy, cumbersome things that require maintenance. School is equipped to teach kids to use simple machinery in simple ways. And the kids who bring heavy machinery to class (think of those who read books under the table, they’re my favorite) tend to to be underserved. At least, I think I was.
And I think I’ve finally learned to describe it for what it was, without anger or resentment. It doesn’t make me any more special than anybody else. It doesn’t mean that the system was out to get me. I just happened to be a bad fit for things, and I want to figure out how I can help others who might be going through the same thing.