Michael Phelps: An ADHD Enigma

Am I the only surprised by the childhood ADHD diagnosis for Michael Phelps, the much-gilded Olympic swimmer who can concentrate under world-class stress.
Treating ADHD Blog | posted by Bill Mehlman
Bill Mehlman blogs about treating adult ADHD for ADDitudeMag.com

Somehow I didn't get the memo, but it appears that Michael Phelps, the much-gilded Olympic swimmer, suffers from ADHD. Honestly. The Times doesn't lie.

This brought me up short. Almost made me spit out my first sip of coffee (note to self: the Sumatra isn't what I'm looking for, maybe have to go back to the old mix). Tara Parker-Pope, in her Well column, has outlined the nature of Mr. Phelps' affliction, and the wider issue of a developing, and more positive, view of ADHD.

Let me say, loud and clear, that I'm on thin ice here. Among the authorities quoted in the article are Dr. Edward Hallowell, author of Driven to Distraction and a contributor to ADDitude, and Dr. Harold Koplowitz, director of the Child Study Center at New York University Langone Medical Center. These gentlemen's reputations are global and well-founded. I, on the other hand, am a total hacker, an empirical, self-observant scribbler with absolutely no professional training in psychology, neurology, or any other formal discipline.

Having made my obeisances, I'd like to say that, from where I sit, tapping my fingers and jiggling my feet, the notion of Mr. Phelps' ADHD is—continuing to be respectful to my betters—counter-intuitive. It's possible that my reaction to Ms. Parker-Pope's article lies in my deep-seated loathing of swimming. Actually, I have strong reactions to water: I love standing—standing, not swimming—in a nice warm ocean; I like looking at, and wouldn't mind boating on, a river. My dream would be to have a big marble tub with a Jacuzzi and a spikenard dispenser. But on the few occasions that I've swum in a pond or lake, I've come out feeling…slimy.

As for swimming, well, our ancestors swam their way out of the swarming oceans, shed their fins and scales and gills and grew legs, and that's good enough for me. Swimming is the most boring of all exercises. You don't see anything, you can't hear anything, the goggles usually leak and the pool is usually about five degrees warmer than a properly made martini.

My understanding of the essential nature of ADHD, which appears to be on the way to being known as the "classical" or "original" or "outmoded" model of the situation, would suggest that we who suffer from it have difficulty concentrating on anything. Subjects vary in their abilities to hold our interest. Sex, food, gossip and money all keep us on tight leashes, while cricket, hermeneutical phenomenology, Canadian politics and the literature of Moldavia immediately beget twitching, yawning and flight.

You see where this is headed, right? I have no bones to pick with Mr. Phelps, Ms. Parker-Pope or Drs. Hallowell and Koplowitz. But it would be comforting if one of these illuminati could explain to me how a young man, alleged to be afflicted with ADHD and to have discontinued using drugs to treat that syndrome, can spend hours, every day, doing what I perceive to be among the least-appealing activities I can think of.

And if we can avoid any references to any state of aquatic satori achieved while doing the backstroke in a chilly, chlorinated pool, so much the better.

 
 
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