Reply To: If you're not your ADHD, who are you and how are you similar to neurotypicals?

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I ran out of ground coffee, and I didn’t want to go to the store.

I poked around my messy kitchen and found a year old container of freeze dried coffee. I heated water and created a cup. I sipped it thoughtfully. Morning is the best time to fix my ADD, so I asked myself the question: What is on the Agenda today?

Nothing. No chore has been planned, and no outing was so important it could not be avoided.

I looked at the blank page in my brain where others keep a to-do list. No such list appeared.

Same story yesterday. There was no list then, either. Which was just as well, if there were things on a list, I would only have shunned them.

I revisited a page online in which a supposed ADD dad writes ‘helps’ for his ADD daughter, whom he realizes has it worse than he does, since she is still a child.

He lists several helps. They are the helps my Mom gave me when I was in the fifth grade. And my teachers. And my grandma. And anyone else who saw me, and thought they knew what was wrong with me and how to fix it.

Following is a list of things wrong with a person who has ADD, and here are the solutions to fix those things.

ADD victims have problems focusing on whatever stupid thing everybody else is focused on. Solution: Focus! Do better! Try harder to focus. When you get home from work or school, go for a run. Also take this medication.

ADD victims find it hard to organize: Solution: Organize! Just do it! Make a list on your calendar, and then spend the rest of your day flogging yourself because you didn’t organize well enough to accomplish your own list of to-dos. Maybe tomorrow you will start work on your list. You are also lazy. Stop it.

ADD victims do not get the normal dopamine ‘rush’ rewarding them for doing a mundane task. When they do the task, they receive the reward non ADD people receive for tripping on a shoelace. That ‘reward’ just doesn’t seem to balance the struggle they went through to do the mundane task.

No dopamine. No automatic reward. Solution: Reward yourself for doing the mundane task. Try this:

Eat a piece of candy. No wait, that’s not good for you and will make you fat and even less desirable. Don’t make it candy.
Make it a shopping trip. No wait. A shopping trip would cost money, and you aren’t sure if you have any. If you spend money you don’t have, it will only feel rewarding for a short time, and then you have a bigger credit card bill, which will make you feel bad. That won’t work.
Take a drive: No wait. That won’t work, it is too hard to go through the door to the car to start the drive. What if you meet someone, and he/she doesn’t like you? What if you run out of gas? You should really fill the car with gas before the trip, but that would require a reward, too, and you won’t get it. You used to reward yourself for going out the door with a cigarette. Now you don’t smoke. You’d love to, but you don’t. That actually did work as a reward, but now you have denied it to yourself, and that itself is good, because smoking is so very bad for you, but sheesh! At least then you were able to leave your dwelling. Oh, well. Don’t smoke.
What was it again, that I wanted to reward myself for? Oh, yes, the mundane task.

Wow. Sitting here I can see my finches, and their water pan is getting junky and empty. I need to fix the birdcage, or the stinking birds will die and that will make me feel really bad. Why was it again that I thought I had to have birds?

Oh, yeah. It was the middle of the stinking winter, and I just wanted something alive in the house with me while I hibernated. After I clean the water pan my reward is that the birds don’t die, and I don’t have to feel like some evil avian satan. It’s not enough of a reward, but at least I accomplished a task that did have importance. Still no dopamine, though.

There was a story about a woman who has ADD who was able to accomplish housework by keeping one side of her sink clean. Then, she had to unload the dishwasher and load it with the dirty dishes normally congregating in that half of the sink, and on the counters. Then she wanted to clean the rest of the sink, and then the stove, and on and on. Now she has a clean kitchen.

Honey, I’ve been there, too! I’ve delved into my inner self and created a reward center out of nothing, and ended up with a nice clean house that lasted for years, right up until I married Bruce. Then I was alone in a house with two teenagers from my first marriage, who had never been asked to lift a finger to help me, and my ADHD husband who caused the room to litter itself, and all the doors and drawers to fly open just by entering.

Things got worse. I soon had to shut the teenager’s room doors and ignore their mounting laundry piles. Didn’t help much. The chaos around me continued to cry out to me like Abel’s blood from the earth to Yahweh. I never had a plan for how to keep a house clean, let alone how to get my teens to help. In frustration I cried out to Bruce, thinking he might help enforce some kind of jobs list.

He told me he sympathized with my angst, but all he could suggest was that I change my attitude about wanting the clean house.

That was stupid, nasty advice. Just give up, nobody is going to help you. But it was true. Nobody would.

Those teenagers are grown up now, with their own teens. They have somehow come to terms with having to pick up their own junk. Their houses don’t look like a trash heap, but mine still does.

I grew two new teenagers. Same story. The house still sullied itself whenever I turned my back, and I am still the only picker-upper. I can never, and will never be capable of getting my house all the way to presentable.

I still think about my grandma who said “when I get up in the morning, I make my bed right away. Then I’m not ashamed to go to the door if someone comes over.”

Oh, DeeDee! I so understand your frustration with me never doing things the way you did. You were right. It would have worked. Now, you are gone, and I am left to live a few more years in my trash heap without ever fixing it. How do I go about not hating my own lack of interest in housework?

Solution: Pretend like you have an interest in housework, or at least get some kind of good feeling when it is done. No, you don’t get to feel good that you just stopped chiding yourself. Not enough. Pretend harder.

Pretend like you just found a meteorite. Pretend like you just held a baby and saw the baby smile. Pretend like your dog had puppies, and now you are watching them squirm and play. Pretend like you just finished a chapter in your novel, or came up with a new idea for your watercolors. Pretend like you are going over a hill in your car on a long trip to the ocean. Pretend like you are walking along the beach at the ocean.

When you scrub your sink, pretend all that. That’s how it reportedly works for your non ADD friend. He goes through life getting good feelings for doing all those mundane tasks. You could have happiness like he does. Just pretend.

Here’s the difference. Your happiness would only be pretend. You have ADD, and you’ll never feel an actual elevation in mood when you finish a boring task. Your non ADD friend gets it every time he does anything. He gets happiness automatically, and never even thinks about it. But it’s never going to happen that way for you.


He never found a meteorite. He never looked up what it looks like, and he never dreamed about where it came from or what powers it might have, or how it might be formed into a useful object, or how meteorites were used by natives for their arrowheads, and sometimes you can even find a meteorite arrowhead. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Your non ADD friend can’t imagine that, and never tried to. He doesn’t look for meteorites.

When he held the baby, it was only a baby. The smile he got was only related to gas. When the baby locked gazes with him, he only thought about the baby being very near-sighted, and nearly blind. He was never flooded with the impression of other lives, already lived by this astounding brand new creature, nor wisdoms he might be able to impart, if only he spoke your language. Your non ADD friend held that baby, and it probably felt nice, but he was unaware of the heavenly grace the baby poured out to him. He laid the baby down and went to make small talk with the adults in the room.

Your friend never, ever, ever considered breeding his dog. It was obvious the best thing for the dog is never to breed. It is settled science that dog breeding can never be good, or even OK, so he never considered putting his dog through that. If he had bred a dog, he would not feel any joy seeing the puppies play. He couldn’t get joy while calming a bitch as she gave birth. He can’t see such a thing as magic. He couldn’t love pulling the puppy out and letting the momma lick and nose it into a squealing, trembling, milk seeking, little blind dog potential. He never named any puppies. He never watched a batch of puppies all go to point when a toy bird was flung into their midst. He never saw a batch of puppies nuzzling into a pile. He never saw the biggest puppy you named Galloot fall off the wooden sidewalk when all five puppies were trailing after, wagging and yipping. He could not see the joy in a puppy.

Did he ever write a novel? Even a bad one? Did he ever sit down with one little idea, and expand that into three thousand words? As he walks through life; grocery store, gas station, work meetings, commutes, does he picture himself a swarthy hero, sword fighting his way past a dragon? I think not. He wouldn’t get any reward for that, and he doesn’t see any dragons. That’s called day dreaming, and has no place in the adult world.

And what about the watercolor? If he wanted to paint with water, he would take some classes, so he didn’t start off on the wrong foot. ADD doesn’t do that because

There is no wrong foot when it comes to art. And
Classes cost a lot of money, and you can teach yourself online, or with books for free, without having to go anywhere. And maybe he can come up with his own way to do Watercolor, and then teach that to someone else.
When he is done with his picture, he only values it if and when someone else likes it.
He gets no joy watching the colors blend down a drip of water.

Does he go on a long trip? He is not bored by the many miles he has to drive. Ordinary radio entertains him, even if none of his favorite music is playing. He sees driving as a means to an end. He doesn’t want the adventure of finding a hotel in the dark that allows pets, so he can stop for the night. So he already researched that and made all his reservations. The whole trip is already down on paper. The reservations make him feel secure, not trapped. He got dopamine for that pre-planning.

When he gets to the ocean, he finds a park nearby with marked trails to the beach. He stays on the trail, enjoying the scenery.

He does not sneak up on any gulls to get a good picture. He does not take food along, so he can eat his sandwich and breath the salty marine air at the same time. He does not climb along the sharp rocks on the beach and find tidal pools with their unique set of sea creatures. He does not go too close to the ocean, or let it get him wet up to the knees.

Ok, over the knees. OK, hang the undertow, I’m going in! Hold my camera, will you? I know it’s salt water, and I’ll have to shower and change clothing. I know there are jellyfish in there. I know at least five people drown every year in just such water as this. I know that, but still I have to let the ocean swallow me for a bit. I have to go limp and let it wash me to the shore. I have to feel this now, because I don’t always have the ocean, and I can’t always get in it, and isn’t it really the last great frontier? Isn’t it like space, which we can never, ever understand?

Your friend will never know the joy in letting the surf roll his body around. He wouldn’t feel that joy because he can’t suspend his belief that he might drown. He’s not good at riding the wave.

He is built to be slow and steady. He gets the automatic joy out of the assignment completed, and the job well done. He gets all those little pieces of happiness, and never feels bereft that he can’t feel what I feel. He doesn’t care if he never finds a meteorite. He was created that way before he came into this sparkling, dangerous world.

He can’t change into me, and I can’t change into him, no matter what medication I take and what training I receive. We are what we are. If a therapist says you’re identifying with ADD too much, it might well mean ‘stop whining and get in line. You must march in these footsteps made by everybody else.’ But I’m afraid those footsteps don’t lead me to joy.

So, really. Keeping house? Keeping those sinks clean, and the counters cleared? Making that nice, quiet, safe, pretty, politically correct house? That would take all my time and all my energy.

I can’t do it. I can’t keep it up. I can only reward myself so much candy for commonplace chores, before I know candy is not real joy, and not a real reward.

In the end, I can hire someone to do my housework chores. I don’t, because of my extraordinary need for privacy. But I could.

Normal, neuro typical people can’t get joy from life in the same way I do, their brain doesn’t allow it. If their dog has puppies, all they get is shame, work, and expense.

They can’t spend time trudging through a desert looking at rocks and consider that a great vacation.

They can’t take a chance and jump in the ocean.

If they do these things, they feel uncomfortable, not happy. They get no joy. But I do.

So, even if day to day expectations have me stumped, and even mild criticism levels my self esteem, and my house can never be clean or tidy enough, I still love life.

Even if my boss decides that my whole contribution to some process is worthless, I can still find a way to use it to help somebody. If even one client says my idea helped him, I feel the joy of knowing I was right. I don’t have to take my boss’ word for anything. Maybe he just doesn’t see the whole picture.

My brain is not ‘awake’ most of the time. I don’t have the hard wiring to work on an assembly line. I can’t gain satisfaction from a clean house. My brain sleeps through those things.

But isn’t it great that my brain can process the things an ordinary brain can’t.

I can see agates in the gravel of the road I’m driving down, if the sun is at the right angle.

I can see and bond with the soul of a newborn, and know I’m in the presence of the divine.

I can remember how funny and fuzzy puppies are, and believe they have personalities.

I can sit down when my brain only wants to whine my own failings and I can write a story about someone else’s failings. I can make that understandable to my reader, (if I ever get one.)

I can render a watercolor painting on the first try, if the right spirit moves me.

I can spend hours at a beach, take hundreds of photos, tempt fate with the undertow, and end up with joy and wet clothing.

And I can talk with my dog, who does understand me.

Who is it again, with the deficit? Whose brain is it, again, that is badly-ordered? What was the reason, again, that I felt so defeated about that messy house?