Adventures in ADD: Occam’s Razor

By Horst.Burkhardt (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Horst.Burkhardt (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Occam’s Razor is the idea that the simplest explanation is most likely the truth.

So when confronted my inability to complete work, to focus, and simply pay attention, the temptation is to call myself lazy.

Two things are going on here.

First, there’s the implication that there’s a choice. Second that the majority of research into the subject of ADD and ADHD is simply irrelevant.

I have a great number of things I want to do. What I don’t want is to be so foggy in my head that I can barely focus my eyes. I don’t want to be behind on work. I don’t want to be procrastinating and avoiding things because I think they’ll be too hard. I really don’t want to take double the time to complete something because I’ve accidentally missed a step or have simply forgotten how to do it. I don’t want to dive down rabbit holes searching for solutions, like Elmer Fudd after Bugs Bunny, when it’s obvious to everyone else that Bugs is simply standing beside the hole wearing a dress and talking falsetto.

I want to finish things. More than anything. When I can’t, because I can’t focus, I can’t concentrate, and I just want to stop, I really do feel lazy. I see other people able to do things. Why can’t I?

But the problem is that laziness implies choice. It’s a choice to not do things because you can’t be bothered. I’m fighting tooth and nail through a solid fog to just stay standing. And that’s what the research seems to conclude. I can find 127000 results in Google Scholar on ADD and ADHD. Not all of them will support the diagnosis, of course, but the fact there IS research going on means this is much more than mere laziness. First cab off the rank is Steven J Farone et., al. who say:

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a behavioral disorder believed to affect up to 1 in 20 children in the USA (1). It is characterized by symptoms of inattention and/or impulsivity and hyperactivity which can significantly impact on many aspects of behavior and performance, both at school and at home. In approximately 80% of children with ADHD, symptoms persist into adolescence and may even continue into adulthood.

They did a project to pull together research on ADD and ADHD from around the world. The objective was to identify if the condition was culturally American in nature or was something that affected people everywhere, which is basically what they concluded:

Analysis of these studies suggests that the prevalence of ADHD is at least as high in many non-US children as in US children, with the highest prevalence rates being seen when using DSM-IV diagnoses.

We’ve got the DSM (Diagnostic & Statistical Manual version 5 now), which apparently gives a little more clarity to the diagnostic criteria for ADD and ADHD.

But it’s all very well having medical science back up what I experience. It’s only half the solution: the other half is how to live. It’s how to look the boss in the eye when I haven’t done something I said I would. It’s how to address the problem with peers and friends, and to deal with the internal disappointment when I realise I’ve become so absent, so detached that I’ve let people I care about down.

A diagnosis helps in a lot of ways. But sometimes saying “It’s the ADD” feels like a terrible excuse for poor manners; it relies on other people’s patience. And it relies on Occam’s razor being ignored as it swooshes down at me like it’s held by Sweeney Todd planning his next meal.



Adventures in ADD > Hyperfocus

windup_alarm_clockHyperfocus is a useful tool in many situations. It allows you to cut out all distractions and focus hard on a single task.

What it doesn’t do is allow for anything else to enter the situation, like a realisation I’ve been doing the same thing for three hours, sitting motionless other than the tapping of my fingers on the keyboard. It doesn’t allow for the realisation that my shoulders are hard as rocks, the base of my skull feels like a cobra coiled and about to strike and chest tight as a barrel. I barely breathe while sitting like this, just short quiet, silent breaths. My face is tight and eyes lose their peripheral vision.

Hyperfocus is great when you really need to get something done. It’s not good in tech support when I get focused on a problem. I’m genuinely trying to help. But the client needs the computer back, not to have me trying the eleventh variation on a fix.

Exceptions to the rule always apply, like that time MS Word failed totally for all Mac users after a particular update. The clients needed Office because that’s the ubiquitous word processor. So I had to give them something to work with. But it still took time. And after an hour and a half tweaking, I finally gave up and tried installing Libre Office as an alternative. They weren’t happy. I wasn’t happy. But it was all I had.

And a distraction like actually asking for help didn’t figure either. Because when you’re in hyperfocus, the world stops existing. I might as well be in a little bubble universe. There’s probably a story in that.

But overall, setting alarms seems the order of the day. Something annoying for preference. I used to use the “pomodoro” method (20 minutes work, 10 down, rinse, repeat) when writing essays for School. But that was a stunningly easy alarm to ignore. For me, bright, muted tinkling bells aren’t enough, they just remind me of that time I did Vipassana Meditation in the Blue Mountains which was a week of no talking; was hell on my back though (computer work doesn’t build core muscles).

No, I need an old-school alarm-clock sound, perhaps with fire engines, Proximity alarms and at least a Radiation warning thrown in for good measure.

And to not just tap “Mute” or “Pause” when it happens.

Maybe an electric shock in the chair?

Adventures in ADD > What was I expecting?

screen-shot-2016-11-21-at-9-40-17-pmSo a couple of months ago, when I started realising my ADD was flaring up, I decided to seek out a support group.

I found one too. They sent out the details and all seemed well.

Note to self: read the whole email.

I saw the photo on the message, thought “I know where that is” and duly cycled down there.

When I got there, I thought to myself “This doesn’t look familiar.”

So I hunted for the email and read again. I read a little further this time, recognised another landmark, and went on my way. I would be perhaps five minutes late.

I duly arrived, locked my bike up and looked around. And I found nothing.

I read a little further. Turned out there was a detail I’d missed. The location wasn’t where I thought it was on the second attempt, that location was the nearest train station. The actual location was another half a kilometre down the road.

So rather annoyed with myself, I unlocked my bike, jumped back on and headed to the third location.

So when I arrived, I found a room full of people. Being out of breath, late and keyed-up from the ride and annoyance with myself, I was already sensitive. This room was full of people with ADD and ADHD so I was flooded.

As the meeting continued, I withdrew into myself. There were people searching for answers, people who knew they had the answers and sat making judgements, there were people on and off drugs, and at times it seemed like bedlam.

I made a hasty retreat at the end and calmed down over a Chai at Babka on Brunswick Street. And as I unwound the past two hours, it occurred to me that sometimes I can be a very disorganised person, over-sensitive, occasionally hyper-focused; I can sometimes be fixed in my thinking and I am sometimes even lacking tact and diplomacy.

So what the hell was I expecting going to a group of similar people?

Adventures in ADD > Might just have cost me my job

driftwood_shoreI can actually feel it when I start to drift. There’s a fuzziness around the back of my head, I defocus; my eyes are staring forwards, my mind is blank. It’s peaceful but there’s a hint of disquiet, like I’m trying to move but can’t.

When I was a kid, I suffered night terrors, that moment when you think you’re awake but your body is frozen. This is a little like that, just without the fear part. I’m zoned out to the point where fear doesn’t even happen.

I imagine that some time in the future there will either be a cure, or people with this ability will be in great demand. Perhaps there’s a story in there somewhere? For now, there’s a big problem.

One common issue people with ADD experience is a misunderstanding of their present position. I thought I was going okay. But I wasn’t by any stretch.

I remember one time this happened at School. A year nine test went south in a huge way. I thought I’d done fine. I was sent to the school counsellor. She didn’t have a clue what to do. I didn’t know. My parents didn’t know. We all muddled through.

And that’s what’s happened here. I thought things were improving. But no they weren’t. Not by any stretch. This has been creeping up for years now, and only worsened in the last twelve months. It’s worsened to the point where my boss has been forced to take action. And he’s a kind and decent man who’s thrown me one final lifeline, which will at the very least keep me and my cat fed. But it won’t pay the rent.

One of the things that makes things worse for me is high stress, and there’s little more stressful than moving. All right, perhaps living in Syria being bombed. So I’m experiencing a very first world problem.

Subjectivity doesn’t help though.

I will survive. I have some initial plans. I’ll be upset tonight. But I’ll get through it. Because I’ve been here before.

Adventures in ADD > organisation and forgetfulness pt1

It's the smell of freedom...
It’s the smell of freedom…

So, my Attention Defecit Disorder has flared up recently (well, probably over the past 2-3 years) and I’ve only just noticed.

So one way I use to get around the forgetfulness and general distractibility is to write lists. Lots of lists.

I usually sit in bed in the morning with a cuppa and dutifully write things out. Seems to work well.

So as I’m a computer geek, I thought I might see about finding an electronic organiser for myself.

Microsoft Outlook has email, tasks, a calendar and a bunch of other features which might work.

And, I’m not going there. Why? Because I work with MS products (and Outlook in particular) in my tech support job. And it’s a horribly over-complex, over-engineered piece of shite lickspittle which just makes life difficult.

So onto other things.

I’ve tried Evernote four times and didn’t really like the interface. And baulked at paying an annual fee for it.

My next stop is Google. My mail is with these guys, so why not just stick with what I know. Yes, they’re “evil” and are harvesting everything I do (and have been since 2008), but I’m relatively secure in the fact that they’re the only people who know about me, and my online life has joined the electronic gestalt of the thousands of others who use the service.

Where was I?

Yes, Google Calendar has “Tasks” (but you’ve got to right-click the “Reminders” option in the calendar to turn it into that).

I can add tasks to days, or in a general bucket.

And it seems to work okay.

My only problem with this is that there’s no more room on the page. I’d like to be able to expand the view to see more, or get more detail.

I’ve just accidentally found a way to get that, a full screen tasks page. But again, it’s hidden. I google searched for it and found an odd URL which I tried:

And yet, it’s a visually unsatisfying interface. And cuts me off from the calendar.

So onto other things I think.

Adventures with a hairy four year old

I’ve come to the conclusion that pets are just hairy four year olds.

Editing space

A_broken_pencilI’ve been stuck in “Editing Space” for the past two months, working on chapters 1-3 of The Tome.

Editing Space is curved in on itself, and time doesn’t quite work the same as out here in Normal Space. In Normal Space, time is linear, a progression, point A to point B.

Editing Space works differently. Here time is circular, a backwards and forwards progression from point A to point B, to point A again, maybe including point C or D if you’re very lucky, but then the loop begins again.

In short, if I’m editing, it will go on and on and on.

There are tricks to get me out of this, and return to Normal Space.

Reading out loud helps A Lot. It seems to interrupt the spacetime continuum of Editing Space. It means that I can hear the words and trip over the stuff I thought was clever or interesting, turning them to pale brown mush, like the chocolate mousse which I was trying to whip up last Sunday but never actually managed to get the consistency right. Mainly because I had RSI of the elbow. No food mixer you see.

I said tricks, but I haven’t found any more than that one. There’s got to be others out there. This is working for me right now.

In related news, I found this today: Here’s how to finish that fucking book you monster by Chuck Wendig.