Did I mention that I have attention deficit disorder? Yup. When I’m tired or stressed out, or I forget to take my pills, it’s almost impossible for me to stay on topic, to follow a single thought to its end. You would never have guessed, right? But of course that’s another reason why I’m writing this Commentary in all its many branches, and branches of branches, and branches of branches of branches. It suits my mind.
I was going to say something else, but I’ve forgotten what it was. Look, here’s a picture of a pony!
Oh, right. I was going to say that although the ADD (or ADHD, or AD/HD, as my copyeditor at Farrar Straus “insists” it should be) diagnosis turned out to be a boon for me, in that it got me admitted to St. Hubert’s Prep after I was expelled from the Nederland School for Boys, I think it’s actually complete bullshit. Consider, e.g., this description of so-called “adult ADHD” in Paul H. Wender, M.D.’s ADHD: Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Children and Adults (Oxford UP, 2000):
Our patients experience the same sorts of problems with attentiveness that we observe in ADHD [copyeditor: sic!] children. They are often able to concentrate on material that interests them but not on what doesn’t. […] They do not hear what their spouse said, and, as I will mention later, they impulsively reply before she [why she?] is finished or finish her sentence for her. […] One woman [unmarried, presumably, or a lesbian?] reported that the following kinds of experiences kept her from working when she sat down in her study: first she would hear the refrigerator go on; next she would respond to the cat coming through the cat door; then she would be disturbed by the continuing rustling of leaves on the roof. When she was later treated with stimulant medication, she reported that not only could she focus on her work but she was able to shut out such distracting noises.
The first thing to notice about this paragraph is that it’s totally inconsistent. Dr. Wender begins by asserting that ADHD adults notice only what they’re interested in and ends with an example of a woman who can’t help noticing sounds which are (unless she’s a leaf enthusiast?) presumably of little interest to her. Sandwiched between these contradictory assertions is the ADHD adult’s tendency to finish other people’s sentences, which, in my experience, doesn’t reflect an absence of attention at all—it’s a product of the sentence-finisher’s impatience with the redundancy of spoken language and the slowness of most speakers to arrive at the ends of their sentences despite this redundancy, which makes the end of most sentences, especially spoken sentences, easy to predict.
So, um, what? People with ADHD are interested in what they’re interested in, alert to their surroundings, and impatient with informational redundancy. If anything, this makes me think that ADHD adults suffer from a surplus of attention. What was that sound? The cat door, or someone breaking into the house? Sorry—those are the things you notice when you have an attention deficit. According to Dr. Wender, we would be better off if we could shut the noises out, but, come on, isn’t that what we—we Americans, I mean—have been doing? Taking pills so we don’t have to listen to the sounds coming from outside?
What I want, what I think would be good, is if we could let our attention wander a little more. Maybe if we paid attention to what interested us, rather than focusing on our work so much, we would have a fucking clue about what’s going on in the world beyond our desks.
I seem to have forgotten to take my pills again.