Exploring ADD: the ill-defined inner itch, addiction, putting the horse in front of the right cart

I’ll do another pain-digestion, self-analysis post though. Just to get going writing again.

Also, having “a life” (attempting to interact with broader society more), it’s harder to blog without giving specifics and details. Which I don’t like. Apparently my concept of “privacy” is pretty inverted – no problem laying my feelings and dilemmas bare before the witnessing internet. Not so much concrete facts, events, locations, persons, etc. I prefer to keep these shrouded in mystery, but – yeah it takes effort to generalise and abstract so much as to make them unrecognisable.

I wonder now if this is somehow funny, or not. The way I would often tell a friend on the phone exactly *how* I am, the current dramas and dilemmas, but I’m letting them guess what country I’m in, based on the background sounds, over several weeks. That’s far too private to just dish out frontally.

Anyways, for the folks reading this having perhaps gone through a burnout or similar story, you will recognise this (and perhaps the passionate ADD folk too?): I managed to shift a certain situation in my life (or two, actually; if not three) towards the better. Then I went all-out and thought, heck, I’m now gonna solve the remaining one or two permanently, and NOW. Yay. Join the fray, use the good energy moment to the fullest (yes, panic, that it’s unique, and soon I’ll be back in the dark night), do it now and do it fast and by sheer force (no, I guess I’ll never learn the lesson that sheer force on impulsive passion … usually wrecks your body if it’s already been wrecked once. Need to work in concert with the Tao, (un)fortunately.).

Totally incidentally, in the same phase I’d been exploring ADD (via some positive and witty podcasts) as a complement to knowing about autism and neurodiversity in general. It’s a pity that there seem to be few ways – none that I’ve found so far – to learn about unique human cognitive traits outside a pathologising and problem-emphasising context.

Anyways, this was at the suggestion of two people who for some reason thought I had it – cause I’ve had so many countries lived, professions tried, multiple disparate degrees completed (or not completed), and intense passions that shift too unpredictably to actually have a profession of any kind. I get bored fast, or jump to something more exciting, or suddenly have the urge to pack up and move and become an itinerant bard, or whatever random thing I’m usually not formally or sometimes even informally qualified for (though you know where I’ve got certain formal qualifications stuck at that point in life, based on … experiences?) – certainly true.

Don’t think it’s a disorder though (just like autism isn’t – doesn’t mean it can’t make life harder (like, say, being gay or trans can), but that’s different from something being “wrong with” someone; I’d say it’s a constitution). But I thought I’ll check it out, and indeed there are aspects that I relate to, and there are hacks that work – that was the main point. Just like learning about autism. Cause the hacks made by autistic people work for me. I don’t care too much for organisation, but ADD folk seems to have hacks for some stuff like random attacks of creative passion and fascination, that then abandon you in the same fashion just when you’re stuck in the middle of the next grand project (and by G, how do I get out of this honourably now?! Like, I’ve just organised a visa and am on a plane to another continent, or I’ve spent my savings on a multi-year training that makes me want to throw up in week 2 … indeed, the way I’ve gotten out of it was usually dishonourable. Though no exorbitant self-blame here. And I actually don’t regret most of the “crazy” stuff.).

If any of that interests you, I recommend especially the ADD workbook by Lynn Weiss.

There and elsewhere (think in totallyadd videos) I’ve learnt that the thing also describes a particular emotional style (or range of them). That I probably have. Impatient (friend remarked how I freak out and complain in front of every red pedestrian light; and I’d rather walk 5 km than wait 10 min for the bus … can’t count he times when I’d be too “itchy” to wait 5-10 min, thinking by that time I’ll be at the next stop so can as well start walking, then lose the bus, not have the patience to wait for the next one, rinse and repeat, until I’ve walked the whole way), irritable (evident), and intensely fluctuating – the upside is the enthusiasm, occasional wit, a certain sparkliness. Everyone is different, but the short fuse, below-zero tolerance for boredom, and sort of condensed-in-the-now way of experiencing time (if I’m not hungry now, I can’t imagine I’ll be in the future; hence at a fairly mature age I still have to be bugged and nagged into packing food on trips; I still can’t remember that when I get hungry, I’ll get irritable and miserable) – these are factors that apply, and they were good to learn about. In that I never realised this stuff doesn’t agonise or present such difficulty for most people, and that hacks are called for.

And frankly while I’ve usually attributed certain talents and pleasant experiences to my autistic side (like that ecstatic sensations are always around the corner just from taking a walk in nature or looking at rain or a bug or sth.), the ADD type traits I tend to see as the stuff that makes me annoying (to others; like, cursing at traffic lights; stealing their lunch boxes) and stressed personally (like, always going hungry cause well, I wasn’t hungry when I left), but it’s healthy, to be honest, to admit that. I guess.

And yeah, upside – my life has been seriously interesting so far. I probably wouldn’t have dared to do half the interesting and adventurous stuff I did if I weren’t emotional and impulsive, and while emotional intensity can mean drama when skill lacks – after I got down some skills, I do think experiencing stuff deeply on an emotional level and indulging the occasional ecstatic overexcited flight of fancy just adds depth and color to life. (Yeah, it’s also stressful and a lot to deal with, but is there any life that isn’t?)

Regarding ADD traits, one motive I found especially enlightening is that … people do lots of stuff out of a need of stimulation – sensation, intensity, interest. Some people need more, need to do more crazy stuff to satisfy that urge. ADD folks in particular. I think I clearly share that trait, though it’s mellowed out by the fact that I’m extremely sensitive in most ways so I’m usually anxious and scared enough to not do stuff that’s too stupid. But here’s the clincher – people do illogical and harmful stuff out of a need for stimulation, when we don’t figure out that that’s what we need (and how to get it in healthy ways).

I read a book and a half by Ed Hallowell, and in one of then he describes addictions and the “itch” that has no scratch, particularly for some ADD folk. Constant inner background itch that wants us to do “something”, but we don’t know what … driving us nuts, and for example alcohol numbs it out. And drama satisfies it to some degree. Point being, some people will instinctively and sort of actively start up emotional drama (or dangerous behaviours), in order to get a portion of passion, excitement, and adventure – in a totally stupid way, of course. (Others will do even more destructive things, but for the most part I haven’t … Ok, sparing some episodes which I’m not going to describe here.)

He says lots of artists and creatives feel the itch, and creativity is one of the things that eases and satisfies it. In a healthy way. Exercise, and I would say – in my case – especially physical adventure and challenge also really, really, really calms and satisfies it, again in a helpful way. Ambitious and challenging projects that we are passionate about do calm it in a sustainable and often very beneficial way. Joy, passion, risk, ecstasy maybe. Maybe (this is my personal hypothesis) some of us do need these intense, almost altered states of consciousness on a regular basis – or else we’ll seek the in weird ways, not knowing what we’re seeking.

In sum, there’s lots of cool stuff we can do to scratch the itch. But when we don’t know what it is and what it wants from us, we may end up going about it the wrong way (sort of like trying to sleep or smoke when you’re hungry, rather than …. eating). Whether I count myself with the ADD folk or not, I think this applies to a broader range of people. And I count myself, without a doubt, among those who feel that permanent, deep inner itch. Heck, I think I journaled about it as a teen. I saw it in images.

And yes, there’s a multi-generational history of addiction in the neurodivergent part of the family.

And I did that thing Hallowell describes. After reading about it, I observed the situations in which I bring up drama (when, in all deep honesty, I don’t really know where it suddenly comes from), suddenly form urgent and grand dilemmas, abruptly get thrown into intense doomsday fantasies and not only stress myself out, but often pour them out on someone. I find something to panic about, or something to get annoyed about – when there’s no challenge my mind and emotions and body are working on, and heck – my system needs one. So it’ll make one 🙂 like, for example arguing with my partner to get the thrill of then being able to panic about what if we split up and I’ll have to move to Siberia as a beggar and … brilliant source of “challenge”, yes, and it “works” – this finally explained to me why I often feel weirdly serene and “satisfied” after drama. But let’s be honest, sort of excruciating in the long run.

Better go do sports, plan a trip, or finally write that book (or get intellectually challenged in some other way). Better even, do that difficult and risky thing you’ve been dreaming about but keep putting off – learning about ADD traits makes me more inclined to take that path. I need rest and support, but I won’t be happy if I coddle myself.

So maybe that’s not so much learning about ADD as another way to pathologise the misfits of bureaucratic mass culture, but learning about the need for stimulation (adventure, risk, novelty, ecstasy) as a human parameter, a parameter in the psyche that needs to be taken into account when trying to live with satisfaction. At least for me, it was a major “aha” moment when I understood that I need to know my individual level of stimulation-seeking (it’s far higher than average in some ways), and take care to seek it in the right directions and contexts. Basically put that unruly horse in front of a constructive and/or meaningful cart.

(Or else it’s gonna run mad all over my life and mind, ouch.)

Working on this!

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