Monday, June 23, 2008

Don't believe in yesterday.

While parting company with my friends C. (a guy) and P. (a lady) one recent evening, C. wrapped me in a bear hug and proceeded to lift me off the floor. The instant that my feet left the ground, I had the immediate thought that many women unfortunately have: Put me down, please! I had no issue with C. elevating me, but I do have issues about my weight. So I said to C., "Hey, don't do that." To which he replied:

"Why? You're not heavy?"

I shot a look of surprise to P., who concurred with C. by exclaiming, "You're not!"

Well, then!

Several years ago, before I knew both C. and P., I weighed a lot more than I do now. Even though I still have some more weight to lose to reach my goal, my mind is usually still stuck in the days when eating stuff covered with whipped cream served as the antidote to my misery. And whenever I chat with my latest crush, I sometimes think of myself as that awkward eighth grader I once was, complete with giant glasses, braces, and (holy smokes!) leg warmers.

My ADD, and perhaps yours, provides ample examples of other messages in the mind that keep repeating over and over. For me, any time that I'm late for work, procrastinate on responding to an email, arrive 10 minutes late to meet someone, or get a late fee on a bill, I instinctively think of mypre-ADD days when the aforementioned stuff happened pretty regularly. As a result, a litany of negative messages bombard my head. So when I'm late for work, all I can think of is how I yet again failed to get to the office on time. Never mind the fact that I stay late to make up the time and also get my work done. I still make myself feel bad for something that only I judge myself for.

Similarly, I judged my friend C. for the comment that he made. I felt that he said I wasn't heavy only to indulge me. However, C.'s not one to sugarcoat his thoughts and realized that perhaps he was correct. When I saw him a few days later, I mentioned that his comment made me feel good. But just for good insanely neurotic measure, I asked him to confirm that he wasn't just me. C. looked at me with one eyebrow askew and said, "No," in a tone of voice that would have been the same had I asked him to swap Super Bowl tickets for a marathon viewing of Lifetime movies.

This vignette has made me think a lot about how my thoughts often don't reflect who I am now. And how about you? How many of your thought patterns have to do with the you who you used to be? And how come they're still hanging around?

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Sleep Cure*

Last evening, I switched on "60 Minutes" and found it pretty much devoted to one topic for the entire program instead of the usual three segments. If you didn't see it, you're probably thinking that it covered Iraq or the oil crisis or the mortgage meltdown or the Presidential candidates. Nope. Instead it covered something even more important.


That surprised me. Personally, I had my money on global warming. But as I watched the fabulous Lesley Stahl delve into the subject in her usual engaging manner, I became a true believer. We don't have a more essential function than getting our rest. Link here to read or watch segments of the broadcast, and I'm sure you'll agree. My takeaway? I don't know when exactly the polar ice caps will melt, but I do know that, if I don't get enough sleep, I'm screwed.

Given all of the sage advice I heard, you may guess what this ADDer did later that night. Go to bed early? Nah, that's too obvious and sane. Rather, I stayed up waaaay too late on the Internets, and got maybe 5 hours of sleep. I would have had less sleep but I didn't hear my alarm, which led me to oversleep. I got to work an hour late, something I haven't done in years.

The moral of the story is definitely do as I say, not as I do!

One of the most compelling parts of the "60 Minutes" broadcast came in a point that compared sleep-deprived brains to brains of folks with psychiatric disorders. When they took MRIs of the people and their respective brains, the brains of the sleep-deprived showed the same functional deficits as the brains of the folks with psychiatric disorders. In the "how does this affect you" category, if you take a brain saddled with ADD and deprive it from sleep, you've made things super-difficult for yourself.

Intellectually, I know all of that. But suppose it's after midnight and you're reading clicking around IMDB to read the filmographies of the entire cast of Oceans 11 AND you have ADD, your brain doesn't want to you hit the off switch on the computer. Maybe you'll let yourself pick one more actor, but then you find that you can't choose between Casey Affleck and Bernie Mac. You decide to pick Casey, which tempts you to click on Good Will Hunting, which tempts you to figure out who played the Harvard guy with the blond ponytail...

...which then brings you until 3:00AM. In a few hours, your kids will want breakfast and your employer wants you to work.

Even though I know that sleep is good for the ol' noggin, the thing that will actually pry me offline is much more superficial: my looks. If I get less that 6 hours of sleep, which unfortunately I often do on weekdays, I end up looking pasty with big dark circles under my eyes that take expensive concealer to somewhat cover up. I also retain lots of water in my belly when I don't get enough sleep, which makes getting dressed in the morning oh so much fun.

I'm going to try try try to get enough shuteye, at least tonight. I don't want to say that from hereon, I'm going to get ample sleep on a weeknight, because I know I'll get annoyed with myself if I slip up. I know that I'll be sharper at work and get less snippy with people. But really, if getting more sleep means I can spend my concealer budget at Sephora on lipstick instead, then that's an even better perk.

*Not to be confused with the sleep cure in "The Valley of The Dolls," which, by the way, is the best trashy novel ever written.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Researchers say the darndest things.

A long time ago, I learned something unexpected from a brilliant researcher who I worked for. When I offered to pick him some lunch for him at McDonald's, he requested a sandwich, fries, and a soda. So I asked him if he wanted it Supersized, to which he responded:

"Oh? Supersized? What's that?"

And here's the moral of the story: when it comes to academic matters, the man is peerless. But when it comes to practical matters, he's not your guy.

When I saw the press coverage last week concerning the new article about ADD and the workplace, I couldn't help but be reminded of that tale of my old boss. For those of you who missed it, I'll summarize it here to save you from slogging through the tedious passive-voice writing that academics enjoy using:

  • Researchers interviewed "nationally representative samples of people" in a bunch of different countries with questionnaires that would determine whether they had ADD.

  • Did I mention that DSM-IV criteria for ADHD "were developed with children in mind and offer only limited guidance regarding adult diagnosis," even though these are the criteria they based their ADHD questionnaires on?

  • Also they based the whole study on interview data, which can be considered the weakest form of evidence? Sorry, I digress...I'm an unproductive ADDer, y'know...

  • They also asked questions about "role performance", which questions such as "Beginning yesterday and going back 30 days, how many days out of the past 30 were you totally uable to work or carry out your normal activities?’’ and ‘‘How many days out of the past 30 were you able to work and carry out your normal activities, but had to cut down on what you did or not get as much done as usual?’’

  • A lot of people whose questionnaires indicated that they screened positive for ADD (as if it were chicken pox or mono, sheesh) were asked if they ever received treatment for ADD, and most hadn't.

  • Based on all of that, we arrive at the gripping conclusion: "The above results raise the question whether adult ADHD is a candidate for targeted workplace screening and treatment programs. ... It might be cost-effective from the employer perspective to implement workplace screening programs with such a scale to detect and provide treatment for workers with ADHD."

Cost-effective? As if! This notion is an attorney's dream. Any employer (in the U.S., at least) would get their butts sued on privacy grounds.

And never mind the obvious illogical leap the article makes. To oversimplify, spike the office water cooler with Ritalin, and employers will squeeze oodles of productivity out of their unfocused hoardes with ADD.

Eh, not so much.

All of us ADDers know that taking the drugs gives you focus. Drugs don't provide ADDers with focus on things that we don't care about. Once during a performance review, another old boss commented, "You like doing the things that you enjoy, and don't like doing the things that you don't enjoy." Heck yeah! In other words, if you like the work that you do, then you will most likely stay focused. If work doesn't interest you, you're more likely to surf Amazon for stuff to buy just to entertain yourself.

The thing is, ADDers may have difficultly finding the right occupation or setting. We get attracted to the shiny, fun stuff and leave the rest in our wake. And face it, some jobs just aren't all that interesting. We've all worked them before. While non-ADDers probably have an easier time muddling through the less enjoyable parts of jobs and careers, getting our ADD selves to do things that don't interest us presents a challenge of epic proportions. As a result, we tend to be less productive because the work doesn't interest us.

I'll make it clear - I'm not justifying ADDers slacking on the job. Not at all. However, the study didn't measure the type of work (other than blue/white collar, etc) that participants did, nor did it mentioned levels of job satisfaction.

You'll find this same nugget of sage advice in a companion interview with the good Dr. Hallowell. When asked what's been most helpful to him in dealing with his own ADD, he included "find the right job" in his list. Exactly.

But never mind getting the right job, folks. Academics know what's best for you! And they us how best to get the ball rolling further on in their conclusion:

"The obvious next step from a public health perspective, given these findings, is to evaluate the extent to which best-practices outreach and treatment would result in improvement in functioning that might have a positive return on-investment for employers."

Hey docs, would you like that Supersized?

All of the authors of this article earn their lving at prestigious universities and medical centers. No doubt they also likely have tenure. Thus, they likely are concerned about their job security as much as they're concerned about the meal size options at fast food restaurants. In short, the idea of employers screening their staff for any disorder - physical or mental - disturbs me. In the cozy world of academic research, the docs probably never considered the ramifications of their conclusion. I know my response if my employer handed me a questionnaire and a pencil. Never mind that, though. Like I said earlier, I'm sure that my employer's attorneys would put the kibosh on the office ADD quizzes before they'd see the light of day.

As someone who was diagnosed with ADD pretty far into my career, I do feel that having treatment for ADD earlier in my working life certainly would have made my life easier. But having my ADD uncovered by my (or any!) employer and being known as "the one with ADD" would have felt uncomfortable, awkward, strange, and definitely exploitive.

So folks, if you have ADD or think that you might, spend your energies on figuring out what your bliss is. And then follow it. It might sound trite, but don't forget that being easily distracted at work might mean that there's something out there that's more enjoyable to do. And that could mean being the best burrito maker, a number cruncher, or the leader of the free world.

I know all of this myself because lately I've also been doing a lot of searching for my career bliss. It's not easy. But I know that spending time thinking about it will certainly be worthwile. And when I find it, it'll be good. And I'll have fries with that, please.