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I’ve been going through, sorting, and packing up the thousands of books that have found their way into my world. I came across this paragraph that I’d underlined — quite boldly, too. It describes me, not the all-the-time me, but a big part of me.

These are the daydreamers. These are the kids–often girls–who sit in the back of the class and twirl their hair through their fingers while staring out the window and thinking long, long thoughts. These are the adults who drift off during conversations or in the midst of reading a page. These are the people, often highly imaginative, who are building stairways to heaven in the midst of conversations, or writing plays in their minds while not finishing their day’s work, or nodding agreeably and politely while not hearing what is being said at all. They steal away silently, without the noisemaking of their hyperactive brethren, but they steal away just the same.

From page 153 (Parts of the Elephant chapter) of Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder from Childhood through Adulthood.

To be fair, I still do this quite often, but I most often “check out” when I feel trapped by something that doesn’t have anything to do with me, that I can’t change, can’t fix, can’t be bothered to understand.

The friend who babbles about his hard life hiring nannies and arguing with the maid? Yeah, I’m plotting stories in my head. The meeting where I learn we’re supposed to be using books we don’t have? Can’t do it… I’m mountain biking in my mind. The pep talk I’ve heard before? I’ve changed the station in my head to vacation planning. The drunk friend telling that same story again? I’m off to consider snippets of dialogue.

Hours can pass in this unfocused state. Lots of interesting thoughts pass by, I can be engaged in a lot of creative enterprises, but relatively little gets done.

From page 154 of the same book.

This, I’ve mostly overcome. I let my mind wander when I feel like I’m wasting time not wandering. (Listening to the same story again, listening to unrealistic or impossible requests, driving…) And I carry paper and pens around with me everywhere so that when I break from wandering I can take notes on anything I found out there in my head that I need to keep. Perfect story opening? Goes in the notebook. City we might want to visit one day? Notebook. How to fix a giant plot hole? Notebook. A candle scent I want to buy and try? Notebook. Marketing idea for GISGOV? Notebook.

Which means, all that wandering actually makes me more productive. Keeping track of what I find gives me a list, a source, of imaginative ideas to choose from when I have the time to focus.

As far as “coping” goes, I figure it’s the best of both worlds.

Since childhood, the person with ADD has felt a chronic sense of frustration with failure. Underachieving all along, accused of being stupid or lazy or stubborn, finding the demands of everyday life extraordinarily difficult to keep up with, tuning out instead of tuning in, missing the mark time and again, living with an overflow of energy but an undersupply of self-esteem, the individual with ADD can feel that it is just not worth it to try anymore, that life is too hard, too much of a struggle, that perhaps it would be better if life were to end than to go on.

It is heartening how valiantly people with undiagnosed ADD try in the face of their despair. They don’t give up. They keep pushing. Even when they’ve been knocked down many times before, they stand up to get knocked down again. It is hard to keep them down for good. They tend not to feel sorry for themselves. Rather, they tend to get mad, to get up, to have at it again. In this sense one might say they are stubborn: they just don’t give up. But they remain depressed.

From page 157.

While unflattering, this is is pretty true, too. I’d say a lot of my frustration comes from the years before I figured out all those ways to cope, a feeling of having been “left behind” that gets exaggerated by feeling like I’ve “wasted” a lot of years in education without seeing any kind of payoff that looks good on a resume. I mean, teachers use all those skills employers want: multi-tasking, data analysis, managing human resources, problem-solving, critical thinking, technology, etc., but it’s often hard to convince someone they actually translate. (Trust me, I came from the corporate world before teaching — teaching’s harder, but there’s no real room for “advancement.”)

Maybe this also explains why, now that I’ve found it, I like my martial arts training. Falling down and getting thrown are part of it, but so is getting back up, trying again. It’s also pretty cool to learn that, as awkward as I’ve always been, I can execute a pretty cool weapons kata or three. (Besides, exercise keeps the depression demons at a distance most of the time and gives me a way to fight them when they do come knocking.)

(For the record, The Dropkick Murphys and The Young Dubliners do nothing for keeping hyperactivity at bay.)