Saturday, November 26, 2005

Ailment Files 1

I have ADD, I reckon.

My company has this irritating habit of forcing mandatory 'training' on its employees, apparently believing this to be a panacea for its various weaknesses. The worst of this is when those in the uppermost levels of management become excited about some new marketing philosophy, or efficiency system.

So excited, in fact, that they decide everyone in the entire company would benefit from knowing about it. So they send forth a diktat that all employees - and there are many tens of thousands - shall complete a training course on whatever it is, with a pass mark of >80% by a given date. This has happened several times in my six years.

I find these courses horrible. I just can't focus on anything I'm not fundamentally interested in - and these are thoroughly uninteresting subjects. By the time I reach the end of the course, I've forgotten what happened at the start.

So I always make use of the mechanism employed - I assume - by most of the other tens of thousands of employees: I get the crib sheet. There's always one around by the time I get round to doing the course, and in fact by that time the said sheet is usually pretty sophisticated, with answers to all the multiple choices. This sheet allows everyone to achieve passes in the 90th percentile, and everyone's happy - except for those of us who don't like such subterfuge, but don't see any choice.

I can say with complete honesty that I can recall nothing whatsoever of any of these courses. I don't even remember the subjects, but I do know that none of this rubbish has ever had any benefit to my work. At all. Ever.

But the most recent one did provide me with a revelation. I was gazing glumly at a screenful of hypothetical situation intended to illustrate a point. I was part-way down the page, and had found, yet again, my concentration drifting off onto a totally unrelated subject. For the umpteenth time, I mentally slapped myself, and tried to focus back on the text.

And of course my concentration drifted again. Why is studying so difficult for me? Why can't I concentrate on this stuff? It's as though I have an inability to concentrate. As though my concentration is defective. As if I have a deficit in my attention. An attention deficit… heeeyy…

So I went looking. I found a WHO paper with an ADD assessment, did it, and got an A+. I read up on symptoms and experiences, and they fit. I signed up to an Adult ADD online support group, and found myself in a crowd of people whose lives were exactly like mine. School had been a disaster for them, as it had been for me. Though acknowledged to be at least as intelligent as their more successful classmates, their academic record had gone into free-fall in the first few years of school. Few of them made it to university.

Their work careers were similarly chaotic: dozens of jobs, many ending acrimoniously. Few advance far up the chain of promotion, most remaining in low-paid and blue-collar positions.

(Which makes me, at least at the moment, a long way off the curve. I'm in a senior position, dealing with complex technical projects, and being paid way above the national average. I have no debts or relationship problems. It wasn't always thus: 15 years ago I was penniless, single, lonely, squatting in a hovel in Whitechapel, and developing a dangerous heroin habit. But right now I'm much less of a typical ADD adult.)

And ADD produces other, less directly related issues. Inability to finish things, once the interesting part is done - leading to work, and life, littered with projects started and then abandoned or forgotten.

I learned that Adult ADD (aADD or ADDA) had taken some time to be recognised as a real disorder. In the US, it's now well-established, but here in the UK its very existence was ignored until very recently. ADD in children is a fully-recognised phenomenon across the world, but for some reason it was always assumed that the disorder somehow simply went away in adulthood. I suspect that the symptoms become less overt over time as the individual learns coping mechanisms, and also that adults' ability to concentrate is under less scrutiny than their younger counterparts.

What treatments were there for this condition? Sadly, not much. Here in the UK, even those are hard to get at. Only a few medics are able to prescribe them, because medications like Ritalin are not licensed for use on adults, so GPs can't do so until their use has been blessed by one of these few. Perhaps there's some sense in requiring a formal diagnosis before handing out the pills, but there must be many ADDA people out there going untreated because of these obstacles.

The more I read up on Ritalin, the less I liked what I heard. It's a stimulant, an upper, and I really don't like those. They tend to make me uncomfortable unless balanced by a suitable downer. As I understand it, the paradoxical reaction that occurs in ADHD kids is one of the diagnostics for the condition: this upper makes them sleepy. Been there, done that, but it's not a peaceful experience. It's tooth-grindingly edgy, and no fun at all. If the stuff is another one of these, then small wonder that the kids don't like to take them, and patient compliance is a problem.

Apart from these, nothing to speak of, apart from the usual pile of 'complementary' junk. There's some Behaviour Modification stuff, but it seems that these are likely to be coping mechanisms, and I reckon I can work out a few of my own.

I'm doing so. Armed with my new knowledge, I know in advance the likely outcome of some events.
  • I know that things I start will probably never be finished, so I don't start them unless I expect to enjoy the journey, and actually reaching the destination isn't that important.

  • I know that I can be distracted utterly by almost any diversion. In the middle of something important, the slightest attention-getting interruption will make me drop the original project and forget it entirely. I have to structure an environment that constantly forces me to be faced with the important work.

  • And I know that studying something that doesn't interest me is a useless exercise. I have to avoid it wherever possible, and if I'm forced to, I have to set my own and others' expectations of the result.

I've located a private clinic I can go to, to get a formal diagnosis and then be referred to one of the licensed docs for a prescription. But I rather think I'll try to work this out on my own for a while. I have some things in my favour. I'm reasonably clever, and it seems I can make out in whatever field I find myself in. I'm stuck with being a Generalist, because specialising would mean having to learn things about a single subject beyond the point where it really interests me. And generalists are useful, too.

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