Attention Deficit Disorder

ADD

My Way of Doing “Art”: ADD

ADD and ADHD are the same thing, there is no meaningful difference in the classification, in case you thought there was. ADD (or add the H if you want to be outdated) is one of those hot topics in America that really doesn’t make sense to me. Giving children medicine for being overactive is the stupidest shit I have ever heard of. They need more recess, more adventure, less of those four walls and desks. It is a lacking on the part of our schools and our teachers to properly administer education to our leaders, the rebels, the gifted, the children who are not going to just sit and listen to someone who is boring and doesn’t really care about what they are teaching. The ones that need to be doing, not sitting still and listening. Our culture is so inoculated with pharmaceuticals and convenience that these two concepts have cascaded into our schools and we think that our children need to conform to these principles. But you know that there is not a single neuroscientist out there that can define ADD chemically, right? It is a psychiatric label that doesn’t actually exist! The only way to diagnose, like many other bullshit misunderstood psychiatric illnesses, is through personality diagnoses and self diagnosis through personality traits. Neurologists are sure ADD is a variance in the dopamine pathways in the prefrontal cortex and executive center of the brain, but they have no idea why and not a one can define the difference between a normal brain, and an ADD brain beyond personality traits and semi-formulated dopamine regulation theories.

So our culture is labeling something that we don’t understand and calling it negative when children with ADD tend to have higher IQ’s, be more active, more rebellious, more disrespectful towards authority, and unique in their view of the world. Sounds like we need more of those kids…We call it a problem and fix it, when there is nothing to fix; these are our future leaders! This isn’t a disorder, it’s a gift, and we need to understand these children and help them to flourish to find peace and fulfillment. Our schools need to change so these children can succeed in their natural creativity, not stifle it with amphetamine analogues that are just as powerful, maybe sometimes more so, than cocaine.

When I was young, I did a lot of stupid shit. Like pouring water buckets onto other kids heads, or pushing kids off slides, or kicking my sister. That’s how I learn, by making mistakes. I was a pretty wild kid, with a lot of energy and my mom would take me to the park a lot to run around and scream. This translated nicely when it came to sports, but in school, it was no-good. My first grade teacher was the first to say, he is disruptive but he seems to be learning the information just fine himself, he’s distracting the other children. Cue the dramatic piano music and thus begins my relationship with pharmaceutical drugs, particularly amphetamine analogues, and this would continue into my 20s. But I was better behaved for my teachers at school and I didn’t care about taking a pill in the morning. I was six. I even won student of the month. One time, in first grade. I don’t think I was a very good student, as far as the teachers were concerned though, I had great relationships with most of my younger teachers, but as I grew older I grew more disagreeable with my teachers.

Anyways, according to modern neurologists and psychiatrists I have a brain disorder, but no one really knows what causes it, they just know it has to do with the prefrontal cortex and that stimulants seem to provide the stimulus saturation needed to keep someone with ADD focused. So there really is a huge unknown here, something that we really can’t explain with the current state of neuroscience.

So I kept taking medication until high school, which was the first place I started to really question ADD. I read books about it, learned about the personality types of people with ADD and thought it wasn’t so bad. Maybe I would try no medication for a while. One semester during summer school, my history teacher said he was willing to do an experiment. Three weeks on the medication, three weeks off the medication, so see where I performed better. The three weeks with medication won, by far. This is a perfect examples of the problem with the schools; the amount of learning I was achieving was less important than my behavior. I actually think the idea of ADD is 100% a result of America’s current schooling system. I’m not saying that a chemical basis for ADD doesn’t possibly exist, but that our schools should be fully able to handle these students with ease.

I’ll tell you a bit about my personal experience with ADD. Boredom is a constant for someone with ADD, we are always looking for new way to stimulate ourselves, entertain ourselves, whatever. So when I was younger, I was extremely impulsive; I would just do things all the time to see what would happen and a lot of times these actions were very intrusive. So its easy to be annoying when you have ADD. Sports were tough until I was older because I really couldn’t regulate my attention or focus yet. My focus something I really had to tame.

Focus is the key to ADD, learning to use it and keep it constant rather than constantly fluctuating up and down. Having ADD as a kid is like riding a dragon, seriously, its terrifying, rewarding, painful, and bumpy. But as I learned to harness it, the tool of my focus became more and more powerful. Hyper-focusing became rather easy and now I am in control of my attention. Really dealing ADD is really more about hormone regulation than anything else. Thank god for yoga. Now onto the awesome stuff, the legendary, the reason why we have to stop alienating and medicating these kids. When I started creating art, I realized I had a gift for translation, for expression, for getting down to the core of ideas, the humanity of things. The best teacher I ever had was David Bischoff, because he taught me how to see art, how to trace influence, and visually analyze anything really. He taught me how to see things differently than I ever had and I was captivated every class. I needed more teachers like that when I was a kid, people who told me to look outside of the box of the classroom and go see the world. But in truth, I was very lucky, and absolutely could have seen myself not being as successful as I was in the system (I have my BA, yay!).

I found yoga when I was 20 and that sealed the deal. Yoga is how I regulate my attention and my hormonal balance and I would put yoga into the first grade at public schools if it were up to me. No one ever told me there were ways I could regulate my own attention. Everyone turned to medicine, which I am not mad, sad, or judgmental about, I just think there might be a better way.

I think what really needs to change is the education system, not the pharmaceuticals. Children need personalized education, group education is great too, but one on one time is so valuable for our younger generations. If kids with ADD had adults that could keep up with them in one on one situations, the attention span of the child will stop being a problem. Personalized teaching for someone with highly creative, highly intelligent, and extreme intuition sounds like a good idea to me. So where does that leave us?

The biggest problem in the world right now is education; we can solve the problem soon, if we put our budgets and our minds to it, but we are too busy waging war in the Middle East and letting the UC system go to shit. Let’s reprioritize. Kid brains and kid happiness over weapons and defense.

Learning to Slow Down

Sunset

Yoga is an extraordinarily powerful tool. Especially for someone with a hyperactive mind.

When I was 6 I was diagnosed with ADD and given a prescription for Ritalin. I was a little troublemaker with a big imagination; a dangerous combination for any parents. At six I was recommended by my first grade teacher to see a neurologist to examine my behavior and cognition; he had me play with blocks, asked me to touch my nose and keep track of both of my fingers at the same time. Some general cognitive tests. He thought medication would be best considering that it was not a severe case, but fit perfectly into the symptoms of ADD. Plus I struggled with behavior in school.

I took a pill each morning that had positive effects on my behavior for the classroom environment. It made me focus on learning rather than allowing my attention to wander and continually distract other people while they worked, which it often still does. My learning wasn’t affected, but everyone else’s learning. Over the next few years, it became obvious that I was a very disruptive student and did not do well with rules, organization, or authority. Especially unwarranted authority or meaningless rules. I still don’t like any of those things. My mind simply functions at a higher level and processes faster and more creatively with disorganization. Over time, I have come to view this as a creative attribute rather than a defect or disorder.

In high school I began questioning my need to take a pill in the morning. What made me so different from anyone else? My sophomore year I stopped taking it so much. In the summer between my sophomore and junior year I took summer school to get ahead. During summer school my parents and I did some behavioral analysis with one of the teachers; he was a pretty awesome teacher. He noticed significant shifts in my behaviors based on whether I had taken medication or not and would fill out evaluations throughout the days. It was obvious that the medication helped in school. This solidified my need for the medication for the remainder of high school, though now I was in charge. We upped the dosage because I had been taking the same pill since 1st grade and changed drugs to Conserta, a new time release formula that supposedly had superior release mechanisms.

Conserta was awful. Junior year of high school was probably one of the most depressing times in my life. The come-downs were extremely saddening and dark; some of the worst feelings that I have ever felt were on that drug. We tried again with Adderoll and that worked better, though nothing ever seemed as smooth as the Ritalin. I now attribute this to an increased awareness as a result of trying the different drugs, rather than the drugs themselves or Ritalin being superior to the others. This time was definitely an intense time of self-discovery and learning about myself, not to mention the fact that I was 17. It was a rough year; I sprained my ankle badly to take me out of rugby and my social life struggled due to the depressions of the drugs.

Senior year was much smoother; I learned to regulate the new drug, Adderoll. I had a phenomenal second semester of my senior year, in sports, socially, and in the classroom. I got a 3.8, scored in the national rugby championship to come in second in the nation, and developed friendships that remain strong today. Then college happened.

I left Sacramento for the unknown of Spokane, Washington in the eastern portion of the state. I isolated myself at Gonzaga, a Jesuit school. I still have the utmost confidence in the Jesuit education system; those priests are some of the smartest, most spiritual people on the planet. My high school had about 20 of them, but I didn’t meet too many in college, likely due to my aversion to church.

I struggled at first; I was alone when I had such close friends from high school and took plenty of classes off to hang out with new people. But school was ridiculously easy after the great education of Jesuit High and I didn’t have to try too hard. The rugby team was easy-going and kind of competitive; a complete opposition to my high school experience. Adderoll became less a part of my life than ever before.

Freshman year passed without much incident. Sophomore was much of the same, until the second semester when I started taking the core classes for my business major and realized that the business education was not for me. The teachers taught directly from text books and had a few tests a semester; which in my personal opinion becomes useless and forgotten information. I can learn from a text-book by myself; at least I thought this until I didn’t study at all. My grades were awful and my motivation even worse. Then I switched majors.

I had planned to do an international business so that I could travel and see the world all while making millions. It became pretty apparent that this course of study would not work, so I changed to French, which I had planned to minor in. This allowed me to spend one year in Paris, rather than the 5 months of a single semester that my business major would have allowed. My grades in French were not great and the teachers were hesitant to send me over; if I was struggling at Gonzaga, surely I would struggle in Paris. I probably would have if I wasn’t exposed to yoga.

My first days home were a bit boring, but my mom asked one day if I wanted to try yoga; which I had never really heard of and figured it might be a good workout. I took one class with Scott Emerich at East Wind in Roseville and got hooked. That summer, I took classes from Destiny and Ryan and a passion grew inside of me. Meditation, especially physical mediation, was unlike anything I had ever done before. I loved it and that summer did yoga every day. I knew I was leaving the country, but had become so hooked on my practice that I wanted to keep going while I was there. Ryan, who I am eternally grateful to, gave me a few yoga books like the Gita, and recorded classes from Rusty Wells and Bryan Kest.

I took my mat over to Paris and loved every second of France. My best friend in the whole world, Kevin Taya, was there and I hadn’t seen him in a couple of years. Kevin first visited my family as a foreign exchange student when we were sixteen and we were best friends ever since. His family became a second family to me and I spent Christmas, New Year’s, my birthday, and a few other holidays in his quaint and beautiful house in Nandy, about 45 minutes via RER (the public train system) Southeast of Paris.

My first semester, I got a 4.0. I worked hard to learn the language and immerse myself in the culture; it became apparent when my oral French skills improved so dramatically that I got compliments constantly from my teachers when I returned home when I had been previously critiqued (and rightfully so). I got a membership at Bikram Paris for a few months and did my first juice cleanse. I adjusted magnificently to the challenge of a new country, language, culture, and history; I also loved being an American around people from all over the world. But nothing is as expansive for the imagination as a new language in a new city, in my personal opinion.

I think of that year in Paris as the year that I learned who I was, or at least who I have the potential to be. Meditation changed my life, yoga was something I did to equilibriate my body physically and I could tell that the mental benefits were enormous. I did my practice most days. I had even gotten a new drug, Focalin, which was my favorite of all the drugs I had taken so far; the come-down was lighter than Adderoll and the “up” was not as intense. I probably used it a total of 5 times in France; I honestly forgot about it.

All things set aside, I no longer take medication. At all. Yoga taught me that going fast has its consequences; eventually the body will catch up with the mind. I have always been a speed demon in skiing, running, learning, reading, you name it I’ve tried to go fast doing it. Yoga taught me the joys of going slow, of actually enjoying the moments as they come and go instead of always rushing to the next thing. Being in a rush is not how you want to live! Because truthfully, life is happening all around you all the time; when you are solely focused on only one things its easy to miss what is happening around you.

Now I think that I am learning to slow down even more; to allow my mind to fluctuate rather than reacting to sensations or feelings. Now I am be able to observe these peaks and valleys as they happen. This is especially important in emotional intelligence; to sift through situations with intuition and mindfulness rather than bulldozing others to get what you want (something I have done my whole life) or by forcing your own agenda on the situation. Slowing down allows you to actually enjoy the things that you cultivate and create in your life, rather than just moving on to what’s next. Take a deep breath and enjoy the flow; it will only happen once.

Carpe Diem is a concept that I think fits in well here, but lets tweak it a bit to Carpe Omnia. Seize every moment of your limited time.

Yoga and Drugs (part 2: hyperactivity and bipolarity)

Novartis Ritalin Packaging

Let’s shift our attention from mood disorders and the general neurological benefits of yoga into a more granular subject matter: hyperactive and bipolar personality types and some of the more granular benefits of yoga for these personality types. We’ll dig into hyperactive personalities and anxiety and then talk about how yoga alleviates symptoms. Really this builds on the previous discussion because we are no longer acknowledging these mental states as problems, or as curable with medication.

This is a far more personal subject matter for me; not that I haven’t experienced depression, but I was diagnosed with ADD when I was 6 and took medicine for about 16 years. I was very disruptive when I was younger, although I did not have any problems with finishing my work or keeping up with the class. I was distracting other people because I would get bored in the classroom and teachers really have a hard time dealing with this type of situation. When one child finishes and the rest are still working, because they have to split their attention. Plus, I loved making jokes and laughing really loud when I was younger, super disruptive. So they sent me to a neurologist and got tested and came away with a positive diagnosis for ADD and a prescription for Ritalin.

It is important to understand what ADD actually is; most people think there is something wrong. But the truth is that the only way to measure and diagnose ADD is in a personality test that rates the symptoms on a spectrum. The three symptoms that they look for are: hyperactivity/impulsivity, inattentiveness, and a combination of the two. The descriptions of the symptoms are something like this: “easily distracted by irrelevant stimuli and frequently interrupts ongoing tasks”, “frequent shifts from one completed activity to another”, “failure to complete tasks such as homework or chores”, “procrastination”, “disorganized work habits”, or my personal favorite, “not following details or rules of activities in social situations”. See WebMD for more symptoms.

When a child is diagnosed with ADD, this is what they are being told, “You do not conform to the standards of our educational system and you are disruptive and unproductive. You do not fit the mold of a modern worker in our society so we are going to medicate you with stimulants so that your symptoms and behaviors are more consistent with our other workers.” This is the message we are sending that child, now the next question is, why do we want everyone to conform to a standardized way of doing things?

The truth is that we do not want these children to conform. In fact, these are likely some of the most creative, smart, rebellious, and sensitive people in our culture. Rebels change the world through their vision which requires non-comformity, something that we are actively diminishing in our youth so we can “standardize” the school system. These children are gifted and the reality is that the teacher’s attention is not enough for the child to learn at the speed that a child with ADD learns. These kids are smart, they just need a little extra attention and guidance; people diagnosed with ADD have many leadership qualities that stem from their conformity and ability to perceive things that other people do not notice.

Bipolarity and ADD are actually very interrelated; you will see a lot of overlap of symptoms between the two diagnoses, but bipolar disorder tends to be more severe because of increased societal consequences and the tendency to have “episodes”. They are both largely affected by dopamine, though it is speculated that Serotonin might be more involved with bipolar disorder due to the shifts of mood. So is schizophrenia, though Schizophrenia can have very extreme social consequences. So this pleasure/reward system is really what keeps us in balance and able to react in our waking consciousness.

This is where yoga comes in. Remember how everyone says that your brain is a muscle? By detaching from the senses, and eventually from the internal dialogue of the mind (this takes time), we allow for the system to optimize itself. My hypothesis is that with yoga and mediation, children can learn how to regulate themselves instead of regulating the drugs that are moving through their system. When we practice yoga, we are allowing the dopamine system to calm down, to reset without stimuli, something that may never happen for younger children who are bombarded with TV. Medication is not the cure for the problems in our educational system.

So reviewing just a bit, yoga is a practice that can really assist with ADD like symptoms, bipolar symptoms, probably even Schizophrenic symptoms, because of its effect on dopamine and serotonin. Yoga is balancing and replenishing for anyone, but for me, it completely replaces any medicine I have ever taken. It is a natural way to become more conscious of how we act, the stimuli that affect us, and really to reveal the tendencies of your unconscious mind.

Next, we will get into anxiety. If you have taken stimulants for tests, quizzes, etc, would love to hear what your experience with the drugs have been, positive or negative. Stay tuned for more….