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2005-02-16 - 8:16 p.m.

An Open Letter About Attention Deficit Disorder

This is a message that I wrote a long time ago, and pondered long and hard about before posting. It was originally done simply as a "brain dump", to allow me to try to put down on paper the way it feels inside my head.

I never planned on sharing this with anyone, but I thought that it might help some folks to understand me, or to understand themselves if they have the same problem but don't recognize it for what it is.

Plus I find it cathartic to reveal this information. And this is my blog, so I can post whatever I want without having to justify it to anyone. So I'll stop doing that now, and just get on with it.

I am writing this message for those that may care to read it, or for those that I care to share it with. I do this in an effort to clarify/explain my daily efforts (most especially those at work), to lend an insight to those who may or may not know about my affliction.

I am a computer programmer. But thatís not the affliction. Honest.

I have a disorder known as ADD: Attention Deficit Disorder. This is a disorder of the CNS (Central Nervous System; and you thought that software people love acronyms!). The disorder is a malfunction of the way that the CNS and the brain interact with one another. In a system that is not affected with ADD, everything works in a fashion that all tech-heads should be well familiar with; sensory information is gathered as input, it is passed along to the brain via the human LAN (the CNS), the brain processes the information, makes decisions, and then sends output via the hardware (the human hardware of speech, muscle movement, etc.). In this system the sensory input has differing levels of importance, allowing the person in question to decide which items are the most important to process; this system allows concentration on particular items.

Think of ADD as a software virus. In a system affected with ADD, the process does not run as smoothly. In an ADD system, the CNS attempts to gather information from all sensory input simultaneously, giving every piece of information an equal level of importance. Suffice to say, too much information arrives at, and is attempted to be processed by, the brain. Simultaneously. This system is difficult to comprehend, and concentration on any particular item is a daunting task, to say the very least.

In a nutshell, try to imagine - watching television; hearing a distant radio; talking to someone on the telephone; smelling someoneís cologne.

Now, imagine all of these happening simultaneously, and your brain refusing to let any of these items be any less important than the next. Even multi-tasking systems donít multi-task; they create the illusion of doing so by giving each item a slice of time to be digested, but each of these items is indeed processed one at a time. An ADD system attempts to accept and process all of these items simultaneously, not one at a time.

Information is sent along the CNS via electro-chemical charges. Yes, electrical signals. From your senses, to your brain, to your motor functions. Itís all sent along the conductor system of your nerves; the CNS. In an electrical system, input is also sent as electrical signals, but when everything is running the way it should, these input signals are received and processed one at a time. Clean, concise, singular electrical messages. In my head, all of this information comes down the line at the same time, like so much electrical signal noise.

I donít know precisely when I may have developed this disorder. It may be something that Iíve had for years and years; it may be something that has happened over the past few months. The jury is still out on this one.

This disorder affects my work in the following way: I seem to be ďfineĒ if I have very few things that I have to think about at any one point in time, and I seem to be ďunfineĒ with trying to do several things at once. If I can get into deep concentration on one task, and I can continue uninterrupted, I seem to be able to cope, and Iím even productive. Bad moods are frequent, and, unfortunately, misdirected. Most of my anger is with myself (not being able to listen, not being able to concentrate, etc.), but I also tend to ďventĒ in front of others, and then they feel like my anger is directed at them. My apologies to everyone for my ďmisdirected, foul energiesĒ.

Needless to say, the environment in which I work does not lend itself well to a single-task way of thinking/working. Issues are constantly surfacing, from several different directions, all at once, and this makes my job very difficult for me. With all of that being said, Iíll now talk about something that Iím certain that has already crossed your mind; with this kind of problem, why am I even in the job field that Iím in ?

Itís a fair question, and one that Iíve asked myself about 2.8 million times. The very nature of Information Systems as a field of work is constantly in flux, yesterdayís brilliant ideas are todayís bugs, and everyone needs what they need yesterday !

For better or for worse, I fell into this job field by what can arguably be called ďluckĒ. I mean, is it so lucky to fall into a job field in which you have a hard time staying afloat? Doesnít sound too lucky, does it?

Some parts of my job are joyful; I love being able to solve a problem (just not seven of them at once), and I like the one-on-one challenge of beating a program into submission, so it works like itís supposed to. These things are fun, and the reason that I come to work.

All of that being said, maybe I am just the wrong person for this kind of job. Iíve tried, with varying levels of success, for twenty years to be able to perform in a demanding job field. There have been extremely satisfying and rewarding days. The job of computer programming is so dynamic that getting anything ďput to bedĒ is a triumphant act.

But I am tired.

I hate having to admit that anything has gotten the better of me, and thatís why I still press on every day. Pushing myself to work through it all. Pushing to get one more thing done.

But it is taxing, trying to compensate every day for something that I just canít get ahead of. There are days when I feel like Iíve been hammering my brain so hard, I almost expect to see steam trickling out of my ears when I look in the mirror at the end of the day, and those days are the days that seem to generate the most doubt in my mind about what I do, and why do I do it.

This is something that my wife deals with every day as well. She exercises a lot of patience just trying to talk with me and keep my attention, and she does it without losing her temper. Well, most of the time. I can only imagine how frustrating it is for her to have to deal with my spacing out when sheís telling me a story; having to tell me at least a half-dozen times to take the trash out (a dozen times, perhaps, on a bad day); having to leave Post-It notes on the front door, so when I leave home in the morning I remember things to the video store. It is a miracle that she can cope with this without succumbing to the overwhelming desire to just strangle me and be done with it. She persists, and I love her for that, among many other things.

There are some drugs, which can help me to a certain extent, but none of them can cure this disorder entirely. Iíve already tried one of them; it seemed to help my concentration level a little bit, but it also gave me these tremendously angry moods, so I stopped taking that one before someone shot me to put me out of their misery (No, we do not have a gun in the house, so I was safe from my wife, at least for gunshot wounds). My wife lovingly put up with these moods, because she knew where they were coming from; persons at work who were the unfortunate recipients of my wrath: one million apologies; it was the drugs talking.

This is a difficult thing for me to talk about; I donít like to admit that thereís something wrong with me, and, especially in the work environment, it can all sound like a convenient excuse (the main reason why I try very hard not to make this issue a matter of public knowledge at my office - I guess the jig is up now). I try very hard, every day, to deal with this, and a lot of the time it gets the better of me. Iím thinking of finding a different job, one that requires a lot less information to be processed all at once, but itís hard to find a simpler job that will still pay the bills. Then again, I imagine that itís hard for anyone to find a simpler job that will still pay his or her bills.

Now that I have rambled on and on, I hope that this may have made a difference in the way you see me, or at least you may understand an underlying factor in why you may feel the urge to wring my neck from time to time. I can understand anyoneís frustration with me; I often feel that way myself.

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