Sunday, September 6, 2009

But I don't sky-dive, does that mean I don't have ADHD?

I would like to see more discussion of the definition of "stimulation-seeking" in people diagnosed with ADHD, more specifically a broadening of that definition, because I think it's sorely needed.

The persistent definition in general media (I'm still combing through the academic stuff) is that of the "ADHD ADRENALINE JUNKIE", ready to rock-climb/bungee jump/glue sniff/sky dive their way into oblivion on impulse without a care in the world.

That could not be further from my behavior profile.

I'll tell you one of the defining behavior patterns of my adulthood though, and I believe it certainly fits the definition of "stimulation seeking": totally chaotic romantic relationships. If ADHD bestows gifts (insert slight whiff of sarcasm here), then perhaps here is mine: picking BAD people to couple-up with. Holy cannoli, the stories I could tell. Oh I'm not just laying blame on them...but I'll get to that in a moment.

I have dated all of the following (a partial but illustrative list):

1) the psychotic (unmedicated) bipolar who chased me around the house with a knife, among other fun moments
2) multiple obsessive jealous types who terrified me on more than one occasion
3) stalkers (a more intense version of the obsessive jealous type, but worth their own category)
4) miraculously only one who threatened to become a partner beater
5) the compulsive liar
6) the paradoxical misogynistic "sensitive" guy
7) intense self-haters

When you date people who fit these profiles, it's easy to ignore the possibility that YOU might have some issues yourself. It's really easy to ignore that your stimulation seeking might be a symptom, because you're feeling so normal in comparison to your partner's more obvious quirks and pathologies. You get an artificial sense of feeling good about yourself (and maybe even an unearned sense of superiority) because you're not as screwed up as they are.

Why did I choose this path, over and over, why did I seek them out? Ohhh cheri. These people were all very exciting, breathtakingly intelligent, inspiring and unusual. And the unfortunate fact for a true stimulation seeker is that the bad parts? The creepy parts? Make these people VERY exciting to sleep with. No joke. It's the classic bad boy as aphrodisiac scenario, over and over and over...because I needed that kind of excitement to make me feel alive, to make me feel truly engaged and to avoid my own crap. And who needs drugs when you can get high on crappy life choices! These relationships literally made me so chemically high that my head buzzed, and my body would become nauseated with desire.

They were actors, musicians, activists, engineers, writers...and tyrants. And I chose them. And I let them. Yes, people who behave badly bear their own responsibility, but I am firmly of the belief that it takes two to takes two to manipulate...and for years I was a willing participant.

These relationship all let me ignore my own underachiement, my own emotional development, my own goals, my own inability to focus, my own spotty resume, my own inability to finish projects. In their shadow my attention was held, and life made sense, because I needed the chaos to keep myself moving forward, because I did not know any other way, nor was I interested in finding one, because I felt so alive when I was with them. Kind of creepy, huh? Love addiction? Meh...don't know. Now that I've identified the pattern, I seem to be able to work to address it, work to grow beyond it and to me, that's what really matters. It's not easy but I take pride in the continued journey away from chaos.

Although I am in a "normal" relationship now, it has been a great struggle for me, I won't lie (and have been very honest with my current partner about it, even when I had to admit to him "wow...I realized that sometimes I'm angry with you because you won't engage chaos with me"). Although I now know how to identify "healthy", I am still intrigued by "bad". Although I no longer allow myself those choices, I struggle now to deal with my own baggage...and my wandering difficulty in racing impulsive nature...the constant fidgeting...the whole previous rest of my life and the fact that I spent years avoiding myself. I loved riding on the moment, making decisions based on opportunity and chance rather than making plans and sticking with them...but being where I am now, I don't think I could totally go back. Limbo. It's where I'm at, and it where I'm supposed to be, and that's okay.

I can't say it's all been a waste because here in the present I possess a unique combination of skills and experiences that are occasionally very valuable to me both monetarily, and interpersonally. Now my task is to take these skills, and insights...and learn to focus them to meet my goals...and to be mindful of the pitfalls of stimulation seeking.

Just like that, poof! So easy! in progress. But my point...stimulation seeking isn't just about bungee jumping.

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