Monday, August 2, 2010

"Why Can't You Just Focus!?"

This has got to be the defining question in the compromised self-esteem of every adult ADHDer out there. Followed quickly by various accusations we've all heard about being lazy, or unintelligent or willfully difficult in various other ways.

The fatal flaw in this question is not in its accusation. Clearly, many of us are not totally focused all the time. You can't deny that. The error lays in the use of the word focus. What does that even MEAN?

There are dictionary definitions...there are common usage definitions. Anyone who speaks the English language over the age of 12 can give you some kind of definition for the word focus. But as for the actual sensation of being focused...why would one ask an ADHDer why they can't DO that? We don't even know that it means.

What does focus feel like? What color is it? Where does it live in the body? What color is it? What is the mechanism by which you achieve this thing called focus? When you ask us this question, we THINK we know what it means and we'll really TRY to make it happen, but we actually have no idea what the end point looks or feels like. How do you set your mind to a goal when you don't even know what the goal looks like, what its parameters are?

I have a similar experience of the word "relax". My whole life, people have told me that I need to relax. I have tried self-hypnosis, and deep breathing, and yoga, and exercise and biofeedback...but how do you know when you have achieved the sought after "relaxation".

I can honestly say that until I tried medication for both ADHD and anxiety, I had NO clue what either of those words felt like. They were words, existing in two dimensions on paper. Focus was something I tried to pretend I was doing like other people, and relaxing was something I simply could not comprehend, nevermind achieve. I was superficially attentive while on the inside of my skull my thoughts popped like popcorn and anxiety moved its way through me, decomposing and generating heat in the fibers of my muscles, creating twitches in fingers and toes and further cluttering my mind with the ill feeling of not being able to stop.

Now that medication has helped me to experience what others take for granted, even if I don't take the medication, at least I know what to mechanically work toward achieving, and I can now measure the degrees of my success, instead of going through life wondering "Was THAT it? Did I do it? Those people look like THEY did it, do I look like I did it?".

The first time I felt true relaxation was when I was trying out Remeron. I can't really describe the feeling except to tell you that I had never had that feeling before. Ever. The tension in my body was gone, tension that had defined my relationship with myself for the duration of my conscious memory. And the first time I took Vyvanse? I ironed clothes for 45 minutes. My mind was a clean, welcoming room, sparsely decorated, but friendly. A space I could work in. Never before had I felt that.

Now that I know what to work for, the work can, and has, begun.

Meds are not a cure, or a perfect solution, and some people can't really tolerate them at all. But many of us can benefit from the perspective that filling in the blanks can bring. This is why it makes me bluntly angry when I hear people universally pan ADHD medications, or meds for other psychiatric issues.

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