Category Archives: Living with ADD

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Distracted on Purpose

Distracted on Purpose

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I want to share with you about a chat I had with God tonight…

See, the last 3 weeks have been rough. I am a professional secret-keeper, and things happened that I can’t talk about. I’ve had a huge number of deadlines in the past few weeks. I had a birthday. There was an awful bombing in Iraq. Innocent people have been killed in America. I’m completely not registering that I brushed my teeth or have my lunch sitting next to me. I totally forgot a really important day in my friend’s life, that I had planned to highlight. I really need to avoid people for a day or two, but there’s all that adulting stuff like the dentist tomorrow. I’m actually fine, and not exactly stressed (at the moment). But it’s been rough. 

Let’s put that on the back burner.

Not many people know that my mouth is really sensitive to strong mint flavors. They burn my lips. This is SO not a big deal. But, after years of trial and error I finally discovered that Crest ProHealth Advantage in Smooth Mint is the one for me. Yes! This is life-changing, folks. So of course I ran out. I’ve been using the nasty Scope-flavored stuff until I get more. Tonight I went to Target, the supplier of the 17 wonderful things not better found on Amazon, and ventured forth into the toothpaste aisle. After 5 minutes I accepted the dreadful fact: despite having a wall of about 20 different varieties of Crest toothpaste in every variety of descriptive mint flavors you can buy (including a flavor simply called “Extra Whitening Power” that would no doubt burn my mouth faster than dry ice), none of these were smooth. It was really annoying!

“WHAT is the problem with this week, God?”

“This is a first-world problem.”

I thought backward a few hours. Just after eating the lunch I’d forgotten I had, I met a man 2 years younger than me who has a Ph.D. He refused to return home to Syria from the country where he studied because he refuses to participate in mandatory military service that could potentially land him in the ISIS army if his region is taken over. His family lives in a city that is constantly under attack.

A little later in the afternoon I met an Iraqi woman 5 years younger than me. Her sister worked for the US Army in the 2000s, so the family has been targeted by terrorist groups for over 10 years. She was injured in a bombing. Fortunately, her family was not at the mall last week.

These two people are amazing, resilient, we laughed together, it was an enjoyable afternoon. These are actually very typical stories, and I hear different versions of these several times in most weeks. For me, this is just a Friday.

There I was annoyed in the toothpaste aisle, remembering. Now I was more annoyed with myself than with Target.

“This is so stupid!”

“What is?”

“Well, you’re right. This is such a little first-world problem. Why do all these annoying stupid little problems happen to me all the time?”

“Because I let them.”

“Well then what’s YOUR problem?”

“I give you the little problems so that you can bear the big ones.”

That took me a minute. Then it clicked. God DISTRACTS me. With stupid stuff. On purpose.

He’s right, He always is. I am called to absorb the stories and pain of others. Those stories and that pain are not mine, but easily can become mine if I don’t release them. If you know me, you know that I don’t like to let go. So God made my brain distractible. When we’re weighted down with stuff – our own or someone else’s – it’s really hard to get distracted by flowers and sunshine. So God takes away my toothpaste and gives me deadlines sends me way too many emails of random stupid stuff, then he cancels the Monday morning training so I have time to get it all done.

God distracts me.

And now I’m sitting on my couch crying because when I go through really rough weeks it can get really hard to remember that I’m not broken when I’m stressed and forgetful and taking forever to get things done and having to make jokes to my coworkers about having forgotten my meds to help them understand why I’m talking so much or failing to filter properly or hear everything they say or having such a hard time getting the sentences in my head to turn into words. But I’m not broken.  

I am made on purpose.

My brain was perfectly designed to do what it’s supposed to do.

God made me distractible so he can throw my attention and memory around as if He’s threshing wheat, tossing away what is useless or destructive and leaving behind only what HE sees and remembers. He helps my own emotions about something blow away so I can see more clearly. He refines my memories of what I have heard and seen until it is as close as possible to what He sees and hears. THAT is really cool.

God made me distractible to protect me, to empower me, to keep me tender and strong, to help me forgive courageously and love without prejudice.

“Wow. You really knew what you were doing.”

“I ain’t no fool.” 

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Sallie’s Miracle Car

I wrote this blog for my official Go Fund Me Campaign page.

Lety’s Story

When I moved to California in 2002 for my first post-college REAL job, I excitedly bought a brand new Dodge Neon.  It was a fabulous car, and I named her Michelle after my new best friend.  And it did an amazing job of protecting me about 2 years later when a woman cut me off on a country road, I slammed on my brakes, and proceeded to flip end over end and land in a ditch.  RIP Michelle the Car.

I got lucky when I went to the Honda dealership because I was assisted by a new sales guy who didn’t think to actually check my credit before selling me a new Civic.  This was also a great car.  Even though my credit was lousy, I could afford it.  Unfortunately, I was in the midst of a very serious bout of very poorly treated depression… a time during which even simple tasks like setting up an automatic payment or opening the envelopes containing letters threatening to repossess my car were more than I could handle.  One morning in January 2006 I woke up and she was just gone.

Embarrassed and humbled, I was taken by a friend to a used car dealership where I bought my dark green 1995 Toyota Camry.  She was definitely a step down, but I made my payments faithfully and she became mine on August 8, 2007.

The Camry received no name… in some ways she has always been a reminder of my weakness, my utter failure, the lowest point of my depression, my shameful lesson in fiscal responsibility.  Despite this purpose and her namelessness, Camry has prevailed.  Despite all odds, this Gift of Redemption has persevered.  Despite all the many things I couldn’t afford to fix, she has kept me safe and her wheels keep rolling for 9½ years .  Let me tell you about her life with me:

1. A few weeks after we were brought together, we were traveling at about 5mph through a parking lot.  A massive truck was parked in a compact parking spot, blocking the view between myself and a car on the other side of it.  We couldn’t see each other so the other driver backed into me, crushing the corner of the car.

Side note: there is a reason parking spots are marked “compact!!!”  Big vehicles come with big responsibility!

2. A couple of years after I got her, Camry developed a slow power steering fluid leak.  I have attempted to have it fixed a couple of times, but it always comes back.  No big deal, but I’ve probably spent a few hundred dollars on ATF over the years.

3. There was about 2 years when the driver’s side window motor was broken… I held it up with Monster Tape until it was finally fixed.

4. The driver’s side lock does not work, so it can only be unlocked from the passenger’s side.  It was fixed for awhile, but then it quit again.

When I moved to San Jose in 2012, the plan was to replace her within 6 months.  But it turned out that my increased salary wasn’t worth nearly as much in the city as I thought it would be, so we continue to forge ahead through many small trials…

5.  Both front door handles broke off, so you have to dig your fingers under the levers to open the doors.
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6. The antenna broke, so now we only get one radio station.  Thank God for those cassette tape adaptor things you can use to run sound from other devices through car speakers!

7.  The middle light in the dashboard is out, so I’m never quite sure how fast I’m going at night.

8.  Sometimes the lights on the gear shift work, sometimes they don’t.  If she doesn’t move, she’s in neutral.

9.  One of the backseat seat belts is stuck.

10.  The side mirror was knocked off by the post in my carport (another shout out to Monster Tape!).  This means that she can’t be washed in a car wash, and since I live in an apartment building with no access to outside water which doesn’t matter since CA is in a drought and washing your car in a driveway is illegal right now anyway… we pray for rain.

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11.  The door over the gas tank got ripped off.
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12.  The trunk leaks when we get that rain we pray for.
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13.  The windshield washer fluid reservoir has a giant hole, so while the wipers work… we pray for rain some more.

14.  Not to mention the classic 1990’s Camry paint job that looks like a peeling sunburn!

15.  My left high beam doesn’t work, and no matter how much I twist the little knob the headlights refuse to raise.  I get about 20 feet of visibility on a dark night.

But despite all of these little things, this car just keeps going and going and going.  She commutes 66 miles a day with me at California freeway speeds with no trouble.  Nothing major has ever broken down.  She lives life to the fullest.  And she was finally named Lety:
Little
Engine
That
YOLO’d (In case you don’t know what YOLO means, Wikipedia does here.)

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Lety is my reminder that what God gives might not be what I want, but it is always enough.  And God’s gifts are lasting.  Like manna to the Israelites I might be bored of her, she might humble me and remind me of what I lack, but she is also constant daily proof that God is my provider.  He gives good gifts to His children, gifts that are good quality and meet the need and do not bring hardship or pain or stress.  I am so proud of this little car!!

In November I discovered that Lety had an oil leak.  When I asked the guy at Speedy Lube where the leak was, he opened the hood and waved his arms over the whole engine.  “Here,” he said.  The sealant inside the engine is breaking down, causing oil to leak through all the joints and seams in the metal.  He told me not to put any more money than absolutely necessary into this car, and to start saving for a new one.  Turns out Speedy Lube offers free top-offs between oil changes, so I am a frequent customer every week or two.  The guys there are awesome!

Believing for a Miracle Car
Lety and I entered 2015 knowing that it would be our last year together.  And I firmly believed in my heart that God would give me a car.  Yet, we are almost 6 months in, and there is no car.   She’s not getting any younger, and my faith is wavering… enough that I’m ready to pull an Abraham and fix this situation on my own.

I estimate that next Monday (maybe Tuesday) we will hit the 300,000 mile mark.  Really, this was my stubborn goal.  When we reach this, I will be ready to let her go.

In a few weeks I’ll be starting a new job that will require a lot of driving and probably transporting clients in my car.  Lety is no longer a safe or professionally presentable vessel for this task.

In the last week I realized that in mid-June I’ll be blessed with a little extra money.  Between that and the $1000 that California will give me to junk Lety, I should have about $5000.  This is a very good start, about half of what I plan to spend on a new used car.  I was going to be satisfied with that, knowing that upcoming changes in my income will cover a car payment.

My wish is for a car like this 2010 Honda Civic  that costs about $10,500.

My greater desire is to pay cash for a car, and use the new income to finally start paying off student loans.

This morning I woke up with a thought in my mind.  I don’t wake up like this very often, but when I do I know it’s God.  Usually these thoughts are for other people, but today it was for me: “Why do you keep settling?  I promised you a car.  Ask, and you shall receive.  GoFundMe.” (Literally, He said GoFundMe!)

I have a personal philosophy that if someone says “no” then I’m no worse off than I started, but I will never hear “yes” if I don’t ask.  So I always ask.  This tends to be a bit annoying to my supervisors, but eventually they realize I don’t necessarily expect to get what I want and stop cringing whenever they see me.  But somehow… Why is it so hard to ask God???  Along the same lines… Why is it so easy to ask God, then sit back, do nothing, and take no responsibility when nothing happens?

Then I went to church and heard a sermon about believing for miracles.  Again I heard, “Ask.”  In Mark 2, Jesus did the forgiving and the healing, but the dudes who wanted it did the heavy lifting and the carrying and the tearing up of the roof…

So here is me, asking.  Stepping out.  Believing that God’s word is true, that He will keep His promises of blessing.  That I will receive a Miracle Car.

I ask you to believe with me.  Donate, share… most of all, pray.  The beautiful thing about blessings is that they are boomerangs… they never return empty-handed.

The GoFundMe Campaign site is here: http://www.gofundme.com/salliesmiraclecar

NOTE: While GoFundMe was the best fundraising site that my research uncovered for this type of purpose, there are two disadvantages: 1) Donors are not charged any fees, but there is a small processing deduction for all donations, and 2) Paypal is not an option.  If you would prefer to contribute through PayPal, there is no fee for either of us if you select “Send Money to FRIENDS OR FAMILY” and deduct money through your checking account.  (There is a small fee if you use a debit or credit card and/or select “Pay for Goods or Services.”)  Paypal donations can be sent to sallie.rupe@gmail.com 

Hope in Hardship: a New Twist on Christmas

I’m sitting in my Grandma’s kitchen in South Bend, Indiana, trying not to feel sorry for myself.  My brain is swimming with so many thoughts, conflicting and colliding…

This was supposed to be THE vacation.  The one time I’ve taken vacation all year where I actually got to use my vacation hours because I didn’t end up working through it.  I planned an extra week after my parents left to spend time with my Grandma, my brother, my friends from college, maybe my uncle if he’s in town.  I’ve been looking so forward to this trip for months.

Then I got laid off.  Off.  Laid. Off.  30-day notice, with this 2-week vacation smack in the middle.  This sucks more than words can say.  If really Christian people didn’t read this blog, I’d use a lot stronger language.  I could just blow stuff off, but I’m not like that.  I could never live with myself if I didn’t use every waking moment to do everything I can to make sure my kids have everything in place when I leave.  I just can’t.  So I will work as much as I can.

I feel guilty.  I feel guilty about not working when I’m spending time with my family.  I feel guilty about not spending time with my family when I’m working.

I’m worried.  I’m worried about my life, my income, my cat.  Mostly I’m worried about my kids who have taken such a risk to learn to trust me, who have dared to hope that I’ll really be there, only to be ripped away through no fault of theirs or mine.

I’m scared.  I left my whole world for this job, and now I’ve lost it.  I’ve worked an average of about 50 hours a week for the past year, and I haven’t taken the time to really build relationships outside of work.  It’s a very lonely feeling.  I’m terrified I will lose this new passion that I have for foreign-born youth.  My ADHD hyper-focuses me, and it’s so easy to just move on; the idea of losing this scares me to death.

I’m grateful.  I’m pretty sure I have a job.  I’m so grateful.  And I have peace about being employed.  I truly do.

I’m so irritated that this layoff happened right at Christmas.  My greatest Christmas joy is giving gifts, and this privilege has been ripped from me this year.  My mom says I should write – give the gift of words, she says.  She’s probably right.  But it doesn’t feel good enough for me.  I don’t write well on command, and I’m not feeling it.

I’m happy.  It is so good to see family again.  My brother is doing better than he has in years.  His house is clean and healthy.  He has staff who actually do their job and care about him.  I got to see my aunts and uncle and 5 cousins and my two little cousin-nieces.

I got to sit around a table on Sunday with 5 dear friends from college, meet their families, children.  Awkward at first, everyone staring at each other.  I think I would have been happy just staring at them for 3 hours.  I love them so much.  Why don’t we keep in better touch?  MK problems.

I’m in awe.  God provided miraculously for my dad’s party.  Miraculously.  The generosity He showed for a simple birthday party is a display of his great Fatherly Love.  I see Him up there with a party hat on and organizing pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, just throwing His kid a birthday party.

Mom’s passports disappeared, two days before her flight back to Mexico.  She was seen today at the US Passport Office without an appointment (anti-policy), and will have her new passport in a couple of hours.

I’m sad.  I had to say goodbye to my cousins and nieces for the last time before they return to Korea and Kenya.  I don’t know when I’ll see them again.  That’s the missionary life, it’s part of the “system,” but I’m still sad.  And I said goodbye to my parents this morning, who knows for how long.  Again, part of our system, but no fun at all.

So here I am, sitting at this table, trying to focus on work, unable to pull out of this melee of thoughts and emotions happening inside my echoing mind, when suddenly I remembered.  I remembered one of my first unofficial blogs that I wrote in the form of a FaceBook Note five Christmas Eves ago.   My situation was very different then, but the general idea was the same: things were frustrating, overwhelming, and out of my control.  I was crying a lot that day.  Then God said, “Girlfriend, I’m not a baby in a manger anymore.  Choose peace.”  And I did.  And I got an A.

So here I share with you my thoughts of Christmas Eve, 2008, unabridged.  May they encourage you as you face whatever your holiday season holds for you.  May you be challenged along with me to trust, shamelessly and fearlessly, that God is great and grown-up and bigger than whatever giant boulder stands in our way today.  And may this season prepare us for the mountains that will come later, as my academic pebble prepared me 5 years ago for today…

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December 24, 2008

I am NOT a fan of school. And yet, I’m working at this feverish pace to finish my master’s degree in May. In September my cousin got engaged; I immediately bought a ticket to Albuquerque, requested the week of Christmas off of work, and focused on nothing but this week. For the last two months my one motivating drive has been Eliot’s wedding and a week of nothing but resting and enjoying Christmas at my mentor’s house. And two weeks without any homework. My parents have been wonderful about purchasing my textbooks for me. . . I am so incredibly grateful, there aren’t enough words. But my mom goofed when she ordered the book for my December class. The book ended up sitting in Kansas City for a couple of weeks, then she mailed it to me book rate which meant that I’d eventually get the book the day before all my papers had to be turned in. I tried to stay calm and make the best of it, but I was pretty mad about the whole situation. I ended up borrowing some older books from a friend, using the internet, doing my best, and getting my assignments done in time – even though I had to take an extra day off work to do it. I worked really hard and I was really proud of myself.

The wedding was wonderful. I came back feeling more rested and relaxed and happy than I have in a very long time. Yesterday was very nice. I helped my mentor run some errands and clean out the garage, and we watched 3 Christmas movies. It is SO WONDERFUL to be here without having to do homework. Then last night I got a phone call and email from my professor telling me that 4 of my assignments were way off-base and that if I didn’t redo them my grade would be barely passing. The semester was over on Sunday, but she’s giving me the opportunity to redo them because of my textbook situation. I should be grateful, but I’m not. This means that after all of my excruciating work I have lost the vacation that was my main motivation for the last three months. Pissed is an understatement. I have spent most of the last six hours sitting on my bed alternating between trying to figure out how to decipher whether a WAIS-III subtest score is significant based on the mean standard score of the category and furiously crying my eyes out because it is so incredibly confusing and I was not given the WAIS-III Standard Report Form that tells me clearly how to do it. Tomorrow will be more of the same. I was thoroughly hating this Christmas.

Then this evening I got an email from an old friend (whose new blog you can visit here – definitely worth the read!) sharing his conflicting thoughts about Christmas. His words triggered many of my own philosophical musings. . . Forget the horrors of materialism, why must Christmas be such a warm fuzzy time? Why does culture dictate our emotions and behaviors so much at this time of the year? Jesus was born and laid in a manger, but He didn’t stay there. The focus of Christmas seems to be on being and staying comfortable, on having things be just so, preserving tradition, feeling good. Christmas doesn’t “feel right” if we don’t feel happy and peaceful. It’s almost like constantly seeking that “first high,” and the “feeling of Christmas” seems to become more elusive each year. It really has become such a self-serving time.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas. It is my favorite holiday. I love the music and the food and the families and the shopping and the presents and tradition. I so love the tradition. When I think about it, though, I love Christmas because of the memories it conjures, and I am repeatedly disappointed every year when the experience falls short of the memory. Christmas is no longer about Christ. Christmas is about tradition and memories and eating sugar and watching “White Christmas” and opening presents. It’s about dressing up for a meal and taking pictures and looking at colored lights. And setting up a manger scene that – every year – returns Jesus to his little bed. Christ is a TRADITION of Christmas, but He has been relegated to the position of a supporting actor rather than the main hero. I have fallen into this trap of focusing on the feeling rather than Christ. The main thing I have noticed this year: I have said several times that Christmas isn’t Christmas without snow; the irony is that only 11 of my 29 Christmases have included snow.

And then there’s the manger thing. Oddly, I am reminded of Harry Potter. (Stay with me, it will make sense in a minute.) In the 5th book, Harry and his friends enter the Department of Mysteries at the Ministry of Magic where they find abstract concepts such as death, love, thought, and time tangibly studied. Time is represented by an hourglass full of a sort of sandstorm. The sand swirls down: this is time progressing. Then a wind comes and blows the sand back to the top: this is time regressing. A chick hatches from an egg at the bottom of the hourglass and begins to grow until the storm swallows it up; when the storm calms the chick has returned to an egg and the process repeats itself. Over and over and over again. Every December our culture puts Jesus back in the manger in a big way. What a sneaky way for Satan to fix in our minds an idea of Jesus as a helpless homely infant. We are such a visual instant-gratification society. . . the mighty words of Gabriel are nothing compared to the timeless image of the manger.

So. . . I make the following proposal: the meaning of Christmas is “hope in hardship.” How foolish we are if we neglect to imagine the hardship of that miraculous yet dreadful night. The rocky barren trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Mary’s sheer uncomfortableness. Joseph’s frustration at the timing of the census. Mary’s disappointment at having to put her brand new baby to bed in a feeding trough. Joseph’s fury at having no better option than a stable for Mary to give birth to this Son of God, with whom HE had been given the responsibility to provide for and protect. How weak and ashamed Joseph must have felt; I can only imagine the knot in the pit of his stomach, the overwhelming powerlessness as he watched things unfold so very utterly against his plans. How clearly God gave the message that He would be the ultimate provider. Yet through it all there was hope: rugged, but sheltered; hungry, but warm; tired, but safe; anger, but joy; fear, but comfort. Hardship, but hope.

And I am no longer angry. I hate doing homework on Christmas. I hate having to give up my vacation for this stupid 2-unit class. But I have been given the opportunity to preserve my 4.0, and that gives me hope. This whole thing will be done in May, and that gives me hope. And those things that make it onto our Christmas list: a car, a good job, a spouse, degrees, enough money, friendships, nice bookends to hold up my Middle Earth collection. . . those desires are symbols of hope, too. As long as we are not focused on the things themselves but on the blessings that they are. They come from a God who focuses not on the gift but on the blessing. A God who provides a manger when it is enough and gives great wealth to those who seek wisdom. A Lord who chooses shepherd boys to lead His people and fisherman to lead His church. A Lover who touches the heads of children and notices the longing reach of the desperate. A Father who recognizes the hardships – no matter how petty – and extends hope to pull us through while He chuckles quietly about our desperation to claim the rock He sat on and our frustration at not being able to find the perfect Christmas cards from the wall of them at Target.

So tonight I skipped the turkey (ah yes, the traditions of others) so I’d stay awake and I’ll miss the Christmas movies, and I’ll muddle through the WAIS-III and the MMPI-2 and the MCMI-III and the Rorschach into tomorrow. But I’m not angry anymore. I marvel at the creativity of a God who confuses my mother’s ability to select appropriate shipping options so that I would remember this Christmas that HE is in control and that HE is the One who provides hope in the midst of my most minor hardships. And I am grateful for my wise friend who had the courage to share his controversial ideas about Christmas so that God could use them to pull me out of my reverie of self-pity.

Merry Christmas. May God reveal to you great hope in the midst of the hardships and trials that persist, even at Christmas. May you know His joy and peace, and may you find blessing in the most unexpected of places.

With the hope and overwhelming joy that comes from knowing that Jesus is no longer in His manger,

Sallie

He was a baby . . . and then He grew up.

Battle in My Mind, by My Mind, for My Mind

In my first post I discussed the fact that my brain is weird.  I describe it to myself as having a front part and a back part, kind of like a swimming pool.  The front part is the shallow end; it’s easiest to move around in and get stuff done.  The back part is the deep end, where all the play happens; a lot of floating, and movement is not all that precise.  As long as there’s enough water in the deep end, the water stays in the shallow end.  But if the water drains out of the deep end, the shallow end drains into the deep end and the whole pool is pretty much pointless.  Can’t get much done without water.  Here’s how that translates into real life: if I don’t have the back of my brain filled up with something, my ability to focus decreases to almost nothing.  As I write this I have Boomerang Channel on in the background (best channel ever, if you like good cartoons).  I was vaguely aware of MGM cartoons a little bit ago, and now the Scooby Doo Gang is running away from a zombie or something.  I could care less, but it fills up the back part of my brain so that I can focus on this.

Normal SPECT

Allow me to explain this a little more concretely.  Daniel Amen, MD, (of Amen Clinic) has done a lot of research in the area of SPECT scans – images of brain activity – and improving wellness by understanding unique brain activity patterns.  You might have seen some of his programs on PBS.  SPECT scans are not pictures of the brain, but of brain activity.  The top part of the picture is called the Prefrontal Cortex, or Frontal Lobe; it’s located behind your forehead and eyes.  The Frontal Lobe is extremely important: it’s where all your thinking, judgement, decision-making, and impulse control happen.  It’s where “think before you talk” and “just say no to drugs” and “cross all your t’s and dot all your i’s” happens.  Notice how the color in the Frontal Lobe is a darker purple?  That’s because most brain activity is happening there.   The dents toward the back are not holes – they’re just less active parts of the brain.  Notice how this normal brain is fairly smooth . . . if it was a hill it would be a fairly relaxing walk.

Resting ADHD SPECT

Now check out this ADHD brain.  This brain is just relaxing, not trying to get anything done . . . maybe focusing on deep end stuff.  Right away you see that even at rest there are already big gaps in brain activity, especially in the Frontal Lobe.  If you were trying to take a walk across this brain you’d have to watch your step carefully and take a couple of detours.  Even at rest it’s hard to focus, to make decisions, to avoid saying dumb stuff.

ADHD Concentration SPECT

Well, people say, you just have to try harder.  Everyone gets distracted sometimes.  You just have to learn to eliminate distractions, focus on your work, practice social skills.  Everyone has to do this.  You’re making too much out of it.  Here’s the thing: the normal brains CAN just try harder.  It works for them.  Here’s what happens to the ADHD brain when it tries to concentrate and “try harder.”  Yup.  Don’t try walking across this brain. . . It looks like a lava field.  I’ll spare you the physiology because it’s complicated, but when the ADHD brain tries harder . . . it short-circuits.  This is why I have rarely studied hard for a test or read my answers through again – I do much better if I review and then go with my gut.  It’s why I do much better writing papers than taking tests.  This is why I gleaned more information in college if I worked cross word puzzles during lectures.  Not kidding.  If my concentration is just slightly off-center, it works much better.

ADHD Medicated SPECT

So is this how I always live my life, with my brain full of activity holes and always looking for just the right balance of focus and distraction?  No.  I’m properly drugged.  People have a lot of mixed feelings about this, and I expect that eventually I’ll write a blog about mental health meds.  Everyone’s entitled to their opinion and personal conviction.  My opinion about my ADHD meds is based on personal experience and science, and there’s a lot of science.  But a picture is worth a thousand words, so here you go. . . an ADHD brain on meds.  Notice how it’s almost normal?  Not totally normal (Praise God! – Who would want to be normal if they didn’t have to be?), but pretty close.

The reason I’m writing all of this is because of what happened in my brain at church on Tuesday night.  Every morning I take Concerta; fantastic stuff that lasts about 8 hours.  My brain starts getting a little jiggly around 4:30, so if I want to get anything out of church at 7 I have to remember to take my short-acting meds around 4.  It’s a stimulant, so I take it too late I’ll have a hard time sleeping.  Timing is important.  On Tuesday, I forgot.  It was the first day back after a 3-day weekend; I have the sort of job where that just means I had 50% more to worry about on Tuesday.  Then I rushed to Gilroy on Tuesday night for a meeting that had been cancelled without my knowledge.  It was on the way back, around 6:30, that I realized I hadn’t taken my med that afternoon.  Crud.  It was too late.  I’ll just tough it out, I told myself.

Ha.

I don’t know if this is all ADDers, but my sensory perception goes into overdrive.  I will describe this for you to open a window to my inner brain . . . NOT because I’m upset with anyone or anything.  It’s no one’s fault – no one else is inside my brain – but things that are usually completely normal or generally overlooked or even enjoyable take on a whole new meaning.  I had a headache right off the bat; shouldn’t have sat in front of the speakers.  Awesome music, but every beat of the drum or twang on the guitar set off a gong inside my skull.  Even on normal days, the best way for me to focus on worship in a room full of excellent music and rejoicing is to use a lot of imagery.  On difficult days, the image is a completely dark tunnel with a bright light at the end; my job is to make it to the light.  Odd, maybe, but it works for me.  I was just settling into my tunnel when it was time to shake people’s hands.  Tunnel goes poof!  Drat.  I don’t think I really got back into it.  I have this ability, when I know a song well, to shift it into the back part of my brain.  I can sing perfectly, harmonize, everything . . . and not even realize I’m doing it.  A war wages inside my head: focus on the song, think about a memory the song conjours, get rattled back to reality by a particularly loud something, realize I’m forgetting that I’m singing, trying to find my way back to my tunnel, feel guilty about forgetting I’m singing, remember other times I forgot I was singing, get rattled back . . . I have discovered that a consistent sensation such as pain or cold helps me to focus by filling up that deep end.  I was able to focus a little more when I started digging my nails into my hands.  By the time we sat down to the sermon my hands were red and I was almost in tears from frustration.

Here’s the funny and incredibly ironic part: the sermon was about waking up and paying attention.  Again, not kidding.

This was almost a week ago, so I know I don’t remember everything.  But here’s some of it  (sermon points in blue):

  • Eutychus fell asleep and out of a 3-story window.  (Acts 20:7-10)
  • “Be quiet!” . . . says the lady sitting behind me and 3 chairs over to the child (who I can’t hear) sitting directly behind me.  Why do shushing parents often make more noise than their kids?  I wonder what that kid is doing?
  • Why did Eutychus fall asleep?  Because Paul preached until midnight.  Why on earth was the kid sleeping in a window?  That’s the question.  There’s a lot of windows in here.  I wonder if this building used to be a department store or something. . . 
  • “Shhh!  Be quiet!”  Inward eye roll. . . I bed she would keep her kid out of a window.
  • People get tired of waiting.  Yeah we do.  But a good sermon deserves good time.  Maybe Paul shouldn’t have gone on 4 hours, but I wish Pastor wasn’t always promising to “not keep us very long.”  I love his preaching . . . I could listen for hours.  
  • “Do you guys know what happens to my ego when you fall asleep?”  Crap.  Sorry, Pastor.
  • “If you don’t quiet down right now I’m taking you out of here!”  I still can’t hear the kid.
  • CRASH!!  (Really, more like a bump)  My friend’s cell phone falls about a foot and a half into the aisle.  It lands right side up.  He picks it up.  I remember when my cell phone dropped, right before that important phone call.  Why did he even have his phone out?  Probably using a Bible app. . . it’s so hard to tell when people are texting in church or reading the Bible.
  • STAY ALERT!!!  The Devil wants to put us to sleep so we can’t see the light!  I’m trying, Pastor, I’m trying!  Why can’t I do this?  This is making me sooooo angry!
  • Ding!  Aw, C’mon!  If you’re going to text at least silence your phone!  My #1 pet peeve in church: people who text all through service, or talk without even bothering to whisper, while throwing out “Amens” and “Preach its” every once in awhile (sometimes in extremely inappropriate places because they’re not paying one iota of attention, like the time that lady shouted out a very loud “Amen!” right after Pastor asked us to pray for a lady who was dying), and then go up to the alter afterwards as if they have taken in a lot to think about.  Listing all these times in my mind. 
  • “That’s it!”  There they go.  That poor child escorted down the middle aisle of a seated congregation.  I’m still not even sure what he did that was so noisy.  I can remember a few times that happened to me.  Or when Dad told me to be quiet right in the middle of preaching.  I remember when Dad got down out of the PULPIT to take Matthew out of church. . . 
  • “Weariness of the mind, burnout.”  (I think these were supposed to be all reasons we fall asleep spiritually.)  You got me there, Pastor.  (Several minutes of stress-related contemplation followed by a reminder that my vacation is in less than 190 days.)
  • “You snooze, you lose.”  Man, I’m really missing out here.  My brain hurts from trying to focus so hard.  I know this is a sermon I’d take tons of notes on, but I barely have a page.  I need to get the CD.  How can ever do anything effectively on my own when I can’t even make it through a sermon?  (I start to feel really guilty, tears are stinging the back of my eyes.)  
  • Ding!  Seriously???  Did you really not think to silence your phone after the first one?  Are you not hearing the sermon???  I’m only catching every 5th word, but even I get that this is the worst possible service to engage in OPEN distraction!

Suddenly, that mysterious and unexpected phenomenon of ADHD took over: hyperfocus.

You see, ADHD doesn’t mean an inability to concentrate, only an inability to control when and how you concentrate.  During hyperfocus, I lose track of all else.  I have almost no awareness of anything other than what I’m doing.  No one else is in the room, there is no temperature, my body is nothing but the parts necessary for the task at hand.  Click I did, finally . . . to the last 7 minutes or so of the sermon.

But God knows us so well.  He made us, even the apparently broken parts.  To Him, those parts aren’t broken.  I don’t always understand that part, but I know it’s true.  And that last bit of the sermon that my brain suddenly and inexplicably locked on to after so much tortuous distraction was about . . . Grace.  “Eutychus” means “fortunate one.”  Paul didn’t get mad or hurt because Eutychus fell asleep; neither did God.  Eutychus got a second chance.  God will wake us up.  He knows about the things that distract us, the things that weigh us down, the things that cause us to sleep.  He understands our minds, and He is merciful.

So I stayed in my seat during the alter call (which is usually the most distracting way imaginable for me to process a service) and let my mind wander a bit.  I detest this battle within my mind, but I was so grateful to be reminded of how far I have come and how blessed I am because of it.  It wandered over the fact that I wasn’t very fidgety all night.  That God’s sense of timing and ironic humor is impeccable.  That He knows what I need and just how to give it.  That even though my brain is often completely out of my control, He always has and always will hold the remote.  That I am so blessed to have discovered a good doctor who can treat and teach me, that I no longer have to struggle like this all the time.  Without an occasional reminder like this one, I forget what life used to be like.

After church I made sure I smiled at the irritated mom and chatted with the new guy who had the beeping cell phone.  I forgot to request the CD.

My consciousness has suddenly redirected to my television, where Cow and Chicken are dancing around a stage singing, “It’s good to be ugly after all.”  Paul said it a little more eloquently:

“For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake.  For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.  But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.  For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.  So death works in us, but life in you.” 

(2 Corinthians 4:5-12)

An ellipses in action . . .

ADHD.  So many things come to mind when people hear this term.

Hyper.  Bad.  Crazy.  Distracted.  Cop-out.  Excuse.  Lazy.  Flakey.  Working below potential.  Label.  Unfocused.

I used to think the same things.  I was also a child, adolescent, and college student who spent most of her life distracted and working below her potential.  I had so many ideas and so much energy, but it was so unfocused and nothing ever happened.  Well, a lot HAPPENED, but not much happened according to plan.  The things that happened properly sort of fell into place by accident, and the things that I worked so hard to do right generally went awry.  People saw me as being really lazy, and my constant claims that I was doing my best got real old real fast.  I seemed flakey and full of excuses, and eventually I started to believe that I was.

Then I was diagnosed with ADHD.  Yup, I got a pill.  And one day I discovered that it’s possible to think about one thing at a time.  I learned that I could prioritize in my brain all the different stimuli competing for my senses.  Turns out that, when properly wired, my brain can make birds chirping outside less important than the conversation I’m in the middle of.  I was 23 years old.

I was pretty angry, but not because I found out I had ADHD.  I was angry because of the 22 years I spent learning to believe that I was lazy, flakey, and full of excuses.  Knowing I have ADHD is one of the biggest gifts I’ve ever been given, not because I have a legitimate excuse for not being able to meet all the expectations placed on me, but because I now have permission to meet them in my own creative way.

For Thou did form my inward parts; Thou did weave me in my mother’s womb.  I will give thanks to Thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Thy works, and my soul knows it very well.  My frame was not hidden from Thee, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth.  Thine eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Thy book they were all written, the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.  (Psalm 139: 13-16)

ADHD is a wiring issue.  It’s a variation in the electrical construction of the brain.  If I wanted to debate this I could pull out brain scans and cite studies and quote lots of information about dopamine pathways and prefrontal cortex.  I’m not writing about ADHD today.  I’m writing about who God has made us to be.

Psalm 139 has always been special to me as I wandered through the often confusing journey of my life, but even moreso since I discovered that my brain is different.  I imagine God looking out from the beginning of time onto the history of the earth, spread out before Him like a beautiful front lawn sprawled in front of the porch swing He’s sitting on.  He looks at each of us, smiles down at the anomalies, and says, “You will be like this.  It is not the perfect Heavenly body that I will one day give you, but it will be perfect in my eyes nonetheless.  You will struggle in ways that most people do not, but with those struggles will come strength and character and abilities that many people won’t have, either.  I’m only going to make a few people like you because, quite frankly, there’s only so much of you the population can handle at a time.  So, it will be a little lonely.  I give you two choices: reject my gift and fight the challenges, or embrace it and enjoy the blessings that it will bring.”

A new friend of mine said last week that he loves exclamation points.  He said that when he was born God must have put an exclamation point at the end of his name.  What a great new way to look at how we fit in to the Body of Christ!  When we think about our purpose and place, we usually think about abilities.  How often do we think about personality?  How many different kinds of punctuation does it take to create something worth reading or listening to?  My friend truly is an exclamation point; his energy brings everything around him to life, and I don’t think I have ever been in the same room as him without smiling at the excited reactions he can’t keep contained.  I have friends who are question marks, constantly questioning and challenging me.  My dad is a period; his emotion is controlled, but you know that when he puts his thoughts into words he’s probably right.  Just the way that – for the sake of humanity – God limits the amount of ADHD in the world, He also carefully parceled out punctuation marks.  You can’t please everybody; there will always be people who get annoyed at questions, roll their eyes at exclamations, and fall asleep if there are too many periods.  But we need them all.

Even though I have ADHD, I am not an exclamation point; I am an ellipses.  Those 3 dots that mean a thought isn’t finished yet . . .  I am passionate about what I think, but my thoughts are forever evolving.  I think out loud.  There is so much happening inside my brain that my thoughts overwhelm me if I don’t get them out in the open where I can shift them around.  So, I talk an awful lot.  I have learned that most people get real tired of ellipses real fast.  They ignore the last two dots, assume they’re talking to a period, and then get irritated when the thought isn’t over yet.  Part of having ADHD is realizing that there are times when you just have to pretend you don’t.  You learn how to look like you’re paying attention, how to keep your body still even though you’re bouncing inside, and how to cut off those last two dots even though your thought isn’t finished yet.  One of the biggest things I’ve learned to do is just shut my mouth.  There are a lot of things I don’t say, sometimes because I think people are sick of listening to me and sometimes because I’m afraid I’ll have to ramble for 5 minutes before I can get to my real point.

One of the stupid things I have done in my life is shut people out.  I’m fixing that now, in overdrive.  It’s fantastic.  What I’m discovering is how right I have always been when I tell people that we NEED each other.  (It’s so difficult to take your own advice sometimes!)  As I let in people my spirit wakes.  As my spirit stirs so does that special gift that God spoke over me at the dawn of time.  And my mind is filled to overflowing.  My thoughts swirl and grow and merge and separate and develop and regress.  A mass of dots that can’t figure out if they are the end of an unfinished thought or the beginning of completion.  And I can’t sleep.  I have a new appreciation for all those times that David wrote that he “meditated on God day and night.”  It’s really exhausting.  It’s not physically possible to do it for very long.  After about 2 weeks of minimal sleep I started thinking I was under spiritual attack.  Finally, I acted on one of the more dominant ideas in my mind: I shared some of the other ideas.  And I slept.

I am an ellipses; I must accept this.  My mind will always be full of thoughts and ideas; I must embrace this.  My thoughts must get out of my brain so I can sleep; therefore, I must remove them.  Why not try a blog?  It’s an idea I’ve been mulling over for a long time but I haven’t done it just because I’ll probably flake on it and then everyone will know. . .  Still, I’m a decent writer and this way no one has to listen if they don’t really want to.

I don’t plan on writing many journal entries like this one.  That’s not the sort of stuff God’s putting on my mind.  He is challenging me, and I want to pass that on to you.

What is your punctuation mark?  Are you rejecting it or embracing it?

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