My 16 year old daughter was diagnosed as Attention Deficit Disorder and then, at the age of 57, so was I. A lifetime of struggle was placed into a context that made sense of a lot of failure and frustration. This blog documents and celebrates what has happened to me since.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Subtract, don't ADD

The word "focus" has been surfacing in my thoughts, recently. I have so many things going on and I am having trouble making progress with them. Classic Attention Deficit Disorder.

The cycle is as old as I can remember: take on tasks, make lists, figure out when things will get done, add more tasks, make room for them on the list, procrastinate when something comes along that looks more interesting than what is on the list (procrastinate meaning "figure out a time in the future when you could do what you should do now and then decide to do it then"), add more stuff, take more time away through an impulse or accommodating an unexpected task or just to escape the pressure of getting all this stuff done and--voila!!! I am completely overwhelmed and it comes tumbling, in way or another, down.

Impulse underminng Focus.

Impulse. Focus.

Aside from the mundane, quotidian things in front of me (keeping the house going and in order, doing laundry, getting the children where they should/want to be, getting the cars serviced, the yard taken care of, the dogs and cats to the vet--and there's a lot on tht list that needs a lot of attention at this moment, at any moment), I have several other projects on my list that are calling my name, right now. In so far as I actually deal with them it is most often in a haphazard way, determined by which is the closest to sending me over the edge; where is the most pressure coming from at the moment.

When I was young there was a juggler I used to see on the Ed Sullivan Show. He would spin plates on sticks on a long table on the stage. The plates were balanced on the top of these sticks and they would go until their momentum was exhausted and then they would fall. Well, they would have fallen if he had let them, but he didn't. He got many plates spinning at the same time and would go from plate to plate, spinning the sticks between the palms of his hands to keep the plates going. As one plate needed more of his energy he would go to that plate and give it attention. There was one on the end of the table that he would neglect (on purpose of course) until the audience was screaming at him to spin it. He would get there on the last possible wobble, of course, just before, for lack of his attention/energy, it would crash to the floor.

I have often compared my life to that collection of spinning plates. Sometimes one or more--sometimes almost all--of my plates have come crashing down for lack of ability/energy (and skill) to keep all spinning.

I have never been good at limiting the scope of my activities. And I have never been particularly good at most of them. I have always tried to do too many things to be outstanding at any one of them. I have, most usually, tried to do so many things that I was never even very competent at any of them.

And I have serial enthusiasms. I am interested in something for a while--to the exclusion of other things in which I am interested or should be doing--and then I lose interest and move on to something else. Often I go back to one of these interests but I will move on, again.

There are so many interesting and attractive things to do, in this life. There are so many things that have distracted me, in this life.

My energy gets scattered in this way. A big chunk of it is invested in novels that will never be finished. Another chunk can be found in a baseball card collection that is in dissarray and will never be otherwise. The latter activity goes back to my childhood, the former to my adolescence. There are a lot of other artifacts of my energy around.

It is not all gloom. I can see things into which my energy has gone and much has been accomplished. My relationships with my children and with Lynn and with (some) other people, my legal knowledge and expertise, my teaching skills, my spiritual development. Yet, even in these things the pattern holds true, to some extent.

Focus. Impulse.

There are some things I want to get done, both in the short and the long run. (And at 58 there isn't such a long run, left). I am realizing that it's going to be about taking things out of my life, now, and not adding any more. Or, if any more is added then some things have to be taken out.

The spiritual tradition of the Society of Friends is of that type. The simplicity that grows from that kind of direct and transformative relationship with God/Spirit is the result of recognizing things that conflict with it and removing them from one's life. It is the work of the Adversary/Devil to keep one's life so complicated that we are out of right relationship with ourselves, those around us, what's going on around us, and with God. Confused and exhausted and frustrated by complication we are lost and we are unable, and convinced that we will never be able, to do (let alone see and understand) the work that God has for us to do.

Medication, the process of being matured and transformed by God/Spirit, worldly experience, reasoning and sorting things out over time--put it all in a jar and shake it until smooth. The product is a realization that I have to focus, in big ways and small. Whether it is laying down some project altogether in favor of another or just not picking up a magazine on the way to the bathrooom to prevent myself from getting getting interested in an article and taking an hour away from the project upon which I was working, the point is to focus, to eschew the influence impulse, and don't take on as many tasks/interests/activities as I can remove from my life.

Just say no, is, the phrase that comes to mind. Say no to others, say no to myself, say no to the demands of the momentum/intertia of my life and the things I am carrying through it. Simple, but not easy. ADD wants to add things--things that crowd out other things until those things, in their turn, are crowded out and until all of the energy put into all of them creates little, if anything, that endures beyond the moment of its release.

Simplicity gets a good Quaker boy to Harmony.

Subtract, don't ADD.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Bowling, too.

My younger brother was in town for the weekend and we went bowling.

He and I have a history with bowling. Our parents taught us to bowl early and kept us in junior leagues until we graduated from high school. They didn't need to force us to do it. We liked it. Neither of us were great bowlers, for different reasons, but we both had a good time, most of the time, although we were both frustrated by our inability to do as well as some others. We were low middle of the pack in our abilities.

He kept at it, over the years, and has developed into a decent bowler. He is actually in the Southern Oregon Bowling Hall of Fame but mostly because of his work with junior bowlers and with Special Olympics. He works at a bowling "center" (we are not allowed to call them "alleys" any more).

I didn't keep at it. I bowled for a while in the Marine Corps and actually saw my average jump about thirty pins. I left off, in high school, in the low 150's and got up to the low 180's. But I didn't see any reason to keep it up. It still frustrated me. I had an unbreakable tendency to rush the line, to (I now understand) get to the line before the ball did, and then to throw the ball hard. That lack of timing and hard throwing ruined my form and made me inconsistent. Inconsistency in something like bowling is an assurance of erratic--and mostly poor--performance. Such performance is frustrating and a low tolerance for frustration is made even more damaging to a person when a lot of frustration is what their poor performance brings them. I think they call this a cycle of some kind...

I did take a bowling class in college when I needed a PE credit and it was ok to be at the top of the class. How many years did I have behind me, at that point? It was a bunch of beginners. I felt like Dick Weber.

I have had a ball in my hand a time or two since then, usually when my brother and I got together. Mostly it was after my girls were born and they wanted to try it. Each time I went I realized that I was not really good at this, that the middling skill I had developed once had eroded and left me erratic and frustrated. One time I would throw a beautiful strike and the next time I'd knock a couple of pins off of one side. Spares were really hard. I had no desire to do it again very soon.

But last night was different. Last night was the first time I bowled since my ADD diagnosis and since I started on medication. Like so many things I have done a lot in my life (and not done very well), I found bowling a much improved experience.

I was able to concentrate in a whole new way. I always knew what I was supposed to do to be able to bowl well. It was never lack of knowledge of the technique that held me back. It was always an inability to control myself, physically, mentally and emotionally that was the problem. I "could" not employ the technique I knew I was supposed to be using.

The setting last night was not conducive to good performance, for me. Lots of distraction. It was open bowling, with young children on lanes on both sides, who knew nothing of the taking of turns. They rushed up when they were ready and hung out at the foul line--often partially on our lane--as they watched the results of their rolling (or bouncing) of the ball. And my own family was not "centered" on bowling the way a team would be, so it was not always easy to keep my mind on what I was doing. Finally, of course, I was caught up in the good natured (?) competition with my brother.

But I realized, almost from the first ball, that things were going to be different, last night. And different they were. I didn't set the world on fire but for one who had not had a ball in his hands for a long time, I did very well. I was thinking, all the time, about what it was I was supposed to be doing and was able to actually do it a lot of the time. I realized that I could, with some time, to get back into the groove, be much better at this than I ever was before. I wanted to join a league, do this regularly. I felt, as I have so often felt since I started on medication, to revisit the "site" of previous humiliations and conquer. Yeah, you know, like going back to the seventh grade and taking science, again. Or going back to that first date...or the second or third one, for that matter.

Will I do it? Will I make bowling a part of my life? No. Not likely. Who has time? My life is already full and too full. But, standing there, holding that ball, looking at those pins, I had another reminder that I am disabled, and have been disabled all of my life. A lot of the frustration I have felt in my life at being unable to perform as well as I wanted to was not due to something about which nothing could be done, something beyond my control. I was not, as I believed (and still on an emotional, habitual level, believe) doomed to a life of being "no good" or "substandard." I can do something about it, now. I can.

I don't have to go back and show myself, in every situation in which I failed that I can succeed, although it would be satisfying in some ways to do that just to show some people that I am not as bad at things as they thought I was. It's plenty to be able to move forward with what is happening in my life, now, to apply what I have learned to what's on my desk, today.

But, man, I wish I could have another shot at playing baseball as a kid and as a young man.

ps. I saw a great cartoon in the New Yorker recently. Typical drawing; man is on the couch, psychiatrist sitting there with his pad. And the psychiatrist says "If you're happy and you know it stick with your dosage."

I read that and grinned, from ear to ear.

Golf! Oh, my! Where are my golf clubs?

About Me

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I am a convinced Beanite Friend, a member of Bridge City Friends Meeting, Willamette Quarterly Meeting and North Pacific Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. Notwithstanding the doubts of some who claim the name, I am a Christian who does a Buddhist practice and believes that God talks to everyone, all the time. I have worked in the judicial branch of government, as well as being a trial lawyer, a public school teacher (counselor and coach), a kite merchant, and a Marine Corp Sergeant. I am currently working as a consultant to public and private agencies on issues of child welfare, juvenile justice, and substance abuse treatment courts.