Thursday, November 30, 2006


It's not about taking happy pills. I'm not fighting depression. It's about something called frustration tolerance, which I have only recently learned of.

We all get frustrated. We're supposed to. We need to get frustrated by things. It's a God-given motivator.

As it was explained to me, and I now believe it entirely, many people with ADHD respond to social situations in bad ways because of very low frustration tolerances. We feel overwhelmed by the noise of life, so we do one of two things: act out or shut down.

So what I would do was this: At work, or around people that I couldn't shout at, I would shut down, detaching myself from the situation, and becoming inattentive. You can imagine how this affects your work life. Not good.

I didn't pay attention in meetings or with my boss and coworkers. I couldn't focus on what was overwhelming to my racing mind, so I focused on nothing at all. It was easier. Much easier.

At home and around people I love it manifested in a different way: Anger. I'm not the kind of guy who you might characterize as violent or angry in general, but there are many times that I have exploded at people I care about for minor things. This generally happens because of something I am frustrated by, and not something they have done. Unfortunately it's the ones we love who we feel the most comfortable in hurt. It's such a sad truth.

I remember back in the spring as my daughter played with her cousin. There was noise and shouting and my mind was hammered by data. My in-laws annoyed me, because, well, they're annoying. But that truth didn't justify my actions.

When a shoving match broke out between my niece and my daughter, I suddenly grew agitated to an extreme by the fact that the parents of the older child did nothing to stop the childish fight. It annoyed me that they didn't know how to discipline.

What should have been a minor agitation became a major ordeal, and I burst into rage.
I shouted, "I'd love to knock that little brat on her butt."

I walked over and grabbed my daughter and left the house, leaving my poor wife to make a decision. She had to choose between her husband, who was being an unreasonable asshole, and her family, who sat wondering what the heck just happened.

I'm a lucky man. I have a loyal wife, and she chose the asshole for one reason: He happened to be her husband. Despite protests from her family, she left, armed only with the words, "He's my husband."

Am I blaming adult ADHD on the situation? Am I sidestepping my own role in the scenario? Yes and no.

Yes, I mean, I should have known better. I did know better. When I got home, where it was quiet and I could think without being bombarded by stimuli and settled down I did know better. It hit me, but not until I was away from the noise.

When I say 'noise' I'm not talking about the volume of the room. Rather, I'm talking about the bombardment of stimuli: The TV, conversation A, B and C, the kids playing, the toys on the floor, my wife asking me a question. This is where frustration tolerance comes into play.

Now, until very recently, I would have never attributed such silly outbursts, of which there were many, to ADHD. I would have attributed such things to immaturity or simply being a jerk. It wasn't even a thought in my mind until I first tried ADHD medication.

chapter 4


The first drug I tried (I mentioned this earlier) was Adderall. It worked very well. Too well. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I felt a little euphoric and as if I was on autopilot. Sure, I got a lot of work done, but it didn't feel nature. It felt like something I could easily become dependent on. Liking it a little too much, I realized it wasn't good to continue taking.

That said, the first day I took Adderall I noticed something unexpected: People didn't frustrate me.

Let's face it; we all work with frustrating people. People interrupt you with questions, and they want to talk too long while you want to work (or, in my case, continue being lost in a world of racing thoughts).

It was on this day when a guy, the most annoying guy in the world, came to my office. "Oh boy," I thought, "Here we go."

But it wasn't bad. In fact, something interesting happened: I listened to him and I wasn't annoyed. He had a lot of really important stuff to talk about. I wondered if this had always been the case. In the past I would have just tuned him out after the first few minutes of conversation. He would talk and I would not and he sounded like Charlie Brown's teacher to me (wah wah wah… wah wah wah…).

Even more, I wasn't frustrated by him. I didn't have this feeling of being bombarded by too much stimuli. I was able to just listen to him, without letting my mind wonder to the 10 other things it normally would have.

I wish I still had this. One day, a week or so before starting medication, I opened Notepad on my computer and typed everything I was thinking at that very moment. The list of items racing through my mind neared 20.

Imagine, trying to focus on something, anything, when you have 20 things going through your mind. Imagine trying to carry on a conversation with someone.

It reminds me of the times when, in a moment of tremendous racing thoughts, I would start talking to my wife. I spoke fast, so as to get all my thoughts in before they were lost and before I could be distracted by her response. Each new sentence was a new subject.

My wife would often say, "Matt, I can't follow you. You need to slow down."

I'm not hyper. Never have been, but conversationally I've never been an easy person to engage with. Too many subject changes. Too many thoughts. To much randomness about the subjects I bring up.

Okay, so as I mention it, that's sort of endearing, isn't it? It's cute to be full of thoughts. In fact, I think it's downright creative! It's the essence of an artistic mind! Frankly, I've always sort of liked this about myself.

But when it came to work and getting things done, it could be a little crippling. Imagine trying to write software when you are surrounded by 10 television sets all tuned to different stations. Not easy. Imagine trying to sit through a meeting that way. Imagine trying to listen to your spouse's "honey-do" list that way.

It's no wonder my wife grew frustrated every day, think I refused to listen to her. She'd rattle off things that she needed to do and I would nod and say, "Uh huh." Maybe I heard and maybe I didn't. If I did happen to hear, the instruction was quickly lost in a mountain of other thoughts.