I have ADD. More specifically, I have the subtypes of inattentive ADD, anxious ADD, and overfocused ADD. And, I have the brain scans to prove it, courtesy of the Amen Clinic, my former upper-middle class status with fantastic insurance, and my white privilege enabling me to cross the country just to spend the weekend inside a SPECT machine. Nevertheless, I’m grateful to have been able to see what all is going on in the mess between my ears.
Basically what these two particular scans are showing is that when I have to think really hard or am put into stressful situations, my head short circuits. At other times, I get hyper-focused and obsessive about certain thought patterns. Most of the time I’m able to compensate for this fairly well, and now that I understand what is going on, I can plan ahead for some of my brain farts. But sometimes, especially if I’m put on the spot with a question or task when I’m already nervous, I am left paralyzed and clueless.
Here’s an example. Last semester during one clinical, the nurse I was working with asked me what the classic signs of a heart attack are. We were taking care of a patient who was experiencing chest pains, and we were deciding whether or not she was really exhibiting heart issues or if she was just having anxiety.
When the nurse asked this question, I just went completely blank. I could not think and could not produce any kind of intelligent answer. It was so frustrating because the question was not a difficult one. This kind of scenario leaves me in a panic, frantically searching the databases of my mind and coming up empty. The result is that I feel completely incompetent, and it only increases my anxiety level, which makes everything worse. A second side effect of having these types of ADD is that I can be completely blind to things at time. If I’m nervous or stressed and am looking for something, I can literally not see it even if it is right in front of me. This phenomenon drives me crazy, to say the list, especially when it makes me look entirely stupid.
Over the last several years, I’ve been trying to incorporate practices into my life that will help calm my brain. ADD drugs have never been helpful for me…they make me hyper for a week and then stop doing anything. So, I needed alternative methods to help soothe my nerves, literally. I’ve found that doing yoga and sitting meditation have helped tremendously in this area, because they force me to be where I am at that moment, and only focus on what is right in front of me. I have also learned that if I get less than eight hours of sleep at night, the next day will include multiple episodes of brain freeze.
There is a word play off an old adage that goes “Don’t just do something! Sit there!” This mindset totally goes against most of our natures. We believe that to solve problems or change things, we must do, do do. I totally fall prey to the mindset that I will find my answers externally, and if I just work harder or find the right book or talk to the right person, or, or, or…I will discover the solution to my problem. The same happens when I’m having one of my ADD attacks. Instead of leaning into the discomfort of my brain momentarily shutting down and letting it calm itself, I internally panic and start grasping for anything to help me feel right again. This never fixes anything, and only exacerbates my anxiety, which then lengthens the time my brain is out of service.
What I’m gradually learning over time, but still regularly forget, is that when things blow up in our faces, the best thing to do initially is to not react. We need to just sit there and look that situation or person head on without judgment. Because when we jump into action straightaway without letting it be, we are acting out of our beliefs and thoughts about that situation or person, and our thoughts may or may not be true. Or, as in my case with ADD and I literally have NO thoughts that will come, I’m just reacting out of habit and knee-jerk reflexes, which have never been helpful in these circumstances.
It is better to sit and watch and understand before we try to do anything. Then, with time, out of a calm and relaxed mind, we can make balanced decisions about how to proceed, without being motivated by fear, or for me, blind panic.
“To meditate means to go home to yourself. Then you know how to take care of the things that are happening inside you, and you know how to take care of the things that happen around you. “
-Thich Nhat Hanh