The Metamorphosis

What happens to an ADHDer when he succeeds at overcoming some of the negative aspects of his "gift"?

In all fictions, each time a man meets diverse alternatives, he chooses one and eliminates the others; in the work of the virtually impossible-to-disentangle Ts’ui Pen, he chooses — simultaneously — all of them. He creates, thereby, ‘several futures,’ several times, which themselves also proliferate and fork. That is the explanation of the novel’s contradictions. Fang, let us say, has a secret; a stranger knocks at his door; Fang decides to kill him. Naturally, there are various possible outcomes — Fang can kill the intruder, the intruder can kill Fang, they can both live, they can both be killed, and so on. In Ts’ui Pen’s novel, all the outcomes in fact occur; each is the starting point for further bifurcations. Once in a while, the paths of that labyrinth converge: for example, you come to this house, but in one of the possible pasts you are my enemy, in another my friend.
- “The Garden of Forking Paths,” from Collected Fictions: Jorge Luis Borges, translated by Andrew Hurley. Penguin Books: 1998.

A Definition Of The Word “Understanding”: To understand something means to know the significance of the object of understanding, to be familiar with it, to accept it as true. [note 1] But to truly understand something, which is the sense that I am most concerned with in this post, is to have an understanding that alters ones actions because those actions are based on that understanding. This “understanding” shapes you forever. All of your actions are done because of or in spite of this understanding.

The problem of ADHD is the inability to conceptualize — and internalize — time and thereby be able structure one’s life based on that conception of time. [note 2] At best, ADHDers can understand infinitesimally small pieces of time – namely, the-now. Yet even these infinitesimal time fragments can be obliterated into nonexistence by the ADHD storms of frenetic mental/physical activity. The holy grail for the ADHDer is to reduce the frequency of these storms. Within a fabricated calmness an ADHDer can begin to see and understand time. An ADHDer can then construct a life based on this understanding of how the-nows are related to the-near-term future — the soon-to-be-now — and the-long-term future even though that future can be weeks, months, or years away. Eventually the ADHDer understands that the long-term-future will become the near-term future and will become the-now.

I have achieved this ability to understand and “see” time. More of my actions in the-now are based on my understanding of the interrelationship between the-now, the near-term and the long-term future. I see actions as threaded together in time and across time. [note 3] The acts that occur in the-now are no longer seen as discrete, isolated acts but as acts that can have an effect in the yet-to-be-seen future. This new understanding, this visualization of action across time and space has opened a new realm of thought and vision. I have gone from extreme mental nearsightedness to 20/20 mental vision. I see things I just did not see before. But this new vision has come at a price.

Before “the cure” [note 4] I did not truly understand the linkages between the-now and the various futures. I could not easily alter my current behavior because it was based on a poorly developed understanding of time. [note 5] I now see it, feel it, understand it. Current action is altered based on a palpably real, future possibility. [note 6] My actions are not subject, as much as they once were, to the vagaries of the ADHD storms. [note 7]  They are more focused, more directed. But, as a consequence of this change, something fundamental has changed. Having arrived at the ADHDer’s “promised land” of internalized time, daily life has a different feel to it, a different texture. I am going through the “expected” motions of life, following a particular path — created by my choices and actions —  towards an imagined endpoint. The ADHDers illusion (delusion) of an infinite series of choices and do-overs is fading. I do not have the luxury, as in the writings of Ts’ui Pen, to choose all of the paths simultaneously.

This new understanding, this new realization, has created an internal tension. I want to return to that pre-cure state. I want to live again in the infinitesimal nows with the illusion of infinite do-overs, of being able to choose all paths simultaneously. There was a zest, a drive, a vibrancy that was fueled by a never ending swirl of ADHD storms. It was exhilarating, exhausting and chaotic.  Yet, I also want to remain in the post-cure state. It is calmer, more predictable. The zest, the drive, the vibrancy to life that characterized the pre-cure state is still there. It is not gone. But it has changed. It is no longer fueled by a string of ADHD storms. Its source of energy is a new understanding of time and action.

I wonder what my life will be like in the coming decades. I expect it to be an interesting journey.

The non-ADHDer may be puzzled by some of the ideas alluded to in this post. The following links may be of some help here.

  1. You CAN accept something as true when it is false. The statement “two plus two equals five” is false which, we know, is true, that is, it is a true statement. ;)
  2. This is the essence of Barkley’s theory of ADHD.
  3. For non-ADHDers, it is not a revelation to learn that life is a series of actions in and across time and space. However, non-ADHDers “naturally” internalize this concept and conduct their lives accordingly. For ADHDers, this concept is never internalized and the struggle becomes learning how to internalize it to whatever degree is possible.
  4. The “cure” for me consists of medication, therapy, exercise and personal reflection.
  5. Though I was able to alter my behavior based on some imagined “future,” it was only possible with gargantuan effort and within the tornado of forces that comprise the ADHD mind. It was done, in large measure, as a means of relieving the tornado’s pressure — which may have been in the form of a project deadline, for example — in order to be able to rapidly get back to the point where the pressure was gone. It was not necessarily for an imagined future, per se, but for a very near-term future that was pressure-free. It was always done to relieve “the pain.” When the perceived pain was gone, the activity stopped.
  6. When I do not alter my actions as I should, the guilt eats away at me.
  7. Admittedly there are still ADHD storms that temporarily nullify the actions and pull me back into the infinitesimal nows. But these storms are less frequent, less dominant.
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  • 18channels

    "I want to return to that pre-cure state. I want to live again in the infinitesimal nows with the illusion of infinite do-overs, of being able to choose all paths simultaneously. " This quote kind of makes me want to throw up…it makes me want to throw up when I have those moments pop up these days…sigh…I don't want that. It makes me feel like my heart will explode out of my chest…I used to live for that feeling…now it makes me sick…

    • Jeff

      Quite understandable…but then…keep in mind…you've recently run away from it. And while there is, obviously, a part of me that doesn't want to go back to that pre-cure state, nonetheless, there was a certain quality to it that is no longer a part of me. I can't go back to that state…but…well…something got lost going from pre- to post-cure. Hopefully only the "bad stuff" got lost. :D

  • Scott Hutson

    Metamorphosis sneaks up on me. " Truly Understanding" has caused a metamorphosis in my life. Looking back has become easier now that I do know that I did not……understand. Time goes on and on and……on. On this Journey….into the unknown. Seeing into, and knowing the future….hmmm…No thanks, takes the fun out of it. ;)

    • Jeff

      We don't exactly know the future but…we gain an increasing measure of control over the future over time…or that's what we believe. That's why the economic crash was so devastating and will have a profound effect on so many people. So many thought they COULD predict the future and, certainly, their economic future. That turned out to be an illusion.

      • Scott Hutson

        Yes Jeff, it is so true, and the facts of physical science (Newtons third law) have been a stumbling block for me many times. But my predictability of reactions to my actions have been better after understanding the fact that A.D.D. played a major role in my actions throughout my lifetime of paying the dues for impulsive, self gratifying actions.The fun part now is seeing the results of managing my A.D.D. and being surprised by the good reactions that come more frequently, not every single time, but it’s gettin’ better.

        Wall Street has the power to screw up our economy based on “Futures”. That’s always been a confusing subject for me to understand why we let this happen.

  • Gina Pera

    Nicely done, Jeff.

    My prediction: As with any new skill or newly developed perception, you will continue to move towards a balance that both makes life more predictable and more exciting (in a good way). The difference now is that you will be able to choose.

    • Jeff

      Thanks so much, Gina. And I'm in agreement with your prediction. My only wish? I wish I was diagnosed fifteen years ago.

  • docbets

    Another excellent post, Jeff. I am interested in what you say about Time, for several reasons. Way back, it was Time that constituted the very first noticeable change I experienced as a result of taking medication for AD/HD. In the afternoon of that first day, I looked at the clock and said, "Wow. It's only 2:20." Every other time I had ever looked at a clock like that, my reaction was more like, "Oh shit! It's 5 o'clock!"

    However, soon after, I began to notice myself being chronically late to things I had never been late to, before. That problem persists. I had spent more than fifteen years doing therapy in my office, meeting clients every hour, on time, ending sessions fifty minutes later, on time. I began to be late to pick my kid up from school. Often. I saw I was having trouble stopping what I was doing.

  • docbets


    It occurred to me that an impulse is an impulse. A medication that helps control impulses may also control the (appropriate) impulse to go get the kid from school. Less medication didn't make a difference. I do not like the mad scramble at the last minute. And, I rarely anticipate it, no matter that I have been through it thousands of times. On the rare occasion that I do things smoothly and at the "right" time, I experience a calm pleasure that makes me ache for its scarcity.

    I read somewhere, ten years ago or so, that a sense of Time is one thing that isn't improved much by medications; not as much as, say organization. I was disappointed to read that, yet relieved that maybe it wasn't just me. I do not remember the source of that tidbit and I am glad it doesn't seem to be the case for you.

    My only wish? That I didn't have ADD.

    • Jeff

      "I read somewhere, ten years ago or so, that a sense of Time is one thing that isn't improved much by medications; not as much as, say organization." I think the medication makes you aware of Time's existence (which is essentially your observation) but it can't effect a physiological change so that we would have a sense of how much time has passed between event X and Y. What's missing physiologically is our escapement (… ) which internally measures time. That's why we need all these darned lists and reminders and so on.

      "My only wish? That I didn't have ADD. " Absolutely!! I wish I was religious so I could tell God to take this gift and shove it.

  • docbets

    Time is a bitch. I know someone with ADD who says that whenever she feels something very intensely — wait, it's when she feels something negative very intensely — it may as well be that she has felt that way forever. Somehow, in her mind, the intensity gets translated into a perception of time. The more intense, the longer it seems.

    Please explain that in the helpful way you explain such things.
    I agree with you that the "gear" — or really, the cog — slipping or not, is an apt representation of the problems we have with Time. But I have also observed, repeatedly, that it is possible to squeak into the parking lot at the office with exactly the same number of minutes to spare (like, minus two) as the last time. And the time vefore that.

    Something is working, wouldn't you say? Just on "Delay."

    • Jeff

      I feel like my WHOLE LIFE is on "Delay." ;) No doubt that something is penetrating our thick ADHD skulls…but…boy…being an ADHDer sometimes feels like being a toddler who is learning to walk…it's supposed to become automatic and it kind of does and yet, sometimes, it just falls apart and doesn't work.

      • Scott Hutson

        “Controlling Time” May be label for what I have been trying to do all my life. I have mentioned a few times here(Jeffs blog) that I have always, or for as long as can recall, that I set all my personal clocks, watch,truck..etc at least 10min. ahead. Most are 30min. fast on purpose. It’s something I just feel I need to do. It doesn’t keep me from being late for meetings and appt.s.

        I have done allot of thinking about the reason why I do it. It may be that I need to feel like I am under pressure when I see what time it is, and then feel relieved from the pressure when I tell myself that I have more time than what I am seeing. The real reason may be that I am just a very weird man, a few cards short of a full deck.

  • Betsy

    Scott, or one sandwich short of a full picnic. (I love those.) Being late is stimulating, and can galvanize me into action when my own, internal, motivation system can't. If a certain level of stimulation is required for mental organization — needed for the gather-and-go activities inherent in any transition — and our brains do not provide that level biochemically, then we have to provide it by using external means.

    Specifically, we can use lateness/hurry, a false perception of lateness (setting clocks ahead, anger (ever been able to do something when pissed off that you had not been able to do, before?), working with one or more others, etc.

  • Betsy

    I myself have tried over the years to do what I call, "extending the last minute," with limited success. I can only describe it, loosely, as a kind of faking myself into believing I have much more to do than I actually do, with the sometimes result that I get started earlier. A major problem with this or any method is that one has to remember to use it.

    It always comes down to what Jeff says so well: if you don't have an internal sense of time, you have to employ lots of other strategies, and none of them — nor all of them — will ever be as easy and effective as having been born with the capacity to develop an automatic system like 90% of the world's people get to enjoy.

    Without, I have to add, having a clue how lucky they are.

    • Jeff

      It dawned on me that our lack of \”internal time\” is analogous to living in a three dimensional world but only being able to comprehend two dimensions. We move fine within the X and Y coordinates but what eludes us is the Z coordinate. We move thru the Z coordinate without really understanding the implication of doing so. — ———Jeff——–What the critics are saying about JeffsADDMind:\”an outrageously popular blog\” – Peter DeLaVerita\”a welcome antidote to the nonsense that passes as discourse in America\” – Sir Gaius Baltar

  • Sarah Barnes

    For me, time is fluid and I see it as a river. It looks like a slow current on top, but underneath the current is swift and strong. Sometimes it Carries me away, most of the time I find a happy medium to wade into, other times I’m grabbing handfuls of water in the hopes that I can stop it. My non ADD roomate is befuddled by the fact that I don’t watch TV. I don’t have time to do it, plus it feels like I’m wasting time doing nothing when I could be creating things. Pinterest crafts may very well be the downfall of me.

    • Jeffs ADD Mind

      Quite interesting that you don’t watch television. I haven’t watched regular commercial television (broadcast or cable) in decades.

      While my own success with handling time waxes and wanes, the question is whether you feel that it’s completely slipping away from you. Grabbing handfuls, that’s good. But if Pinterest is pulling you away from other things that you should be doing or rather be doing…then…maybe you should give some thought to how to handle that…if you see it as a problem.

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