Know Thyself


A.D.D.ers are masters of self-delusion. Our ability to weave mental tapestries to explain anything that needs “explaining away” is our strength, as a source of creativity, and our weakness, as a source of self-delusion. Though we can easily explain anything and everything in the world, we can not explain our own inner workings. This is not surprising. Does anyone really think it is possible to explain in a coherent and linear fashion what life is like when the wellspring of that life is a vortex of emotion and intellect? Is it any surprise that A.D.D.ers tend to digress into addictions (food, drugs, sex) that offer temporary relief from the maelstrom of emotion and intellect? [note 1] It is not surprising, therefore, that many A.D.D.ers mature slowly when compared to non-A.D.D.ers. [note 3] late in life, looks back and sees nothing but the wreckage of their struggles.

Living for over forty years with the shards of my failed dreams and aspirations, I was propelled to search for an explanation of why my life’s trajectory was so different from everyone else’s. [note 4] Years of on again/off again therapy did little, in retrospect, since for many of those years I was misdiagnosed. But four years ago I discovered, through self-diagnosis (confirmed by a therapist shortly thereafter) that I was A.D.D. I continued in therapy for a time but had become frustrated with it. I felt I was too old to rehash old stories or to wallow in discussions of unfortunate toilet training experiences as a toddler. As an it is easy to craft stories of the past. Our limitless capacity for absorbing knowledge and our limitless ability to reassemble that knowledge into new narratives lulls us into a false sense of therapeutic progress. As the masters of self-delusion we easily rationalize the irrational while placing the onus (perhaps, really, the locus) of our troubles on outside forces.

All of this newfound self-knowledge (and some self-delusion tossed in for good measure) serves as the (new) foundation upon which I stand and from which I move to the next stage of my life. Using this knowledge I carefully and cautiously made my fourth (or maybe it’s my fifth) career shift. Unlike any of my other career shifts, I did this one with my eyes wide open knowing full well that each day would be a struggle, that some days would better than others and that a few days would be an utter failure. I did this knowing that the source of many of my career problems lie within me.

Having just completed 90 days at my new job [note 5] I have successfully monitored my behavior, minimizing the impact of A.D.D. Note that I did not say eliminate. I did say minimize. Realistically speaking, minimizing is all that an can do. My self-knowledge has given me the ability, to a degree, to control the vortex, to know when I must let it run its natural course and to know when and how to channel it into something productive. It’s a continual struggle and some days are much easier to deal with than others. But I would have no understanding as to how to struggle – and how to win that struggle – if I did not come to know myself. Interestingly, coming to know myself has been a process of learning how to make the best of my creative force while, at the same time, knowing that the source of that creative force is also my greatest enemy.

  1. Should we even separate the two? Is the separation a false one? Is it a byproduct of a shift in language and the effect of language on our thought processes? I’m thinking here in terms of the work of Walter Ong. I also wonder if we need a term like emointellect.
  2. It is also not surprising that A.D.D.ers see non-A.D.D.ers as being clueless about the world around them since A.D.D.ers continually battle against a world that they always absorb. “…people with ADD are spongy. We absorb others’ energy, we absorb other people’s emotions….” See this article by Jennifer Koretsky. [Note: The Koretsky article linked was updated on Feb. 6, 2010. The original link no longer worked.]  See also this posting. Though the latter is in the context of brain maturity, it is an easy leap to maturity in general. Slower maturation can also be a function of all the time required to control – and to learn how to control – the vortex.
  3. See: Is ADHD/ADD a Gift or a Curse?
  4. Watching my daughters grow up before my very eyes was also an impetus to find out what was wrong with different about me.
  5. For an, a period of 90 days is an eternity since each day seems, from a pure mental standpoint, as if one had lived five days in one day.
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  • ginapera

    Great job, Jeff.

    This is one of the most profound treatments I’ve seen on this subject (a proclivity towards self-delusion, or, as the professionals might say, cognitive distortions). In fact, it’s rarely discussed at all. So, kudos to you.

    This quality is one that poses some of the greatest risks to a relationship. The two people aren’t seeing the same reality.

    Speaking of therapy….In the book I’ve almost completed (for adults with ADHD and their partners), I worked up a good 60 pages explaining why, in general, pursuing therapy when you don’t know you have ADHD is a bad idea. Trouble is, most therapists will not recognize it–but that won’t stop them from misattributing ADHD symptoms to childhood traumas, etc. As you say…potty training.

    Of course, the final version of that chapter is much shorter, but it was very therapeutic for me–recounting all my personal stories of wasted time, money, and frustration, along with those from the members of the support groups I lead (for the partners of adults with ADHD).

    Non-ADHD-savvy therapy is a problem for individuals, couples, and families affected by ADHD. Yet, most people find it hard to believe that “bad therapy is worse than no therapy” when it comes to ADHD.

    And you touched on the major reasons why: cognitive distortions that make rehashing the past (or sometimes even the present) unreliable, and rehashing the past without taking into account neurogenetic factors in both parent and child. It all gets very confusing–and seldom healing. Especially when childhood unhappiness is blamed for current dysfunction–instead of ADHD symptoms being recognized for what they are. Of course, there can be overlap, but the therapist needs to be able to go back and forth, from the neurogenetic to the environmental, and that is rare expertise to find.

    Thanks for writing about this.

  • Jeff


    Thank you, thank you for taking the time to read and comment. “Validation” of one’s thoughts is so important, especially to an who seems, at times, to get stuck in his own head.

    Interestingly, when I reread some of my posts I have no clue how I even wrote it. It seems that some other person wrote it. Hmmm…that must be an A.D.D. issue too. ;)

    I should add that, in fairness to past therapists, that I grew up at a time when it was thought that people grew out of A.D.D. and that it did not exist in adults. I was in therapy in the 1970′s and 1980′s and, I believe, it wasn’t until about fifteen years ago that it was realized – and acknowledged – that A.D.D. stays with most people for their entire life.


  • jenjansen

    I was turned onto your blog a few months ago and I have been an avid reader since then.
    You ask and attempt to answer so many of the same questions I have asked myself through the years.
    I am also in my 40′s, very familiar with unproductive therapy and self diagnosed with ADD 6 years ago.I have been searching for support ever since. Hard to come by, but I mustsay just reading about other ADD’ers experiences is a great help in itself. Knowing I am not alone in this struggle is half the battle.
    I just inishedreading “Know Thyself”. I realize at this point how much I have crafted my life story in such a way to placate my feelings of failure and frustration with myself. Quite frankly I think it is the only way I have gotten this far. If I had not been able to do this I probably would not be here right now. At this juncture of my life I am more than ready to give up this habit and really move forward. The past is over and done with. What matters is the action I make now to overcome my failures and truly achieve better self esteem.Looking back for answers put me in a certain holding pattern. Instaed of finding insight from my past I found more confusion, which only led to more story bending to make it right in my mind. Not sure if I am making much sense. I will try a bit longer to make my point.
    I have been looking for the right choice of careers forever. My search for ths elusive perfect job for me has run the gamut. I am left with a lot of unwanted infomation that does me little good. Shards of failure to remind me where I have been and where I do not wish to go again. I believe I am pointed in the right derection this time around. Something new for me, moving ahead with confidence rather than fear.I am embracing my creative energy, and learning to channel it in a more productive way. Knowing, as you said so eloquently, that it can very well be my greatest enemy. Keep up the great writing. You are an inspiration.

  • Jeff


    Thank you for your heartfelt comment. If somehow, through my writings, I have helped you in some way then all that went into those writings had been time well spent.


  • Tara

    Hi Jeff,

    Congratulations on your job!

  • Jeff


    Thank you! I think I may have found the perfect career. I’ll describe it more in a later post.


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  • Paradigm Of Thought

    I have to say that this was a very compelling post. I very much enjoyed reading it, and I believe that the message is quite powerful. Keep it up.

    - Paradigm of Thought

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  • Joe

    oh man thats exacly it. i’m 19 and diagnosed my adhd last year (self diagnosis) thanks to smoking cigarettes during holidays which i believe have a similar effect to adhd meds by stimulating that neurotransmitter which is defficient in people with adhd. i feel like a different human when smoking and i see my true self from a normal perspective..
    this summer i’m planning to repeat one of the highs i had a year ago when i combined ritalin from a friend with weed. snorted huge lines went on to smoke a joint and the combining effect simulated my mind to such an extend that i would say i reached the full working capacity of my mind. it was incredible i was talking sped up the most logical, introspective things, and making sense of everything that came to my mind, talking non stop, facial expressions showing…
    i felt like a scientist proving a theory, supported it with unlimited amounts of evidence.
    …one loop hole that would limit my optimum logic, out of hundreds of facts supporting something, there usually is one single fact that proves that this theory is wrong, and the next scientist formulates a new theory.. i may not have seen that fact in time as i was switching topics every 5 to 10 seconds, understanding things that i cannot understand now, including predicting the effects of combining drugs, which in my sober state seem totally unpredictable everytime…
    the reason why i want to repeat that high is because i want someone to video it and put it on youtube, as it is guaranteed to be liked and shared.
    video titled: adhd and drugs xD

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