B ased on the popularity of the blog — JeffsADDMind — and the willingness of its author, known only as “Jeff,” to discuss most any issue that touches on Adult ADHD (and even issues that don’t touch on Adult ADHD), one would be surprised to learn that there is another side of Jeff that is not well known to the public, such as his involvement in the CIA. This part of his life is so well hidden that few know that he still has top security clearance. When there’s a crisis somewhere in the world, it’s not unusual to see Jeff leaving the map room shortly after the president has exited.
My first encounter with Jeff was in 2004, the result of a FOIA lawsuit I filed when I was investigating the CIA’s Delta Team. [note 1] His appearance in the courtroom and some of the declassified documents verified that he was part of this elite team. Though we met as adversaries in the courtroom, I realized later on that I left a significant impression on him. When his book, Take This Gift and Shove It : How Viewing ADHD as a Gift Leads to a Life of Disappoint was first published, he requested that I write the first review. So when my editor asked that I engage Jeff in a series of conversations I was confident that Jeff would meet with me.
- Peter DeLaVerità, New York
Note to the Reader: Jeff [note 2] agreed to take part in this series of conversations on the condition that all material could be vetted by him and, if necessary, by the proper channels within the Directorate of Intelligence. I agreed to this since, even if some vital information was censored, nonetheless, it was important to make known any information on this enigmatic figure.
Synopsis of Parts I, II & III
Our first meeting was in the streets of his local town. For security reasons I can only say that we met somewhere on the New England coast. “Tell them it is between New Haven, Connecticut and Providence, Rhode Island. That will keep them guessing for awhile,” Jeff said with a sort of nervous laugh.
In his trademark dark sunglasses, small hoop earring, well-worn jeans, Timberland boots and a black shirt, he seemed a bit uncomfortable in this coastal town of gentrified WASPS. “There isn’t a decent bagel in this town. That donut shop over there sells a ‘simulacrum’ of a bagel. They don’t bake ‘em. They get them faxed in. And a bialy or a pletzel? (He puts on his best Brooklyn accent) Fuggedaboutit! They neva hoid of it”.
Part I: Jeff described his atypical childhood. When he was eight years old he convinced his parents to purchase a chemistry set which he promptly used to create an acid burn on the kitchen counter. By the time he was eleven years old he was reading about Boolean logic, the intricacies of cascading NAND gates and The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. For fun (if you could call it that) he built beverage antennas for SWLing. Recently he has he been able to indulge one of his boyhood fantasies. He acquired an amateur radio license.
Part II: Jeff was ensnared by the growing drug culture (“If smoking dope was good enough for Carl Sagan then it’s frakkin’ good enough for me”). When he reached legal age he dropped out of high school. But it didn’t take long for his restless intellect to kick in and take over. He earned a high school equivalency diploma, got into college, majored in philosophy, sociology and honors in the western tradition. This high school dropout graduated with numerous awards and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. After a few years in academia he went into government work, starting in the Advanced Projects Office at the US Arms Control & Disarmament Agency where he rapidly mastered the nuances of the U.S./Soviet arms control kabuki dance. (“Hell…there’s a reason why they called it M.A.D. vs N.U.T.S.“)
Part III: Jeff became part of the CIA’s Delta Team – an elite group of thinkers and strategists. [note 3] The team played a pivotal role in the development of the DES (Data Encryption Standard) but, in order to keep Delta Team out of the limelight, information on DES was disseminated through the U.S. Department of Commerce. The team also went on to develop some controversial “products” like the mind-altering drug code-named “CB“. Originally developed around 1982, its existence was confirmed as a result of a FOIA lawsuit in 2004. The declassified document does little except confirm its existence. We have not learned how it has been used. We do know, however, that Jeff volunteered to test the drug on himself. “I trembled when I first saw what we had created. Holding it in my hand…I raised it up to my lips and tasted it. It was so damned potent that I felt I was hit with a thunderbolt and, gotta tell ya, in a sense I was because from that point on my entire life changed.” He refused to say how Delta Team had used this drug. (It’s assumed it was used during interrogations.) When asked if he had any regrets having helped to develop it, he replied, “None at all. If I could I would be taking it every day. There is nothing like it in the world. Period.”
Part Four of our “Conversation with Jeff.”
Q: Jeff, since you told me not to bring a photographer to the interview, do you mind if I describe the surroundings?
A: Go for it.
Jeff ‘s desk, as he likes to point out, is the externalization of his internal ADHD chaos. Every horizontal surface is covered with stacks of paper – notes; coffee-stained printouts; unopened mail. Every vertical surface (there is a hutch on top of his desk) has a note taped to it with hand-scrawled reminders of current projects, a running balance of his checking account (he said he updates it daily because he has often overspent on his account with disastrous results) and automobile maintenance reminders (“Change the oil at 57K miles”). Perched atop these stacks and off to his right side is his BlackBerry which he glances at every minute or two.
Jeff has already been pacing for several minutes. During our first interview when I asked Jeff why he paces when he talks he said, “Pacing keeps my body occupied so my mind can think without interruption.”
Q: Jeff, what was the inspiration for the book Take This Gift and Shove It?
A: About twelve years ago my life was in a state of total collapse. I went into business in 1998 with a partner that I realized years later was also ADHD. Let me tell you…that was an interesting experience. Anyway, by 2004 I already lived through two economic collapses that killed my cash flow and devastated my home life. But there was something I heard, I don’t remember where, but something made me thing ADHD. I went to the local Barnes & Noble and got a copy of Driven to Distraction. Reading that book was like reading an autobiography. That doesn’t quite capture it. It’s more like something out of a science fiction movie, like Minority Report. Not only does it perfectly describe what happened to you but it perfectly describes what WILL happen to you and it’s hasn’t even happened yet!
After sharing this news with everyone, I did some online searching and found descriptions of ADHD as being a sort of gift. I was already a bit egotistical and I knew that I was smarter than the average bear I fell for this gift stuff big time. Why didn’t I remember to pay the electric bill? It’s because with my gift I’m [a] genius in other things but not boring sh*t like that. So I’d repeat this ADHD-is-a-gift mantra and someone would say, “Yeah? So how come you can’t finish a project?” After a while, when this frakkin‘ gift didn’t seem to have any benefits, I shut my mouth about it and started to question the mythology.
Q: I noticed that recently you had a lengthy discussion on your blog about the “ADHD is a gift” concept. Some people think the discussion is useless, that it’s a false dichotomy.
A: You’re kinda right. A number of ADHDers have moved beyond this discussion and almost see it as being not worth arguing about. But there’s always someone out there who realized that they [have] ADHD or their kids have ADHD and if they google around a bit, they’ll find this ADHD-is-a-gift crap. You’ve got that guy up in Canada - Handelman – who talks about it and that DaVinci guy Garret LoPorto. LoPorto is either a putz because he believes his bullsh*t or he realized how dumb people really are. Did you ever see his personality test on his website? (Jeff puts on a deep, announcer’s voice)
- Do you consider yourself a creative problem solver?
- Do you like to follow established ways of doing things?
- When you are interested in a project, do you need less sleep?
(Jeff reverts to his regular voice) So you google around, you find out you’ve got a gift, and then you hit this personality test crap and what are you going to say to yourself? That you’re NOT creative? That you like to follow rules? If you already bought the ADHD-is-a-gift nonsense then you’ll buy this DaVinci crap and since you are so frakkin’ gifted you know that $19.95 is [a] bargain. Bingo! P.T. Barnum has found another sucker.
Q: But isn’t there some value to seeing ADHD as a gift? And maybe everyone can’t be a DaVinci…but maybe… (Jeff interrupts. Now he’s clearly agitated.)
A: Yeah…sure…right…can I sell you a bridge too? Maybe anorexia is a gift. It sure helps you to control your weight.
These guys don’t make it REALLY CLEAR that they are using metaphors. It’s like my favorite joke about the vacuum cleaner salesman who says, “This vacuum really sucks!” Does that mean it does the job or does it mean that it DOESN’T do the job? You can interpret it any way you want and the sales guy won’t persuade you one way or the other. That’s what these guys are doing. They throw the word “gift” out there in the ether, they let you interpret [it] any way you want and then they sell you stuff.
I’m sorry for shifting the topic (Jeff leans forwards and whispers, “You expected me to stay on topic? Did you forget that I’m ADHD?”) but it was when I looked at these things that I realized how dumb people can really be. (Jeff is becoming visibly angry.) What the hell is wrong with people? Why do they use that word “gift”? Maybe I’m a schmuck so there’s something I’m not seeing. Maybe my dictionary is out of date but it doesn’t say a gift is a bad thing. Gifts are happy things. ADHD is a “challenge” but a gift? Come on…grow up. I know this debate is old and tired but it’s important because words are important. We keep forgetting Orwell’s doublethink: War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength, and now “A Disorder Is A Gift.” Sounds stupid when we put it this way but people insist on saying this. It’s really the implication of this gift stuff so when I see that word “gift” coupled with the word ADHD I reach for my intellectual gun…and no…I’m not a Nazi but I get so angry about the way people use words that maybe I seem like one. But I really feel like Morpheus. “Free your mind, Neo” but Neo doesn’t want to. Everyone wants to take the blue pill.
(Jeff stops pacing. Takes a deep breath and turns to me.)
OK…let’s drop this subject. Even I’m getting tired of this song.
Q: Agreed. I want to return to a point you made in a previous conversation. You said you went through some major changes. Can you tell me more about it?
A: Sometimes I think living with ADHD is like driving a car. (Jeff sits in a larger recliner. With a grin on his face and his elbow out like he’s sitting in the driver’s seat, he looks like the happiest man alive.) You’re cruising along, windows open, Black Sabbath blasting, one finger on the steering wheel. Life is f**kin great! But you blink for just a second then something grabs the wheel. The car swerves and sideswipes a tree. The music goes nuts. It’s a white knuckle ride and all you can do is hang on. But after you’ve gone through this enough you learn not to panic as much. You know this will pass and just maybe you learn how to get back control a lot faster so the ride doesn’t last for weeks but maybe only a day or an afternoon. That’s one of the changes I’ve gone through. My life is little less like a white knuckle ride. I’m doing more of the driving. Not all of the driving…but most of it.
I also learned that I’m not really crazy. ADHDers think they are crazy because they zig-zag through life like a fly. There they are. No, there are. No, f**k, moved again. And if you have any brains and you act like this, you can’t separate “brains” from “crazy.” In your head they’re like the same thing. But there was a professor that said something that was like a kick in the head. We were talking about e e cummings’ Anyone lived in a pretty how town (with up so floating many bells down). The last part goes:
Women and men (both dong and ding) summer autumn winter spring reaped their sowing and went their came sun moon stars rain
Of course, he asked, “What does this mean?” I raised my hand and I said, “I thought this was about sex but then I thought, naaah, I must be crazy.” And he said, “Who told you you were crazy?” My eyeballs popped! What the F**K! I was stunned! Like a movie I’m reviewing my whole damned life! Since I was a kid I thought I was crazy. I was screwing around with soldering irons and computer chips BEFORE anyone knew what a computer was!! My friends were outside playing football and I’m stringing wire around my backyard for an antenna. I would cut out of school but carry around a book about vacuum tubes and I’d read it like it f**kin Talmudic scholar. What kid does this sort of sh*t? And it took twenty-five years to find someone to tell me “You’re not crazy…you’re just smart.” What that professor said, well, the guy is dead but he lives in my soul because when I’m thinking, “here I am being crazy again,” I can hear him say: Who told you you were crazy? So my point is, don’t EVER underestimate the power of words. THAT’S why I fight with people all the time over words because a god damned sentence, a god damned phrase, a single word can change your whole life.
Q: That certainly explains some of the things you’ve written. Last question and then we’ll wrap this up. What do you see as the future of ADHD treatment?
A: Right now our understanding of the brain is about 25 years behind our understanding of all of the other body parts. For too long we’ve treated it as a black box and, in many ways, we still do it. Maybe this is Skinner’s legacy. Anyway, there’s fascinating research going on that looks at the molecular level and we’re getting much closer to being able to accurately manipulate things at that level. Parker put together a bunch of videos of what we understand at the tiniest levels. But there’s something else going that’s like a new way of thinking.
In Foucault’s The Order of Things he talks about the change in thinking from the more medieval mode of thought to our more modern mode of thought. Objects in the world had spirits and magical things can happen – like turning lead into gold – but, of course, you had to know how to work with the spirits and so forth to get it to do what you wanted it to do. But when our thinking shifted we stopped seeing the world as spirits, we shifted from nature-in-balance or nature-as-a-balance-of-forces to nature-as-billiard-balls, a kind of Hobbesian world or even stranger, Leibniz’s Monads, where you have objects – individuals, molecules, germs – interacting like billiard balls bouncing off from each other, where the things that would bind things together – in the medieval mind - [note 4] are gone and now we have only discrete objects. That’s our modern way of thinking. We made up a classification system that seemed to fit better with the world. But classification systems can be problems and we’re hitting the wall with some of them. Even as basic as male and female are really problem categories. We don’t know what to do with an effeminate guy, or someone is born with — holy sh*t — two different sets of genitals. Now THAT gets the frakkin’ religious people nuts. God is f**king with the natural order and messing with your classification. This reminds me of Borges which Foucault starts off with. In this Chinese encyclopedia there is a classification of animals. The first time I read it it didn’t make much sense but when I began to think about it it’s like, hey, we really do make this sh*t up. In this encyclopedia there’s a definition of “animals” and there are different senses of what is an animal. You have animals that belong to the Emperor, animals painted with a fine camel brush, animals that are dead and animals that look like little flies from a distance. How we break things up, how we divide the world, is arbitrary. What I think is happening is our classification system is changing. We went from we’re-all-spiritually-connected to we’re-all-individuals to we’re-all-connected-but-in-very-complex-ways.
So we’re going back to interconnectedness. But we’re NOT going back to the interconnected way of thinking that’s spiritual. I’m sure that the rise in religion and religious thought is a psychological rebellion against the growth of spiritually-denuded science. But I think we’re going back to a connected way of thinking based on real science and real understanding of how things interact, not some junk from f**kin’ DaVinci LoPorto. We’re thinking more in terms of ecology. When I graduated college and got my little award from the philosophy department at Q.C., I got to give a speech on any topic I wanted. I talked about how the Cartesian way of thinking separates us from the ecology we live in. Tocqueville touches on this when he sees Americans as natural born Cartesians. We see ourselves only as individuals and we completely forget that we are individuals *IN* a complex system of individuals and physicality and the world. Ok…sorry for the tangent but it was an important one because now you have a better idea where we came from and where we are going.
Parker has a link to stuff from Kellerman that illustrates this understanding of interconnectedness within the body. He talks about neuro-endocrine-immunology and how these things interact and, from the outside, all we see are conditions like insomnia but inside the person there is [a] web of systems that influence each other. I think what will happen is that, maybe in ten years we’ll understand how the different systems within us really interoperate and create the problems we have, like ADHD. And with this ecological view combined with a neuronal-molecular view we’ll have therapies – sort of drug cocktails with diet and supplements and maybe even little nano-machines – that make things right again, that makes everything work like a well-oiled machine. The biggest problem is gonna be, not when will we be able to deal with these kinds of problems in this more ecological way but whether we’ll be able to even afford it, so don’t hold your breath on that one. You can fuggedaboutit now.
[END OF PART FOUR]
- This name is only used by “insiders.” Most everyone else refers to them as the Delta Force.↩
- He still refuses to reveal his last name though this information has become known to a small cadre of confidants.↩
- Some have labeled it a group of psychotic radicals. The Delta Team has had a long and sordid history, beginning with the removal of Mosaddeq in Iran to heroin smuggling during the Vietnam War to providing intelligence – using extraordinary rendition and, perhaps, with the admixture of some drugs – during our most recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.↩
- Jeff asked that I include these links as examples of that earlier way of thinking: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Numerology, Astrology, Alchemy. – Peter DeLaVerità↩