Diagnoses dumb down a complex world

Roxanne Sadovsky

A friend of mine who is a psychotherapist thinks I have attention deficit disorder. This diagnosis suddenly dawns on her when I am sitting in her living room, rocking in her rocking chair and trying to juggle her cat toys.

“Maybe that’s your problem,” she says, attempting to explain away my fatigue, my lack of motivation, my 3 p.m. slump and my bad hair – conveniently with a culturally constructed diagnosis.

“I’m not ADD,” I snap, while whirling a pair of fuzzy dice precariously around my finger. “ADD is for slackers. I don’t have ADD Ö Wanna play Cat’s Cradle?”

She finally convinces me to take home an ADD checklist so I can settle this thing once and for all. Although I was reluctant, there is truth to my high distractibility: It is hard for me to be in my body.

I not only don’t finish tasks, I triple untask. I cannot concentrate for longer than 10 minutes without help from our good friends in the chemistry business. Furthermore, my hands are always busy (yes, I am “fidgety”). Entrust me with anything of value and it runs the risk of becoming lost, damaged or a nifty prop connected to my makeshift drum set. Innocent paper clips and similar bendables have all met their demise in the company of my hands. Understandably, this gets annoying.

In fact, I was at happy-hour last week, thoroughly engaged in a conversation about lounge music (and apparently rocking back and forth violently), when a new friend apologized for interrupting, but simply had to know if I was autistic. That same friend later noted that a particular guy I met was “perfect” for me because “the two of us are like kids strung out on Pop Rocks.” And yes, I am that person at the party who is always casually looking past you for that other person to walk in the door, even if you are that other person. Essentially, I am Buddhistly challenged.

Needless to say, my score totaled 96 out of 100 (which, according to “them,” means I have ADD of the intensive kind). Most of the questions are basic and harmless, asking about being on edge in a world where it’s the norm to bomb your neighbor. Do you daydream? Are you bored? Forgetful? Do you have dark, homicidal thoughts?

The questions that really hooked me had more to do with organization and concentration. Am I sensitive to light and noise? Yes – at least at a Def Leppard concert. Do I have grandiose, larger-than-life thinking? Well, doesn’t any writer? Do I have trouble maintaining a neat “personal area,” such as a desk or office? Am I sensitive? Do I worry? Yes, yes and more yes.

OK. I understand I fit the diagnosis. However, I maintain that ADD is an artificial man-made category used to simplify chaos and is clearly the artifact of a dumbed-down society. If I am ADD, how do you explain the fact I can keep still when someone is massaging my back, or when I am lying on the beach in Oaxaca?

I could go on and on about how we are turning ourselves into idiots. Do we really need the Coke people to put the lemon in for us? Do we really need to have all of our e-mails pre-signed with such felicitous and contrived greetings as “cheers,” “best” and “take care”? I mean, really, who comes up with these things? I don’t know about you, but it’s pretty darn disconcerting to get an e-mail that says: “We regret to inform you we think your work is crap and you are not good enough for the job. Cheers.” Finally, I know there will be a lot of angry little sorcerers out there when I start in about Harry Potter, but that thing was all flash and no substance.

This dumbing-down in society happens on an individual level too. The other day I was at Target and, as I was hurriedly shoving my stuff back into my purse, the lady asks if I would like to pay by cash or credit. I answer. Then she asks if I’d like paper or plastic. I answer. Then she asks if I would like the receipt out or in the bag. I answer. Then she anthropomorphizes the bag of chips by asking if I want them in a bag or “all on their own.” I finally stop what I am unconsciously doing and look at her: “Am I paying for all this extra attention?”

The point is this: In this day and age, I need to save my brainpower for the big decisions – like what to do about my hair. But with all the questions and oversimplification, it tends to make a person kind of brick like. It lowers our expectations and allows us to become easily distracted. Already, I hear myself throwing around the term ADD like a birthright. “But I have ADD,” I’ll object “I can’t answer that.”

Although I have nothing against The Clapper or the coming “orgasmatron,” my fear is in due time we’ll all be crying ADD. Instead of asking for help, we’ll have a pill to do our thinking. Instead of telling a loved one we are sad and asking if we can hold their hand we’ll settle for watching “Friends.” Instead of an invigorating hike in the woods, we’ll be okay hooking our limbs up to a virtual treadmill. It might be a leap, but with all our interest in business and productivity, we are losing our capacity to connect to each other. With every deadline another connection is missed. With every plan made another is forgone.

If someone tells me I have ADD (just because I am a nervous wreck by nature and happen to enjoy jumping on the bed), it makes me a little suspicious. Clearly ADD-like behavior is a reaction to something very wrong with our world that makes many of us just a tad jumpy. Think about it: How many of us who live alone actually experience fear when touched for the first time in a day? I don’t argue that ADD isn’t viewed by many as a serious issue, often the result of brain damage or psychological trauma. I only suggest it cannot excuse me for not cleaning out my car.

Perhaps we need to take the time to engage each other and talk about what is wrong instead of quieting our brains and limbs with medication and the like. True, I am frustrated by my Memento-like memory. And yes, I am annoyed I can never finish anything I start. It kind of sucks that I can get bored at a bullfight. All the same, there’s got to be another way to engage the moment aside from doping up on speed. In the meantime, thank God for ping pong.

 

Roxanne Sadovsky’s column regularly appears alternate Thursdays. She welcomes comments at [email protected] Send letters to the editor to [email protected]