Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle I Can't Wait to Get ADD!

By Marion Winik

FEBRUARY 23, 1998:  I yell at my kids too much, like I used to yell at my mother too much, but it was when I started yelling at my friends that I really got worried. Where did this newly shortened fuse come from? Was I born with a small and finite amount of patience, and have I used it all up before the age of 40? Hoping that explosiveness was not to be a permanent part of my middle-aged identity, I made an appointment with a psychiatrist. I expected a long drawn-out production: a couch, a box of Kleenex, a weekly monologue. But psychiatry has changed since I last took the cure. I was out of there in a jiffy with a diagnosis and a prescription. I told the doctor what I thought my problems were, but he had other ideas. We filled out what he called an inventory. Do I hate waiting in line? Am I impulsive? Irritable? Distractible? Do I fidget, doodle, and pace? Do I blurt non-sequiturs, break rules, butt in, and boss everybody around?

If this was an inventory, I was certainly fully stocked. Why were all my personality traits together on one questionnaire? "Ah, yes," said the doctor, "you have Adult Attention Deficit Disorder."

"What?" I said. "I wasn't listening."

"ADD," he said, "you have ADD."

"Oh really?" Is this the disease of the month club or what? Are you sure I don't have candida or lactose intolerance? How about repressed memories of child abuse?

"Don't worry," he said, "if you'll just go on this stimulant called Ritalin, you'll be fine."

Listen, buddy, if taking speed was going to do anything good for me, it would have done it a long time ago.

Whaddya know. I go to the doctor about my anger, and he just pisses me off. But that night, when I almost threw a chair across the room because my children wouldn't carry their plates to the sink, my nine-year-old asked if there wasn't some medication I'm supposed to be on. He knows all about it from school, where lots of kids have to go to the office each day at lunch to get their pills.

I'm glad Ritalin works for them, but I think I'm too old to be cured. Let's assume for a moment that I do have ADD. The question becomes, who would I be without it? Not this me, that's for sure. A whole other person, I guess, who drives in the right-hand lane and chews her food. Who doesn't walk away from a frying egg to look for a sock, who doesn't spend one hour a week searching through the garbage for crucial items.

At least if I have to have ADD, the culture has it with me. I just read how they've eliminated the split second of black between the television show and the commercial to keep us from losing interest, saving as a result 15 seconds of boredom per day. Which is about what I save by cutting in front of slow-moving people at the grocery store. Fast cash, headline news, instant prints, microwave meals; our town now even has a drive-thru espresso window, truly a boon to the culture of haste. In fact, it's probably people who don't have ADD who are suffering here. Unfortunately, the shrinks don't have time to talk to them. Surely there's some drug they can take that will help.

Though I don't want medication, I don't mind having the label. At least now I know why I've had this uphill battle, all these datebooks and lists against the chaos, a lifetime of compensating and overcompensating so I can be a productive reliable do-be instead of a walking disaster. I had to learn to type very fast to get anything done in my frighteningly short attention span. Though many areas remain unaddressed: I still don't know people's names after meeting them a dozen times, I still space out completely in mid-conversation and my second most frequent utterance to my kids after "I love you" is "Hurry! Hurry!"

They may not sound like words to live by, but they've gotten me this far.

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