Am I an undisciplined day dreamer or do I have some kind of attention deficit disorder?
March 1, 2011 2:27 PM   Subscribe

Am I an undisciplined day dreamer or do I have some kind of attention deficit disorder?

From as far back as I can remember I have had a problem focusing, but this only ever presents itself as an infuriating problem in certain situations. A boring meeting is one. Unfortunately, as someone wanting to give my career boost, a classroom learning environment is the other. I start off OK but within 15 minutes, I start to drift into other worlds, usually music related, coming up with what I believe to be highly original and powerful musical ideas, but that’s kind of another story. I do make music in my spare time. I also have a recurring daydream of a plane landing, zooming into a vision of the planes wheels about to hit the tarmac. It’s almost as if my brain demands an intensity and creativity which is being starved. It only ever really manifests itself in these two situations I have outlined. Two things fascinate me about this. One fills me with hope; the creativity boost, if only I could harness it in a more useful environment.
The other is what has prompted me to write this.
I was in a training course recently, one which had an exam, something I hadn’t done in a long time (15 years or so)
During the course of training I realised that I was drifting and with all my might I tried to focus, taking notes, attempting to contribute whenever appropriate. It was so so difficult, one of the most challenging things I have ever done.
I flunked the exam and this has left me feeling down about going for further accreditation in my field.
I’m dismayed that I feel like I really want to learn, yet the only options available to me in my particular industry are class-room based learning and exam.
I’m dismayed that I still have the same problem I had when I was 5.
Looking at a list of ADD symptoms I do seem to tick a lot of the boxes, though I think I have built some pretty good coping mechanisms such as to-do lists which I couldn’t live without.
Like I say everyday life this doesn’t really present too much of a problem.
My questions are many but if I could ask if anybody recognises this intense creativity boost in these environments; are my symptoms indicative of an attention deficity disorder? If they are what would be a good next step? I don't think ADD is particularly taken seriously in the UK so maybe some non-doctor stuff would be good!
And if I’m simply an undisciplined daydreamer, what might be an effective route to discipline?

I'm in the UK and in my mid-thirties.
posted by razzman to Health & Fitness (7 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I suppose it could be. It's really hard to tell from here, although your experiences sound similar to mine.

Caffeine may help some people... maybe... a little. But you build up a tolerance to it and pretty soon you're either getting no effect or drinking so much caffeine that you meet yourself coming back the other way.

My suggestion is that you try reading several books on the subject and seeing how strongly you identify with what's in the books. I don't mean "yeah, sure, I guess" but "ZOMG they must have had a hidden camera! Where has this book been all my life!!!"

If, after reading the books, you still want to pursue this, MeMail me.
posted by tel3path at 2:59 PM on March 1, 2011

Best answer: This question really speaks to me, as someone who struggled with this and still deals with it. "Am I an undisciplined day dreamer or do I have some kind of attention deficit disorder?" This isn't an either-or question, other than the judgmental word "undisciplined." Many, probably most people who day dream during important tasks have shorter attention spans. Maybe you don't qualify for a clinical ADD diagnosis, but there's a spectrum of attention spans and you probably fall on the shorter end of it.

Here's my story, and I think yours sounds similar: I'm very good at getting things done in short bursts. I can achieve amazing focus on a task for a little time, such as hammering out an AskMe question at 4:48 when I was supposed to leave the office at 4:45 :). And if I have all day to do a complicated, boring task like learning to set up a Linux server, I'll get it done in brief chunks, but I'll get it done. What I have tons of trouble with is paying attention for over an hour, or even 15 minutes in some cases, when I don't have control. Short distractions like daydreams, Wikipedia, and AskMe are constantly on my mind in this case.

I eventually got evaluated for an attention disorder. The professional who evaluated me noted many symptoms of an attention disorder. And I was very close to a clinical diagnosis. But I was just barely off - 4 out of7 measures when the lowest bound for diagnosis was 5 out of 7, or something like that. And while I saw many symptoms in myself, my peers and family did not report such symptoms - probably because I still got things done so the symptoms weren't apparent.

Also, I read The Myth of Laziness. It's for educators, not a self-help book, but it takes a hard look at our assumptions about "lazy" or "undisciplined" students and proposes that they will work hard if given the right understanding, motivation, skills, and environment. It really resonated with me since I called myself lazy before I read it.

What's my point? I eventually realized and accepted that I have attention difficulties. Apparently not a clinically-diagnosable disorder, but certainly a shorter attention span than the ideal student. That realization helps in two way. First, I can cut myself some slack. Instead of getting down on myself and avoiding "further accreditation in my field," I can accept when I mess up and not get down about it. I recognize that I've come this far with a short attention span, so I know I am able to overcome it and keep moving ahead. Second, I develop strategies not to prevent distraction, but to work with myself and my abilities and get by even if I do get distracted. Maybe I'll re-watch portions of a recorded session that I wasn't paying attention to. Maybe I'll rely more heavily on the textbook. Maybe I'll use note-taking to focus my attention during class and to help my memory out.

So if I were you, I'd see about a diagnosis. There's nothing shameful about having a short attention span, and it can be worked on. And if you do not have a clinical disorder, you can still accept your attention span and borrow some of the strategies that others use to help yourself be more effective. It's a continuum, and even without a Dx applied to you you can benefit from developing some counter-ADD habits.

On preview: caffeine helps too, though it helps less if you use it constantly and build up a tolerance. It's best if you use it sparingly in daily life and ramp it up a little on key days.
posted by Tehhund at 3:02 PM on March 1, 2011 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Congrats, you're a musician. Welcome.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 3:30 PM on March 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Please be very careful where you go with this: you seem to want to define yourself as an ADD candidate, and it will only be a matter of time before some expert or another agrees with you and puts you on a course of medication which may last the rest of your career life. There are a number of questions which need to be asked before you go down that slope. Are you overweight? Do you have diabetes? Do you have a healthy diet and a serious exercise program? If you fear you are an "undisciplined dreamer", it sounds as if you are not following through on your daydreams: do you perform, do you have music publications, do you have videos? All these require follow-through, which at the moment may be what's missing in your life. Remember persistence takes practice: your experience as a five-year-old is that of most children, and we only learn to stick at things as we get older. Still, it might be a good idea to get a medical check-up---WITHOUT mentioning ADD, please.
posted by alonsoquijano at 3:36 PM on March 1, 2011

alonsoquijano, medication is not something the OP will passively be put on if he's not "careful", nor would he have to commit to meds for the "rest of his career life". Typical ADD meds are short-acting (3-4 hours) and can be stopped at a moment's notice. They're also extremely difficult to obtain in the UK. You do not just walk into a doctor's office with some vague concerns and walk out with your brain chemistry irrevocably altered. It simply doesn't work that way.

Furthermore any given non-specialist in ADD, including the OP's GP, is likely to know less about the subject than a Daily Mail reader and will certainly not have the expertise to identify it during a five-minute "check-up". That is why I recommend taking some time to reflect before approaching a specialist, who will also be very informative about nonpharmaceutical treatments.
posted by tel3path at 4:04 PM on March 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

You might want to experiment with mindfulness meditation. It will certainly do no harm, and might help.
posted by flabdablet at 5:01 PM on March 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have similar problems with meetings and classes and have found that doodling (or doing something else that doesn't involve words with my hands) helps distract part of my brain while letting most of it pay attention.
posted by kbuxton at 4:37 PM on March 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

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