Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Attention Deficiency in Adults and Diet

There has been an onslaught of news over the last twenty years on the progressive studies involving children and adults regarding Attention Deficiency Disorder. We've seen news shows, read magazines, and there are even ads in our children's magazines regarding the ADD, and ADHD diagnoses that seem to be part of every household, in every family. I was one of the millions who felt just sick and tired of the whole "disease of the week" fad attention, and really didn't want to care about it at all. To me, out of lack of experience, the disorder sounded like an advertisement for Pharmaceutical Companies and nothing more than an excuse to give children Ritalin.

But, I've experienced enough life to know that not all myth is fact free. I know that even those who think there are far too many medications piled upon us year after year see the increased numbers of people who are diagnosed as having ADD. And, I know that nutritionists have been screaming "PAY ATTENTION TO US! WE HAVE BEEN TRYING TO TELL YOU THIS FOR YEARS!"

Just out of my own curious nature, and through the study of depression, I found that several of the symptoms that are part of my daily life mirror those of ADD. And, I want to know why. I want to understand the reasons why I think I can accomplish much, yet spend most of my time starting much more. The irony is that I finish tasks for the betterment of others far sooner than I do those that would better my own life. I wonder if it hasn't always been this way.

I'm sure you remember sitting in school as a child. The years I spent during the 1970's were mired in distraction. I spent time drawing pictures and when other kids were trying to learn to spell or read, I was already on the fourth book of the week, bored, and waiting for something to happen that wasn't JUST school. If the diagnosis existed as commonly as it is today, it is likely I would have had the title of Attention Deficient. I spent more time with adults than children. I was writing and creating, and even spent days painting murals on chalkboards when other kids studied because my work was finished hours earlier. I ended up in "gifted" programs and spent weekends studying at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in their youth programs.

I was fortunate for having people in my life who saw that I got easily distracted when bored, and they took the time to nurture the boredom into something productive. But, I spent a lot of time during high school, and in the college and Navy years, spending less and less time on projects and more and more time just being not sure what I would ever complete. The more options I had available to me seemed to increase the "mind float", that took me off to new ideas and new options. It was as if my entire years from the age of 19 to 31 were spent wondering "What can I do now?" and I would be antsy for hours at a time. Computers aided in just creating more reasons of distraction- more shiny balloons of time stealing.

The antsy feeling was so strong that I would take long drives to no place in particular. Some days I would drive from Los Angeles to San Diego, while others would have me visiting Palmdale or Temecula. There were days I spent nearly in San Francisco, only heading back when I realized, I didn't have anything to do there. I had always worked more than one job at a time- usually three full time jobs, plus school. In all of the years I was diagnosed and treated for depression, no one ever said to me, "Perhaps you have a lack of attention." I know I brought up many times that I was unable to focus and never felt that I could complete anything. But, no therapist confronted me with this. I tried to get them to acknowledge this, but it just seemed to be who I am.

When one of my doctors put me on Prozac, suddenly I was writing full books. I was able to complete projects. Suddenly, I was focused on life, and what I wanted to do with it. Yet, I developed an immunity to the prescription and it seemed apparent that there wasn't a replacement to keep me in that same state of mind. During the next decade, I spent hours in doctors offices, hoping that I could get back that sense of control, and understanding. Again, I never heard anyone tell me "You probably are ADD, and could do well with a simple diet change."

No one said this to me, yet it seemed when I wasn't eating sugar, when I didn't have coffee, when I was sleeping properly, I didn't need a medication to keep me focused. For only days at a time, I had clarity of mind, and certain completed projects. But, I'm fighting for my health, and I am desperately seeking some solution to the Hashimoto's and the Ehlers-Danlos issues. I keep reading the same websites that are pushing for me to try Gingko, and to increase my Vitamin D, and Calcium. I keep reading that my age has a lot to do with my attention span. But I think that's not exactly correct.

What I do see is the pattern of options growing, and my mind is desperate to play in every sand box it finds. I find that the boredom I had as a child, that was a result of comprehending things a lot sooner than I was expected to, has grown with me, and I spend days trying to complete a single simple task. I always did well in jobs that had multiple roles, and multiple outcomes. I did well in classes that led to even more opportunities. I did better in relationships and friendships that allowed me to see other views. In all of this, I still kept patterns.

The patterns of behavior carried from childhood include that day-to-day battle of "What should I eat that won't affect me and make me feel miserable?" I still wake up thinking of at least one chore that needs completing, and I complete it. I still find myself battling a game of solitaire, and wondering if I should be doing something different instead. I still find myself procrastinating on something that is important, or necessary, and I do this daily, as a habit. The pain from the illness takes away other habits, like driving for hours, or walking at a park. Every day, I can recite the same conversations I'll have, and every day I am frustrated at the lack of completion on any task.

Yet, when I finally conquer a blog, or answer that email, I feel a weight lifted from me. It's "good girl" me. It's like the days when I finished homework in school- when most days I did it AT school, just before handing it in. The last minute deadline made the work immediately rushed, and often I did just as well as anyone else, but I still wonder, today, if I didn't cheat myself out of an education by not taking time, and spending the hours I could have. Today I can spend ten minutes learning Spanish and an hour playing piano, when I could learn much more by spending hours on each.

I looked at my food diary. I don't eat perfectly well, and I haven't ever done so in my entire life. But, the days that I have attention-drift are the days that I sneak in that doughnut, or have candy. It's the days that I haven't had enough protein, and haven't had any vegetation of any kind. The days that I drink less than four glasses of water seem to be just as bad for me as the days that I take in three cups of coffee. The calorie range is always and has always seemed to be in the 1200 to 1400 range, but my weight doesn't reflect that 120-140 lbs that should result from that range. When I feed my body poorly, my mind is also affected. It has to be, as it runs from the same engine.

My medicine cabinet contains minerals, vitamins and supplements. But, I'm not great about taking them regularly. I can tell you by looking at the birth control pill circle, when I am going to have my Irrational Days. This is part of my PMS that I am able to predict simply by watching the hormone levels. But, I don't have the same type of gauge for my lack of attention. I do know that I sleep better when I've taken Magnesium, Vitamin D, and Melatonin. I'm reading nutrition sites, and I keep running across the same diet deficiency. I need to increase the produce in my diet. I need to increase the proteins in my diet. I need to ensure that I am not eating the sugars, and caffeine, and that I have regular and correct liquids. I need to ensure I'm eating as well as I make my pets do- I need "People chow".

Since that doesn't exist, I am tasking myself with being parental to, well, to me. I am the one who has to regulate my eating habits, in order to help alleviate those drifty days when I just can't seem to accomplish things. It's up to me to discover if I have patterns that change based on the foods I've eaten. With all of the options, I have the ability to transform my eating habits easily. It doesn't have to be expensive to care for myself, as much as I want there to be a single pill to fix me. It won't. I need to be responsible and care for me.

Pharmaceutical companies want us to take Ritalin, Prozac, Paxil, or any of dozens of other compounds to cure us of our own human nature. In my case, I'm naturally drawn to distractions and bore easily. Yet, if I give myself the time and care for myself well, I do finish things, and I do complete projects. I don't have side effects, and I don't need a Prescription card. I just need to eat properly, sleep properly.

I think we can learn much from house plants in this. I bought many new plants when we moved into our home last month. I have seeds, and pots, full plants, and cacti. I noticed some house plants do better if they're started as seeds indoors, groomed to a specific growth, fed a bit of water, and then brought outdoors. Others are very difficult to raise from seedlings, and need to have specific light, specific water, and some require plant foods. But if I stray in the slightest way from the necessary nutrients, water, or day light, the plants wither. If I offer too much, the roots soak, rot, and die. If I offer too little, the plant starves, becomes weak, and dies. If I am inconsistent, the plants may grow well but suffer long term damage. Just like plants, each of us has our own requirements, and it takes time to discover what the right formula is for each of us.

Just like the cycle in my pills helps me figure out what days I'm less rational, the cycle may also help me focus on what days I need more proteins, or water, or green leafy veggies. There may be days when I'm not very well focused that I stray from caring for my roots properly- and it will have long term affects. So it is up to me to develop a consistent pattern, and a method of ensuring that I'm faithful to my own care. For me to be a focused, clear, attentive person, it's up to me to find the right combination that allows me to flourish. It's taken me 45 years to learn this, and it may take another few years to find the right combination of foods, but I will.

So today's questions- What patterns in your life do you attribute to diet, or sleep problems? Do you know if you have ADD or ADHD, and if so, have you taken medications for it? Do you think that diet is able to replace medications for us in general, or just for specific illnesses and disorders? What foods do you feel are the biggest issues for us and our mental acuity?

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