The anxiety at the thought of taking a phone call last night was borderline crippling.

When: November 2, 2022 | Where: Home

Hey Ricky,

I don’t know how long this is gonna be; I’ll try to keep it interesting.

I’ve struggled for a while now to maintain friendships. It hasn’t been for lack of desire; I value my friends greatly. But, I’ve struggled badly to keep up my end of the communication.

As I’ve learned more about myself in the past 4 years, I believe I’ve come to understand more about why.

As you may remember from the SC game in 2018, I wasn’t drinking. I don’t remember how much I talked about that at the time, but I had quit for good a little over 3 months earlier.

Getting sober is a big deal for anyone, but for me it was important as much for what it finally allowed me to address about my own biology as it was for simply stopping me from drinking myself to death.

I have ADHD. Reflecting back in time, that probably shouldn’t surprise you. You, more than anyone, saw firsthand what it looked like when a smart kid with ADHD tried to tackle life at a big university (along with working to pay for it). Come to think of it, thank you for putting up with my chaos for all those years; it couldn’t have been easy.

Until finally seeking help in 2018, I didn’t really understand what ADHD was. I knew I’d been a classic case as a kid, before it was a “thing.” But, as I understood it, I’d outgrown it.

I thought that was how it worked; that ADHD was a childhood condition, and that you grew out of it. There was definitely a major change in my hyperactivity when I hit adolescence.  Once I got there, I was finally able to control my impulses to the point where I wasn’t the pariah I was in elementary school. I had no concept that ADHD was more than that.

I’d heard the term “adult ADHD” as if that was some different ailment.  And I’d listened (too much) to the opinions of a lot of people who believed “Adult ADHD” was little more than excuse-making by people who were lazy or lacked discipline. The problems that plagued me at UCLA I pinned firmly on what I figured were character flaws.  I continued to blame myself for the next 30 years (give or take).

I honestly hate the term ADHD, because it asserts that there is a deficit of something. The reality of it is the opposite. I characterize it as a surplus of noise or commotion. Like the static and mixture of stations you get when trying to tune an old AM receiver to a faint station late at night. It’s constant, and it’s a battle to be able to focus on a few important things in the midst of the constant chaos.

That’s where alcohol came into it. There’s a huge correlation between people with ADHD and substance abuse. It’s simple self-medication.

Alcohol turns off the noise. Turns off the whole radio. Over the course of a week of struggling to manage my course load, the noise would become more and more of a burden. It felt louder as the week wore on in the way that a crying baby feels louder after 3 hours than he did when he first started.

I distinctly remember having my last class of the day in Young Hall on Thursdays, and knowing that that was an acceptable day to drink. And the relief that I felt when I started walking back to the dorm knowing that I could finally let go of the week. How much of a relief it was to be able to shut it all off (even though I didn’t really have an understanding of what I was quieting at the time). It was like hitting control-alt-delete on an old Windows system.  The reset was worth the hangover.

This is getting long… so I’m gonna gloss over a couple of things and see if I can arrive at my point before you retire.

Fast forward to December, 2018… a month after the SC game, and the shrink finally gave me Adderall (after 4 months of non-stimulants that did nothing). I still wasn’t sure about the whole ADHD thing at that stage, but I knew that 4 months of sobriety hadn’t quieted the cacophony in my head.

Adderall was diagnostic certainty. 30 minutes after taking it for the first time, I felt some approximation of normal for the first time in my life. It was less like shutting off the radio (like alcohol), and more like tuning the station in so you could hear it without static or interference. It’s been life-changing.

But, I’ve also come to understand that brain commotion is only one aspect of ADHD. With the noise quieted, I’ve been able to see myriad ways in which my brain architecture is just different. For instance, while many people tend to think and learn linearly, I tend to form an understanding of things in a way that looks more like assembling a jigsaw puzzle. Little segments get worked on here and there, and eventually they connect to other little segments, and the picture slowly comes into focus.

My brain is a free-association factory. Every thought comes with tangential thoughts that my brain wants to follow. And, while I’ve found ways to turn that into a strength at times, much of my life is still spent restraining my mind and forcing myself to focus on the things that I have to focus on in order to lead a productive life.

Forcing-focus (you read the term hyper-focus a lot in ADHD literature) requires a lot of mental energy and a lack of distraction. Neither of these things is conducive to catching up with someone I haven’t talked to in a while by phone. A phone call during a work day can completely derail an entire day.  In the evening, I generally just don’t have anything left and need to zone out to recuperate.

Phone calls are also a bit awkward because my mind is always jumping from topic to topic, and everything that gets said prompts new thoughts. I have to work hard to restrain myself from constantly interrupting, because these thoughts often leave (for good) as quickly as they come; and when one feels important, I don’t want to lose it. 

I also end up bouncing from subject to subject, and I’m honestly just a bit self-conscious about it. I try not to be, but after a lifetime of trying to appear “normal,” it’s unnerving to let go of the harness.

All of which kind of makes me a pain in the ass. So, let me abruptly stop the back story, and talk about where that leads.

I was really happy to hear from you. And, I would like nothing more than to connect and catch up. And… the anxiety at the thought of taking a phone call last night was borderline crippling.

So, first, I just wanted you to know that it isn’t personal. It’s my issue. I’m working on finding ways to overcome it, but it’s a work in progress, and I probably need the help of my friends to make it work. A logical first step seemed to be to lower my guard and let you know what was up.

I’ll say that I’m pretty good with Messenger/WhatsApp/Viber etc. communication. I think it’s because I can communicate when on my brain’s schedule… if I think, “hey, Rick would find this funny,” I can send that without investing in a 45 minute conversation. And, if you think, “I should show Lemuel this,” I can look at it when it doesn’t derail me. That’s worked well with some other friends (Rowen is one).

For a call, how would you feel about a weekend call? Some time during the afternoon? I’d really like to know what’s happening in your life, and I get that Messenger conversations have their own limitations… and that not everyone is a fan of them.

I’ve had an eventful year. I cycled from Santa Cruz to Savannah, Georgia for the first four months, and just finished a mountain cycle from Lancaster to Tahoe a couple weeks ago. Surprisingly, I’m still not skinny, but I’m not as gigantic as I was 12 months ago. There was a trip to the Indian Ocean with Hal in between those, and I’ve been seeing a girl for nearly 10 months who was a member of the… (shhh) usc trojan marching band.

Anyhow, thanks for taking the time to listen. Looking forward to catching up in one way or another.