Executive Dysfunction

by Sarah A. Hoyt

Special to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise

Weirdly this is not about governance. Well, self-governance maybe, in the sense that you govern yourself through life.

I was 53 the first time someone told me I was ADD. The someone was my kid. Ask me how he knows. He’s higher functioning than I am—I barely held it together through University, and then it all fell apart—mostly because I refused to believe either of them was ADD because they were like me and no one had ever told me I was ADD. So they had to learn to function without meds or crutches. One of them is way better at it, but he’s finding out it too has limits.

So, how come no one noticed I was ADD before then.

In retrospect, it was floridly obvious. My parents and the teachers who gave me grades and comments like “You could be perfect if you applied yourself” are excused. First because ADD is highly inheritable, and Portugal seems to have a very high baseline of ADD (even if mine is freakish even for there, and was thus noted.) Second, because the concept didn’t exist.

All my other doctors and various evaluators aren’t so. Oh, my family is also excused. Husband because he’s also ADD—but the hyperfocus kind. Or I should say more hyperfocus than I tend to be, though I have my moments—and because my extreme ADD was viewed as doing things to be a pain. (Yes, there are reasons for this. Part of it being because it’s really hard to believe an adult can’t control things like: not wandering off from your full shopping cart, aimlessly, because you’ve been more than two minutes in line.)

As for me? Well, I’d been this way all my life.

A friend recently said that he’s getting very tired of everyone labeling themselves “neuro atypical.” Mostly because when everyone is neuro-atypical, no one is.

Is there even a “neuro-typical”? yeah, sure. There is a range. Out of that range things get dicey.

I’d add there is a range where you can function fine with discipline and non-medicine strategies, too, and I keep trying. I hate medication. But after the last three months, I’m about ready to go back on meds, though still fighting it.

The question ultimately is ‘Are you atypical enough that anyone would notice?” (None of us is standard issue.) AND more importantly “Are you being impaired by whatever it is that most people seem able to do, and you can’t?” And then the money question “Can you mitigate most of your issues by strategies of various kinds.”

Ultimately the question is “Is the work being done?” and “Is the work being done to about 90%” (because people rarely notice that 10% though you might.)

For instance, when I say I barely held it together through University, note I was still getting top grades. My studying strategies, or even the ability to be in class on time, every week, kept disintegrating more every year. But because I was in a field that was a given for me, had a deep reserve of knowledge AND could fake even more knowledge (like a pro) with high verbal fluency, I still could get very good grades. Would that have continued through a doctorate? I doubt it. My brain was trying to check out at 3 years, and I’m not sure I could have held much longer than 5. Particularly since my interest in the field kept diminishing (and it was never high.) Which is why I was disintegrating more and more every year.

However, not only shouldn’t I have been medicated, but frankly what I should have done is be in a different field of study. Now, the result might have been the same because I’m ADD AF (guess) and once I master something, I get worse, but the training time would have been better.

Another friend yesterday posted a thing that said: Let’s face it if you’re ADD the only way things are going to get done is if: It’s new and interesting; it’s an inherently pleasurable activity; you are in a panic and it’s life or death; there’s food at the end of it, and it’s food you like.

His conclusion was that we are cats, and he’s not wrong.

For years my strategy to get work done was to wait until publishers got really mad, then panic and write the novel in under a week. The problem is that I couldn’t do it till that point.

BTW part of the problem is it doesn’t matter how much you WANT to do it. “Executive dysfunction” which is what ADD is, often means you simply can’t start. Even if you want to, you need to, and you think you’re a lazy ass for not doing it. (Chances are you’re not a lazy ass. Your head is just broken.)

If I REALLY wanted to write a novel, I might be able to write it, but it involved chasing myself around for a varying period—could be weeks, months or years—then forcing myself to sit down and write it in a few days. If I were interrupted and it took more than a few days, I had to start again (which is how one of the current novels in progress is 40 years in the making.)

The reason I know it’s not laziness is that some of the stuff I’ve been “avoiding” is quick, simple, easy and I NEED TO DO IT. But I don’t. I can’t start.

Like this morning I got up with a few goals.

The quickest/easiest: BILL FOR WORK ALREADY DONE. This is money I need in the business account, because it’s funding things like my paying an editor. The work was done third week of December. The money is…. well, for most of my years it’s about 20% of income.

Next, not so easy but needed: work on Bowl of Red. Because I’m three and a half weeks late on it. (Yes, I’ve been sick, and?)

Third, typeset Odd Tales to FINALLY get it out.

What did I DO? I looked at and downloaded fonts. I also considered buying some graphics that are things like “Build a person” “build a couple” and “build a family”. Think “components” to all of these, and it allows you to make cartoony covers, super-useful for cozy mysteries, yeah, but NONE OF THIS IS STUFF I NEED TO DO TODAY. Or this week.

So why the heck didn’t I do what I needed to do? Because I couldn’t start. I kept trying to. I.e., I was chasing myself around inside my mind.

One of the things my thoughts do, which is beyond annoying is interrupt each other. Like, I’ll be thinking about potatoes and my mind goes “you know what we need? A recipe for bread.” (No, I shouldn’t be eating either potatoes or bread. And I really don’t. The reason those examples popped into my mind is that I’m hungry. And my mind loves potatoes. Frankly it couldn’t care less about bread. I love baking, but I rarely eat it. Eh.)

When I first took Adderal was the first time I figured out my thoughts interrupted each other. It was bizarre to just be able to think of something to its logical conclusion. This was strange, and had never happened to me before. I do think things through, but in the middle I think other things through. It’s also made easier, if I’m doing something else at the same time, which is why I could never understand why I couldn’t crochet while on panels. (“It makes it look like you don’t care.” “No. It makes it much easier to concentrate.” So I doodled, extensively. Otherwise, I was going to blurt out something completely unrelated and highjack the panel because I was bored. And this had nothing to do with not respecting others opinions. It’s just how I think. I do it to myself too.) And why the minimum I needed to study was REALLY LOUD AND DISTRACTING MUSIC. With words.

My mom who weirdly is just as ADD has had her mind …. uh…. propagandized so she thought what I really needed was perfect silence. And what I really needed in school was to be on the front row and have the teacher watch me like a hawk. This was exactly opposite what I needed. Some of my best years were listening to a lecture, while writing a novel at the same time. And she should have known that, because her most productive years were designing clothes while listening to audio lectures. The problem was in that one thing—and because when I space I tend to space inside, while perfectly calm outside while she’s the opposite—we are actually exactly alike, and she didn’t realize it.

Now there are things you can do to make it easier to get stuff done when you want to. These usually include “establishing a routine” “Not being stressed because potential buyers of house are insane and you’re sick and tired of the whole thing” “not being stressed about money” (Weirdly this stress makes it hard for me to bill for things, or remember to cash checks. Everyone I’ve worked for has been driven insane by this.) “Not having to navigate social landmines and conventions” (part of the reason I prefer to work for myself. Do you know how many times I ignored office politics until I was made into the devil by mean girls of either sex, and found myself fired? Uh… practically every job, including free lance. Part of it being because when someone decides to make me into the devil I’m annoyed and appalled by it, and I disconnect.)

I lost an entire year to my son having issues in middle school. To be fair, this could have been remediated if I’d been allowed to set people on fire. (I told you I’m a dragon.) But—waves hand—NOT ALLOWED TO.

And we’re going on to a year lost to moving, and now attempting to sell the house.

Executive dysfunction affects everything. You might find yourself in the kitchen, eating things you don’t even like, because “it was there.” And “My body wandered off without permission.”

Am I going to have to go back on meds? It’s possible. I’d prefer not to, but it’s possible, if the world in general continues being a peeve, and if I can’t chivvy myself into establishing a routine. Maybe. I really don’t want to do it. And it’s difficult to do it after you moved, because doctors tend to view you as a drug seeker (which to be fair you are, even if sometimes reluctantly.) They also tend to have a lack of understanding for “high functioning” and the cost of ADD anyway. Like, sure, I’ve written 30 some novels. BUT without ADD I could probably have written that in a year. (Okay, probably not, but 3 years is doable and not even a stretch.) Which would be better for me and my family. But they will say things like “If you can write novels, you’re not ADD”. Dude, walk a mile in my brain. Or of course, my favorite—for any illness. I mean someone tried to do this to me for pneumonia, until they measured my blood ox—“You’re just depressed. I’ll give you a prescription for depression”—this is the one psycho-drug every non-psych doctor wants to prescribe, which is bizarre. It’s like they think everyone is depressed all the time. 90% of the time, I suspect they’re wrong. (Or I’m highly atypical. Look, I’m always at least mildly depressed, but I know the limits, and I can control THAT. It’s not executive dysfunction. It’s an evaluation dysfunction.)

Anyway, you know what doesn’t help with executive dysfunction? Convincing yourself you’re both lazy and stupid, and trying to abuse and berate yourself into doing what needs to be done. Or actually, worse, it works great when you’re young and everything else aligns perfectly. but it works less every year.

Which is why I need to figure out how to stop doing it.

And actually fulfill my to do list.

(It would take a miracle, but I’m going to storm the castle, nonetheless.)


Reprinted from According to Hoyt for January 22, 2022